Architecture of Reparations

Architecture of Reparations

CAB Studio at the Chicago Cultural Center 

78 East Washington Street, Chicago, IL

Free and open to the public 7 days a week from 10 a.m.— 5 p.m. 

The Architecture of Reparations incorporates a study of public policy, architectural history, and reparations to tell the story of the erasure in Bronzeville, a historic South Side Chicago neighborhood—one of many Black Metropolises in the twentieth century. In Bronzeville, while the historic foundations of this period are visible on the street today, there are significant spatial voids on most blocks—why are these buildings missing?    

The focus and outcome of a thesis project by Isabel Strauss of Riff Studio while studying at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Architecture of Reparations uncovers the history and tells the story of the “slum” clearance program—engineered by the city and state governments—that facilitated land condemnation and subsequent land acquisition for private gain. As a result, twenty-six thousand families in the Black Metropolis were intentionally displaced. Introduced with images and texts by others—including photographs by Richard Nickel, poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, and promotional material from the South Side Planning Board, designers were invited to imagine a future for Bronzeville and consider what could come next? What form should Reparations take?

Isabel Strauss, Rekha Auguste-Nelson, and Farnoosh Rafaie—who form the collective Riff Studio—invite the public to share new ideas for restorative housing through an ongoing public request for proposals (RFP) process. Responses imagine futures for Bronzeville while acknowledging its history and beauty by confronting vacancy, displacement, and disinvestment. 

Presented together here for the first time is the RFP and supporting research; Strauss’s own response to the RFP, a series of collages, Up from the Past: Housing as Reparations on Chicago’s South Side; and selections from nearly 30 voices responding to the RFP.

RFP Contributors include Kofi Akakpo, Rekha Auguste-Nelson, William Boles, Calvin Boyd, Sean Canty, Darien Carr, Amir Denzel Hall, DJ Eway, Evalyn Gates, Christina Graydon, Brayton Gregory, Camila Guerrero, Daniel Haidermota, Whitney Hansley, Aryan Khalighy, Shen Li, Celeste Martore, Adam Maserow, Jaline McPherson, Marcus Mello, Zena Mengesha, Andrew M. Ngure, Omotara Oluwafemi, Naila Opiangah, Farnoosh Rafaie, Gabriel Ramos, and Isabel Strauss. 

The RFP project is active and open to the public. Learn more and share your ideas for Reparations on

The Architecture of Reparations was originally part of the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennial titled The Available City, led by Artistic Director David Brown, and exhibited at the Graham Foundation and the Bronzeville Artist Lofts. Based on Brown's decade of research on the 10,000+ city-owned vacant lots in Chicago, The Available City asks us to consider: Who participates in the design of a city? And, how can changes in points of view and policy offer new possibilities for communal space? 

Riff Studio is a newly formed New York-based collaborative that brings together designers Rekha Auguste-Nelson, Farnoosh Rafaie, and Isabel Strauss.