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Where Was Jim Crow? Living in Frank Lloyd Wright’s America

March 4, 2021
04:00 PM to 05:30 PM
Dianne Harris illuminates architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s role in the history of the divided and segregated American city. Mabel Wilson, Professor of Architecture and Director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University will join Dr. Harris in a discussion following the lecture.

What role did the twentieth century’s most famous North American architect play in shaping the way Americans thought about how they might, or might not, live together? Given Wright’s prominence in the long-standing canon of architectural history, it makes sense that we would look to him as we seek answers to that question, though historians have seldom done so. Until now, Wright has been understood as such an exceptional design talent that historians have considered him largely as a subject apart from the raced, racist, and racially segregated world he worked in, and that the profession still operates in, if somewhat differently today. This lecture explores a selection of Wright's designs and writings with a particular focus on Broadacre City to understand and elucidate how America’s most famous architect contributed to the formation of a specific model of the white suburb and to the proliferation of ideas about segregated housing, without anyone seeming to notice that he did so for decades; which, by extension, has affected how architecture and planning as professions have understood—or not understood—the work and influence of one of their most revered and studied figures.

Dianne Harris is a senior program officer in the Higher Learning program at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Prior to joining the Foundation, she served as dean of the College of Humanities at the University of Utah, and as director of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Harris is an architectural and urban historian with expertise that ranges from eighteenth-century Italy to the postwar United States with a particular focus on race and space. She is the author of Little White Houses: How the Postwar Home Constructed Race in America (2013) and is author or editor of five additional volumes and many scholarly essays and articles.

Frank Lloyd Wright and American signs enforcing racial discrimination