Laboratory for Suburbia

Posted by The Luminary September 25, 2020


After an extended disruption due to COVID-19, The Luminary is marking the re-launch of the Laboratory for Suburbia project with “Sprawl Session 1: White Suburbias,” an online discussion addressing interventionist art and design strategies for predominantly white suburban spaces.

Supported by a Divided City grant, Laboratory for Suburbia is a paradigm-shifting art and design project addressing the political possibilities of American suburbs. The project is organized by Gavin Kroeber, who taught the project seminar at the Sam Fox School in spring 2020, with alum Maeve Elder (MArch16) serving as the curatorial assistant. Members of the project team include WashU associate professors Derek Hoeferlin (faculty lead on the grant and chair of landscape architecture and urban design, Sam Fox School), Patty Heyda (Sam Fox School), and Ila Sheren (Arts & Sciences), as well as James McAnally and Kalaija Mallery from The Luminary.

In the last decade, suburbia has emerged as an urgent site of cultural, political, and spatial contestation. Now, at the conjuncture of a pandemic, racial justice uprisings, and a presidential election, suburbia has become legible as a defining national geography. The fields of art and design, however, have largely failed to engage this critical space, remaining oriented instead toward cosmopolitan destination sites and inner-city creative placemaking. Laboratory for Suburbia invites artists and architects to step into this gap.

What modes of artistic intervention are possible in landscapes of privatization and dispersal? What publics can be assembled in the complex spaces of 21st-century suburbia? How do anti-suburban cultural tropes and disciplinary biases impede the critical imagination? How has a century of suburbanization recomposed not only space, but also politics and subjectivity?

A think tank for critical suburban practice, Laboratory for Suburbia will launch on October 16, 2020, with the first in a series of online “Sprawl Sessions”—public exchanges considering strategies for site-specific art and tactical design in suburbanized spaces. The first event, "Sprawl Session 1: White Suburbias," will interrogate the possibilities and challenges for interventionist art and design practice in predominantly white suburban spaces. Featured discussants include architects Keith Krumwiede and Bryony Roberts; artists Eric Gottesman (For Freedoms), Sarah Paulsen, Dread Scott, and lauren woods; historian Walter Johnson; and Kroeber, instigator and lead organizer for Laboratory for Suburbia.

The larger Laboratory for Suburbia project is planned to unfold over the course of the next two years, moving from a phase of discussion and public research in 2021 toward culminating projects in 2022.

Event Information

Laboratory for Suburbia
"Sprawl Session 1: White Suburbias"
Livestream: Friday, October 16
2-4p CT
RSVP at to receive the stream link
Video will be archived online for asynchronous viewing and comments

Project Credits

Laboratory for Suburbia is organized by Gavin Kroeber

Curatorial assistant: Maeve Elder

The Luminary team: James McAnally and Kalaija Mallery

The Divided City Grant team: WashU faculty Derek Hoeferlin (faculty lead; associate professor and chair of landscape architecture and urban design, Sam Fox School), Patty Heyda (associate professor of architecture and urban design, Sam Fox School), and Ila Sheren (associate professor of art history and archaeology, Arts & Sciences)

Students in the spring 2020 seminar: Emily Bryan, Jiankun Chen, Paul Clark, Jessica DeAngelo, Jenna Jauch, Amanda Louise, Katherine Nemetz, Chanil Park, Rachel Reinhard, Elise Skulte, Yifan Sun, Dooho Won, and Boyan Zhang.

Website designers: Maddy Angstreich and Natalia Oledska

Special thanks: Richard McCoy, Katherine Simóne Reynolds, Rebecca Uchill, Mimi Zeiger, Michael Allen (senior lecturer in architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design, Sam Fox School), and Haley Evans (MArch20).

Laboratory for Suburbia is a project of The Luminary and presented by PNC Arts Alive!, The Crawford Taylor Foundation, Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), and The Divided City, an urban humanities initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a joint project of the Center for the Humanities and the Sam Fox School, College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design at Washington University in St. Louis. Follow on: FacebookInstagramTwitter