What Kind of Vigilante Are You?

September 13, 2021

Issue statement by Iker Gil, editor in chief of MAS Context


Vigilantism is the thirty-third issue of MAS Context and our sixth collaboration with a guest editor. In previous guest-edited issues, our collaborations developed from a series of conversations that grew into the opportunity to publish issues that explored specific topics in depth. This issue had a different start as Miami-based architect Germane Barnes and Boulder-based architect Shawhin Roudbari approached us in 2020 with a proposal to explore vigilantism. While we hadn’t worked with them in the past, we were immediately interested in their approach to the topic and their own work. It was an important and timely topic rooted in thorough research and a long-term commitment.

Germane investigates the connection between architecture and identity, examining architecture’s social and political agency through historical research and design speculation. Mining architecture’s social and political agency, he examines how the built environment influences Black domesticity. This past year, his work received the support and recognition from prestigious institutions: he was awarded the 2021 Wheelwright Prize from Harvard GSD, the 2021–22 Rome Prize Fellow at The American Academy in Rome, and the 2021 Architectural League Prize for Young Architects + Designers. It is a demonstration of the relevance of his ongoing research and the need to continue it with adequate resources and support.

Shawhin studies ways that designers organize to address social problems. He bridges sociological studies of social movements and race with architectural theory, working with sociologists and environmental designers and disseminating his work through architectural and sociological journals. Through in-depth interviews, participant observation, and analyzing texts, he investigates ways activists shape and organize power towards justice causes. Shawhin is part of a team of researchers and designers at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Program in Environmental Design that initiated DissentxDesign in 2018, a project that contributes to theories of contentious politics around race and racism in the spatial professions.

Their overlapping interests as well as their independent research made it the perfect collaboration to explore vigilantism. It is a topic that they have been discussing in weekly calls for over two years and took a new perspective during the summer of 2020 with the emergence of global social movements protesting police brutality and racially motivated violence against Black people.

As Germane and Shawhin will further explain in their text, they organized the topic through three manifestations of the role of the vigilante: the Aggressor, the Resistor, and the Witness. The contributions included in the issue explored those three roles in a thoughtful, direct, and personal way. Along with the contributions, Germane and Shawhin selected a series of incidents published in the news, identified the objects that helped define the situation, and categorized them, creating an alternative way to inventory vigilantism. As you will see, some of the objects take on different manifestations of vigilantism in the same incident and others that we might consider neutral are far from that in the hands of a vigilante.

To help shape the visual identity of vigilantism, we have collaborated with graphic designer Bobby Joe Smith III, based out of Los Angeles. His thesis project at RISD “created a poetic refusal to the demands of a predominantly white, neoliberal, private academic institution seeking access and possession of Black and Indigenous knowledge with neither the ability nor intention to be responsible stewards of said knowledge.” His interests and work are perfectly aligned with the topic and team.

As I have mentioned in previous guest-edited issues, these collaborations aim to create a structure to support our contributors, advance their work, and help disseminate their ideas. But it is also an opportunity for us to learn from the work of others as well as challenge and expand our understanding of architecture, the built environment, and society. Throughout our lives, we have all witnessed the actions of vigilantes and the never-ending incidents that are a manifestation of the structural issues we face. The question is then, what type of witness do we want to be when we know of and experience those incidents? How do we interpret and disseminate the information we have witnessed? What are the consequences of coming forward or remaining silent? None of us are neutral witnesses and what we do either deepens structures of racism or works toward dismantling them. When Shawhin and Germane contacted us last year with their proposal, we knew we had to take a stand and use our platform to explore this topic, include voices and perspectives that they found important to be discussed, and create another tool to continue their long-term commitment to the topic of vigilantism. Like them, many others are committed resistors and active witnesses fighting the actions, structures, and policies of the aggressors. Our spaces and institutions are not neutral, and neither should we be.


Our Vigilantism issue, guest edited by Germane Barnes and Shawhin Roudbari, has had invaluable help from Emanuel Admassu, Laida Aguirre, Joseph Altshuler, Isabella Adelsohn, Atelier Mey, Ashley Bigham, Jennifer Bonner, Galo Canizares, Sean Canty, Esther Choi, Ana Colon Quiñones, Sekou Cooke, Ann Marie Dang, Gary Riichirō Fox, Krystina François, Iker Gil, Jia Yi Gu, A.L. Hu, Olalekan Jeyifous, Andrea Martinez, Demar Matthews, Delaney McCraney, Katherine McKittrick, Julie Michiels, Zack Morrison, Paul Mougey, Jennifer Newsom, Skye Niles, Cyrus Peñarroyo, Anjulie Rao, Karen Reichenbach, Quilian Riano, Andrew Santa Lucia, David Schalliol, Chat Travieso, and Mimi Zeiger.

The research of Shawhin Roudbari was partially supported by the National Science Foundation (Award 1664260). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Our gratitude to the Community, Housing & Identity Lab (CHIL) at the University of Miami, School of Architecture, a testing ground for the physical and theoretical investigations of architecture’s social and political resiliency. CHIL posits that the built environment is manipulated by factors that extend beyond conventional construction procedures and attempts to highlight the narratives of marginalized communities.

We are extremely thankful to Bobby Joe Smith III for the design of this issue. It was a pleasure to work with him and discuss for months what vigilantism means and how it could be manifested in a publication.

And a special thank you goes to our guest editors Germane Barnes and Shawhin Roudbari, whose remarkable research and design work is the foundation to this issue. Their rigorous exploration of the topic and their generosity to engage with their colleagues made this a special issue.