Emmanuel Pratt - [Re]Constructing PUBLIC TRUST: Reframing Past, Present, and Future

The urban designer and community activist presents his recent work.

April 29, 2021
6:00 p.m.

Sweet Water Foundation | The Thought Barn, Chicago, IL. Courtesy Sweet Water Foundation

Current Work is a lecture series featuring leading figures in the worlds of architecture, urbanism, design, and art.

The spring 2021 Current Work series, titled “Reckoning, Reclamation, and Regeneration,” examines some of the inherited histories, conventions, fabrics, and systems—often taken for granted—that constitute and shape the built environment. How might we reconsider the ways we engage with and construct the places that surround us? Speakers will address issues including transforming architectural pedagogy; protecting threatened historic sites; conserving resources by adapting existing buildings and reusing materials; and reimagining and regenerating places scarred by racism, neglect, and environmental emergencies.

Emmanuel Pratt is cofounder and executive director of the Sweet Water Foundation (SWF), a nonprofit organization based on Chicago’s South Side. SWF engages local residents in the cultivation and regeneration of social, environmental, and economic resources in neighborhoods that have suffered the effects of long-term disinvestment. Drawing on the transformative possibilities of Regenerative Neighborhood Development, defined by SWF as an “emergent design process that dynamically cultivates intentional acts of civic arts and participatory design as integral components to reimagine the urban ecology of the built environment,” SWF has transformed four contiguous city blocks into The Commonwealth, “a real-world, physical manifestation of how built spaces reflect and impact understanding of the common and the collective.”

Recent projects, all sited within The Commonwealth, include:

  • The Thought Barn, a timber-framed structure constructed in 2017 to house a visual and performing arts and community gathering space.
  • [Re]Construction House, an example of Regenerative Neighborhood Development applied to the 2019 relocation, rehabilitation, and adaptive reuse of an abandoned home, now an art gallery and co-living space that creates “a vibrant place of commoning.”
  • Civic Arts Church, the transformation of an abandoned church located near The Commonwealth, acquired by SWF in 2020. With the assistance of a grant from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, the historic structure will be renovated and activated into a place that “honors and preserves histories that have been erased and untold.”

Pratt received a BArch from Cornell University and an MSAUD from Columbia University. He has taught at Chicago State University, where he was director of aquaponics; the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at University of Michigan as the Charles Moore Visiting Professor; and the University of Chicago. In 2016 he was named a Loeb Fellow and in 2019 he received a MacArthur Fellowship and a Joyce Award.

The lecture will be followed by a conversation and Q&A moderated by Chicago-based Casey Jones, the firmwide Design Leadership Council Director and a principal at Perkins&Will. He formerly served as the Deputy Director for Overseas Building Operations at the U.S. Department of State and the Director of Design Excellence at the U.S. General Services Administration.

More information


This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

The event is co-sponsored by The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union.



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