For its inaugural incubator project, the nonprofit Black Artist + Designers Guild is envisioning the future of Black family living. In the midst of a global pandemic and a racial reckoning for the continued injustices against Black lives, home is, physically and emotionally, more important than ever. Designed by the architectural team of Leyden Lewis of Leyden Lewis Design Studio and Nina Cooke John of Studio Cooke John, the virtual Obsidian concept house seeks to answer the following questions: What does it mean to make a future home? What might a future Black dwelling look like? What might it need? Unlike a typical showhouse, which might display the current fashions of decorating, Obsidian is envisioned for 2025.
At its core, the concept house considers the mental and physical well-being of Black families. “We’re not reinventing walls, floors and ceilings, but we are asking is, with so much of Black community in this country feeling displaced, how do we as people imagine our own spaces?” explains Brooklyn-based architect Lewis. This means, for example, that the home includes a space to braid hair, spaces for family members to gather (following COVID-19-like guidelines, if necessary) and a multigenerational living option via a poolhouse across the yard. “We want to express Black family joy. These are spaces that incorporate ideology and spirituality, where the essence of who we are is not avoided when talking about space.” Important, too, for the design team was imagining new definitions of family, beyond the heteronormative unit. Flexibility in the design was key, but “what’s beautiful about it,” he continues, “is that all families need those core places of community, decoration, autonomy, spirituality that we have in this imagined landscape.”
The team has chosen a real, physical site in Oakland, California as the virtual host for their home design. As a historic hub for the progressive promotion of Black life, the origin of groups from the Black tech nexus to the Black Panthers, their civil right activism and the community programs they began to support their neighbors, the city seemed an appropriate choice for a vision of the future. Located in the hills above the city, the site is ample and encourages self-sufficiency. A large garden might allow the family to grow its own food. The roof of the poolhouse allows for rainwater collection. As the proposed materials for the concept house are currently in the design stage, the team is also exploring a scheme where the entire front facade of the home is translucent and covered in photovoltaic panels. “It’s also about health and wellness,” says Lewis. With the pandemic in mind, “incorporating new smart home devices, medical technologies to read body temperatures as well as the ancient technologies of gardening will allow Black families to check in on their health without leaving the house.”
The modern house is planned to be clad in wood and make use of metal. Its design aims to use local materials, balancing aesthetics with sustainability. Twenty-two BADG creators will virtually design spaces in the interiors drawing from their own expertise and data-driven research. “Each of the contributing creators to Obsidian set their own original goals with a social and political narrative of methodologies, both ancient and present mythologies that connect the African diaspora,” says Malene Barnett, founder of BADG and Obsidian creator, in a statement.
“This is a sort of utopian project, seeing ourselves in the future and in a positive future,” says New York-based architect Cooke John. In partnership with ELLE Decor, House Beautiful, Town & Country and VERANDA, the virtual concept house launches in January and will be viewable in 360 degrees. Says Lewis: “To me, the future is one where everyone is considered.”