Trained as an architect and historian of architecture, Andrew Herscher works on the spatial politics of humanitarian and human rights issues, displacement and migration, race and identity, and contemporary art and architecture. He has also co-initiated a number of collaborative public projects, including the Detroit Unreal Estate Agency, We the People of Detroit Community Research Collective, Detroit Resists, and the San Francisco-based Commune Research Commune. Among his publications are Violence Taking Place: The Architecture of the Kosovo Conflict (Stanford University Press, 2010); The Unreal Estate Guide to Detroit (University of Michigan Press, 2012); Spatial Violence, co-edited with Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi (Routledge, 2016), and Displacements: Architecture and Refugee (Sternberg Press, forthcoming). He is currently Creative Cities Fellow at the Stanford Arts Institute at Stanford University and Associate Professor at the University of Michigan.
In the summer of 2015, volunteers working with Detroit Eviction Defense built a fence next to a house whose owner was refusing to be evicted; the fence was to block an eviction crew expected to come to the house and remove the homeowner and her possessions. “Black homes matter” was among the messages painted on the fence. What can architectural history offer to a reading of this affirmation and what does this affirmation offer to architectural history? In response to these questions, I explore the intersection of race, space, and housing in the American city by focusing on “blight”: a term that has been deployed to characterize urban difference from the early 20th century into the present. Posed as “blight,” the uneven urban development fundamental to capitalist urbanism has been refracted through the politics of white supremacy and framed as a “problem” that could be “solved” by city planning, zoning, urban renewal, and other technical means. In so doing, studies of and actions against “blight” have masked contradictions in capitalist urbanism, spatialized race in the American city, and produced spaces of dispossession in which black homeownership has become a practice of resistance.