An Interview with Carolyn Armenta Davis

June 17, 2011

An international lecturer, historian, and writer, Carolyn Armenta Davis brings her illustrated presentation The Art of Architecture: 21st Century African/Black Diaspora to EPL’s 1st Floor Community Room tomorrow at 4 p.m.  Updating her landmark exhibition project Design Diaspora: Black Architects and International Architecture 1970-1990, the Art of Architecture showcases the work of over 20 Black architects from the US, Europe, and Africa while exploring the different cultural, economic, political, and sustainability issues that impact their architecture.  In anticipation of her visit, we recently spoke with Ms. Davis via email about her interest in Black architecture, her future projects, and how you can learn more about African, Afro-European, and African-American architects and their work.

Evanston Public Library:  What sparked your initial interest in contemporary African, Afro-European, and African-American architecture?

Carolyn Armenta Davis:  Most of my adult life I’ve been a Black Diasporan telling the neglected stories of achievements of people across Africa and her Diaspora.  In fact over the last 30 years, I’ve produced three such projects. The first was a series of 39, one hour radio programs on Black composers of symphonies, concertos, and operas from the Americas, Europe and Africa during the 200 year period between 1771 and 1971.  The second was my award-winning Feminine Footprints network radio series on 65 trailblazing Black American women.  The third – on Black Diaspora Architects – debuted in 1993 after I became a Chicago Architecture Foundation docent and felt compelled to include more Blacks in architectural dialogues.

EPL:  In what ways does The Art of Architecture update and expand upon your acclaimed exhibition-lecture project Design Diaspora: Black Architects and International Architecture 1970-1990?  How has Black Diaspora architecture changed over the past few decades?

CAD:  The Art of Architecture continues as a catalyst to make world architecture dialogues more inclusive.  One change is that there are a larger number of global generation architects across the Black Diaspora.  Black Diaspora architecture and all good architecture is contextual.  Thus, technology, globalization and our 24-7 world have impacted architecture across the Diaspora.

EPL:  Can you give us a sneak preview of some of the architects you’ll be discussing on June 18th?

CAD:  My whirlwind Diaspora architecture tour will include designs from eight African firms, five European studios and thirteen African-American practices.

EPL:  According to your website, you’re currently working on a book about 21st century Black Diaspora architecture.  Could you tell us more about the project?

CAD:  My planned book on 21st Century Black Diaspora Architecture is on hold.  I am currently trying to get the complete history of my groundbreaking project Design Diaspora: Black Architects and International Architecture 1970-1990 published.

EPL:  Can you suggest any other books or resources for those interested in learning more about African, Afro-European, and African-American architects and their work?

CAD:  My video – Viewpoints of Black Diaspora Architects – is a documentary with 8 architects from my Design Diaspora exhibition.

Some books include David Adjaye: Houses by Peter Allison, Architecture and Power in Africa by Nnamdi Elleh,  The Crisis of the African American Architect by Melvin Mitchell, Paul R. Williams Architect: A Legacy of Style by Karen Hudson, African-American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary 1865-1945 by Dreck S. Wilson, and Response Architecture: Moody-Nolan Recent Works by Morris Newman.


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