Studio Barnes with Shawhin Roudbari and MAS Context
Studio Barnes, in collaboration with Shawhin Roudbari and MAS Context, present Block Party as a part of the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennial. This installation is born from Chicago’s rich history of annual block parties that provide necessary resources to vulnerable and engaged residents, particularly on the South and West Sides. These gatherings are self-funded, self-organized, and self-policed. They are an example of the many acts of civic responsibility that occur routinely in disenfranchised neighborhoods when residents take matters into their own hands. A certifiable act of celebratory vigilantism, the block party does not obey traffic regulations, it does not obey permit jurisdiction, and it most certainly does not obey traditional urban principles. These characteristics of community and accountability inspired the Studio’s project in the North Lawndale community.
In collaboration with neighborhood organizations—Westside Association for Community Action (WACA), Open Architecture Chicago, and Freedom House—Studio Barnes created two block party structures. The first, whimsical in form and cladding, combines aspects of play and surveillance. Painted bright pink, the color of the adjacent elevated CTA train line, this twelve-foot-tall play structure conjures the bounce house—an ever-present feature of block parties. Its many openings and ladders frame different perspectives and vantage points from within the WACA lot to enable communal acts of vigilance. The second structure, a series of blocks designed in collaboration with community members, facilitates performance and social gathering. When combined with the larger pink play structure, the entire lot operates as a visible invitation to visit the site.
Accompanied by events and workshops, the installation will serve as a site to discuss the modes by which the built environment promotes or restricts Black space and to call attention to the systemic forces that create blight in communities of color. Block Party operates at multiple scales both physical and intellectual; it leverages the aggregation of the individual to become a more powerful collective.