Wilfred Guerron

MDes

CHARAS and The Reimagination of Loisaida: The Legacy of Dome Building in the Lower East Side

Advised by Edward Eigen

The Puerto Rican social movement and its corresponding organizations of the 1960s through the 1980s have defined many of the present-day Latinx communities and institutions of New York City. What made many of their actions and programming successful was their focus on community-based activities and public services. This emphasis on community is crucial because it allowed organizations to address both Puerto Ricans’ and other marginalized populations’ needs within an agenda aimed at actively resisting the city’s disinvestment strategies that pushed for their displacement. However, outside of the Young Lords Party, the knowledge and material production of smaller Puerto Rican social movement organizations have been kept within local communities.

Focusing on Loisaida (the Latinized pronunciation for the Lower East Side in New York City, coined by activist and poet Bimbo Rivas), I want to explore how the Puerto Rican activist organization CHARAS crafted alternative notions of power and ownership over their community with the adaption of a newly emerging architectural object: the geodesic dome. Through a historicization and contextualization of the geodesic dome, I will argue that CHARAS transformed the dome into a symbol of community building for Loisaida. CHARAS used the image of the dome to provide Loisaida a means to explore their own understanding of the physical environment and their identities.

Wilfred Guerron, MDes. Dome Construction, August 1974. A photograph of a New York street festival with a geodesic dome and a crowd on a closed street.
Image credit: Records of CHARAS, Inc., Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora. Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY
Wilfred Guerron, MDes. CHARAS dome cardboard substructure in vacant lot on South and Jefferson Streets with Manhattan Bridge in the background, 1972, photograph.
Image credit: Syeus Mottel
Wilfred Guerron, MDes. The application of ferrocement on a geodesic dome, CHARAS geodesic dome, 1972, photograph.
Image credit: Syeus Mottel
Wilfred Guerron, MDes. CHARAS building domes in the Lower East Side.
Image credit: Records of CHARAS, Inc., Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora. Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY
Wilfred Guerron, MDes. Dome in front of the World Trade Center at Anti-Nuke Rally.
Image credit: The Records of CHARAS, Inc., Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora. Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY
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