Art Historian Brian Goldstein Shines Light on Overlooked Architect

J. Max Bond Jr.

Architect J. Max Bond, Jr. designed sites in New York, Atlanta, Birmingham, Louisville, and Ghana.

A new grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts in Chicago will help Assistant Professor of Art History Brian Goldstein continue his research on architecture through the lens of social and racial justice, and more specifically into the life and work of African-American architect and civil rights activist J. Max Bond, Jr.

“The research support for my study of J. Max Bond, Jr. is a great boost to the project, both in terms of helping me plunge into research and as a more symbolic validation of it,” says Goldstein, who focuses on the intersection of the built environment, race and class, and social movements. 

An influential figure in the history of 20th-century architecture, Bond has never received his full due, says Goldstein. “He designed creatively while looking to influences outside the traditional architectural canon… and shaped a career that showed how activism could pervade all aspects of architectural practice,” he says. “As one of the leading supporters of architectural historians, the Graham Foundation’s grant tells me that this is a history that is valued and welcomed in my field.”

While it’s straightforward to research someone like Frank Lloyd Wright, says Goldstein, it’s more difficult to investigate a short-lived neighborhood organization or an architect whose gender or racial or ethnic identity meant that she or he had fewer opportunities and less social prominence. 

“Bond is interesting on this score because he was from a very prominent African-American family and passed through elite institutions like Harvard University, but his racial identity also affected the kinds of commissions and attention he received, which certainly shapes the public record and documentation of his work,” says Goldstein, whose first book was a study of Harlem’s architecture and urbanism in the latter half of the 20th century. 

alt text “The Graham Foundation’s grant tells me that this is a history that is valued and welcomed in my field," says Goldstein.

Goldstein focuses on U.S. cities where community activists, neighborhood organizations, and activist architects “imaginatively and ambitiously reimagine designed spaces to try to bring about a better future.

“That’s the most rewarding part of my research—to show how people have used buildings and plans not just as the sites for seeking a world that meets their highest aspirations, but as the very material for bringing about that world,” says Goldstein, who adds that he especially loves the process of sifting through old letters, drawings, and images as he works to piece a story together. “Beginning a new project is always very scary in some ways, as you try to get your hands around a daunting, amorphous thing, but also begins a sometimes years-long hunt that can be very exciting.” 

The Graham Foundation grant will shape his research in major ways, says Goldstein. “I’ll plunge into Bond’s papers this summer,” he says, and he expects that his work on this Bond biography will impact his teaching and work with students, too.  “I’m sure there will be other ways this influences the subjects I teach and potential research collaborations with students and I am excited to discover those.”

The Bond project will offer Goldstein the chance to experience many of the sites Bond designed in person in New York, Atlanta, Birmingham, Louisville—and hopefully Ghana— where Bond lived as an expatriate and designed early projects in the 1960s. “I’m eager for my students, colleagues, and neighbors at Swarthmore to learn about the project,” he says.