Client: Broward County Department of Cultural Affairs
In William Shakespeare’s play, King Henry IV, the title character says, “Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down! Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” King Henry is essentially stating that with great power comes great responsibility. Responsibilities that reverberate throughout his kingdom. If Shakespeare’s writing references responsibility and duty, then this interpretation is more than appropriate. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crownis a referendum on Black hair and Black architecture.
In the United States there has been a search for distinctly black architecture aesthetic. While Black contributions to the built environment are readily available, identifiably Black architectural styles are largely absent. If one were to trace the lineage of building practices and formal spatial articulations from Africa to the Americas perhaps a formal language may appear. In lieu of this laborious yet necessary process one may reference that the Shotgun Home or Caribbean Cottage housing typologies are undeniably Black architecture present in the United States. Southern cities utilized this building typology to densify black enclaves. One of those most important features of this vernacular is the raised front porch that has become a defining characteristic.
The physical structure of the porch is a privately public threshold that separates the interior from the exterior. When placed adjacent to other porches, the amalgamation of forms become a larger object that provides surveillance, community, spectacle amongst other uses. Porches, whether formal architectural interventions or informal porch-like spaces, are means of congregation and social identity. Spaces that signify Blackness and community while also providing entry to issues of race, class and ethnicity.
One of the most important features of the porch, are the porch chairs. Often innocuous this project aims to highlight the chair as a critical element. Fabricated from metal, wood, and rope, the materials of the chair mimic the materials used to construct South Florida Shotgun vernacular of wood framed construction with sheet metal roofing. The slanted metal frame is similar to the slanted gable roof one would find atop the cottage. The milled wooden back post works as interior framing and is derived from combs used to style Black hair. Black hair that is often policed and frowned upon instead of celebrated as it should. The crowns of the back support are inspired by the crowns donned by Black people across the diaspora. From Sunday Service hats to Bahamian Junkanoo Band cosplay to the legendary afro-pick, each chair promotes black identity. The seating apparatus design references braiding techniques often found in the Black community. Multi-colored rope is braided and weaved in different patterns that amplify the creativity that is found in Black hairstyles.
These chairs are congregation. These chairs are identity. These chairs are home. Should one decide that the efforts to celebrate a missing component of architecture history is unnecessary or daunting, “then happy low, lie down! Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.