Our Public Space:
Who Owns It, Who Shapes It, and Who Benefits From It

Our Public Space. Poster by Thirst


Our Public Space: Who Owns It, Who Shapes It, and Who Benefits From It

Our Public Space was a two-day program of lectures and a workshop presented by a concise list of national and international architects, designers, and artists addressing the current state of public space and the built environment. This program was organized by Dilettante Studios, MAS Context, and the Hyde Park Art Center and took place on June 14 and June 15, 2014.

The program series delved into the themes explored in the exhibition John Preus: The Beast in the Hyde Park Art Center’s main gallery (April 13, 2014 – August 3, 2014). The conference activates a two-story hollow sculpture in the form of a dying bull into a town hall that encourages discussion and learning about the history, alternative use, and social value of built space. The installation considers the psychological and social impacts of individual and collective trauma, as manifested in architectural form.

The conference consisted of three presentations (day 1) and an intensive workshop (day 2) focusing on public space, who controls it, who has access to it, and how its governance shapes the socio-economic environment that we inhabit. The series aimed to complement current discourses about urban architecture and explore alternative approaches for creating spaces that promote public agency.


The following questions were considered:

– How does architecture obscure or reveal the history and conditions of its existence?
– What are the labor conditions that brought it into being?
– How does architecture challenge or reinforce forms of social injustice?
– How is the built environment shaped by questions of liability, zoning, and legal protections and what is
the social cost?
– What would an embrace of vulnerability and uncertainty look like architecturally?
– What is public space, where is it, who controls it, and why does it matter?


Our Public Space featured an exciting international panel of speakers whose work helped us frame and explore these questions. Their insight and experience in different contexts helped us to better understand the politics of architecture, the cost of safety, and new ways to engage with, reclaim, and theorize the public sphere within a highly controlled urban framework.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Beast, Hyde Park Art Center (5020 S Cornell Ave, Chicago, IL 60615)
1 pm – 5 pm

The first day featured three lectures that tackled ownership and intervention in our public space. Presentations were delivered by Patrizia di Monte, Quilian Riano, and Mimi Zeiger whose diverse backgrounds, approaches, and areas of intervention provided an insightful look at what shapes our public space. Each panelist gave a 45-minute presentation related to their work followed by a 15-minute Q&A led by Iker Gil with the audience and the rest of the panelists. The presentations used visual aides to convey the ideas and practical solutions described.


1 pm: Introduction


1:15 pm: Quilian Riano | #whOWNSpace

#whOWNSpace arises from the questions that the Occupy Wall Street movement has brought up about ownership and use of open space around the world. On September 17th, 2011 Occupy Wall Street shed new light to the privatization of the city when a group of activists occupied Zuccotti Park, a Privately Owned Public Space (POPS) in New York City’s Financial District. POPS legislation was developed in 1961 as a way to let developers negotiate building variances, often increasing the square footage of rentable space in return for plaza and parks that should be open and welcoming to the public for multiple uses. The legislation has led to private entities building 3.5 million square feet of areas that they control but are, in theory, public. #whOWNSpace, along with collaborators, seeks to reveal conflict, question rules, advocate for design, and finally intervene in public space.


2:30 pm: Mimi Zeiger | The Intermediate

“The Intermediate” is the space between top-down planning and bottom-up action. It is a productive area of contemplation and investigation that leads to multiple outcomes, paradoxically serving a broad public and creating a narrow scope of participation. The lecture will explore “the intermediate” phase as a production of public space, participatory dialogue, and urban development that can guide social and political outcomes. However, in order to predict outcomes, Zeiger proposes we need a critical appraisal of the very notion of tactical, DIY, bottom-up urbanisms, and a new understanding of the pressures placed on this nascent field, including the pitfalls and possibilities of urban intervention.


3:45 pm: Patrizia di Monte | Estonoesunsolar

The richness of possibilities to use the empty plots stems from the indeterminacy of such gaps in the regular urban fabric. Temporary interventions in the city space are a dynamic tool that allow for flexible alternative readings of the city. The project as a whole aims for non-material solutions, establishing an open dialogue with the constructed environment through a light-hearted attitude. From the outset, it was essential to find a name for the interventions that gave meaning to a program without a program, an owner without property, and urban plot without a building, a place with no name. The name “estonoesunsolar” was intended to propose a new way of seeing familiar places: this is not an empty place – this is not what it seems. In short, it is an invitation to think again, to imagine possibilities, to propose new situations, and create enthusiastic spaces.


Sunday, June 15


Lathrop Homes (2000 W Diversey Ave, Chicago, IL 60647)
10 am – 4 pm

A six-hour workshop led by Quilian Riano and John Preus that engaged with Lathrop Homes to apply ideas generated out of the presentations made the day prior. Mr. Riano brought his experience with Corona Plaza in Queens, New York, and his work with the Occupy Wall Street to bear on questions about public and private space, and forms of grassroots engagement. This was an excellent opportunity to work directly with the Lathrop Holmes community and start a conversation in a real site facing real challenges.









Our Public Space. Photos by Elyse Blennerhassett


Organized by

Dilettante Studios
MAS Context
Hyde Park Art Center


Supported by

Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts
The Illinois Humanities Council
National Endowment for the Humanities
Illinois General Assembly


Patrizia di Monte is an architect, founder of gravalosdimonte arquitectos, and mastermind behind Estonoesunsolar, an artistic/architectural program focused on the transformation of brownfield plots, within the city of Zaragoza, Spain to create open spaces for the community in the crisis meanwhile. She is Social Architecture professor at ETSA-USJ.
www.gravalosdimonte.com | @patriziadimonte

Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. He is the founder and editor in chief of the design journal MAS Context and the co-director of the Chicago Expander program at Archeworks. He is a PhD candidate from Escola Tecnica Superior d’Arquitectura de Barcelona (ETSAB), and holds a Master of Architecture from University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).
www.mas-studio.com | @MASContext

John Preus is a Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist. He holds an MFA from the University of Chicago (2005) and studied furniture making in Minnesota with John Nesset. Preus founded Dilettante Studios in 2010, co-founded SHoP (2011), and Material Exchange (2005). Preus was the creative director of the Rebuild Foundation shop until 2012 and project lead for Theaster Gates’ 12 Ballads for Huguenot House, at Documenta 13. Preus is currently a Jackman Goldwasser resident at Hyde Park Art Center.

Quilian Riano is a designer, researcher, writer, and educator currently working out of Brooklyn, New York. Quilian works with community groups and trans-disciplinary teams to create comprehensive research that can be used to propose a variety of targeted policies, actions and designs at various scales—from pamphlets to architectures to landscapes. He leads #whOWnSpace, a project that grew out of the questions that surfaced during the #occupywallstreet movement concerning ownership and use of open space in New York City, North America, and cities around the world.
www.dsgnagnc.com/quilian-bio | @quilian

Mimi Zeiger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and critic. She covers art, architecture, urbanism, and design for a number of publications, including The New York Times, Domus, Dwell, and Architect, where she is a contributing editor. Zeiger is author of New Museums, Tiny Houses and Micro Green: Tiny Houses in Nature.
www.mimizeiger.com | @loudpaper

MAS Context Spring Talks 2014
Christopher Baker


Video shot by George Aye and edited by André Corrêa.


Lecture by Christopher Baker as part of the MAS Context 2014 Spring Talks in Chicago. The lecture took place on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 at The Logan Share.

All images by David Schalliol.




Christopher Baker is an artist whose work engages the rich collection of social, technological and ideological networks present in the urban landscape. He creates artifacts and situations that reveal and generate relationships within and between these networks. Baker’s award-winning work has been featured extensively online, in print and internationally in festivals, galleries and museums. Since completing a Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Media Arts at the University of Minnesota, Baker has held visiting artist positions at Kitchen Budapest, an experimental media lab in Hungary, and Minneapolis college of Art and Design. He is currently an Assistant Professor in the Art and Technology Studies department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

MAS Context Spring Talks 2014
John Szot


[Note By John Szot: I cited the movie playing in the Shibuya tower interior as directed by “Arakowa.” The director is actually Akira Kurosawa.]


Video shot by George Aye and edited by André Corrêa.

Lecture by award-winning architect John Szot, founder of John Szot Studio and Brooklyn Digital Foundry, as part of the MAS Context 2014 Spring Talks in Chicago. The lecture took place on Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at The Logan Share.


John Szot is an award-winning architect, founder of John Szot Studio and Brooklyn Digital Foundry. John Szot Studio focuses on the relationship between technology and the locus of meaning in the built environment. The Brooklyn Digital Foundry was established in 1999 to serve the architectural community with digital communications support. Since then, the studio has grown to serve a global client base in various industries with visualization and marketing materials.
www.johnszot.com | www.brooklynfoundry.com | @johnszot@brooklynfoundry

MAS Context Spring Talks 2014


Video shot by George Aye and edited by André Corrêa.


Lecture by Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero from Luftwerk as part of the MAS Context 2014 Spring Talks in Chicago. The lecture took place on Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at The Logan Share.

All images by Matthew Messner.




Luftwerk is the collaborative vision and artistic practice of Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero. The duo have been working together for over 10 years, creating art installations that merge the elements of light and video with the sculptural aspects of architecture and design. In 2010 Luftwerk was commissioned to create a new media exhibit for Frank Lloyd Wright’s centennial celebration of The Robie House. Since then Bachmaier and Gallero have discovered a resonance with architecture and the experience of space and site, developing several projects that transform architecture into a canvas of light and motion. Their projects open a new dialogue of rediscovery that bridges history and contemporary media of public spaces and landmark structures. Currently they are engaged with The National Trust of Historic Preservation to create an immersive site-specific exhibit for the Farnsworth House in Plano, IL.

MAS Context Spring Talks 2014
Dawn Hancock


Video shot by George Aye and edited by André Corrêa.


Lecture by Dawn Hancock, founder of Firebelly Design, as part of the MAS Context 2014 Spring Talks in Chicago. The lecture took place on Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at The Logan Share.


Dawn Hancock is the founder of Firebelly Design, a studio that does “work for people we think are making a difference in the world”. With the mantra “Good Design for Good Reason.™” the studio is a pioneer in socially responsible design, and continues to live the principles of sustainable innovation and social responsibility. In 2004, Firebelly Design started the annual Grant for Good program, which “awards a year’s worth of full-scale marketing, design and business planning services to one deserving nonprofit organization.” Dawn also runs Firebelly Foundation, Reason to Give, Camp Firebelly and Firebelly University.
www.firebellydesign.com | www.firebellyfoundation.org | @firebellydesign@dawnhancock

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