Listening In 



Prof Mabel O. Wilson


A Bright Abode: Phillis Wheatley’s Poetic Spaces of Liberation

U.S. founding father, white plantation owner, and architect Thomas Jefferson argued in Notes on the State of Virginia (1785) that he believed author Phillis Wheatley incapable of writing poetry because she was Black, a woman, and enslaved. And yet Wheatley’s deft deployment of classicism in her poetry engaged seamlessly the aesthetics and discourses of the U.S.’s newly formed revolutionary public spaces. Like Jefferson, Wheatley cultivated a transatlantic presence by engaging the Euro-American world of arts and letters. This lecture will explore how Wheatley, one of the few eighteenth-century U.S. women to have been published, used her public stature to advocate for independence from the British Crown and for the natural rights of slaves. It probes the ways Wheatley, through her poetry and advocacy, crafted counter-narratives and imagined a counter-cartography of liberation for enslaved peoples living in the bustling urban spaces of Boston, Richmond, and London.

Mabel O. Wilson is the Nancy and George E Rupp Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and a Professor in African American and African Diaspora Studies at Columbia University. With her practice Studio&, she was a member of the design team that recently completed the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia. The installation Unknown, Unknown, a meditation of the archive of slavery for the UVA project, is currently on view at the18th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. Wilson has authored Begin with the Past: Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture (2016), Negro Building: Black Americans in the World of Fairs and Museums (2012), and co-edited the volume Race and Modern Architecture: From the Enlightenment to Today (2020). For the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, she was co-curator of the exhibition Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America (2021). She is currently a Berlin Prize Fellow at the American Academy of Berlin.

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Prof Jane Rendell 

To Listen Again – Re-turning to The Pursuit of Pleasure (2002)

This talk re-turns, 20 years on, to an earlier piece of research, to listen again, to who and what was not heard the first time around. Inspired by the exciting methodological possibilities that French feminist theory opened up for architectural history – concerning objects of study, modes of interpretation and styles of writing – Luce Irigaray’s ‘Women on the Market’ ([1977] 1985) offered understandings of how spatial practices of consuming, displaying and exchanging in London’s West End in the early-nineteenth century were gendered. My research explored the figures of the rambler and cyprian through their architectural encounters, but thinking again, perhaps paying such close attention to the theory meant at times not listening carefully enough to the evidence itself. More recently, Tina Campt (2017) has suggested listening to, rather than looking at, visual evidence, while, through her ‘critical fabulations,’ Saidiya Hartman (2019) has created ways for black women obscured from history to become present. I sought to discover the architectural experiences of women often missing from, or mis-represented in, archival materials, but by framing invisibility through the debate around the gendered and classed ‘invisible flâneur’ (Wilson, 1992) and ‘invisible flâneuse’ (Wolff, 1985), issues of race remained relatively unseen and unheard. Sara Ahmed makes clear that‘Depending on which way one turns, different worlds might even come into view.’ (2006) So my hope is that re-turning to the ramble will offer a way of listening again, and that this re-turn will, as Karen Barad has expressed it, not be ‘returning as in reflecting on or going back to a past that was, but re-turning as in turning it over and over again – iteratively intra-acting, re-diffracting, diffracting anew.’ (2014)

Jane Rendell is Professor of Critical Spatial Practice and Director of Ethics at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. Introducing concepts of ‘critical spatial practice’ and ‘site-writing’ through her authored books: The Architecture of Psychoanalysis (2017), Silver (2016), Site-Writing (2010), Art and Architecture (2006), The Pursuit of Pleasure (2002); her co-edited collections include Reactivating the Social Condenser (2017), Critical Architecture (2007), Spatial Imagination (2005), The Unknown City (2001), Intersections (2000), Gender, Space, Architecture (1999), Strangely Familiar (1995). From 2015-22 she led Bartlett’s Ethics Commission, (with Dr. David Roberts), and ‘The Ethics of Research Practice’, KNOW (Knowledge in Action for Urban Equality) (with Dr. Yael Padan). Currently she curates a situated reviewing site –, and with Dr. David Roberts and Dr. Yael Padan, a situated ethics on-line toolkit,, and most recently she is site-writing in response to water resource issues in the Pyrenees and blue green infrastructures.

For more information visit Jane Rendell’s website –