Featured Maker: Alicia Olushola Ajayi

Alicia Olushola Ajayi is an architectural designer, writer, teacher and researcher. 


Featured Maker: Alicia Olushola Ajayi

Study Architecture is planning to revive the Featured Makers series this summer. Reigniting the series with featured maker, Alicia Olushola Ajayi who is an architectural designer, writer, teacher and researcher. She is currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia GSAPP.

Ajayi attended the University of Colorado Boulder for her bachelor’s degree in environmental design, architecture. She went on to attend the Washington University in St. Louis to obtain a dual masters of architecture and social work.

Read Alicia Olushola Ajayi: letter to a young architect

During her time at the School of Visual Arts in New York, Alicia completed a master of design research, and wrote her thesis project “We Call it Freedom Village: Brooklyn, Illinois’ Radical Tactics of Black Place-Making”. Ajayi learned about Brooklyn as a graduate architecture student at Washington University in St. Louis. Recognizing the historical disenfranchisement in spatial practices, Ajayi knew that if architecture could be biased against Blacks, it could also be reversed and used to benefit the Black community. Her intention for her thesis became to seek new spatial practices that would benefit Black communities.

Her thesis project was supported by the School of Visual Arts Alumni Association, the New York State Art Council on the Arts, and the Architectural League’s Deborah J. Norden Travel Grant.

Thesis Project Summary:

“Alicia Ajayi will study the town of Brooklyn, Illinois, which sits directly across from St. Louis, Missouri, on the east bank of the Mississippi River. As Ajayi describes her project: ‘Brooklyn is a small Black town with 700 residents, and the town motto of ‘Founded by Chance, Sustained by Courage.’ Local oral histories claim that in 1829 eleven families led by Priscilla ‘Mother’ Baltimore left Missouri and crossed the mighty Mississippi [from] a slave state, into Illinois, a free state… Once on the promised land of freedom, the group settled in a secluded wooded area near the riverbanks in what is called a ‘freedom village’ by scholars and local historians. Brooklyn, thought to be involved in the Underground Railroad activity, became a place for Black agency and self-realization. In 1873, Brooklyn became the first Black incorporated village.’

“Black town-building was an important tactic deployed during the Black protonationalist movement that emerged in the nineteenth century and lasted well into the Jim Crow era (1877–1950s). Brooklyn, IL is an example of how Blacks pursued freedom and eventually power with tactics of place-making. In other words, making Black space was and continues to be a radical act. Ajayi’s research is an ongoing effort to fill in the gaps of architectural history and history at large while exploring the complicated nuance of Black participation in the same capitalist system that oppressed them. The research will include extensive mapping and spatial studies, material culture studies, and documentation of oral stories.”

To continue reading Ajayi’s thesis, please click here.


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