With a new mixed-use project near the historic Watts Towers and Watts Towers Arts Center, architect Demar Matthews builds upon generations of artistic expression in the area. House No.1, the R Cloud House, is the first of nine planned case-study homes to be designed and constructed in predominantly black neighborhoods.
“We think of ‘the hood’ as Black neighborhoods. That’s what most people think of when you say that and the negative connotation that comes with it,” Matthew’s tells KCET. “In Watts and Compton and South Central, the built-environment factors are bars on all your doors and windows, old buildings, you know, all these negatives, even the signs that you see, like ‘No cruising.’ These sorts of things are really relating to sort of a police state or incarcerated environment, prison-like environment,” not features that empower the Black community—but examples of glaring inequalities.
With the project, Matthews seeks visibility around Black architects, the Black aesthetic and the Black history of Watts. He also formed a strong connection with longtime Watts resident Janine Watkins, co-creator of the MudTown Farms project, a 2.5-acre agriculture park that will offer farm training and recreational programs to the public. Watkins is the daughter-in-law of Ted Watkins, Sr., a civil rights activist who founded the Watts Labor Action Committee (WLCAC) in 1965 after the Watts rebellion to better the lives of those in his community. Her husband, Tim, serves as the current president. She also gave Matthews permission to build the project on her quarter-of-an-acre property on 107th Street.
Janine Watkins and Demar Matthews
“When I leave the planet, I want to know that I gave my experience in my life and my wisdom to Demar and other creators so they don’t have to start all over again and suffer through something that I may have,” says Watkins to KCET. “We all kind of get together, and the magic happens way beyond our imaginations. So we’re hoping to make this project a prototype that we can share. And as we go through the country, young people can come forward and older people who have that experience that just make magic happen in regards to building out and engaging in [Black] content.”
Matthews and Watkins were recently featured on KCET’s Southland Sessions. For more, visit the Southland Sessions website.