The Berlage

Session Room K

On Amaza Lee Meredith Imagines Herself Modern

Jacqueline Taylor

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Front cover of Amaza Lee Meredith Imagines Herself Modern: Architecture and the Black American Middle Class.

Jacqueline Taylor will lecture on her recent book entitled Amaza Lee Meredith Imagines Herself Modern: Architecture and the Black American Middle Class. This book tells the captivating story of Amaza Lee Meredith, a Black woman architect, artist, and educator born into the Jim Crow South, whose bold choices in both life and architecture expand our understanding of the Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance, while revealing the importance of architecture as a force in Black middle-class identity. Through her charismatic protagonist, Jacqueline Taylor derives new insights into the experiences of Black women at the forefront of culture in early twentieth-century America, caught between expectation and ambition, responsibility and desire.

Central to Taylor's argument is that Meredith's response to modern architecture and art, like those of other Black cultural producers, was not marginal to the modernist project; instead, her work reveals the tensions and inconsistencies in how American modernism has been defined. In this way, the book shines a necessary light on modernism's complexity, while overturning perceived notions of race and gender in relation to the modernist project and challenging the notion of the white male hero of modern architecture.

The Berlage Sessions, a seven-part seminar series entitled “About the Book,” examines recent scholarship and their respective book production, from building biographies and academic anthologies to memoirs and novels. Topics will include El Lissitzky’s project for a “horizontal skyscraper,” a meditative tour of a family’s house on the Sardinian Coast, an account of the life and work of the architect Minoru Yamasaki, the role of modernism and material culture played in the aspiring Black American middle class of the early twentieth century, a critical-paranoid investigation of the paradoxes of OMA’s enigmatic Villa Dall’Ava, the emergence of world histories of architecture, and the tenuous relationship of eighteenth-century England to late-capitalist modernity through the lives and times of ceramics entrepreneur Josiah Wedgewood. The series will conclude with a reflection on how and for whom is architectural history is written.