Segregation by Design Examines Systemic Racism in American Cities


courtesy of Segregation by Design / @segregation_by_design
Adam Paul Susaneck’s research on Atlanta shows how racist urban practices have shaped the city’s built environment over time.

New York-based architectural designer Adam Paul Susaneck started segregation by design website after reading Richard Rothstein The Color of the Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Tore America Apart (Liveright, 2017). “[Rothstein] goes tactic by tactic, describing the policy measures by which the government has enacted segregation,” says Susaneck. “I want[ed] to see what it looks like in practice.

The website was born out of his growing frustration with the American city. “As you walk through downtown America, the sense of destruction is palpable,” says Susaneck. The architect is clear in his position that the United States is at the center of the worst modernist urban planning in the world. “I think disrespect for the built environment is an American thing,” says Susaneck. “Much of the disrespect for integrated urbanism in modernism is racism.”


courtesy of Segregation by Design / @segregation_by_design

These topics are addressed in the history of architecture – through transportation and housing, for example – but many issues are addressed separately even though they are interrelated. “It’s systemic,” says Susaneck. Using a combination of striking visuals and painstaking research, the site, organized by cities including Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia and Houston, clearly marries these topics and clearly shows how mid-century politicians, architects and planners used the federal government. Aid Highway Act of 1956, which created the interstate highway system, to literally divide and conquer communities.

Compelling videos accompany the site’s images, illustrating the new highways and housing projects that relentlessly crisscrossed American cities in the 1950s and 1960s. Visitors accustomed to seeing Google Earth’s ubiquitous satellite images might take a moment to recognize the work that these videos involved. To show pre-1956 cities, Susaneck assembled 1938 aerial photographs to create near-perfect visual representations of intact urban planning that was systematically destroyed.

courtesy of Segregation by Design / @segregation_by_design
courtesy of Segregation by Design / @segregation_by_design

Segregation by design continues to grow. Through an upcoming full-time Ph.D. program at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, Susaneck intends to document the approximately 180 municipalities that have received funding from the Road Act of 1956. At the time of this writing, he does not there are only a dozen cities on his site, but that will soon change.

courtesy of Segregation by Design / @segregation_by_design

This article first appeared in the October 2022 issue of ARCHITECT.

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