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Light Gray Interior :
Ila Berman
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To partially open the problematic of Travis's text, it is necessary to first locate within it precisely how and where these myths of neutrality are embedded. Two conditions of representation, however, initially need to be clarified. The first condition posits that since all signs or representations refer to something, we need to understand that their reference finds its origins somewhere, and as such, all representations are to some degree motivated.7  This mode of the sign can be designated as its vertical relation (a relation of identity), which always moves from a code to its reference.  The second condition proposes that at another level, representations are dependent on the system of differences within which they are constructed; for example, white only gains power by fabricating itself in opposition to black, where the first term in the opposition is privileged only at the expense of the second.  This provision of the sign establishes a horizontal relation that compares and differentiates terms within a system.  Neither relation is entirely independent of the other.  These two axes can be said to always exist in a complex state of mixing, defining a plane or matrix within which values are constantly being determined.  Such values, however, are never neutral.  They fulfill the first condition of representation by positively investing in the code, ensuring that the value system is always reflective of a very specific and concrete set of identities (in spite of efforts to fabricate an illusion of neutrality by concealing the link between this system of values and the set of identities that form its foundations).  They fulfill the second condition of representation by being differentially determined within a system of differences, where the positively valued term is positioned in opposition to an "other" term, which is both negated and dis-privileged by the first.  A systematic code of values is thus always generated by and for someone 

Previously I had advanced the idea that the homogeneity or neutrality that invades the structure of this book depended on a false resolution of the confrontation put forward by the differences between the opaque and the transparent, or metaphoriAppendx 1 page break 98 | 99cally, those between black  and white.  To retain the traditionally transparent status quo, opacity and the complex differences that it engenders finds itself entirely repressed in favor of a universalism (which still assumes that "ability" can be identified without ever defining the value system to which it refers or against which such ability is measured) and a simplistic reducibility.  This becomes the mechanistic structure of Travis's format.  It codifies the work according to the logic of transparency and the nature of a conceptual grid, where binary oppositions are created by subjecting complex conditions to single factor comparisons, creating either a system of parallel sets of opposing terms or sets that always attribute only a "figure" value to the former as the privileged term while repressing the latter as its secondary "other."  This parallel system, which operates by exclusion and is responsible for much of the book's representational unity and structural stability, might be elaborated as containing the following sets and distinctions: white/black; principals/other architects; principals/employees; architecture as profession/other architectures (art, research, teaching); architecture/other related design fields; male/female; heterosexual norms of filiation and affiliation/other relations; private success/public work, etc.  This analysis will attempt to expose these oppositions, to show how the first term is privileged and what world this term implicitly references and constructs, while showing how a reversal of this opposition becomes not only the place of resistance and critique for marginalized groups, but also the place that resists the conditions of opposition, transparency, parallelism, and neutrality altogether. 

In his foreword Travis claims that the text documents "most of the black-owned architectural firms of note currently practicing in the United States" (italics mine).  The book's title, African-American Architects in Current Practice (which incidentally graphically emphasizes the first three words much more than the remaining ones), has been suddenly shifted from a focus on black architects to a system that invests in the structure of capitalism by acknowledging only the practice of black architects who own their own firms.  The system of capitalist ownership and the traditions of exploitation (historically by whites) of others' labor within that system, specifically within architecture, is not contested here but instead privileged.  The structure of opposition thus remains the same, and only the players occupying different sites within this structure have apparently changed.  This change acknowledges a new structure of black power and autonomy by shifting the position of blacks within the context of the firm from subordination to power.  Yet the power of this shift is maintained only by retaining the system of exclusion and repression it is meant to disAppendx 1 page break 99 | 100place: under the illusions of hierarchy, capitalism, and false autonomy, the value of architecture and the African-American contribution to it will assuredly be judged according to nonblack norms and supposedly universal quantifiable standards. 

Is one to believe then that the important creative work being done by blacks in all areas of architecture (especially work in direct confrontation with mainstream production) is discounted by evaluation against such systems of legitimation, and that such work should be considered meaningless if it does not coincide with financial privilege? Are we simply to conflate artistic authorship and/or architectural work  with financial ownership, or consider the former to be contained within the latter, without considering for a moment that the work of architecture necessarily exceeds its capitalization, suggesting that these two conditions are not only incommensurable but possibly mutually exclusive?  The highlighting of only black architects who own their own firms (especially given the necessarily cooperative nature of architectural work) sets up two possible conditions.  The first is the privileging of a particular central figure, the African-American principal, who summons the power of (white male) capitalism to authorize his identity, while necessarily generating himself above and against the ground of an undefined (black) architectural "other." The "figure" excludes all that does not support its identity (leading us to question what was excluded, and to what ends?), privileging and affirming only its own reality, while refusing to confer any positive value to the "other."  The "other," as ground,  exists only in terms of, and solely for, this central figure. 

Whereas the first condition works by exclusion and concealment (hiding the power structures that legitimate it as well as the ground against which it defines itself), the second condition works by the masks of containment.  By setting up the figure/ground opposition as principal/employee or owner/owned, a different operation of concealment is invoked, opening up the relation between the container and the contained.  Although the second term is often considered an undefined "other" (in the same way that one speaks of the body as something that the conscious mind rightfully possesses), sometimes both terms are mutually constructing, in spite of the privileging of the first, territorializing term.  Nevertheless, it is the territorializing term that attempts to contain for itself the work of the "other" (like the work of the slave) considered to be owned, and in so doing necessarily conceals and renders invisible the independent subjectivity of the contained. 

The system of ownership in architecture follows this operation by appropriating for itself the labor of others, while replacing the dense multiplicity of subjectivities Appendx 1 page break 100 | 101 that constitute this work by single, identifiable representations.  The sign can be said not to simply transparently represent its reference, but instead to replace the opacity of the world to which it refers with a single code.  In this way, each firm presented in this text—its architectural work, the people involved in that work, and its history—isrepresented by signifying individuals (and the codes that name them) who, as the principals and owners of these firms, are given the right to contain all of what is shown as rightly their own.  Given the scale and complexity of architecture, this scenario is seldom true  Yet there is no mention of others involved in this work, no recognition of other talents, bodies, or skills assumed to be hidden behind, under, or within the principals represented.  Ownership within architectural firms indulges itself in simple appropriation.  Legitimized by the logic of capitalism and the hierarchical structure of the profession, and implemented by the structures of a signification, this system of architectural ownership finds itself neatly and uncritically inscribed in Travis's text, making us question how the terms of exploitation within this systematic opposition have in fact changed.  This discussion is not meant to devalue in any way the real struggles and tremendous work of those portrayed in this book (something to which we will never have full access), but it is meant to question the specific strategies of their representation, and the relationship of this particular representation to a broader understanding of the complex involvement of African-Americans with architecture.  One of the primary problems with retaining such an investment in the structure of the status quo is that it maintains the "inferiority" of an African-American heritage (by adopting the system of values that fabricated its negativity) that can only depreciate others' efforts to positively redefine this heritage in revealing the importance of work done by the traditionally disprivileged secondary term. 

My concern here is specifically to highlight the strategies of concealment, exclusion, and opposition taking place within a particular minority group to show how a such a community is partially represented, how this partiality is necessary to the conditions of representation (transparency) in general, and how this method of representation, by assimilating to nonblack conventions and standards, "presupposes the very phenomena to be interrogated" and "forecloses the very issues that should serve as the subject matter to be investigated,"8 rendering problematic, for example, the reinterpretation of such events as an African-American architectural history.  On the page following Travis's foreword, Richard K. Dozier documents the contributions of African slaves to American architecture, highlighting their artisan skills whileAppendx 1 page break 101 | 102 endeavoring to blur the distinctions between the later distinguished "professional" architect and highly qualified artisans who were responsible for much construction and innovation in the South in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  This blurring is not simply a reversal of terms, but a realization of the importance of what exists between these categories.  This "between" is an opacity that foregrounds the multiplicity of relations that contribute to architecture, instead of simply subscribing to the transparent system of distinctions used to dominate these artisans and appropriate their work.  That Travis is quick to allow these distinctions, providing that certain African-Americans are now entitled to the occupation of the "master" term, would have us question whether such an occupation does not somehow require the faltering of a collective memory or necessitate the repression or relinquishment of any investment in the history of the "African" half of this compound identity.next page


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