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Counter Institution: Activist Estates of the Lower East Side Publishes


"For more than a century the Lower East Side has been the intersectional/international urban stage to both the theater of struggle and the urge for self-organizing; the axial hinge where the survival need to counter or disrupt was paired with the anti-cynical creative will to give form. Counter Institution inclusively reveals the cultures of participation that cyclically pre-figured antidotes to our speculative syndrome of cognitive placeless-ness, and physical dis-placement; it also summons our abilities to still place and project the ghosts of our past to protect the interconnected meanings of the Lower East Side.”—Libertad O. Guerra, Director, The Loisaida Center, LES

9780823279265Social movements are often born within a physical space that becomes a symbolic visual of the movement’s history and the people that created it. The building stabilizes the movement and allows it to grow and effect change in the world. When these groups buy their buildings, they inadvertently preserve architecture that would be vulnerable to development and act as a reminder that the commodification of a city has a huge impact on the communities they serve. There is always a struggle to keep these remaining buildings alive.

In COUNTER INSTITUTION: Activist Estates of the Lower East Side (May 22, 2018; Fordham University Press/Empire State Editions trade paperback original; ISBN 978-0-82327-926-5; $29.95; 264 pages), author Nandini Bagchee examines three re-purposed buildings on the Lower East Side that have been used by activists to launch actions over the past forty years. The Peace Pentagon was the headquarters of the anti-war movement, El Bohio was a metaphoric “hut” that envisioned the Puerto Rican Community as a steward of the environment, and ABC No Rio, appropriated from a storefront sign with missing letters, was a catchy punk name that appealed to the anarchistic sensibility of the artists that ran a storefront gallery in a run-down tenement. In a captivating discussion of buildings and urban settings as important components of progressive struggles in New York City over more than a century, Bagchee reveals how these collectively organized spaces have provided a venue for political participation while existing as a vital part of the city’s civic infrastructure.

Architects usually write about design, but in COUNTER INSTITUTION, Bagchee expands on the role of architecture and overwhelmingly makes a case for seeing these counter institutions as vital to the life of a community and an entire city.

Nandini Bagchee is an Associate Professor of Design and History at the Spitzer School of Architecture at CCNY, CUNY and Principal of Bagchee Architects. For more information, please visit


Activist Estates of the Lower East Side
by Nandini Bagchee
Publication Date: July 10, 2018
ISBN 978-0-82327-926-5
$29.95 Trade Paperback Original ● 264 pages
For an interview or to request a review copy, please contact
Michelle Blankenship, Blankenship Public Relations,
at (732) 499-0182 / [email protected]