Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book about structural poverty will soon be an “immersive” exhibition at D.C.’s National Building Museum.
Ever since Matthew Desmond won a Pulitzer Prize this year for his book on structural poverty and racial inequality, no mention of housing policy is complete without it. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, which also helped its author earned a MacArthur Fellow grant, traces the lives of tenants and landlords in Milwaukee. For housing advocates, Evicted is required reading.
And soon it will be required viewing. In April 2018, Evicted will be the subject of an exhibition at the National Building Museum. The show promises an “immersive” experience that will draw viewers into the enormity of evictions, from dealing with courts and landlords to security teams and moving companies to exposure and homelessness, according to the museum. “We are working with [Desmond] to develop the substance and the style of the exhibition,” says Chase Rynd, the Building Museum’s director.
Sarah Leavitt, a curator at the museum, is adapting the book as an exhibit. She is also responsible for “Architecture of an Asylum,” a show that explores the history of St. Elizabeth’s—a facility in Washington, D.C., that was originally named the “Government Hospital for the Insane” and opened as the first federally funded psychiatric ward in 1855. Writing in the Washington City Paper, Amanda Kolson Hurley (a CityLab contributor) called the historical survey on St. Elizabeth’s “ghostly” and “illuminating.”
Leavitt pitched the concept for a show about Evicted after seeing Desmond deliver a talk in New York. The museum presentation will be heavy on infographics, featuring comparisons of eviction laws between states and data on the rise of evictions across different markets. The contrast promises to be delicious: The Building Museum boasts one of the most opulent interiors in Washington, D.C.; this show might be one of its bleakest.
The National Building Museum is better known for deep dives on building materials and splashy summer architectural follies than for covering social justice as an explicit theme. That may be changing. Other subjects of upcoming shows include the aftermath of D.C.’s 1968 riots and the secret test cities of the Manhattan Project.
In her review of the book for The New York Times, Barbara Ehrenreich said that Evicted “set a new standard for reporting on poverty.” If the National Building Museum is looking to be a more woke platform, there are few better ways to start.