If you’re unfamiliar with Urban Studies at Brown, you might not have heard of 29 Manning, the adorably quaint two-story house on the walk towards the daunting doors of Barus & Holley that serves as the department’s house. Designed in 1938 by architects and owners Peter J. and Margaret B. Geddes, the building “is a striking example of early Rhode Island modernism,” a contrast to College Hill’s overwhelmingly dominant presence of buildings in Federal, Greek Revival, and Colonial Revival styles. Adding to its incredible historical legacy, 29 Manning once served as the office for Peter J. Geddes and his partner, where the duo designed some of Rhode Island’s best modern buildings.*
After a 20-year term as the department’s home, the time has come to say goodbye to 29 Manning. To pay homage, Providence artist Gregory Pennisten will produce a full size grafitti-mural on the façade of the building on Friday afternoon. To learn more about how the department is bidding adieu, I sat down with Professor Stefano Bloch, Presidential Diversity Fellow in Urban Studies.
BlogDH: What is your background in relation to graffiti and public murals?
Bloch: I’m interested in graffiti as a phenomenon in terms of how this sub-cultural act contributes to the appearance and functioning of the built urban environment. In my more general interest, I’m always fascinated by the lengths to which people will go to assert themselves in an often-alienating urban environment, even if it means risking their freedom. So transgression and forms of contestation are simply interesting to me on both an intellectual but also personal level.
In my teaching and research, I focus on graffiti like I would focus on any other prolific, visual, and contestative act that contributes to our collective life-worlds. So graffiti to me in that way is not unique at all as well as being so unique in terms of how visually prolific it is. That’s actually the main point – that it is both unique and not unique. It’s not unique in that it’s one of the many components to the development of our life-worlds, our cultural spaces, but it is unique in that it’s so visually present in our lives. While at the same time being, to put it simply, often illegal. In this case it is not illegal.