2021 Wheelwright Prize winner Germane Barnes seeks to settle “a contested and controversial legacy of the porch”

Porch Probe

2021 Wheelwright Prize winner Germane Barnes seeks to settle “a contested and controversial legacy of the porch”

Chicago-born, Miami-based designer and educator Germane Barnes, 2021 winner of the Harvard GSD’s 2021 Wheelwright Prize. (Courtesy Harvard GSD)

Following a recent spate of other high-profile prizes and commissions, Germane Barnes, a Miami-based architect, urban designer, educator, and founding member of the Black Reconstruction Collective, has been named as the winner of the 2021 Harvard Graduate School of Design Wheelwright Prize for his proposal Anatomical Transformations in Classical Architecture.

The $100,000 travel-based grant program for early-career architects is in its ninth cycle and will, per Harvard GSD, fund Barnes’s research for two years as he sets out to examine “Roman and Italian architecture through the lens of non-white constructors, studying how spaces have been transformed through the material contributions of the African Diaspora while creating new architectural possibilities that emerge within investigations of Blackness.”

The Chicago-born Barnes, who heads an eponymous research and design studio and serves as an assistant professor and the director of The Community Housing & Identity Lab (CHIL) at the University of Miami School of Architecture, was one of four shortlisted architects from an applicant pool of more than 150. Harvard GSD’s open international competition also included Puerto Rican artist and experimental architect Luis Berríos-Negrón for his proposal, Remediating the Specularium: a deposition of colonial memory that may contribute to the geological timescales of the Anthropocene (so to learn to live, again); Iulia Statica, an architect and current Marie Curie Research Fellow at the Bartlett School of Architecture, for Home and Beyond: Women, Care and the Architecture of Migration; and Catty Dan Zhang, an assistant professor of architecture at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, for Shared Air: Space, Automation and Humanity in Architectures of Meat Processing.

a pop-up porch-pavilion illuminated at night
Pop Up Porch, an installation by Studio Barnes inspired by the West Settler’s Historic District in Delray Beach, Florida. Barnes has created pop-up porches and stoops across Miami. (Germane Barnes)

Picking up on his fruitful past examinations of a humble yet potent architectural feature, the porch, and its role in Black communities both historic and contemporary, work on Anatomical Transformations in Classical Architecture will commence this summer. Barnes will begin work on an index of porticoes across Northern Africa and Italy in addition to maps that demonstrate the migration of the porch and portico across “continents and cultures,” as a statement detailed. “Central to Barnes’s proposal is the idea that porch-as-portico may offer a new frame on the spatial and conceptual terrain through which one finds inventions of race, identity, and the built environment.”

Barnes’s research will ultimately find him designing a new column derived from Blackness that will offer “clear authorship to Black building methodologies.” A 1:1 scale series of Black column variants will also be also be produced along with an exhibition and publication illuminating his globe-spanning research into the spatial mobility of the porch.

As Barnes elaborated to AN:

“The primary consideration of this proposal is to resolve a contested and controversial legacy of the porch. I am excited to further my investigations, this iteration materialized as the Roman Portico. The secondary consideration necessitates an alternative reading of Classical column orders. If Vitruvius is a foundational figure that outlines the influence of the human figure as a model for classical orders, that figure is most certainly not of African descent. With this as a point of departure, what would a column order inspired by the Black body resemble? Can this new columnar order provide ownership to an overlooked and neglected identity?”

Barnes’s Wheelwright Prize win closely follows the announcement that he is among the 35 recipients of the 2021-22 Rome Prize, a prestigious fellowship award bestowed by the American Academy in Rome. It was also revealed in late April that Studio Barnes is one of 29 initial contributors commissioned for the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennial, which opens September 17. Headed by artistic director David Brown, the fourth iteration of the biennial, The Available City, focuses on the untapped potential of the city’s 10,000 city-owned vacant lots on the South and West Sides.

4 people sitting on pop-up plywood staircase
Paradise Stair, an installation created for Paradise Summit Miami, a 2018–2019 group exhibition at the Emerson Dorsch gallery. (Jennifer Lamy/Courtesy Harvard GSD)

Brown, an educator and researcher based at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture, served on the 2021 Wheelwright Prize jury panel alongside David Hartt, the Carrafiell Assistant Professor in Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania Weitzman School of Design; Mark Lee, chair of the Department of Architecture at Harvard GSD; Megan Panzano, assistant professor of architecture and Program Director of Undergraduate Architecture Studies at Harvard GSD; Sumayya Vally, founder and principal of Counterspace Studio; and Sarah M. Whiting, dean and Josep Lluís Sert Professor of Architecture at Harvard GSD.

Referring to Anatomical Transformations in Classical Architecture as a research proposal that’s “at once sweeping and nuanced,” Whiting went on to note in a statement that Barnes’s “focus on the classical origins of a familiar type—the porch—is both potently precise and generously speculative.”

“Importantly, Barnes positions his research in terms of overlooked or under acknowledged connections and contributions, focusing upon a specific architectural question and, from there, suggesting a constellation of revelations,” Whiting added. She also noted that Barnes “delivers the specificity, the technical skill, the innovation, and the passion that promise to make his project significant both for architecture as a discipline and for architectural culture writ large.”

a black-stripped gallery wall
A Spectrum of Blackness:The Search for Sedimentation in Miami (2020) by Germane Barnes as featured in MoMA’s exhibition Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America. (MoMA)

In addition to the Rome Prize, Chicago Architecture Biennial, and now, Wheelwright Prize, announcements, Barnes is also one of 11 featured artists and designers in Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America, the first exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art to explore the relationship between architecture and Black spaces. The historic exhibition is on view through the end of this month.

Prior to joining the University of Miami, Barnes served as designer-in-residence for the Opa-locka Community Development Corporation, a role that saw him overseeing multiple urban revitalization projects in an underserved Miami-Dade County community with a notably large collection of Moorish Revival architecture. (Today one of Florida’s poorest cities, Opa-locka was developed in the 1920s with an opulent One Thousand and One Nights theme.) Barnes has also participated in other group exhibitions, including at the African American Research Library & Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale, and has lectured widely.

Barnes earned his undergraduate degree in Architecture from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Following a post-graduation turn working for an architecture firm in Cape Town, South Africa, he returned to the U.S. and received his Master of Architecture from Woodbury University in Burbank, California.

Last year’s Wheelwright Prize winner was the Spanish-born, London-based architect, urban designer, and educator Daniel Fernández Pascual. His winning proposal, Being Shellfish: The Architecture of Intertidal Cohabitation, examines the architectural possibilities of the world’s diverse intertidal zones.