PastForward Preview: Bryan Lee Jr., Founder and Director, Colloqate Design

By Colleen Danz posted 10-17-2017 10:09


Bryan Lee Jr. is an architectural designer and design justice advocate. He is the founder/director of Colloqate Design, a nonprofit multidisciplinary design practice dedicated to expanding community access to design and creating spaces of racial, social, and cultural equity. Its programs and projects include facilitating discussions and gatherings of the Design Justice League, leading design workshops for young people, and helping residents of New Orleans present their own stories and visions through Paper Monuments. You can follow him on Twitter at @bcleejr and @colloqate. We asked him a few questions in advance of his upcoming TrustLive: Future City Summit presentation at PastForward 2017. Register for PastForward today!  


You write about disrupting the way design processes traditionally occur in architecture and building technologies. How can preservationists support that work?

I often write about how we, as designers, can disrupt the privilege and power structures that use architecture and planning as a means to perpetuate disadvantage and injustice into the built environment. So I look at the historical disinheritance of certain places and try to bring to light the political and procedural processes that led to particular disadvantages. As designers, it is incumbent upon us to respond, not simply in equal measure, but with additional consideration. I tend to be hypersensitive to the displacement of culturally relevant spaces, so I’d suggest starting here.

Preservationist are among the many gatekeepers along the way in the process of promoting design justice, and certainly among the most influential, as there are often levels of design or use approval required by city agencies. The best way to act in support of design justice is to acknowledge and preempt our biases and predispositions about certain spaces and places. To do so requires an understanding that culture is the consequence of persistent circumstances and existing conditions. The value we place on the spaces we interact with is dependent upon that cultural connection. In turn, the things that we devalue culturally remain disinherited from the support and, I think more importantly, from the dollars necessary to retain and sustain them.

Design justice is not a new construct or concept. Ultimately, we have to better consider and advise upon spaces and places that may not carry the typical historical significance but that maintain a dominant local cultural significance.

How do you see your work intersecting with placemaking and community preservation?

Placemaking is one of those loaded terms that, perhaps unwillingly, implies a lack of a place to start from, which again sets forth a bias about place that can be shifted, in part, by changing the language we use to describe this process. A mentor of mine often calls it “please keeping” or “place building.” 

Regardless, I consider my work to be almost entirely about community and cultural preservation. For me this requires a deep understanding of how certain spaces within neighborhoods carry a layered history that is crucial to their resilience. The layered part of that statement is important because it acknowledges the many ways that local communities deeply connect with space. Often times that happens by small interventions and subtle shifts in spatial connections. What we now call placemaking is a formalized version of this small-scale layering of interventions. 

What is one question you want PastForward attendees to consider before hearing your TrustLive presentation?

That’s simple, although it’s more like a series of questions, but nonetheless: I would ask people to consider an injustice that has resonance with them. Who does that injustice directly or disproportionately impact? How do the buildings we create or preserve support this injustice?

If you are participating in the PastForward Challenge (Gamification) for points and prizes, please enter the following passcode for the "Learn more about Bryan Lee Jr." challenge: BRYJR.

Colleen Danz is the manager for forum marketing at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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