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White Papers, Black Masks: Architecture, Race and Culture. (Reviews: Race in Question).

Edited by Lesley Naa Norle Lokko. London: Continuum, 2002. [pounds sterling]55 (hb), [pounds sterling]16.99 (pb)

White Papers, Black Masks: Architecture, Race and Culture purports to be the first sustained examination of the ways racial ideology is expressed in the built environment. The articles are divided into three sections. The first addresses the urban with chapters about colonial architecture and African schools, urban development under apartheid, issues of good urban governance and the tango in Buenos Aires. The second section includes discussions relating musical practices to architecture and the postcolonial use and abuse of aboriginal symbols in Australia among others. The final section ranges from a narrative about an artist's educational trip through Africa to projects that presume to address issues of race.

It is a melange of dissonant parts joined by two common attributes. First, for the most part, race is confounded with blackness. Second, all the articles have a kind of whinging quality continually carping about or lamenting (the tone varies) the extent to which Western, ie, 'White', ideas and design practices in politics, planning, design and education either dominate, contaminate, distort, or ignore the black experience.

This is not, as the editor's claim, the first book to address the issues of racial ideology. There has been a number of such works, some reviewed in these pages. Nor is it the first to suggest the extent to which the issue of race has been ignored. A decade ago such a book would have been welcome. But with this plaint having been made many times, and with architectural theorists, historians and practitioners beginning to address race and the post-colonial condition, the authors would have served their admirable cause better, by suggesting or examining alternative practices that address their concerns.

What is more the book could have used significant editing. There are citations but no bibliographic references and different modes of referencing in the same article. Most critically the quality of the writing varies considerably; from clear, even elegant essays, to poorly written and opaque narratives.
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Article Details
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Author:Robbins, Edward
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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