Critical Spatial Practice

Private Choices, Public Spaces (2014)
  • Lori A. Brown and ArchiteXX Design Action | Mississippi

  • Photography credit: Ashley Simone Photography credit: Ashley Simone Photography credit: Ashley Simone Private Choices, Public Spaces Private Choices, Public Spaces
  • Private Choices, Public Spaces (2014)
  • Lori A. Brown and ArchiteXX Design Action | Mississippi
  • My creative practice has generated an intense interest and commitment in an architecture of activism, one that provides meaningful opportunities to participate with and influence broader spatial concerns relevant to contemporary culture. In particular, my work seeks to identify and transform the spectrum of spatial structures within society to promote equity and inclusivity.

    ArchiteXX wants architecture to have direct engagement with and impact upon our built environment. Architecture can take a long time to happen, too long sometimes, and so the design action is a way to put something out in the world quickly and creatively. Design actions provide opportunities to critically engage issues that are both socially and politically relevant to our contemporary society and we have conceived of the design action as a way to use design to take action out in the world! We believe the design action will be a catalyst for change ranging from the very small to the very large and we engage places, groups and issues that design very often overlooks.

    Our first design action focuses on the role of design and reproductive healthcare for the last surviving abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi. The call for participation asks for proposals for an installation physically engaging the boundary between the public and private zones of the clinic’s fence that coincides with the clinic’s property line. This fence is symbolic both as a barrier where protestors legally cannot trespass against and as a visual boundary denoting the shift between the legally defined publicly accessible realm and the privately owned and controlled space of the clinic. Theoretically once patients pass through this zone they have entered into the protected space of the clinic. This space, although legally inscribed, is realistically transgressed visually and aurally through varying sound amplification on almost a daily basis. As part of ArchiteXX’s mission to bridge the academy and practice and engage with pertinent socially and politically relevant issues, this design action foregrounds the highly contested issue of abortion and the space of a clinic. The call for design participation raises important issues around the role of design in our built environment, ways design thinking can impact such a politically volatile subject, and how the public understands, inhabits and engages the public realm. Critical of competitions, this project seeks to create an alternative to the generic competition format through an open call, soliciting responses via postcard. 


    Lori Brown has developed a creative practice focusing on the relationships between architecture and social justice issues with particular emphasis on gender and its impact upon spatial relationships in hopes to broaden the discourse and involvement of architecture in our world. She is the co-founder and leads ArchiteXX,, a women and architecture group working to bridge the academy and practice in New York City and seeks to raise the awareness of women in architecture, create support and mentoring networks, and take design actions broadening the exposure of architecture in the world. ArchiteXX’s current curatorial project is the travelling exhibition Now What?!Advocacy, Activism & Alliances in American Architecture since 1968. Through ArchiteXX she is also currently collaborating with the Australian group Parlour and the German group N-Ails on #wikiD, to write more women architects into Wikipedia. Her two books include Feminist Practices:  Interdisciplinary Approaches to Women in Architecture, an edited collection of a group of international women designers and architects employing feminist methodologies in their creative practices (2011) that began as a traveling exhibition and Contested Spaces: Abortion Clinics, Women’s Shelters and Hospitalsexploring highly securitized spaces and the impact of legislation and the First Amendment’s affect upon such places (2013). She is working with two abortion clinics on design interventions for their public interface. Currently her two book projects include Borders and Bodiesand co-editing the Bloomsbury Global Encyclopedia of Women in Architecture 1960-2015 with Dr. Karen Burns. In 2016 she received a Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation Leadership Award for her work increasing recognition of gender inequities in the building industry. Prior to teaching, Brown was working as an architect in New York City for several award-winning firms. She is a Professor of Architecture at Syracuse University and is a registered architect in the state of New York.


    The work prioritizes ways to be responsive, adaptive, and to challenge normative spatial expectations, identities, and relations. Seeking to make visible often invisible or ignored conditions, the work more broadly works as a critique to the boundaries of the architectural discipline, always with the expectation to expand the potentials for design to become more critically relevant and politically engaged. 

    Feminist, politics, reproductive healthcare, public space, architecture


    The Last Abortion Clinic. 2005. Frontline.

    Gillian Rose. 1993. Feminism & Geography The Limits of Geographical Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    Nancy Fraser. 1990. “Rethinking the Public Sphere A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy.” Social Text25/26.


    To quote directly from ArchiteXX’s design call:

    Design is a powerful, effective and often under-utilized tool in addressing the complexities of contested spaces. ArchiteXX calls you to collaborate with us in a practice of active citizenship through design. We believe design must engage challenging social and political dimensions of the built environment, such as access to reproductive health care, in order to make improvements at all scales for all people. Knee jerk reactions to these issues are prevalent in mainstream media. We invite the public to think more broadly and deeply about the role design can play in dialogue with such complicated and multi-layered issues. The public-private threshold of an abortion clinic is a highly-nuanced interface of strong personal sentiments. Our design action takes the discomfort head-on, illuminating the spatial implications of access to reproductive health care and the role design can play in expanding the conversation.

    ArchiteXX initiated this design action to put our values regarding the profession of architecture into practice. Critical of the exploitative nature of conventional design competitions, the project is framed as an open-collaborative think-tank. The design action promotes dialogue and collaboration rather than competition to execute its goal. Through this mode of activism, we hope to transform the profession.  It is an iterative and lived practice outside the norms of the conventional office. “Private Choices, Public Spaces” is our first attempt, and we want to invite you to work with us.

    Our prompt asked for participants to consider the following:

    How can design enable dialogue in contested public spaces?

    How can a safe space be created within zones of protest?

    How can one’s personal experience inform design in socially and politically charged spaces?

    How much space is needed for the personal, social and public zones of access to reproductive healthcare?

    How should the separation between the public and private spaces of an abortion clinic be physically defined?

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