Dark Matter

a mixture of the unknown and the tangible - by Jennifer Newsom

Mentors, Part IV: Jack Travis, FAIA

Last week I had the pleasure of attending Jack Travis's first year graduate course at Pratt. He had invited a number of guest speakers to talk about their work to the young group, and each of the presentations was incredibly engaging, thoughtful, and inspiring. All of the presenters were also Black or brown. Now this was something of an anomaly, and as I took my seat on the presenter side of the room, I felt self-conscious about the dichotomy in the class. Here we were, the pigmented patrons of knowledge, facing our paler charges. Oh how the tables had turned! It was as though someone had hit the Invert command in Photoshop, and I was in a parallel universe (and university) where the students were engaged, taking notes, and invested in a black architectural aesthetic. Jack deserves full credit for exposing students to a voice they, I think I can say with some certainty, would not have otherwise heard. The students were designing a small business incubator for Harlem's 12th Street and had to address the clients in that community (their desires, traditions, and visual culture) head on. I eagerly look forward to their final review at the end of this month.

Jack is a true pioneer who is also very true to himself - he posits an Afro-centric aesthetic unabashedly and unwaveringly. He was the first to let me know about David Adjaye, and suggested I try to get a job there (success!) He also pushes tirelessly for blacks in our field, and he is committed to diversifying its ranks. If you are a young, gifted, and black designer, you should know who he is, and be inspired by his story. I certainly am.