Spring 2011

The Arcus Chair in Gender, Sexuality, and the Built Environment

The College of Environmental Design recently announced a gift of $1 million from Jon L. Stryker that, combined with a match from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, will create a new $2 million endowed CED chair named the Arcus Chair in Gender, Sexuality, and the Built Environment. The chair is named for the Arcus Foundation, a private philanthropic organization founded by Jon Stryker that advances social justice and conservation issues internationally. The foundation maintains offices in Kalamazoo, Michigan; New York City; and Cambridge, UK. The creation of an endowed chair marks a new phase in Jon Stryker’s commitment to the college. The connection began in 2000 with the gift from the foundation that launched CED’s Arcus Endowment, a unique fund that has supported a wide array of critical and creative activities at the intersection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) issues and architecture, city and regional planning, and landscape architecture.

For the first half of the last decade, the Arcus Endowment held an annual competition for small-grant funding to support an ambitious range of projects, including cutting-edge research, archival documentation, innovative teaching programs, and design activities, all centered on LGBTQ issues. The diverse results of the endowment’s awards program continue to enrich our understanding of cities, landscapes, and built environments by opening the various processes that shape design research, education, and practice to LGBTQ perspectives. Susan Stryker (no relation to Jon Stryker), a well-known Bay Area activist and associate professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Indiana at Bloomington, and Victor Silverman, an independent filmmaker and professor of history at Pomona College, received funds to complete research for the documentary film Screaming Queens: The Riots at Compton Cafeteria. Based on a script co-authored by Stryker and Silverman, the film won an Emmy and was also shown on PBS. The film tells the story behind the 1966 riots in San Francisco by transgender people against discriminatory policing. The Arcus Endowment also funded the design of an innovative temporary housing project by architect Sonny Ward using recycled cardboard to create shelters at Camp Sister Spirit, a feminist retreat and women’s safe space in rural Ovett, Mississippi. Other initiatives include an LGBTQ heritage map for walking tours of Seattle, Washington. The maps were produced by cultural geographers of queer space Larry Knopp (University of Washington at Tacoma) and Michael Brown (University of Washington at Seattle) in collaboration with the Northwest Gay and Lesbian History Museum Project. Some of the endowment’s other projects flared brightly and had a brief but memorable impact, such as the events staged by an energetic but relatively short-lived CED student group irreverently called Queers in Space. Film nights, discussion groups, the production of a group website, and a design charrette for a possible LGBTQ history museum in San Francisco were part of the mix.

Jon L. Stryker
Jon L. Stryker

In 2006, the endowment shifted its resources towards creating a scholar-in-residence program. The first scholar, Annmarie Adams, was resident in 2008. Adams, a graduate of UC Berkeley’s M.Arch. and Ph.D. programs, is currently the William C. Macdonald Professor at the School of Architecture at McGill University. During her residency, she initiated an interdisciplinary seminar on sexuality and space entitled Sex and the Single Building, attended by students from CED and a wide cross-section of campus departments. She also completed a research project on the Weston Havens house, a seminal example of mid-century Bay Area modernism now owned by CED. Her Havens house research was published in the spring 2010 issue of Buildings and Landscapes; a second project, begun in Berkeley in 2008, on gender-variant children and their bedrooms, was recently featured in the German journal FKW//Zeitschrift fur geschlechterforschung und visuelle kultur. In September 2010, Adams became the director of the McGill Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, where she continues to draw upon insights gained during her year as the Arcus scholar-in-residence. The New York architect and Yale University professor Joel Sanders also completed a residency in the spring of 2010. He delivered a public lecture and taught an intensive interdepartmental seminar, both entitled “Human/Nature: Gender Sexuality and the Landscape Architecture Divide,” that explored how the design approaches and codes of professional conduct that separate architects and landscape architects are rooted in cultural conceptions about gender and sexuality. Research conducted at Berkeley formed the basis of his forthcoming book Groundworks: Between Landscape and Architecture (co-edited with Diana Balmori), to be released by Monacelli Press in the fall of 2011. Over the years, the Arcus Endowment has also sponsored an annual lecture as part of the Department of Architecture’s spring lecture series. Past speakers have included Alice T. Friedman, Professor of Architectural History at Wellesley College and author of Women and the Making of the Modern House, and Henry Urbach, Curator of Architecture and Design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Though funding for the Arcus Endowment came from the Arcus Foundation, the visionary thinking behind the gift belongs to Jon Stryker, a graduate (1989) of the M.Arch. program at CED. After he left CED, he went on to work in architectural practice in Kalamazoo, Michigan (his hometown), before establishing the foundation in 2000. The knowledge Jon gained of the profession, both through his own experiences and those of his friends and colleagues across the United States, convinced him of the need for an endowment that would support and make the contributions of LGBTQ professionals better known, while also working to combat homophobia at school, in professional institutions, and in the workplace.

As program director for the endowment from its inception until 2010, I worked alongside Department of Architecture faculty members Paul Groth and Roddy Creedon, Environmental Design Archives Curator Waverly Lowell, CED Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs Gary Brown, and a national advisory board to shape the direction of the endowment. There was a mutual understanding from the beginning of the historic nature of the fund, to our knowledge the only one of its kind in a similar institutional setting anywhere in the world. We all benefited from Jon’s encouragement and enthusiasm. In the first few years, when the endowment was getting off the ground, he attended annual lectures and expressed an interest in the outcomes of the awards program. His experience as president of the Arcus Foundation has proved invaluable over the years as we developed the endowment’s agenda and its outlook matured.

The establishment of the Arcus Chair in Gender, Sexuality, and the Built Environment opens a new chapter in CED’s efforts to develop pedagogy focused on design and difference. The new position will enable CED to build on the energy and excitement of the Arcus Endowment and lead the way in creating more equitable environments for LGBTQ communities in the Bay Area and internationally.