Challenging Power and Oppression: The Design As Protest Movement

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DAP (Design As Protest)

In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, designers from five interdisciplinary collectives have mobilized creative design strategies to dismantle privilege and power structures that utilize architecture and design as tools of oppression. Their tactics range from national cyphers to local initiatives, including a spreadsheet that provides free design services for BIPOC-owned businesses.


In the aftermath of COVID-19 and the June 2020 killings of George Floyd and other Black people by police, BIPOC designers mobilized their communities through a series of national calls on Zoom. These weekly gatherings—now a collective called DAP (Design as Protest)—have evolved into myriad collaborations aimed at challenging power and dismantling systems through an ethos of justice, love, and community care.

In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, DAP has mobilized design professionals to adhere to nine Design Justice Demands. These include reallocating funds supporting police departments and ending crime prevention through environmental design tactics, as well as reworking all curriculum to address the history of spatial violence against Black communities and implementing anti-racist design knowledge.

YOU ARE A(NTI)RACIST celebrates the labor, process, and love behind DAP’s multidimensional projects. The show manifests these complex virtual relationships and organizing in physical forms to highlight the transformative power of collaborative design processes that center justice, joy, and community care.

Public Space Interventions

The urban landscape is central to the staging of protests. While new virtual spaces expand the political possibilities of these demonstrations, physical space remains indispensable for the aggregation of social movements.

As such, existing research has identified urban built environment factors that correlate with protests. For instance, in an experiment, Schwedler found that areas with a higher building density are more likely to see heightened protest activity.

Similarly, street environments that have high pedestrian traffic and offer many opportunities for interaction with the public tend to see a greater concentration of demonstrators. Yet, these urban characteristics remain difficult to quantify and understand.

In this context, designers can act as catalysts of change by transforming underused or obsolete spaces through spatial acupuncture strategies. In turn, these interventions contribute to the democratization of public space and improve its legibility and accessibility. Examples include the Stadshal in Ghent, Skanderbeg Square in Tirana, and Parku i Lodrave in Peja.

Reappropriating Abandoned Spaces

The urban landscape is an important platform for protest. Activists use it to broadcast their message, ranging from deploying street art as political missives to reappropriating abandoned spaces.

A city like Venice is an ideal space for this type of reappropriation, where the local community has a strong claim to public space that has been commodified by tourism and commercial interests. In this case, the city’s residents communicate their resistance to this commodification through public space interventions (e.g., posters and stickers) that highlight what they see as misguided models of development.

In a similar way, DAP’s nationwide cyphers connect designers and activists to challenge and dismantle systems of oppression one neighborhood, city, or state at a time. Lee and his co-organizers have put forth a set of Design Justice Demands, which they ask participating design professionals to commit to and advocate for in their immediate networks. This includes a call for pedagogical shifts, a revision of core terms like “public space” and “affordability,” and more.

The Urban Landscape

As cities have long been culturally and physically intertwined with landscape, it’s no surprise that landscape has also become a tool for political expression. From Cairo to Oakland, activists have utilized the urban landscape as a means of protest. They’ve erected ad-hoc barricades, deployed street art as political missive and reappropriated abandoned spaces to articulate their demands.

Protesters are becoming increasingly aware of the power of their spatial dialogue with the state. They’re embracing the role of designed public space as a platform for democratic speech, and this has important implications for landscape architects, urban designers and other interconnected disciplines.

Design as Protest (DAP) is a Black-led organizing effort that calls on participating design professionals to work collectively and creatively within their networks to dismantle the system of privilege and oppression that has allowed architecture, landscape and urban design to be used as tools for violence against Black communities. Learn more at the DAP website.

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