The design of today’s public schools tends toward the underwhelming. Their formal and material solutions tell a story of frugality of means as well as of imagination. Even in those instances where the architecture does excel, where it manages to bond function with uplift, the effect is always hampered by a menacing apparatus of security devices and barriers.
It wasn’t always so. In 1960s Washington, D.C., Black architects drew on the prevailing Brutalist idiom in monumental designs that aimed to match transformational notions of schooling with sculptural massings in raw concrete. In various essays, historian Amber N. Wiley has given close scholarly attention to the design of Shaw Junior High School and Dunbar High School and the social currents that gave rise to them. She plans to extend this research in a forthcoming book tentatively titled Concrete Solutions: Architecture, Activism, and Black Power in the Nation’s Capital. AN’s executive editor, Samuel Medina, caught up with Wiley to discuss this surprising, tragic chapter of D.C. architectural history.
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