OUR VILLAGE: A QUEER VILLAGE IN THE 1980s
An archive of an imagined queer safe haven designed in the 1970s on the waterfront in New York, exploring the what-could-have-beens.
- ROLE: DESIGNER
- FOR: HARVARD GSD M.ARCH I
- STATUS: COMPLETED
A drag queen is as American Dream as a suburban house surrounded by a white picket fence. Drag performance is more than entertainment in a night club: it is a way of expressing, dreaming, commenting, and escaping the crippling reality. For many, doing drag is their only way to achieve their dreams, however short-lived. “Drag is not a means of destruction but of rescue – a little beauty, however perverse and rococo” (Jesse Green, “Paris Has Burned,” New York Times 1983).
Our Village uses architecture to demonstrate that identities are “unnatural” or isolated social acts but signifiers which drag unapologetically points out and celebrates. Set in the 1970s, the project provides a safe haven for the queer community excluded from mainstream society. It creates an architecture that embodies the vibrant subcultures within the community: a homophilic heterotopia on the Hudson River butting against the heteronormative city.
Like the community that it hosts, the architecture is dynamic and adaptive, evolving along with the changing needs of the queer community over the past few decades. Taking a novelist’s approach, the project follows the scrapbook of a fictitious queer architect, Sean Lau, who designed the building in the 1970s and has been recording its evolution till today. Our Village explores the agency we have as architects by showing how a humane architecture can alter history for the better.
Our Village is a duality of design and archival narrative, each aspect reinforcing the other. As the designer, Yaxuan conceived the design to be a celebration of queer vibrancy. Accompanying this, the archive is a deliberate weave of authentic histories with a forward-looking narrative, asserting the queer community’s place within the American Dream. It stands as a cultural reclamation, asserting and exposing architecture’s role not just in shaping structures, but in crafting the very fabric of social history.
In researching Our Village, I delved into the depths of actual archives, unearthing the storied pasts of the city's queer denizens. This rigorous process informed the project's narrative, blending real accounts with envisioned futures. By integrating these narratives, the archive becomes a tool for advocacy, a statement in design that questions, disrupts, reflects, and aspires to a more inclusive society.