Cultural Asymmetries of Public Space <span style="font-size: 1.5rem; display: block; margin:22px 0 0">Addressing Minority Associations with the Urban Landscape</span>


Cultural Asymmetries of Public Space Addressing Minority Associations with the Urban Landscape

September 15, 2021
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Recent history shows how public space can positively and negatively affect people from different ethnic and cultural groups. Urban areas as symbolic indicators can have high emotional registers and be simultaneously inviting or rejecting depending on the occupants. Discussions renew the debate of the multidimensionality of urban regimes concerning these asymmetries of urban space, especially in different minority groups.

Making sense of these differences requires a multidimensional approach to envisioning urban design involving an understanding of the histories, the symbolism, and effect of the attached emotional registers on different groups, and the presence of new voices in the imagination of public space.

The aggregation of these ideas allows for a deeper insight into how conceptions of public space, urban visibility, and the addressing of public emotional registers in construction, oversight and ownership of, and intersection with institutional racism.

Departing from a preconception of equal access, the panel will discuss collective rituals in streets, parks, and squares of city space and the design and management practices that should reflect various cultural experiences. The talk covers the need for designers and managers to know how places may be interpreted differently by different ethnic minority groups and work toward inclusive design.


Maria R. Perbellini, Dean, School of Architecture and Design, New York Institute of Technology

Introduction & Moderation

  • Adegboyega Adefope, Assistant Professor, School of Architecture and Design, New York Institute of Technology


Jonah Rowen

Jonah Rowen, Ph.D.

Architectural History, Lecturer at Parsons, the New School


Jonah Rowen is an architectural historian whose work focuses on intersections between architectural techniques, economics, environments, materials and commodities, and labor. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia University, where he wrote a dissertation on 19th-century Anglo-Caribbean colonial exchanges and buildings’ design and production, figured as technologies of risk management and security. He currently teaches architectural history and seminars at the New School Parsons School of Design and the Cooper Union School of Architecture. He holds a master’s in Architecture from Yale, and has taught at the University of California Santa Cruz, Rice University, Columbia University and Barnard College, and the Southern California Institute of Architecture. He has published essays in Platform, Grey Room, Log, and Pidgin, and was a founding editor of Project: A Journal for Architecture.

Lecture: Municipal Water and the Making of a “Public” in 19th-Century Kingston and London

“How do physical aspects of urbanism admit or exclude people from cities? With emancipation across the British Empire in the 1830s, the public in Kingston, Jamaica suddenly included the hitherto enslaved Black population. But urban provisions for health and safety both preceded and lagged behind the legal frameworks that gave Black people the right to profit from their own labor. Urban living conferred amenities and protections, but not all had an equal right to the city.

This presentation compares the water infrastructure of Kingston and London in the 19th century. Used for sanitation and fire prevention, water was a commodity that also signaled who benefited from urban agglomeration. That is, where urban population density facilitated water supply, certain areas were built to receive better service than others. Further, economic liberalization had a number of far-reaching effects, of which emancipation was just one. Free-market competition among private corporations for utilities like water paralleled a righteous derogation of the Jamaican public under the assumption that, as free economic agents, colonial subjects no longer deserved the paternalistic governance of the imperial state. By subjecting some areas to risk more than others, infrastructure materialized social distinctions. As social configurations changed, water became a tool by which those already in possession of capital sustained their property claims. Therefore against narratives of industrial optimism and progress, I argue that figures of apprehension more appropriately encapsulate the history of modern urbanism.”

Craig Wilkins

Craig L. Wilkins, Ph.D.

Senior Lecturer, National Center for Institutional Diversity


Architect, author, academic, activist, Craig L. Wilkins is a 2020 American Landscape Association Bradford Williams Medal recipient and 2017 Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum National Design Award winner. Author of The Aesthetics of Equity: Notes on Race, Space, Architecture, and Music and Diversity Among Architects: From Margin to Center, his creative practice specializes in engaging communities in collaborative and participatory design processes. The former director of the Taubman College Detroit Community Design Center and founder of the award-winning Studio:DetroitHS, an initiative that introduced under-represented high school students to careers in design, he is currently creative director of the Wilkins project, a social justice, strategic design alliance that provides architectural, urban design and planning services, public interest design solutions, and expertise in engaged public discourse.

Lecture: Oh, the Places We Will Go

“Since space is the primary material with which architects work—the skill at which both demonstrates and secures our aesthetic expertise both inside and outside the art world —it stands to reason we might know a thing or two about it. So, I should like to be clear about this material we use; this thing called space. It seems like such an innocuous thing, space; but in all my years of studying, shaping, and bringing it into focus, one thing I know for certain is space, is anything but."


NOTE: You must register to receive the pertinent Zoom information.

New York Institute of Technology, School of Architecture and Design at the 17th International Architecture Biennale 2021, and the Virtual Italian Pavilion

Questions? Contact the School of Architecture & Design at

View our Lectures & Events Poster