UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 12 Spring 20 Library
Mabel O. Wilson (BS Arch ‘85) Photo courtesy of Dario Calmese

Award-winning Architectural Scholar, Mabel O. Wilson, Confronts Questions of Race in American History and Space

Mabel O. Wilson (BS Arch ‘85), historian, author, designer, and educator, and her practice Studio & will have a lasting impact on the landscape and the story of the Grounds as part of the design team for the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia.  It is a fitting role for a woman who has been committed to making a difference throughout her career, and who, in 2019, was recognized with two prestigious awards. Last May, Wilson, the Nancy and George Rupp Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and Professor in African American and African Diasporic Studies, as well as the Associate Director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS) at Columbia University, received the American Academy of Arts and Letters Architecture Award for her work exploring the African Diaspora.  She won the award alongside Mario Gooden, her co-director at Columbia University’s Global Africa Lab. 

(Photo: Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)
Begin with the Past: Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture by Mabel O. Wilson

Each year, The American Academy of Arts and Letters honors over 70 composers, artists, architects, and writers with awards and prizes ranging from $5,000 to $100,000. Wilson’s award-winning year continued in September with the Women in Architecture Award, presented by Architectural Record. Now in its sixth year, this awards program recognizes and promotes women’s leadership across the categories of Design Leader, New Generation Leader, Innovator, Activist, and Educator, for which Wilson was honored. Mabel O. Wilson teaches architectural design, history, and theory courses at Columbia, and her research investigates space, politics, and cultural memory in black America; race and modern architecture; new technologies and the social production of space; and visual culture in contemporary art, film, and new media. She is also appointed as a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Research in African American Studies. 

Wilson has published numerous books including Begin With The Past: Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a look at the complex history of the Washington, D.C. museum, which opened in 2016. Her most recent book is Thomas Jefferson, Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles, and the Conflicts of Ideals, published in 2019. Trained in Architecture and American Studies, two fields that inform her scholarship, curatorial projects, art works, and design projects, Wilson uses her transdisciplinary practice, Studio &, to make visible and legible the ways that anti-black racism shapes the built environment along with ways that blackness creates spaces of imagination, refusal, and desire.

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