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University of Oregon College of Design

Feb 14, 2020

Rebuilding Cornerstones: Spatial Justice for Portland’s Black Diaspora

Portland’s history (and present) is riddled with stories of housing discrimination. However, when we discuss the systemic practice of redlining or the history of clearing out predominantly Black neighborhoods to make way for things like the I-5 Freeway, Memorial Coliseum, and Emanuel Hospital, it’s often through the broad narratives and statistics. As a result, many of the individual stories, along with histories of Black culture and prosperity in Portland, get lost.

Longtime residents and artists Cleo Davis and Kayin Talton Davis hope not just to put a face on one of those stories, but to create a space where others can do the same. In partnership with the City of Portland Archives and Portland State University, they are converting the Mayo House, an Albina-neighborhood Victorian home that they saved from demolition, into the ARTchive, an art hub, studio, archive, and intergenerational community space for the Black diaspora in Portland.

In collaboration with Karen Kubey, they have developed a master’s-level architectural design studio called “Rebuilding Cornerstones: Spatial Justice for Portland’s Black Diaspora.” Through design proposals combining architecture and historic preservation, grounded in community histories and policy research, this studio and the Davis’ ongoing work seek to contribute to spatial justice for Portland’s Black diaspora. Students produced designs bringing together the ARTchive with new residential and commercial development, and co-designed with local youths a corner plaza for the Historic Black Williams Project. This podcast episode tells the story of Karen, Cleo, and Kayin’s work inside and outside of the studio to help build a more just Portland.

About Karen Kubey

Karen Kubey is an urbanist specializing in housing and health and a Fellow in Design for Spatial Justice at the University of Oregon. She is the editor of Housing as Intervention: Architecture towards Social Equity (Architectural Design, 2018) and served as the first executive director of the Institute for Public Architecture. Kubey co-founded the New York chapter of Architecture for Humanity (now Open Architecture/New York) and co-founded and led the New Housing New York design competition. Holding degrees in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley and the Columbia University Graduate School for Architecture, Preservation, and Planning (GSAPP), Kubey began her career as a designer of below-market housing. She has received support from the New York State Council on the Arts and The MacDowell Colony.

She is currently working toward the publication of Good Neighbors II, a book that updates and expands the 1997 comprehensive guide to affordable housing design in the US.

About Cleo Davis

Cleo Davis started his education in architecture at the University of Oregon further changing to industrial design at San Jose State. He is an artist whose work takes a critical view of the social, political and cultural issues and through his work, he continues to reconstruct the cultural view modernizing while also highlighting traditions. Although he engages with multiple subjects and mediums his methodology remains consistent. He also has started the screw loose Studio the Mayo House project and most recently, the archives project in collaboration with Kayin.

About Kayin Talton Davis

Kayin started off in an artistic direction from a very young age, but later learned her love for math and science and pursued a Bachelor's in mechanical engineering at Portland State University. Her design projects were always influenced by a drive to be accessible to all. She started the soapbox theory in 2001, as a way to express herself creatively. And through these mediums, her interest is always in creating something that is positive, helpful and accessible to all but especially children from culturally underrepresented communities.


Cleo Davis:

Kayin Talton Davis:

Karen Kubey:


reBuilding Cornerstones website

reBuilding Cornerstones Instagram

Housing as Intervention: Architecture towards Social Equity, Architectural Design (AD)/Wiley, 2018

Good Neighbors II

Root Shocked Documentary, Cecilia Brown, 2019