Critical Thinking: Charlottesville

Critical Thinking: Charlottesville

Critical Thinking is a weekly series highlighting the work of architecture critics and thinkers from around the internet.  Each week I recommend a few of my favorite pieces.

(Header image by flickr user Karen Blaha, the lawn and the rotunda at the University of Virginia, via Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0)

This week I'm devoting the Critical Thinking series to the discussion resulting from the recent events in Charlottesville.  The white supremacist demonstrations, the counter protests, the Confederate monuments, and the terrorist who used his car as a weapon to murder and injure peaceful anti-racist protesters; all of these things are intrinsically linked to the form and design of our cities and public spaces, how these spaces are used, and who is welcome in those spaces.

It is no coincidence that these events took place in Charlottesville and at the University of Virginia.  Charlottesville was the home of this country’s most notorious slaveholder, Thomas Jefferson, and he founded and designed the campus and original buildings of the University of Virginia.  This history cannot be separated from the white supremacists and neo-Nazis’ choice of venue.  It is also essential to note that the monuments to the Confederacy—the removal of which serve as the supposed motivator for white supremacist protests—are not relics of the Civil War-era South, but are actually literal monuments to white supremacy erected almost entirely in the early 20th century as physical reminders of Jim Crow policies throughout the U.S.  As Patrick Sisson at Curbed noted in a piece about the history of Confederate monuments, not even Robert E. Lee himself was in favor of commemorating the Confederacy, instead preferring to “commit to oblivion the feelings engendered” by the Civil War.

What follows is a brief reading and listening list that provides a broader context for what happened in Charlottesville.  This week, rather than focusing entirely on architectural discourse, I’m including a broad range of sources that include discussions of Charlottesville as a place, personal reactions to the events, and the policies that influenced the events.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I'm sure I'm missing many important works, but these are a few that I have found meaningful in this past week.  I highly recommend reading and listening to all of them.

In no particular order:

  • The NPR podcast Code Switch collects reactions to Charlottesville from a variety of perspectives, and delves into the politics of white resentment.
  • And the In The Thick podcast rebroadcast an interview that hosts Maria Hinojosa and Julio Ricardo Varela conducted with former FBI agent Mike German about his time as an undercover operative inside the white supremacist movement.