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I’m joined by Mark Gardner, a Partner at Jaklitsch/Gardner and Professor at the Parsons School of Design. We discuss his work with the Inwood African Burial Ground & Lenape Ceremonial Site, also known as the Inwood Sacred Sites, and how colonization manifests itself in design and architecture across the US.
When The Bowery Residents Committee learned the site it planned to purchase had a history as a burial ground for enslaved Africans and as a Lenape Ceremonial Site, their plans for building and operating a high-quality shelter for people experiencing homelessness quickly changed. In our conversation, Mark gives an overview of the geographical history of this site, which is situated as far north as you can go on the island of Manhattan. He highlights key designers and collaborators who are working to capture the culture and contemplative nature of the land.
Mark and I also engage in a broader discussion about our experiences as minorities in the US. We talk about the racial bias in real estate and how he responds to people who deny the existence of institutionalized racism. Mark shares why he’s so drawn to projects like the Inwood Sacred Sites and how he manages to combine his passion for social justice with his architectural talents.
Mark Gardner is a Partner at the New York City-based design firm Jaklitsch/Gardner. Mark started his career in architecture at the firms Jeffrey McKean Architect, Murphy Burnham & Buttrick, and Stanley Love-Stanley. Besides his design work, he is a Professor at the Parsons School of Design and previously served as the Director of its Master of Architecture program. He has also been active in community initiatives with SUPERFRONT and the National Association of Minority Architects. Mark is a graduate of the architecture programs at the University of Pennsylvania and Georgia Tech.
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[00:00:00] Intro: What goes into making an iconic building in America? What are the stories and who are the people behind the next generation of architecture? If your work touches the real estate industry in any way, or you’re just curious about what goes into one of a kind cities and towns all across our country. Join us on the American building podcast.
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[00:01:10] Atif Qadir: This is American building and I’m your host? Arthur coddler. I’m the CEO of Redis, a technology company focused on innovative financing for real estate projects. We are recording from the historic home of world renowned architect, Michael Graves, and Princeton, New Jersey. Check out this amazing space for yourself at the Michael Graves, architecture and design YouTube channel.
Now let’s build. Today, our guest is architect. Mark Gardner mark is a partner at the New York city based design firm. Jacklish Gardner. The firm’s incredible work has appeared in press ranging from surface magazine to dwell, to architectural record to the wall street journal. And even the New York post mark started his career in architecture at the firms, Jeffrey McKeen architect, Murphy Burnham, and Buttrick and Stanley loves Stanley.
Besides his design work. He is a professor at the Parsons school of design and previously served as the director of its master of architecture. He has also been active in community initiatives with super front and the national association of minority architects. Listeners you’ll recall that our recent guests, the great Pascal.
So blond is the next president of Noma. Mark is a graduate of the architecture programs at the university of Pennsylvania and Georgia tech. In our conversation today, we will be talking about the Inwood African burial ground and LANAP ceremonial site, which is also known together as the Inwood sacred sites that is located in upper Manhattan and New York city.
More broadly, we will be discussing the architecture of colonization and the colonization of architecture. Thank you so much for being here with us.
[00:03:07] Mark Gardner: Thank you. Thank you. It’s my pleasure.
[00:03:09] Atif Qadir: Absolutely. So let’s bring it way, way, way back. When did you decide that you wanted to become an architect and what were some of the earliest influences that you had in that path?
[00:03:24] Mark Gardner: Um, I think, you know, when I was a kid, I was always interested in having me, a lot of people, a lot of architects will say this, you know, the building blocks, Legos, putting things together, taking things apart to see how they work was always an interest for me.
I think I always loved how things sort of went together, uh, would come together and how buildings were made. And so it was always an interest to me. And I’ll add that. I had no idea what I was getting into. I mean, a lot of people say like, oh, I don’t think I knew what architecture was or could be for me.
[00:04:03] Atif Qadir: You did your undergraduate studies at Georgia tech and your graduate studies at the university of Pennsylvania.
How do you compare those two programs and your experience in living in Atlanta versus Philadelphia?
[00:04:19] Mark Gardner: Oh, it was interesting. So one was a Georgia tech was my undergraduate experience. Penn was my graduate experience that were quite a few years between, um, I actually took out time to work the, which is always a debate among architects.
Do I go back to school right away? Or do I work for a while? And I’d probably say, I’ll tell people, usually people say like, oh, I wish I had worked longer before I went back for me, it’s quite the opposite. And I’ve always gotten into conversations with other architects because I, I never considered this statement controversial, but I would say I worked too long.
I worked for about five and a half years. You think it was too much? I think it was too much. It was too much. It actually, the difference between the education was I was in my undergraduate. I was a lot more open because I had no idea what to expect when I got to graduate program. I think I came preloaded with got it too many expectations of what that education was going to look like.
The surprise, the discovery in my undergraduate space. Took a lot longer to get to, and my in the graduate program, because I came with some preconceptions and I actually had to, I had to break myself. So break myself with those preconceptions. I had to kind of step back and be a little more open than I think.
[00:05:48] Atif Qadir: I think what I find. So in comparison, I did, uh, a four year bachelor’s degree in architecture and then got licensed and then did an MBA. So I didn’t do a second professional degree, but I think for me, what I’ve found is. With architectural education programs. It is this idea that there is a certain way of thinking in a way of designing.
That is very, I think, emblematic of a particular program. And if you come with, as you described those preconceived notions, it can probably make that process of understanding a little bit tougher and more difficult. Well, another challenge that I’ve talked to folks that did do at marks, but then go to paths where they were not design architects is finding opportunities for crossovers with other disciplines.
So for example, I had a chance to interact with the grad students when I was an undergrad at MIT. And I think our school does a fantastic job of crossovers, particularly. The bleeding edge of tech, uh, and the frontier of innovation and change. So for example, the media lab, uh, is actually under the jurisdiction of the school of architecture and planning at, uh, at MIT.
And I think that sort of a reality is so absolutely fascinating. My guess is that’s probably also a challenge that some people might face, uh, is how to get experiences outside of that, that traditional a quarter of design architecture within an MRI program.
[00:07:09] Mark Gardner: Yeah. Well, within an MRI program, I think the time is also, I can say this also as a teacher, that the time is so short that you’re trying to actually, you’re educating a range of people, some who come to the profession with maybe that undergraduate experience, right.
Or others who have worked in the profession for a while or both, or, or some who’ve never studied architecture before. And so it’s almost like you have to have that regimen to sort of get them all to the same.
Uh, at least the same basic level of requirements that, um, the profession sort of demands.
[00:07:45] Atif Qadir: So as a, as a professor, do you feel that teaching makes you a more competent architect and being a professional architect in practice makes you a more competent teacher?
[00:08:01] Mark Gardner: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think, I think what’s interesting about it as you, we have, you know, in the profession, continuing education and continuing education might really be focused on those who.
Um, w look, we all learn. We all continue to learn. We should all be thinking that way. So it’s like being able to keep up with the, the energy and vitality of students really sort of keeps me on my toes in terms of what they’re thinking about, because their thinking is different. Practice and academia kind of need each other in those ways. Practice always needs to be kind of refreshed and rethought. And I think the ways, you know, technology is one vehicle that may brings about that change.
I think it changes in thinking about how we relate to other human beings, uh, changes about how we relate to our environment.
[00:08:55] Atif Qadir: So I’m really curious about the, your current firm, which is your firm, um, with your partner at Jacqueline Gardner. And you’ve been practicing through this firm for 17 years. How did you find your partner and how do you compare your work styles and personal.
[00:09:13] Mark Gardner: So Stephen Jaklitsch is my partner. We actually went to Georgia tech together. Got it. Um, we didn’t really know each other. I kind of knew of him through that network of. I had worked in New York for awhile. And then I saw, um, a posting from his practice and went and interviewed, actually interviewed with his senior associate, um, towards the end of the interview, he came in and he said, oh, you don’t remember me? Do you. And I was like, I kind of remember, uh, you know, and that we went to Georgia tech together and that we knew some of the same people and it just all sort of, you know, carried on from there.
You know, I think we really hit it off. One of the ways that as now, as partners that we work, we always like to describe sometimes he’s the gas and I’m the brake, and sometimes he needs the break and, um, you know, and I’m the gas kind of thing
[00:10:12] Atif Qadir: in order for the car to run.
[00:10:13] Mark Gardner: That’s right. That’s all right. And so we, we really sort of like, if he’s like, Two big picture and still can’t focus on out some of the details.
I’m there to kind of pull him into that level or if I’m maybe too caught up in the details too early, and he’s there to kind of pull me out and remind me of the big picture. I always joke with my wife. That’s like, um, I have a, it’s like I have two marriages and it’s like, you know, it’s like, I’m just constantly, I know how. My wife operates and how I have to operate around that sometimes. And I also know how Stephan operates and how I have the oppor operate around that. And we have so much respect for one another that, you know, if, if it gets ever heated or it’s because we both care about, about the work we care about the client. Um, we care about putting things out there that really sort of represent how we kind of see the world. I love that
[00:11:15] Atif Qadir: bit of a mental jujitsu, which you just described. And I think for me, uh, so for, for Redis routine, Uh, nine, nine now. And, uh, my co-founder has a very complimentary personality traits to mine.
And I find that in some cases that the car analogy that used was completely apt for, for us as well. And so I think that, that, that makes a lot of sense.
[00:11:40] Mark Gardner: So
[00:11:40] Atif Qadir: I want to talk about the, the Inwood sacred sites. This is an incredibly unique project it’s located in the Inwood neighborhood, in the Northern reaches of Manhattan. Uh, tell us about this neighborhood and the site in particular.
[00:11:55] Mark Gardner: Yeah.
Inwood is, uh, is as far as you can go, Nora. And, and on, on the island of Manhattan and it’s the last, the, the Inwood park as the last remaining bit of the, uh, boreal forest, um, that existed on the island of Manhattan. And so what’s really interesting about the neighborhood is that it also, like, it was, it has a long history of like Manhattan, like New York of like there were farms, like the Dikeman farm up there that, um, during Dutch times and so it’s just a really interesting site. It’s like the city is changed over time. The, the, the topography, the environment of it has changed. It was, you know, rolling Hills and Bluffs. And, you know, it got leveled out like a lot of places and, and red came in and blocks of buildings. Um, over time, the, the end would site was actually a, so in the farms that were up there that were enslaved people, um, during Dutch time.
So, um, those enslaved Africans were, had a burial ground. There were a couple of, there were two different, there was the sort of settlers that Schindler’s burial ground that was just south of there. And then to the north, this, um, That had, um, enslaved peoples and in a burial site, that site also was, you know, there, uh, evidence of around that area of the levodopa, uh, habitation before that.
So it has a long history, um, long geographical history, you know, uh, geological history and peoples that have sort of moved across the land there. What happened in the, so that burial site in the early 20th century was leveled and the there’s a photo. I can see it now. It’s, uh, from the New York times. And it’s how the 10th avenue and, um, the areas being developed and how the site is being this hill is being leveled.
And that the grave sites that were there were being removed and that removal was, there was a stack of, they just stacked the boat. Like altogether skulls, you know, femurs, all the bones just kind of stacked up. So that’s the respect that was sort of being shown to that history. And then that site that built over, you know, as I say, it left a, probably a scar and the, in the history of that place.
And so this project was an acknowledgement from the community when, um, uh, BRC, the Bowery residents committee actually decided that they were going to build a shelter here on the site. And so one of the first things that happened is the community came to them and said, this was a burial site. This was a sacred site of people.
This was a inhabited area by the like you should, um, in your development, you should try to acknowledge that. And I really give it to BRC that they, they listen to. They held community engagement sessions. I mean, really listened and, um, had their advocates, you know, uh, all the way to the top of the organization of not just sort of building the shelter here, but also like, you know, in a shelter is hard enough and community where people might push back against that.
But you know, also of trying to acknowledge this history. And so that’s the project within the bounds of the building and the courtyard. We’re actually doing a sacred space, a sort of a recognition of that history that’s being led by, uh, Elizabeth Kennedy. Who’s a landscape architect and she bought me on board, um, our firm.
And then we also have an indigenous designer studio indigenous, which is, um, Chris Cornelius. Who’s the chair at, um, university of New Mexico. Okay.
[00:16:09] Atif Qadir: So then just to confirm the scope of the project, could you review the different elements that are.
[00:16:16] Mark Gardner: Sure. Um, you know, one of the things, what I’ll say about that BRC really sort of created a space for us to like, this was a ideal project for me, because it really became like before we jumped onto the project, that was really, it wasn’t like, okay, here’s the brief design.
It, it wasn’t like a competition or it wasn’t like a, uh, sort of like we’re on a fast schedule, give us this information, do a design. It was let’s sit down. And we had a number of listening sessions and I mean, listening where we actually got sort of a summary of the feedback from the community. We talked to members of the team from BRC and consultants and an advisory board they’d bought in which included.
Joe Baker from the center, Peggy Peggy king Yardi. Who’s a consultant historical historian and historical consultant on these sort of, uh, African-American sites. She worked with the African-American burial brown and lower Manhattan. So they provided us with sort of perspective and feedback before we even started sketching, drawing, thinking about it.
And so part of that was imagining what the space could be. Is it a, is a chapel like, uh, does it need to teach, you know, is it a, like a museum space? Is it got maybe artifacts? Does it tell the history, does it have some timeline? Is it a space that allows the community to come there to just sort of put a teach in a very quiet way about what the history of the site was?
And I think we. Ultimately, we started to tend toward the ladder was like, let’s let this be a very quiet, sacred space, almost akin to a chapel, uh, in a way, uh, almost a ceremonial space that acknowledged in its elements, the history of the site, the history of the land, you know, so we’re, we’re talking about like, you know, the floor being almost like a, you know, potentially like a tamp to earth and then having like sort of black granite walls, you know, the element I worked on was really the sort of interior space that acknowledged the black history of the site.
And so I had these sort of white and blue beaded, you know, large, almost like oversize beads, like float glass, um, on braided rope has an element across the ceiling and then the. You know, the outside courtyard, uh, Elizabeth is working on, but then the space over that, Chris Cornelius is designed to almost like a totem piece that has like perforated metal skin that lets light sort of filter through.
And that’s like, that’s a huge piece that sits over the courtyards. It’s magnificent. It really reflects a lot of, some of the work that he’s done in studio indigenous. And he worked on that with, uh, with Joe Baker. I should note that, uh, Chris is not some, some of your listeners will be like, well, as you know, Chris Lynn op-ed no, he’s not.
he’s from the Oneida nation, Wisconsin, but he really works around the country with the. Group tribal groups. I’m really sort of able to sort of listen and understand where they’re coming from in terms of, uh, for design, in terms of their culture, um, and how to start to incorporate that. And so he worked with Joe Baker, the opera center, Joe’s an artist, um, as well, who’s had a recent exhibit at, um, they could look at, at the Queens museum or not the Queens library system.
And so it was like showing contemporary making within the Lenova culture. So that reflects the contemporary, the traditional mixed with, you know, sort of a modern take on it. And so Joe worked with Chris to really sort of capture, you know, capture the culture in a way that I think, um, the future.
[00:20:42] Atif Qadir: So the, uh, you mentioned, uh, the other people that are part of this project, the other designers beyond the, the, the beginning piece, which was about, uh, understanding and observation, and being able to draw inputs, what do the rest of the design process look like with a number of different designers working together on the project?
Where there like weekly meetings or weekly zooms? How did it work out?
[00:21:08] Mark Gardner: Yeah, we, we actually did it over zone. Um, there were, we we’d scheduled where we could, but, you know, with Elizabeth has a very busy schedule. Her practice is very busy right now. All of, I think all of us are Chris and I, both being academics are sort of tied up in our school schedules.
So whenever we could, we put meetings together, usually, um, at the end of the week, When we could get a little bit of time scheduled out, you know, and we’d go through and we talk about, you know, what we’d heard at a previous workshop, um, how we interpreted it, did some sketches that we shared on the screen sketched on the screen, um, and talked a lot about really, we started with this sort of sectional quality of the site, because one of the things that, um, I don’t know, in the end, I’m mentioning it.
I don’t know if it’ll happen was as a burial space. You know, Elizabeth wanted to push that courtyard down to the six foot level below the street has a data. So you would under, you know, six feet under understand it as sort of a burial site, but then there also all these sort of practical considerations, like eat grass and all of that, that we had to really sort of factor in.
So we’re thinking about all of those things, but at the same time, really sort of. At this moment, sort of freed up in a concept to just think about what this, what all of these sort of material cultures coming together could start to look like, know one of the things I looked at when I talked about beating that’s something that I was drawn to because I think it’s shared among, you know, African and, and indigenous cultures.
And so I looked at the beading as a way to kind of speak a common sort of, of language, um, that could start to speak to sort of both histories or, you know, one or the other,
[00:23:08] Atif Qadir: and the projects that you saw as inspiration. So you mentioned the African burial ground, a national monument in lower Manhattan.
Are there other projects that, that you or the other design team members took on as inspiration as you develop your design strategy for the, in what sacred.
[00:23:28] Mark Gardner: Yeah, I think, you know, the African burial ground is, is really a big one really. Cause you mentioned that, um, Peggy Kenyatta had worked, um, had been a consultant for that woman.
So we were, we had to, you know, we looked at that, you know, we’d looked at, uh, for me, I looked at thinking about the materiality and the history and the African-American museum
[00:23:50] Atif Qadir: in
[00:23:50] Mark Gardner: Washington, DC, right in Washington DC, part of the Smithsonian on the mall, David Ajay, Phil Freelon, uh, uh, max bond definitely had, uh, you know, a lot of, um, contributors, but really, I think the, the capturing of the material culture, that space like the, the skin on the outside, it’s based off of some of the work done by, um, Um, by metal workers and new Orleans who were enslaved people also thinking about, you know, the things, even beyond that, that inspire you, that maybe aren’t about that material culture.
Like for me, I always think about the, even just the history, the sort of invisible histories that exist of like in DC alone of like, um, the enslaved people that, you know, built a lot of the buildings. So the white house, or, you know, the cap Georgetown, for example, but yeah, sure, exactly. Or, or, uh, you know, I I’m, I’m from Bloomsburg, Virginia, and, um, you know, a lot of the buildings in Virginia and you think about on a cello and, you know, the top Lee carpenter for Thomas Jefferson was, you know, one of his slaves who really sort of led and made a lot of design decisions based off of what he knew that Thomas Jefferson would want to see.
[00:25:19] Atif Qadir: And currently, where are you in the design process
[00:25:23] Mark Gardner: where we’ve just presented the concept to the advisory board? Elizabeth actually just did a, um, uh, first Fridays presentation for the architectural league. And so she does a great job. If any of your listeners want to like find that with architectural, the, she does a great job of describing that project, um, and shows some images of that as well.
Excellent. But, uh, so she just presented that and got the okay. To do that. So we’re, we’re sort of cleared through concept and now we’ve lived in the schematic design where we’re starting to think about some of the really schematic design design development, or we’re starting to think about some of the practical issues.
There’s so many sites like this, you know, that we could sort of talk about like across the country of, uh, African-Americans particularly African-American well and indigenous sites that are being erased. They, they become parking lots or big box developments where, you know, sacred sites have been, you know, either destroyed or, um, covered over, lost in time.
[00:26:41] Atif Qadir: I am going to take a break here to let our listeners know that the wonderful chocolate of clear mountain county. We’ll be on the American building podcast. Next month, we will be talking about housing affordability, developing around a college campus and how to actually get a project approved, uh, NIMBYs be damned.
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so mark, in reading the recommendations report that was put together for this project, I was gut punched by this statement at its core. BRC recognizes the traumas of homelessness and impoverished. Intertwined with the ongoing effects of centuries of racist oppression and the erasure of black indigenous and people of color communities.
Like you had mentioned learning the history of this site, the horrible injustice that happened, and the desire to see justice served, prompted BRC, to halt, further planning for development, to reflect, assess, and contemplate how best to proceed when you hear this, what is going on through your mind?
[00:28:59] Mark Gardner: I wish we could all be, has thoughtful and acknowledging a past history and that somehow we didn’t just magically appear in this present moment.
You know, I never used, I didn’t use to know how to answer the question where someone would say to me, usually someone white would say they were like, if we were talking about issues around race or slavery as less like, oh, point more about this racism thing, can you just drop it? And it’s like, that’s my lived experience.
That’s our, our history, you know, oh, this constitution thing, can you just drop it? Some people want to, but you know, it’s like, it’s the same as it’s part of our fabric. And that doesn’t mean that it has to be a, well, let me put it this way. I think it’s interesting that we want to all of a sudden start to assign judgment to quickly.
Instead of being able to just examine it for what it is. It’s like, I’ve been, you know, I’ve, I’ve given talks before where I’m interested in history and I can hold two thoughts. And my head at the same time, Thomas Jefferson was a genius. Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner
[00:30:38] Atif Qadir: and a rapist and a child
[00:30:41] Mark Gardner: continue on.
It’s gone. And so it’s like, we can, we can get into the, the sort of, the details of sort of how these things sort of operate, but it’s like they operate within the same space. And so it’s like, as soon as we kind of acknowledge that, then we can start to, then we can move forward. You know, I just don’t see how we can move forward without, and I can’t imagine that in any other part of my life, it’s like, how do you move forward on anything until you’ve made an acknowledgement of what you’ve done, where you are and where you intend to go.
It’s so funny that it’s almost been, say, like, just decide where you intend to go without knowing where you are.
[00:31:30] Atif Qadir: I think the, what I find so fascinating is this reality that there are many truths that can exist at the same time. And I find it in some ways, very precious and very comical. If someone can imagine that there is a right and a wrong that there is a.
And that there a white and there’s really no shades of things in between. And I think that ends up being the domain of someone who has been the other in some context of their life. Because if you are on the outside, it’s often the reality is you have to be so wildly observant of the world around you and be able to draw all those conclusions.
Like for example, for myself brown and American minority, amongst brown people, I’m from south, from a DC country. So India or Pakistan minority amongst them, I Muslim minority amongst them. I’m Shia minority amongst them. I’m a particular sect called the Bora minority amongst them. Uh, my family speaks Urdu as opposed to good minority.
Uh, there’s literally no place in the world where I can be the majority. And for me, that’s I think why. I really only see things in grays because there’s really no way of being at is black and white.
[00:32:56] Mark Gardner: Yeah. How could, how could you, how could you sort of, like, I’m always surprised when, when I thinks, you know, somehow a personal color, it’s not being fixated about the idea of race or color.
It’s just knowing who you are and how the, you know, it’s like even, you know, we see it in the world, even if you want to ignore that somehow, or, or others. Now I’m speaking from the, the view of the white gaze, right? It’s like, if that, in seeing that thing, can’t you just sort of like, why do you have to have that be such a big deal just to live your life and all that.
And then it’s, and yet there are things that happen that want to remind you, always of who others believe you are. Right. And so you have to kind of, you always have to negotiate that, you know, it’s like the boys always sort of talked about of like living, you know, the sort of coding of like living between worlds and so how you have to be in this one world and how you are in another code switching.
Right. As it’s called. It’s like, I, you know, it’s like sometimes I sort of wonder, like I see how, when I’m in certain environments, like with my family, you know, and it’s like, that’s where I’m one way I, I won’t say more at this point and that, I don’t know if this is hunter. I wouldn’t say that I’m more real in one or the other, um, both.
Right. And how I might be in another world where I’m with a client. And I’m just sort of like trying to M I’m trying to speak to their interests or who they are. And so I might have. I might be putting on my telephone voice or your
[00:34:46] Atif Qadir: Darth Vader voice and listeners. You may, you may enjoy this. As, as we were preparing for this interview, there were some technical issues with our computers that made it such that when mark was speaking, it sounded as if Darth Vader was speaking
[00:34:59] Mark Gardner: to me.
I love James Earl Jones. It must’ve been brilliant. I wish I could have heard it. I wish I really could have heard it, but I think, I think in terms of how you operate in these different worlds, it’s like, yes, that’s the duality, that’s the, that bifurcation of, of, of self. And so you’re, it’s not that you’re, you know, you’re one or the other you’re you’re you’re both hand.
[00:35:26] Atif Qadir: Yes. And I think the, in the particular topic of the quote. I’ve come to realize is I consider myself a student of history and it feels like there’s a particular line of thought is that if you are able to do something in the vein of desecrating human remains, that is such a powerful tool in or racing a cultural heritage or erasing an indigenous existence.
And to be Frank that has been used by colonizers for centuries, whether it’s Americans and Canadians against north American indigenous people, or the English against the SES in south Asia or the Australians against Torres straits Islanders, or let’s be very Frank Israelis against Palestinians right now as we speak.
So in particular, I traveled there several years ago and. Uh, an image that’s really strong in my mind, it was the destruction of the I’ll use Sophia cemetery, which is in Jerusalem it’s dates back to Ottoman times. So 1467, a D a that has been leveled or is in the process of being leveled to create a Christian theme, biblical park to attract tourists from the United States.
So I think that this, this line of what you’re talking about is something that has many echoes across many geographies, geographies of the world.
[00:36:53] Mark Gardner: Yeah. It’s I think, um, these sacred sites and especially those of burial sites are, you know, culturally very important. It’s where we sort of place our ancestors and the place where we know to go to, to, to pay our respects, to . Acknowledge our history. Government is sometimes really been a part of the problem because it actually helps make laws that enforce these kind of separations division.
[00:37:29] Atif Qadir: Do you know, in reality, mark, I think the, what I’ve felt in the past year.
So I, I lived in 12 different places over 12 months because, uh, as a team at Redis, we decided that we’re going to be all virtual. So 2021, I went to 12 places that I had probably no business going to. These are all the places I chose to go that I pre pandemic times I would have necessarily thought of going there.
So for example, I spent a month in West Virginia. I spent a month in Texas and what I came to realize with open eyes and open mind is that the reality is of the injustice that might be. Uh, put into a lightning rod in the idea of an event like George Floyd or any of the long list of similar ones is that there actually is, uh, an underlying, a more fundamental reality of a death by a thousand cuts, which is through the sanitation department’s budget.
So for example, when I was in Houston or, or who actually Moes the lawn in the Latino neighborhood in Houston versus the white neighbor, oh, it doesn’t happen. Oh, all of those things, the quality of education, the quality of transportation that Lewis goes on and on and on that ended up draining resources, money and time from those types of committees that don’t actually have the money or the time despair.
[00:38:49] Mark Gardner: Yeah. It’s amazing. I think we, we talked, you know, before, um, in prep for this off that w you know, uh, Richard Ross Dean’s book, the color of law. Yes. About red line. About the, how those injustices manifest themselves, even through our zoning too, you know, I think was all the other groups that are in on the real estate insurance of Vermont, that then sets in place the standards, guidelines, laws, ordinances, how that actually helps to solidify those, those injustices.
[00:39:34] Atif Qadir: For listeners. I just want to let you know that the book that mark mentioned as the color of law by Richard Watson, it’s published by live right at one, the 2018 Hillman prize for journalism. So definitely check it out. Very provocative, very thought provoking book. And on that topic, mark, you, when people say things like that was so long ago, why does it matter anymore?
Move on. How has your response to things like that changed over time? And what do you say now?
[00:40:07] Mark Gardner: Oh, well now it’s like, I can definitely, I can talk about it in terms of, you know, these things that I’ve now read, that I can actually start to show them, you know, because I think part of it is like you want to, you know, there was a w at one point, I thought, okay, you speak about your own experiences and that’ll have an effect with people.
I think they, they still see those has isolated, you know, it’s like, I, I spoken of myself, friends that have had run ins with the police, but then I think others here that is, you know, well, that was one case. So that was you or you can’t really talk about a whole system that way. Yeah. My
[00:40:58] Atif Qadir: favorite mark is the ones where particularly WhatsApp is assessable for Islamophobia, amongst daisies and south Asians.
And I love the ones where someone will send something blatantly, wildly Islamophobic. And I’ll just say like, literally that literally makes no sense at all, besides the fact that it’s completely crazy. So I think the thing that.
W w oftentimes it will get us responses. Like, oh, we weren’t talking about you. We were talking about the other ones. And I’m like, there are no other ones, the
[00:41:29] Mark Gardner: other ones. Right, right. Right. Well, I mean, oh, not you mark. I didn’t mean you. I meant like, you know, I’ve met some, you know, and it’s just like people, we’re all talking about, we’re talking about people and their lives and what, you know, who can say what opportunities, you know, exist out there.
It’s like my wife and I always talk about it in a way of like, there’s a Albert Einstein out there and she’s in some slum in India and not getting an opportunity to show the world like how she could change the world or, or they’re on some, you know, remote place or in some city where they’re just not being given opportunities.
So I think that, you know, to that point, I think we all have to, we all have to give one another, a chance, you know, it’s like, especially if it’s, if you really want to, I’ve been around so many discussions that are in the space of diversity and equity and inclusion. And I just think we all have to like really try to understand what those terms mean and come to some understanding.
Um, how you start to, not just that, it’s something you end up with like, oh diversity, we’re going to get diversity. And I’m like, you do realize this is a process and not something you do what?
[00:43:06] Atif Qadir: It’s not a person, it’s not a
[00:43:07] Mark Gardner: department. It’s not, but this person’s in charge of the worst city. And it’s like, oh, really?
You’re going to hold that person responsible for change. The whole, like, let’s have the company’s whole, uh, outlook change, you know? And it’s like, we all have a role to play. We all have a part to play. You know, I think also in terms of architecture and design, that’s where I operate sort of bringing all of this back into that.
It’s just like after George Floyd, I was encouraged the word I’ve used recently encouraged by the amount of. Points where I tell people where they were like, the world? What should we, what should I do? How can I, and I’m like, you’ve always had the opportunity to do this. So do the work. I I’m tired. I’m really tired because I feel like I spend a lot of time talking about a lot of these issues all the time.
We probably, you know, to that person, we probably talked about it before, but I was encouraged by people, really making efforts to try to change. But I always worry that there’s a window. It’s a moment. And the window closes and we start a backslide.
[00:44:29] Atif Qadir: I think a particular, what you had mentioned this idea. Responsibility for educating. I love what rapper Mona, Heather, she’s a hijabi woman, uh, from the United States. Uh, she has this lyric, which says, if you want education, I’m going to need the PayPal, PayPal, PayPal.
Yes. And I think to be really honest, I mean, for me, I feel that there is an element of transformation that I’ve gone through, where I often saw other races through the lens of the white gaze and the way that I saw black people was through the lens of the white gaze. The way that I saw Latino people was through the lens of the white gaze.
And I think that when you start realizing that that is the long arm of colonialism, such that the, the inability to humanize with other people that may have similar lots of life to you is probably one of the most fundamental things that just continues. Decades and decades and decades after quote unquote independence has been reached.
Let’s circle back to your work and specifically your work on the Inwood sacred sites and projects like them. Why do you choose. To work on projects like that because you’ve had the opportunity to work on an amazing variety of things. But I think there’s something very special about these projects and help our listeners understand why you choose to, to spend your time and your effort on amazing projects like this.
[00:46:04] Mark Gardner: It is an amazing project. I mean, this is like a, this really has a great opportunity for me in terms of my growth. I think I said earlier that we’re, we’re always learning. We’re always coming. And for me, I’ve worked on a lot of different projects and at one point I’ve said, I they’re sure they’re like project types that I’d like to work on, but more importantly, it’s like, I think I just, I love people and it’s like, now what’s become important to me.
It’s just to find really great clients to work with. You know, great client means potentially great project. Yes, it doesn’t necessarily mean, and it could be anything, it could be a library, it could be a sacred space, could be a home, it could be whatever, but it’s just, it’s just finding the sort of right client to work with.
That allows me to explore the things that, where my interests are. Um, I’ve always had an interest in history and particularly African-American history, my own family’s history, and never really thought about how I could bring that, you know, by sometimes by chance early in my career, I worked at Stanley love Stanley, great architects, William Stanley.
I read you love Stanley, but the young award winners who really have a focus on community, especially the African-American community in Atlanta and. Uh, when I worked there, I worked on the Ebeneezer Baptist church, which was, um, you know, Dr. King’s home church and, um, their new chapel that was across the street from the historic church.
And so there’d be projects like that. But you think to me, as a young architect, I was like, well, that’s just a chance, a great opportunity to sort of, but you can sort of, you know, as, uh, gotten older, I’ve learned, you can, you can actually really make inroads to seeking out those types of projects. Right. If those are where your interests are, it’s like sometimes I don’t even know if things will turn into, like recently I’ve been working with, um, black, urban farmers.
I don’t even know if they’re projects there, but an interest, you know? And so it has turned into some projects that have bought in terms of not to the practice, but on the academic side to our design build studio at Parsons, And so our design workshop. And so there’ve been opportunities to work with these black farmers.
And that was, I’ve learned that you can actually bring those interests that you have that then diagram, right? Those interests, you have that, that thing that captures your passion and the work that we do and make those things really start to overlap as much as possible, as much as possible. Because at this point I just really want to, you know, I want to be excited about the things that I do.
[00:49:03] Atif Qadir: a hundred percent agree. So thank you so much for taking the time to join us today on the American building podcast. Mark,
[00:49:12] Mark Gardner: thank you so much. So great.
[00:49:16] Atif Qadir: I really enjoyed the conversation. So listeners, if you. I want to hear the behind the scenes stories of how iconic buildings in our country were designed and built subscribe to this podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Google, anchor, Stitcher, or wherever you like to listen, rate and review us on iTunes to help us reach a wider audience and follow us on Instagram at American building podcast, we all know real estate is a tough industry to make it.
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Finally, we live in the richest country in the history of humankind. We must reach out beyond the boundaries that we see and the boundaries that we create in order to help build homes and communities today. Mark and I had made donations to the youth design center in Brooklyn, which is a creative agency and innovation hub, providing a gateway for young people to learn skills in steam, which stands for science, technology engineering, the arts and mathematics.
In addition, the group creates opportunities for students to access post-secondary education, achieve economic mobility and engage in place-based community revitalization. I encourage you our listeners to support their worthwhile work as well. My name is and this has been American.
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