Malcolm Rio

Department of Architecture

Drag Hinge: “Reading the Scales Between Architecture and Urbanism

Ballroom is a queer subculture that emerged out of drag performance(s) and is largely comprised of queer people of color (QPOCs) in New York City during the early 1970s. In ballroom, contestants “walk” categories that emulate archetypal traits of another gender, sex, or social class, or battle through dance, commonly known as “voguing.” Most ballroom participants belong to one of a series of groups known as “Houses” which are led by a Mother and/or Father who provides wisdom and guidance to the other members of the House, known as children. In pre-1990s ballroom, known as “old way,” both Houses and ball-performances rapidly evolved to provide ever more inclusive safe-spaces for the many young QPOCs disproportionately affected by the economic and social hardships prevalent during the later-half of the twentieth century.

This thesis looks at how Old Way ballroom used the politics of the Image, what Stuart Hall refers to as the contestation and struggle over what is represented in the media, as a means to reclaim collective political agency and compares it against the ways Image is utilized by the various apparatuses and institutions composing mainstream American social order as well as by stakeholders in New York City’s contemporaneous urban development as a biopolitical means of controlling urban space. In so doing, this thesis seeks to position ballroom’s history as an architectural and urban text which offers an urban analysis of New York City from a QPOC perspective as well as a related social critique of its uneven development.

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