THE SEED AND THE PLOT
Abolition Vision for Lower Manhattan |2023
Advanced Studio | Critics: Mabel Wilson + Jordan Carver
Team: Christina Zhang + Clare Fentress
Our project is about abolition, and how the plantation logics of the carceral city—in this case, New York—might be undone and overcome by collective actions of care. Throughout the semester, we have been particularly guided by the Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s framing of the project of abolition. “Abolition,” she writes, “is not about absence, but presence.”
We have been trying to find a spatial avenue into this proposal through the particular site of the Manhattan Detention Complex, also known as the Tombs, a jail in Chinatown that is currently being demolished by the City in order to make way for a larger jail, as part of the plan to close Riker’s Island by 2027.
We believe there is a remarkable political imaginary being opened up by this demolition process, in which we can literally see the architecture of racial capitalism being taken apart by the same force that built it—the incentive to profit. What want to ask is: if the drive toward accumulation can unmake and remake this structure, could a drive toward care do the same?
So we invite you to imagine with us a very different future for this place than the one the City is planning, one that is guided by abolitionist visions that are already very much in existence here and leading an active, ongoing fight to stop the construction of a new jail here. We are trying to think alongside these activists by drawing a potential spatialization of a new type of presence here, one that labors to unmake the enclosure of racial capitalism through the construction of what we are calling an infrastructure of care.
Left: Long drawing describing the layers of history at the Tombs, revealing the racialized cycles of displacement and confinement in Lower Manhattan from 1626 to present.
Efforts to map the first settlements of free Black people in Manhattan reveal that the current Tombs - the one undergoing demolition - is sited on a far once tended by Anna d’Angola, who received the land in 1647 and is now thought to be one of the first Black women to own land in North America.
We imagine restoring the possibilities of this Black ecology, envisioning a new future for the site of the Tombs that resuscitates the memory of Anna d’Angola by employing the concept of the plot, as conceived by Sylvia Wynter — an autonomous, productive landscape carved out from the plantation that offers the possibility of sovereignty and creative, unalienated labor — as a spatial counter-logic that resists the all-encompassing flattening and extraction of the plantation itself.
Studying the logics of enclosure of the Tombs itself, we work toward a strategy to destabilize the language of the jail while still occupying, even consuming, the structure that once supported it. The intention is to fulfill the community’s wish to perform adaptive reuse while constructing an entirely new set of spatial relationships that will engender collectivity, visibility, and care.
Ultimately, we will create a co-op that provides space, support, and community for groups that are working daily toward the horizon of abolition, whether through legal aid for the incarcerated, care for the elderly, housing justice, youth shelter... any form of visioning that aims to bring about a society based on care rather than on property.
With a long-term interventional strategy at Collect Pond Park that aims to reconnect the street with the soil and the site with its history, by taking rubble from the Tombs and making gabion seating, memorial installations, and a new porous surface
that invites water back in.
A hundred years after this site ceased to hold a jail, it has become a place of life rather than death, of care rather than extraction. Its tenants have built not just a home within this structure for the kind of world they want to live in, but have built it for others around the city too.
Left: Concept Model uncovering and destablizing the carceral language of the Tombs site.
(Model made of wood and glycerin)
Memory, after all, is one of things that incarceration works to hide. Memory is one of the most powerful conceptual tools in the abolitionist toolbox, and stories like that of Anna d’Angola tending this plot, planting seeds, four hundred years ago help us not only understand how capitalism creates these racialized geographies of extraction, devaluation, enclosure, and exclusion in this, but also how memory of a times when things were different can help us recast our understanding of the possible.
It is powerful to remember that the land where the Tombs stands was once a place where d’Angola carved out some semblance of sovereignty, of a liberated state of being. It is powerful to recognize that the soil itself carries memories of this time.
The former Tombs, a building whose windows were legally not allowed to be more than seven and half inches tall for fear of people escaping its violence, is now a porous, transparent architecture that shares freely both of its memory and of its love.