Mabel Wilson

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Faculty Fellow Mabel Wilson

Mabel O. Wilson is author of  Negro Building: Black Americans in the World of Fairs and Museums, focusing on black Americans’ participation in world’s fairs, Emancipation expositions, and early black grassroots museums and tracing the evolution of black public history from the Civil War through the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Mabel O. Wilson gives voice to the figures that conceived the curatorial content—Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, A. Philip Randolph, Horace Cayton and Margaret Burroughs. As the 2015 opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., approaches, the book reveals why the black cities of Chicago and Detroit became the sites of major black historical museums rather than the nation’s capital—until now.

Negro Building: Black Americans in the World of Fairs and MuseumsMabel O. Wilson is an Associate Professor of Architecture at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation where she directs the program for Advanced Architectural Research. She teaches courses in architectural design, architectural theory, and visual cultural analysis. These classes explore a range of subjects including theories time, new technologies, and domesticity; cultural memory and modernism; urban agglomerations in African cities; theories of time, cinema and databases. She received a doctorate in American Studies from NYU (2007), and an M. Arch from Columbia’s GSAPP (1991.) She directs the GSAPP’s program for Advanced Architectural Research and the HBCU Leadership Project.

She is an award winning designer and scholar. Her collaborative design practices (KW: a and Studio 6Ten) have worked on speculative and built projects. The (a)way station, in the collection of SFMoMA, received a design award from ID Magazine. Her practice has been a competition finalist for several important cultural institutions including lower Manhattan’s African Burial Ground Memorial (with Dean Wolfe Architects) and the Smithsonian’s National Museum for African American History and Culture (with Diller Scofidio + Renfro.) The Wexner Center for the Arts, the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum’s Triennial, the Storefront for Art and Architecture, and SF Cameraworks have exhibited her installations. She is currently compiling the rich photographic archive from her book Progress and Prospects into an experimental exhibit and database as part of the Visible History Project. She is also developing an urban history database for use through mobile technologies by residents of Accra, Ghana.

Her essays investigate space and cultural memory in black America, race and visual culture, and new technologies and the social production of space. Her scholarly essays have appeared in numerous journals and books on critical geography, cultural memory, and architecture. She is currently completing the book Progress and Prospects – Black Americans and the World of Fairs and Museums that studies how ideologies of race, social uplift, and nationalism shaped black American sites of memory.

Selected Publications:

  • The Opposite of Forgetting: Global Architects, Collective Memory and Cultural Exchange,” essay in Social X-Change, edited by Hansy Better, New York Periscope Press, 2010(forthcoming)
  • “A Building and its Double” essay in Solid States, edited by Michael Bell, Columbia GSAPP publication, 2009 (forthcoming)
  • “Architecture and Design” United States Artist Panel Statement, November 2008
  • “Architecture’s Material Presence – a turn in the right direction,” in Stimulations, edited by Rodolphe el Khoury and Neal Schwartz, San Francisco: CCA Press, 2005
  • "Dancing in the Dark: The Construction of Blackness in Le Corbusier's Radiant City," in Architecture Theory, edited by Andrew Ballantyne, London: Continuum, 2005
  • “Black in Harlem: Race, Architecture, and the City” in Harlem World – Metropolis as Metaphor exhibition catalogue edited by Thelma Golden, New York: Studio Museum, 2004
  • "Between Rooms 307: Spaces of Memory at the National Civil Rights Museum" in Sites of Memory, edited by Craig Barton, Princeton Architectural Press, 2001
  • “(a)way station - A Narrative of Domestic Space and Urban Migration” with Paul Kariouk in The Pragmatist Imagination edited by Joan Ockman, Princeton Architectural Press, 2000
  • "Black Bodies/White Cities: Le Corbusier in Harlem" and "Letters from New Orleans: The Jazz Architectural Workshop" in ANY 16: Whiteness; Editorial Consultant, 1996
  • "Lawful Transgressions: this is the House that Jackie Built" essay and installation with Heidi Nast in Assemblage 24, 1994