Victor Dzidzienyo, Associate Professor of Howard University’s School of Architecture emigrated from Ghana to study here. He completed graduate work at Howard and has taught at the School of Architecture, under numerous academic titles, for forty years. He worked with Rev. Walter Fauntroy during protests of the 1960’s and was involved in the Model Inner City program in the Howard University neighborhood, HUD’s first investment in community participation as a planning and development tool.
I first met Victor when I spoke at Howard about my work in Haiti and Architecture by Moonlight. Although Victor has taught students, especially students of color, from all over the world and has seen many changes in higher education, his perspective on architectural education remains consistent. “You have to address the basic concerns of architecture: space, structure and light. Beyond that, what are you doing to improve the human condition? We want to research and understand how the physical environment affects, and can improve, the human condition.”
When Victor heard about my current project invited me visit with himself, Brad, and Sylvia, a local community activist.
“Community participation grew out of civil disturbances. They shocked many people, but they prompted affirmative action. What LBJ did cut across political lines. The disenfranchised had an opportunity to see what was possible. Whether that became real is another question. The community developed a plan, the people’s plan. The agency had their plan. Bringing the subway here was an impetus for development. Unfortunately, the inner city line, the Green Line, was the last to be built.” Construction dragged on for thirty years and many elements of the people’s plan did not come to pass. “The process benefits those who can build, but ownership, which guarantees stability, is another issue. It didn’t happen.” Howard students were involved in the planning and physical projects that resulted. One of the benefits that did occur was a flourishing of local African-American architects and designers who began their own firms. Today, all major cities have Howard students who play key roles in design and planning, and several large cities have Black mayors who are Howard graduates.
I visited with Victor, Brad, and Sylvia on the day after the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia closed. They were all enthusiastic about the convention’s content and tone. As the nation’s preeminent black university, located in Washington DC, Howard is steeped in the political arena. Brad’s perspective on our evolving politics is that, “Obama could not have happened if not for Bush. He screwed up so bad people who would have never voted for a Black man did.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“It reassures me, what Mrs. Clinton said yesterday. She spoke of how we can use our resources to create a better tomorrow. She made it personal in terms of our children and the children unborn so that they can inherit our values and ideals.” – Victor
“I am really happy after the convention. Mr. Khan, Reverend Barber, they were outstanding. If you asked me your question after the Republican Convention, it was all doom and gloom. But this was like a revival. I am energized.
“I’m involved in the Contemplative Mind Society a group that promotes the spiritual being in our everyday lives. We explore a contemplative pedagogy. We are good at teaching students the hard skills, but we need to focus on the soft skills, the inner life, rather than the outer life.
“In a global world we need to have the contemplative skills to know what we’re capable of and how we can contribute to tomorrow. That’s why the convention enthused me. It represented everyone today and offered a positive way to be tomorrow.
“There’s a dichotomy in this. The contemplative element deals with living in the moment. Your question is about the future. Only Allah knows that, it’s in His hands. Posing the question is awkward. The only way to live for tomorrow is to live for today. Yet architecture is a futuristic endeavor. We conceive something that doesn’t exist.” – Brad
“Tomorrow will be the projection of seven billion people. Tomorrow will be the culmination of seven billion projections. I hope it’s different from today. I hope we grow.
“I have a friend who is a techie, just moved here to Tucson. He’s going through dementia. He knows he’s going through different dimensions, moving beyond our 3-D world. But he still worries about money and food and things. He doesn’t know where things are. I told him, ‘Alan, you were never about that stuff. You live in a place where your basic needs are met. Go experience your other dimensions.’
“In terms of tomorrow we should all be moving into that space. The more complex the details, the less we focus on who we are.” – Sylvia