J Cephas is a designer and historian who studies the interactions between people, places, and technologies. J is especially interested in the effects of large socio-economic forces on cities, how technology and technical thinking mediate the encounters between people and places, and how labor practices interface with the totalizing effects of architecture. J analyzes both ordinary and critical spatial practices to recover the latent and as of yet invisible knowledges that are transmitted through the bodies and buildings of urban environments. In their current book project, Fordism and the City, J deploys these frameworks to examine the agonism structuring Fordism and urbanization in early twentieth-century Detroit. In a new research project, J turns to New York City to address the knowledge transfer occurring between visionary architects and labor activists in their efforts to create cooperative housing.
J’s recent publications include "Picturing Modernity: Race, Labor, and Landscape in the American South," which traces the ways in which black labor served to reinforce racialized landscape production in Georgia; “Agricultural Urbanism in Detroit,” which examines the changing meaning of urbanism in the after-city; and “Citing Sites,” an essay exploring the parallel construction of the biographical narrative and the life histories of cities. Their urban design work built upon these themes by integrating scholarship and practice to produce innovative and lively urban spaces, such as the St. Joseph Rebuild Center, a disaster recovery center in New Orleans that was awarded a 2009 Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence and the 2009 NCARB Prize for the Creative Integration of Practice and Education.
J is the founding director of Studio Plat, a Boston-based research and development practice that examines the past, present, and future of cities. Using qualitative and human-centered research methods, Studio Plat develops products and systems to maximize social impact design and planning while helping mission-driven organizations build greater capacity through their work in community engagement, social justice, and equitable design. Studio Plat serves these organizations by designing participatory planning and community engagement processes, conducting organizational assessments, developing strategic plans, and interpreting urban research through data analysis and visualization; Studio Plat directly serves the larger urban community by performing neighborhood assessments, advising community organizations on issues such as gentrification and redevelopment, and making urban research data publicly accessible. As such, Studio Plat aims to help make social impact urbanism a normative component of urban development. Current Studio Plat projects include an interactive atlas of cities in history, a video-based community history project, and a web application for conducting research in architectural and urban history.
J is currently an Assistant Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at Northeastern University. Previously, they were a Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Michigan Society of Fellows. J holds a Ph.D. in History and Theory of Architecture and Urbanism from Harvard University, an M.Arch. from the University of Detroit Mercy, and was the 2011 Critical Studies Fellow at Cranbrook Academy of Art. Additionally, J has served as the Editorial Director for Positions: On Modern Architecture + Urbanism / Histories + Theories, the Editor-in-Chief of Crit, and was a Design + Research Fellow at the Detroit Collaborative Design Center, where they designed and managed building projects for low-income communities. J is currently a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Architectural Education.