When you question the abstraction of land, you encounter soil: as a material, and as a record of the built environment. Urban soil, especially, is the subject of increasingly diverse forms of inquiries, both on the ground and in the academy. This conversation brings together practitioners of design, landscape, and anthropology in the Americas, to share notes on the unique capacity of the soil–and its associated practices such as filling–to reveal new modes of chemical kinship, new tasks for public archaeology, and new remedial building practices that have arisen on post-industrial land.
Catherine Fennell teaches in the Anthropology Department and has a joint appointment with the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. Her work examines how the social and material legacies of 20th-century urbanism shape the politics of social difference, collective obligation, and utopian imagination in the contemporary U.S. She has a special interest in the future of subsidized housing, and the transformation of urban built environments.
Vanessa Agard-Jones is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University, where she also serves on the Executive Council of the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality and is affiliated with the Institute for Research in African American Studies. Before teaching at the university level, she taught for three years in Atlanta Public Schools. She is the former managing editor of Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism and Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society. She is a member of the Social Text Collective, Scholars for Social Justice, and serves on the editorial board of PoLAR: the Political and Legal Anthropology Review. She is the former coordinator of Oakland’s Prison Activist Resource Center and the former Board Chair of New York City’s Audre Lorde Project. Agard-Jones currently serves on the Board of Directors for Land to Learn, an organization committed to growing a movement for food justice and community wellness through garden-based education.
Linda F. Chavez Baca is a Design Principal for JGMA who leads design for projects spanning innovating higher education spaces, civic institutions, health and wellness facilities and community driven spaces. She has developed her career in Guadalajara and Chicago, where she has worked with Luis Aldrete, Gensler and JGMA, completing award winning work for Northeastern Illinois University, Columbia College Chicago, and Northwestern University. Linda’s commitment to the community extends far beyond her project work – as a Mexican, female architect – she is focused on creating democratic spaces that attend and understand the intersectionality between feminism and racism, especially for the Latino community in the US. She has been recognized as Crain’s 2022 notable executives of color in construction and commercial real estate. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Tec de Monterrey, her Master in Project Management from Northwestern University and holds an Honorary Doctorate degree in Arts by Columbia College Chicago.
Seth Denizen is a researcher and design practitioner trained in landscape architecture (MLA) and human geography (PhD). His work is multidisciplinary, addressing art and design, soil science, and urban geography. He has been the recipient of an SOM Foundation Research Prize and Princeton-Mellon Fellowship in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities. Currently he teaches at the Sam Fox School of Design and is working on a book called Thinking Through Soil for Harvard Design Press.