These images use a range of visual techniques to formalize the cultural biases introduced in Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitch- cock’s exhibition catalog The International Style, which first out- lined the aesthetic principle of international style architecture in 1932. In the original text, Johnson and Hitchcock describe the ways that space is transformed into a “volume” by virtue of its bounding within the physical frame of geometrically articulated architectural surfaces. Moving beyond the atomized and separated rectangular volumes of Victorian buildings, international style architectures broke down the boxes of individual rooms to create a flow of spaces within the interior. What is entirely missing from this quantitative definition of space, however, are the qualitative aims of the subjects that resided within them. These perspectives are also missing from the two additional formal principles of international style architecture: a regularity of proportion in the placement and display of structure; and the elimination of applied ornament that was no longer in tune with the march toward a modern world.
The omission of nonwhite perspectives was especially true of the minorized subjects that interacted with the spaces of international style architectures—the women, BIPOC subjects, and sexual minorities—whose subjective experiences of modernity often departed from those of Euroamericans living in the United States. The experiences of social minorities in elite spaces often took the form of exploitation, whether this manifested as the use of free domestic labor in the home, the low-wages of Black scab workers forced to cross union picket lines, or the queer collectives that were driven under- ground for expressing non-conformist images of sexuality. Despite the universal rhetoric of international style theorists, the clean and minimal lines of this style did not always express the social modernity of every type of subject living within the United States. This reality is perhaps most clearly anticipated by the racial and ethnic composition of architects included in the exhibition, which consisted of all white European and Euroamerican subjects except for a single entry in Japan.
As a corrective to the cultural biases introduced by Johnson and Hitchcock’s catalog, this work redacts and revises the passages within the original text that privilege the quantitative aspects of architectural form over the qualitative. Emulating the visual practices of the African American artist Alexandra Bell, whose public artwork Counternarratives transforms the biased coverage of unarmed Black men with police officers in The New York Times, this series, en- titled “Redacted Catalogs” reconceives the international style as an approach to building that acknowledges the equal role of placemaking and form in modern architecture. Conceiving of modern architecture as a “place” requires us to look beyond the aesthetic of architectural form to identify the deeper forms of sociality that subtend- ed these spaces underneath. When this is done, the most modern Black middle- and working-class spaces of the city were not always to be found in brand new buildings. The novel grooming, culinary, and religious practices created by the Great Migration transformed the modern character of Black life in new and exciting ways—ways that we clearly recognize in now contemporary forms of Black dress, music, and art. The social component of architectural modernity can only be recognized by studying space in terms of its social management, as placemaking.
The graphics for the “Redacted Catalogs” were produced from studies of architecture students at the University at Buffalo, SUNY under the supervision of Charles L. Davis II, an Associate Professor of Architectural History and Criticism.
PRELIMINARY STUDIES OF REDACTED TEXT