• Hair Salon: Translating Black Hair Practices for Architecture Using Computational Methods
    Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design, University of Houston, Houston
    Feb 02, 2023
    Felecia Davis, Marcella Del Signore, Sheryl Tucker De Vazquez & William D. Williams

J.D. Okhai Ojeikere, "Onile Gogoro Or Akaba, from the series Hairstyles," 1975, printed 2013. Gelatin silver print, 60 x 50 cm. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund, 2019.413.7. Copyright J.D.Okhai Ojeikere. Courtesy Gallery FIFTY ONE

This project draws from the rich culture and history of African Americans to imagine transformative built environments. Although very little of African material culture survived the transatlantic slave trade, Black hair textures and styles are one of the most enduring signifiers of Black Identity in the United States. The Hair Salon investigates the generative design potential of Black hair cultural techniques of cornrows and translate them for use in architectural practice using computational design strategies. The process of braiding hair is translated into computer code that can be used to develop a material or fabric that can create or enhance architectural space. One of the many contributions of this project is demonstrating the richness of Black cultural practices and engendering conversations about Blackness, identity, and architecture.

Felecia Davis is an associate professor at the Stuckeman Center for Design and Computation at Pennsylvania State University and is the director of SOFTLAB. Her work in communicating with computational textiles through architecture has been recognized for connecting art with science and was recently featured by PBS in the Women in Science Profiles series. Davis is currently working on a book that examines the role of computational materials in our lives titled Softbuilt: Networked Architectural Textiles. Davis was a contributor to The Museum of Modern Art's group architecture exhibition Reconstructions: Blackness and Architecture in America.  She is principal of FELECIADAVISTUDIO which has received several finalist awards for her architectural designs in open and invited architectural design competitions. She has exhibited and lectured about her work in textiles, computation, and architecture internationally, including the Swedish School of Textiles, Microsoft Research, and the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Marcella Del Signore is an architect, urbanist, educator, scholar, and the principal of X-Topia, a design-research practice that explores the intersection of architecture and urbanism with technology and the public, social, and cultural realm. She is an associate professor and director of the Master of Science in Architecture, Urban and Regional Design program at the New York Institute of Technology, School of Architecture and Design. Her research focuses on interscalar design approaches that engage socio-technical systems through computation, prototyping, material and fabricated assemblies, data-driven protocols, and adaptive environments. She is the author of Urban Machines: Public Space in a Digital Culture (LISTLab, 2018; OROEditions, 2020; with G. Riether) and the editor of Data, Matter, Design: Strategies in Computational Design (2020, Routledge; with F. Melendez, N. Diniz). In 2018, she co-edited “Recalibration: On Imprecision and Infidelity” paper and project proceedings (with P. Anzalone and A. J. Wit) published during the 2018 ACADIA Conference where she served as technical cochair. In 2018, she cocurated the Data & Matter exhibition at the European Cultural Centre during the 2018 Architecture Venice Biennale, and was invited to exhibit at the 17th Architecture Venice Biennale in 2021.

Sheryl Tucker de Vazquez is an architect and associate professor, instructor at the University of Houston, and principal of Tucker De Vazquez Architecture. She has published extensively on the influence of African American culture on the American built environment and her design work has been recognized with multiple design awards.   De Vazquez collaborated with artist Rick Lowe on the development of the Project Row Houses campus and was recently awarded the Houston American Institute of Architects (AIA) 25-year campus award for her contributions to the project. Funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, her renovation of a two-story storefront on the Project Row Houses campus received an American Collegiate Schools of Architecture Faculty Design Award. She is currently working on the Zina Garrison Tennis Academy, which received a 2017 Houston AIA On the Boards Design Award and a collection of essays exploring how low-lying and coastal African American communities are confronting climate change.

William D. Williams is an architect and the current Smith Visiting Professor at Rice University School of Architecture as well as the former Director of the School of Architecture and Interior Design at the University of Cincinnati College of Design. Williams has published and lectured extensively on the intersection of architecture, collective memory, and racial identity. His design work has been featured in multiple architectural journals and received numerous awards. Williams curated and contributed to the exhibition, ROW: Trajectories through the Shotgun House, which explored the African American roots of the shotgun house typology. This exhibition was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and published as a book by Rice University. Williams also curated and contributed to the Dresser Trunk Project, a traveling exhibition exploring race, segregation, and travel in the Jim Crow Era. This exhibition was presented at numerous symposia and featured in multiple architectural journals.