Sp’23 Interdisciplinary Research Studio: Architecture + Public Policy

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In Spring 2023, I developed and taught an interdisciplinary research studio continuing my research into lightweight structures. This studio, “New conceptualizations of lightweight architecture: Design, Society, and Justice,” collaborated with Prof. Robert Rosenberger in the School of Public Policy. I consider lightweight beyond the physical to include social justice, the environment, and the politics of design with theoretical and practical lenses. Teams grappled with and critically questioned the built environment and its entanglement with oppression, inhibiting and fostering freedom. Students read and discussed scholarship on philosophies of justice and design to develop an appropriate response to a current contested site in which the built environment is implicated. This studio focused on historical research, community engagement, and designing for justice.

The Site – Located in DeKalb County, Georgia, the Atlanta City Prison Farm site is a charged one with an atrocious history. “Before it was a prison farm, it was a slave plantation, and before that, it was home to the Muscogee tribe, who were violently expelled in the 1820s and 1830s.” The 300-plus acres site exists at several tensions: histories of oppression and erasure; environmental pollution; state-sponsored violence; and activism, all of which have a past, manifest themselves in the present and impact our future. The Atlanta Police Foundation – funded by corporations – wants to build the largest police training facility with “military-grade training, a mock city to practice urban warfare, and dozens of shooting ranges.” Groups oppose the project (Cop City) because of histories of violence and abuse to people and the environment. Stakeholders include forest defenders, activists against police brutality, neighboring communities, environmentalists, and more.

September 27, 2022: A aerial photograph of the planned site for the Atlanta public safety training center at the old Atlanta prison farm in DeKalb County. (Credit Image: © Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via ZUMA Press Wire)

The Project – Design an intervention – grounded in our study of slavery, mass incarceration, guest lectures, and principles of justice – that responds to issues intersecting at the Weelaunee Forest/ Atlanta Prison Farm site and Atlanta.


Poetic drawing by Stephanie Valdes + Linna Xia

Our Zine – “Work In Progress” – In addition to project boards and videos, our studio published a student-led zine containing our research, projects, and writings based on our work and what we learned this semester. Click to read the zine >>>

Link to Zine on EQIA website >>>


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