Glass House Presents: Inside the Museum, Outside the Discourse

In this talk, architectural historian Charles Davis considers the controversies surrounding MoMA’s use of its Philip Johnson Galleries for the museum’s recent exhibition “Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America.” Philip Johnson’s position as founding curator of architecture at MoMA is well known, but his interest in fascist politics and his role in constructing a Eurocentric understanding of modern architecture has only recently come under public scrutiny. What are the long-term consequences of these biases in Johnson’s work, and what is the best way of grappling with this difficult history? This talk prepares the way for a broader discussion on how to foster an anti-racist culture in architectural discourse.

Charles L. Davis II is an associate professor of architectural history and criticism at the University at Buffalo. His research excavates the role of racial identity and race thinking in architectural history and contemporary design culture. His current book project, tentatively entitled Black By Design: An Interdisciplinary History of Making in Modern America recovers the overlooked contributions of black artists and architects in shaping the built environment from the Harlem Renaissance to Black Lives Matter. He is co-editor of the cultural reader Diversity and Design: Understanding Hidden Consequences (Routledge, 2015) and Race and Modern Architecture (University of Pittsburgh, 2020), which collects 18 case studies on the racial discourses of modern architecture from the Enlightenment to the present. His book manuscript, Building Character: The Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style (University of Pittsburgh, 2019) traces the historical integrations of race and style theory in paradigms of “architectural organicism,” or movements that modeled design on the generative principles of nature. This research has been supported by grants from the Canadian Center for Architecture, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Glass House Presents is an ongoing series of talks, performances, and other live events that extend the site’s historic role as a gathering place for artists, architects, and other creative minds. This event is co-hosted by New Canaan Library and supported in part by Connecticut Humanities and the New Canaan Community Foundation.