The Intangible Spirit // A personal essay from my grad school applications

I am from New Orleans— a city which dies and is reborn every hurricane season. Our city does not find refuge in what is lost, but in the ebb and flow of tradition, stories, and cuisine. I believe the streets of New Orleans, the stone urban grid, are what keep these memories alive. Even after Hurricane Katrina, when flood water evacuated people and destroyed homes, the streets remained. Fifteen years later, in those streets, people continue to gather for weddings, funerals, and parades. New Orleans, a city whose raised houses and spillways resemble a tale from Invisible Cities, exhilarates me about the future of architecture— the ability for design and infrastructure to make impossible places habitable. 

When Covid-19 swept the globe, public space became an anachronistic marker for a golden era of socialization and gatherings. Abandoned public institutions, such as libraries and museums, reflected the barricaded parks and courtyards. Only those privileged with internet access could gain admission to the once centers for education and exchange. Next, amid Covid closures, Black Lives Matters protests erupted after George Floyd’s murder. Already endangered public space became a weapon against the right to assembly. In a time for social justice, public realm was for no one. Police officers easily removed protesters from spaces that should have protected them. BLM murals became a tool to reclaim stolen space. If 2020 is a year of loss, an array of typologies disappeared due to their inability to adapt to activism and health. I began to equate Covid to Hurricane Katrina— two forces of nature creating treacherous living conditions. However, my hope resides in the power of design to retaliate in the only way possible. Dream big and rein it in later.

The dream is a profound reorganization in the way the public realm is implemented and I seek to play a role in its revolution. My role will be to incite collaboration to ensure every voice is part of the conversation. I can not dismiss how our current public spaces, imbued with hostile architecture, perpetuate toxic systems of power because community engagement caters to the wealthy. Cross-discipline collaboration is the key to actualizing radical accessibility in our communities. I dream about the democratization of VR technology, universal wheelchair access, or city planning meetings as picnics. I think about how architecture can focus on small actions rather than multi-million dollar projects. The future of architecture holds the potential to revitalize the intangible spirit of our cities, where like the streets of New Orleans, accessibility continues for generations.