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WAI Architecture Think Tank launches critical education platform modeled on Caribbean loudreading

Reading the Revolution

WAI Architecture Think Tank launches critical education platform modeled on Caribbean loudreading

In this “revolutionary architecture Case Study,” the authors insert radical monoliths into a tobacco plantation in Cayey, Puerto Rico. (WAI Architecture Think Tank/Loudreaders Trade School)

As architects and educators, we have seen how the pandemic put many things on hold. Graduating students who planned to jumpstart their careers saw their employment opportunities vanish. Younger students were similarly deprived of summer internships. All were left processing a strange spring semester, the second half of which was necessarily conducted online. The experience forced many questions to the surface: What is the value of an architecture education? Is the classroom or studio the most conducive space for learning? If not, what is?

We do not pretend to know all these answers. What we do know, however, is that we live in a world perpetually in crisis. The pandemic is not unique in this sense, even if its proscriptions are. The public health mandate to socially distance ourselves from others mirrors the alienation endemic to capitalist society, which separates workers from the products of their labor and draws up a barrier between thinking intellect and toiling bodies. In the case of architecture, the field has become detached from the wider world, giving practitioners a false sense of autonomy.

But few, if any, can completely insulate themselves from the effects of crises. We must, then, respond by equipping ourselves with the knowledge and tools to build alternatives to the present order of things. (We might “unmake” architecture in the process.) To this end, we recently launched the Loudreaders Trade School as a new, free, and accessible platform for education. The name alludes to the practice of 19th- and 20th-century Cuban (and eventually Puerto Rican) tobacco workers who, bored with rolling cigars all day, hired the literate among their ranks to read to them on the job. As the practice of loud-reading grew, the lectores (loudreaders) became traveling performers with larger and larger audiences. They succeeded in creating networks of solidarity all around the Caribbean, as well as a massive shared and open-access oral library to workers who were denied any other form of formal education.

A growing, accessible library is central to our Loudreaders program. The texts it holds were compiled from contributing international authors, designers, artists, and thinkers who gather online to loud-read critical discourses to audiences. The books, essays, and articles shared by the loudreaders range from histories of race and the exploitation of oppressed groups to strategies of solidarity and other models of anti-capitalist resistance in architecture, urbanism, and culture. Together, they form a critical infrastructure for understanding the world today.

Here, we highlight 12 of these texts that we believe can help readers foster an emancipatory imagination. We’ll need it for the turbulent times ahead.

collage of radical architecture over a Cuban newspaper
The authors recently launched the Loudreaders Trade School, an online education platform whose name alludes to the “loudreading” practice established by Caribbean cigar-rollers at the turn of the century. (WAI Architecture Think Tank/Loudreaders Trade School)

Critique of Black Reason (2013) by Achille Mbembe 

By delving into the work of Frantz Fanon and other critical thinkers, Mbembe renders the intersection where capitalism, exploitation, and race meet. Not much escapes Mbembe’s grasp, as he traces the creation of the concept of Blackness and the transatlantic slave trade to our current neoliberal moment, one characterized by the climatological crisis, the postimperial military complex, contemporary technologies of mass communication, and the commodification of death.

Necropolitics (2011) by Achille Mbembe and Gore Capitalism (2018) by Sayak Valencia 

Capitalism’s architecture is anchored in the foundations of death. Achille Mbembe and Sayak Valencia expose the relations between hyperviolence and law, militarization and the commodification of death, geopolitical borders, and the “postcolonies,” norm and exception, the state of war and states of security and freedom. 

Caliban and The Witch (1998) by Silvia Federici and “Learning From the Virus” (2020) by Paul B. Preciado

For Silvia Federici and Paul B. Preciado, the body is the center around which capitalism, class, exploitation, and politics turn. Federici rethinks the origins and development of capitalism and a long history of models of resistance from a feminist viewpoint, while Preciado proposes to look at links between community and immunity, health and class, and subjecthood and sovereignty. 

Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism (2019) by Ariella Azoulay and The Tertiary (2018) by Raquel Salas Rivera

By creating a “potential history,” Azoulay questions the imperialist construction of time, space, and politics through objects and experiences of struggles around the world, from the original peoples in the Americas, to the Congo under King Leopold II. Salas Rivera reexamines theories of value in Marxist economics and suggests that just as labor is usually the “third thing that gives value”, there are also other tertiaries between “colonialism and Puerto Rico, queer and transness, the binary of colony and empire.”

collage luisa capetillo
A collage of the Puero Rican labor leader Luisa Capetillo among cigar workers. (WAI Architecture Think Tank/Loudreaders Trade School)

El Lector: A History of the Cigar Factory Reader (2010) by Araceli Tinajero and Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution (1902) by Pytor Kropotkin

In El Lector, Araceli Tinajero describes the evolution of the loudreaders and role of iconic figures like the Puerto Rican feminist and anarcho-syndicalist Luisa Capetillo in the Tobacco Factories across the Caribbean and U.S. as they were able to establish networks of subversive solidarity that promoted emancipatory practices. Among the texts read by Capetillo and others in the tobacco factories, Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid served as a model for solidarity, collective organization, and emancipatory empowerment. 

 In Praise of Laziness (1993) by Mladen Stilinović and “Laziness as the Real Truth of Mankind” (1921) by Kazimir Malevich 

Against the commodification of human life, Mladen Stilinović and Kazimir Malevich plead for idleness as the ultimate goal of worldly existence. As Stilinović recalls, Malevich criticized capitalism, because it enabled only a small number of capitalists to be lazy, but also state socialism, which lionized work and disparaged laziness. The lockdown of the past few months rendered architectural labor as “non-essential,” while making laziness all the more appealing, even necessary, something Stilinović repeatedly notes in his work: “There is no art without laziness.” “Work is a Disease.” “Work is a shame.”

In Defense of the Poor Image (2009) by Hito Steyerl

In one of the most compelling manifestos about the post-internet era (the art and cultural phenomenon of the mid 2000s), Hito Steyerl reveals the value, intelligence, and subversive power of low-res images. Challenging the capitalist framework that focuses on authorship and high resolution, In Defense of the Poor Image is an ode to low-quality, mass-recycled, authorless pictures. In the kingdom of the internet, the poor image reigns supreme.

Cruz Garcia & Nathalie Frankowski are the founders of WAI Architecture Think Tank. The pair launched the Loudreaders Trade School in June 2020.