Morgan State University Design and Ingenuity on Exhibit Before International Audiences at 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale
SA+P Students and Faculty Highlights the African Diaspora and Future World-Making in Curated Installation of Student Works
Each year, architects from across the globe descend on the northeastern Italian city known for its canals and ornate Gothic design and construction. This year, Morgan State University is making its debut at the Venice Architecture Biennale, an international exhibition and presentation of architecture from nations around the world. Student and faculty work from MSU’s School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P) are among those featured in a special exhibition curated from seven historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
“How will we live together?” is the theme of the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale which among the menagerie of featured exhibits include an installation presented by ArchiAfrika at its “Time, Space, Existence” pavilion showcasing Black and diaspora voices to elite architectural spaces by creating a platform for young emerging architects from Africa and the diaspora. The exhibition is titled “WE The 7: A Conversation with the African Diaspora,” curated by Morgan SA+P Lecturer Coleman A. Jordan and hosted by architect Joe Osae-Addo, the director of ArchiAfrika.
“The inspiration for this exhibit lies within the underrepresentation of Black architects and designers at a global scale,” said Jordan. “Spectators should leave with a sense of understanding the general history and context of an HBCU, its openness to all cultures and peoples, and the connections that HBCUs have had with African leaders and students today.”
Organizers of the “Conversation” exhibition hope to incite in-depth discussion of a greater Pan African context within academe and the profession of architecture. This exhibition is an opportunity for the HBCUs to create design collaborations, exhibitions, and publications, to celebrate the global impacts of African and African descendants in architecture, design, and culture through the quintessential lens the African American experience. The exhibition is scheduled showcased within the African Compound House from 05 August 5 through August 19, 2021.
According to Jordan, the percentage of Black architects has experienced little to no growth in more than 30 years as evidenced by a study conducted by Rober Traynham Coles, FAIA, which found African Americans represented 2% of all architects in American during the period spanning 1969 to 1989.
“Today, that percentage has not changed with the exception of African American women representing a substantial growth of 20% within the 2% mark,” added Jordan.
Ever committed to changing the narrative surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion with the architecture and design field, Morgan’s SA+P has been a model for cultivating diverse talent and creating spaces for young designers to showcase their talents. The Venice Architecture Biennale presents a worthy example of Morgan’s architectural program’s commitment to these types of opportunities. Morgan SA+P graduates Alhaji Amidu (2019) and Faranak Sanaei (2019) are among the student submitted works that are highlighted in the HBCU-themed exhibition.
Professor Jordan adds, “Leslie Kane Weisman states in her book, Discrimination by Design, that ‘space like language is socially constructed…Architecture is a record of deeds done by those who have had the power to build.’ By showing the work of our students on the global stage is to say, ‘we matter’ and we have value in the discourse, academia, and profession of architecture and design.”
MSU’s presence at the Biennale is not limited to the curated HBCU exhibit as SA+P Associate Professor Fred Scharmen secured prime real estate in the Italian Virtual Pavilion. Teaming with curator Alessandro Melis, Virtual Pavilion curator Tom Kovac, and Creative Director Ed Keller, Scharmen produced a video entitled “How to Make & Unmake a World, An Incomplete Catalog of Questions and Answers,” offers a multidisciplinary perspective drawing on sociology, astrobiology, ethics, the history of art and design, and spatial practices in architecture in an attempt to give shape, space and form to these provocative questions and answers, however speculative and abstract they may be. It was produced with a generous grant from Chicago’s Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.
“It’s a really great honor to be one of the people representing Morgan this year. I’ve spent a lot of time as a student, and now as a researcher and teacher, looking at influential design projects from the past, and you often find that the Venice Architecture Biennale offers designers chances to experiment and take risks with their work a little bit, while engaging with all the others around them,” said Scharmen. “I’m really grateful for the opportunity to do that with these two pieces here, and for the funding support provided for the video project by the Graham Foundation.”
Additionally, Professor Scharmen has an essay published in the catalog for the Lithuanian Pavilion exhibit, by Julijonas Urbonas, curated by Jan Boelen: The Lithuanian Space Agency Presents Planet of People. Scharmen’s text is titled Tectonics: Some Episodes Concerning the Relationships Between Parts and Wholes in Space.
For any globetrotting Bears with Venice on their itinerary, The Biennale is currently in exhibition and runs through November 21, 2021. Congratulations to all of our student and faculty SA+P representatives who are showcasing Morgan talents on the world stage in profound ways!