Racism was and is still prevalent because of social discrimination and prejudice based on their racial membership. There is a presence of racial and cultural segregation between people of color and the white community. It is undeniable that until now racism remains an issue that most of the people of color are still trying to fight for.
The world of Architecture is not spared from that notorious repercussion; it was even used to adamantly aggrandize racial segregation. Although the battle for equality is still on the run; architects, designers, and planners should take responsibility for promoting a diverse community while keeping in mind the uniqueness of each culture in architecture.
Here are examples of how architecture was used as a tool and how they commemorate for racial inequality in the history of civic buildings, even some of these were examples of profitable racism.
1. Robert Moses’ Urban Renewal
Location: New York
In account, minority neighborhoods were bulldozed for urban renewal projects, almost all of his public works projects were placed out of reach of the poor. The most infamous one is the low-bridge Moses’ designed over the Long Island Expressway to keep buses from the city away from the Jones Beach. In the 1920s, the majority of the bus commuters were non-whites or lower-class whites. He designed the bridge’s clearance of 8.5 feet neglecting the public buses that in standard at 12 feet, this kept non-whites out of Jones Beach and is a manifestation of a racist design.
2. Old Monroe County Courthouse
Location: Monroeville, Alabama
This courthouse was known because of the movie ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ starring Gregory Peck as Attorney Atticus Finch who represented the African-American Tom Robinson in this very courthouse, but other than the poignant and eye-opener storyline was the appalling concept of the courthouse presented before. Situations wherein colored people were separated and placed on the balcony of the courtroom while the whites were closer to the prosecution, having the advantage of a good view. This is an example where racial segregation took advantage of the architecture.
3. Lyric Theater
Location: Birmingham, Alabama
Next on our list brings a painful reminder of the past where watching a show before means having the audience segregated by skin color. The inequality built into Lyric Theatre’s design and architecture by marking a side entrance “COLORED” away from the elegant lobby into the steep balcony where black patrons had to sit for a lot of years or generations rather. To date, Lyric Theater was restored after it has been closed for decades and preservationists installed a glass door etched with the words “Historic Colored Entrance” so patrons can peer into the past.
4. Rosenwald School
Location: Hampton, Virginia
Surprisingly little have known that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for The Julius Rosenwald Fund — the responsible for building Rosenwald schools across the United States. This program of building schools for the Negroes was an initiative of Julius Rosenwald, a white businessman, and philanthropist. Although Wright’s design for the Hampton was never realized, its design was intended to have been built from fieldstone, concrete, shingles, and cypress boards painted with bright colors and incorporated into Virginia’s coastal plain. Just like the typical Frank Lloyd Wright, he based his design on the principles of organic architecture which carried a racial dimension.
5. Montpelier Train Depot
Location: Orange, Virginia
Built in 1910, this train depot turned into a museum that was once an epitome of racism. Due to the laws that prevented whites and blacks from mingling before, this train depot was constructed with separate waiting rooms for whites and blacks. The space inside the entrance of the white and yellow depot marked with “white” is a bit larger than the one marked with “colored”.
6. Union Station
Just like any other Union Station, the Union Station located in Denver evokes symmetry, ornaments, arcs, stacked stone walls, and Greek architecture representation through cornices and design evolution. This distinctly elicits European colonialism that traces back to the slavery and oppression that happened in the past to the minorities of American cities.
7. Booker Terrace Hotel/Hampton House
The Historic Hampton House in Liberty City was then called the Booker Terrace Hotel, one of the prominent places in the 1960s to house the black community. Hampton House was a hotspot for entertainment, musicians like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Nat King Cole, and many others performed here. It’s the only segregated two-story hotel of that era still standing today and holds a valuable piece of Miami’s black history. Its architectural significance of Modern style stamped the restoration and preservation of the Liberty City Community.
8. The Pentagon
Location: Arlington, Virginia
If you think Pentagon was spared from the problematic racial segregation of the Jim Crow era, think again. Even President Franklin Roosevelt was startled to discover the fact that architects of the Pentagon designed many, many restrooms to separate toilet facilities for blacks and whites. In lieu of President Roosevelt executive order in June 1941 requiring nondiscrimination at federal agencies and private businesses.
May these structures be a reminder to us all of how unfairly people of color were treated before. Architecture can either heal or hurt, it cannot be neutral. While some people may have overlooked this and are oblivious of the current issues but, we cannot deny the fact that racism is still present and that people who are affected by this need a lot of support. How can Architecture help end these types of oppression? We need to remind ourselves that Architecture is for everyone, for the betterment of everyone. To design is to include those who are oppressed, marginalized, and afflicted—and give them justice.