BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago © David Schalliol



Issue statement by Iker Gil, editor in chief of MAS Context


The inaugural Chicago Architectural Biennial, titled “The State of the Art of Architecture,” closed over six months ago. In a little over a year, the second edition will be on its way with locals and visitors once again discussing current issues about architecture. Just like the inaugural edition, hundreds of projects, events, and conversations will once again take over the city for three months, injecting new energy into the architectural community and, hopefully, the public at large.

While events of this scale bring an influx of attention throughout their duration, it is the time in between them when we can reflect on the issues at stake, successes and missed opportunities, and what structural changes are needed to achieve those goals on which we collectively agree upon.

The exhibition BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago, which I curated , was part of the inaugural biennial. The eighteen projects included in BOLD investigated urban conditions located in Chicago but that are also present in other cities. The proposals varied in scale, topic of investigation, and architectural exploration, but they all took a stance and intelligently and critically addressed those urban conditions. Through their imagination, but grounded in current conditions, each participant showed alternative ways of thinking as well as a path for architects and designers to play a crucial role in the transformation of the city. The projects shaped and visualized a new possible future and, in doing so, they challenged the visible and invisible structures that decide that future city for us. Fortunately, these projects and challenges were shared openly and publicly with residents and visitors. By locating the core of the biennial (and the BOLD exhibition) in a public building such as the Chicago Cultural Center (Chicago’s former main library), visitors of all ages and all backgrounds had free access to explore these ideas and to become participants in (or at least aware of) this important conversation to shape Chicago.

Ultimately, the position of the exhibition (and this issue) is that architecture should engage with the city, strategically and critically, using all of the tools at its disposal. And, when possible, architecture should collaborate with other disciplines that, from their respective expertise, can add tremendously valuable knowledge to explore the potential of our cities. Chicago is facing issues that are neither small nor easy to fix. It is a city that is growing increasingly unequal with important social and economic challenges. For some it is a “world class city.” For others, it is the city where, day in day out, you see your family, neighbors, and friends get shot. Two realities exist under the name of Chicago. These are issues that cannot be overlooked if we genuinely want to change our city. They require careful analysis, determination, and the expertise of many, including architects.

The architects and designers behind the projects featured in BOLD are eager to be part of the conversations about Chicago. They are eager to discuss their strategies, to be challenged about their positions, and to change opinions about what can be done. The exhibition lasted for three months and, with this issue, we hope to extend that conversation and continue to add new voices to it. More than a record of a past activity, we want this issue to serve as a tool to look forward. A document to continue to reflect on and build upon, whether in future editions of the biennial or on a daily basis, as the city continues to take shape.



Visitors during the opening of BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago © David Schalliol



Peter Exley (left) and Tom Jacobs (right) © David Schalliol



Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido (left) and Juan Gabriel Moreno (right) © David Schalliol



Pete Landon discussing his project © David Schalliol



Kelly Bair discussing her project © David Schalliol



Visitor documenting the exhibition © Iker Gil



The BOLD exhibition and publication have had invaluable help from Cameron Acheson, Stephen Adzemovic, Joseph Altshuler, Kelly Bair, Bill Baker, Catherine Baker, Chris Bennett, Michelle Benoit, Brandon Biederman, Maya Bird-Murphy, Jeff Bone, David Brown, Tyler Brown, Matthew Busscher, Selina Chiu, Yona Chung, André Corrêa, Darryl G. Crosby, Alex Culler, Hope Dinsmore, Anthony Dombrowski, Sarah Dunn, Alejandra Edery-Ferre, Mircea Eni, Martin Felsen, Brenda Gamboa, Claire Gaspin, Jonathan Gately, Jacob Gay, Grant Gibson, Trisha Girdwood, Veronica Gomez, Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido, Caroline Grebner, Luke Hegeman, Ryan Hernandez, Stewart Hicks, Tom Jacobs, Tad Jameyfield, Ania Jaworska, Benton Johnson, Aishwarya Keshav, Jungsik Kim, Shin Kim, France La, Katie LaCourt, Jessie LaFree, Sean Lally, Peter Landon, Michelangelo La Tona, Brian Lee, Chi Yin Lee, Elias Logan, Obed Lopez, Eugenia Macchia, Jeffrey Macias, Joe Madon, Christopher Marcinkoski, Margaret McCurry, Julie Michiels, Maria Miller, Josh Mings, Ruta Misiunas, Andrew Moddrell, Juan Gabriel Moreno, Sean Myung, Anya Nair, Miriam Neet, Allison Newmeyer, Andrew Newmeyer, Angela Ngo, Marina Nicollier, Andrew Obendorf, Conor O’Shea, A. Melinda Palmore, Michael Pecirno, Verónica Pérez, Samra Qasim, David Ramis, Claudia Rodriguez, Jeisler Salunga, David Schalliol, Philip Schmidt, Matthew Schneider, Jack Schroeder, Don Semple, Werner Sobek, Dominik Soltys, Dan Spore, Drew Stanley, Phil Stott, Margaret Sullivan, Lindsey Telford, Stanley Tigerman, Austin Tsai, Chen-Han Tu, Aura Venckunaite, Fariha Wajid, Terran Wilson, Lukasz Wojnicz, Laura-Anne Wong, and Michael Wu.

We also want to extend our gratitude to other members of the studios that were featured in the exhibition as well as those that we toured during the studio visits.

Special thanks to Renata Graw and Alexa Viscius from Normal for designing the identity of the exhibition. For the design of this issue, Renata and Alexa worked in collaboration with Ansgar Kleem and Rafael Barontini.

Finally, thanks to Sarah Herda, Joseph Grima, and their team as well as Michelle Boone, Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), for the opportunity to curate and present this work during the inaugural Chicago Architectural Biennial.


Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is the editor in chief of MAS Context. He is the editor of the book Shanghai Transforming (ACTAR, 2008) and has curated several exhibitions, most recently “BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago” as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club and has been recognized as one of “Fifty Under Fifty: Innovators of the 21st Century” by a jury composed by Stanley Tigerman, Jeanne Gang, Qingyun Ma, and Marion Weiss. | @MASContext

At the Biennial—BOLD and the Chicago Room


Late Entry to the Chicago Public Library Competition project by Design With Company © David Schalliol


Afterword by Geoff Goldberg


Last fall, Chicago hosted the United States’ first Architecture Biennial, a new event on the world’s architectural circuit. With 100 exhibitions on display, the city’s Cultural Center was effectively repurposed, as this large and imposing classical structure became home to a catalog of architectural ideas for three months. Among these exhibitions was a grouping on the first floor, a show called BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago. Showcasing work by Chicago architects, this was a Chicago Room placed within the Biennial. It was curated by Iker Gil of MAS Studio and editor of this publication.

If the Biennial intended to provide a general perspective on The State of the Art of Architecture, a title borrowed from a 1977 conference of the same name, this “Chicago Room” was alternatively positioned and highly intentional. On display were eighteen proposals, each endeavoring to establish an agenda for some aspect of change. Half were challenged with a specific urban problem; the remainder offered large-scale ideas about the state of architecture proper.

Much of the room was dedicated to a particular issue, captured in The Available City, a long-term study by David Brown to regenerate vacant lots throughout Chicago. Nine architects put forward their ideas on what could be done, documented with highly detailed small models, each displayed on a pedestal. Most promoted viability by using realism as their claim to legitimacy, with their dollhouse-like models complete with miniaturized detail (Landon Bone Baker Architects, Stanley Tigerman, Margaret McCurry, and Krueck + Sexton Architects),with a few (such as JGMA) pursuing bigness instead. Despite all this energy on display, none seemed to rise above their colleagues. It was as if the proposed answers cancelled each other out — the result was a flattening of the argument, not the hoped-for reinforcement. If one were to have chosen among them, it was the spirit of JAHN’s abstracted megacity—a vintage utopia—that caught the eye and ineffably raised aspirations.

Remaining was the larger question: What would be best for all these empty sites? A collage drawing by David Brown compiled all the answers, and while well-intended as a summary document, it had the unfortunate consequence of suggesting anything proposed would do. With little here to raise the call for implementation, perhaps fewer more pointed ideas would have been more successful.

Of interest was the event itself, with name architects working on the same problem as the lesser-known. All are due thanks for their willingness to engage. Their proposals were accompanied by David Schalliol’s thoughtful images on vacancy, poignant and well crafted, but sadly here they served as background material to the other presentations.

Elsewhere in the room were larger, more ambitious proposals. Upon entry, the first seen was Logistical Ecologies (Hinterlands with a film by MODUS Collective), a broad-thinking argument for repositioning development in a combinatory way, using land use, intermodal logistics, and a regional agenda to craft a script for the next 100 years. It came loaded with more hyperprecision than elasticity, suggesting specifics rather than the trend-thinking more appropriate for a future so far off.

Michael Pecirno’s abstract readings of Chicago used representation to study underlying traces in urban development. This was an interesting perspective, but one also in need of additional development to become convincing—with its reliance on observation, its agenda was yet to be defined. In both of these, “big scale” was considered as “bold.”

Filter Island by UrbanLab (Sarah Dunn and Martin Felsen) operated between bigness and a disciplinary rethink. Their usually well-considered ideas on urban ecology were difficult to access here, with rather substantial barriers in the coloration and imagery of the presentation.

Late Entry to the Chicago Public Library Competition by Design with Company (Stewart Hicks and Allison Newmeyer) compiled an assemblage of fragments and buildings to create a whole, in the service of memory. Message and image were in balance and mutually supportive in this work, aiming to recover the city by combining history and imagination. The idea of “architecture-as-sign” (also referred to as postmodernism) has precedent in Chicago — such as the 1980 revisitation of the 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower competition. Here recovered was the 1987 Chicago Public Library project, amid other urban objects resized and reused. Although the ontological problem (what is the role of memory?) remained unanswered, this reshuffling of the “known into new” offered a fresh perspective on what is and is not around us.

The Big Shift (by PORT Urbanism) was a strong presentation for restructuring downtown Chicago’s lakefront. It engaged the historic Chicago marriage between “where’s mine?” and building, with its scheming to provide new swathes of developable land in the central business district. It was also the most dangerous proposal in the entire show, exciting and doable but oddly lacking a design agenda. If one were to reduce it to basics, architecture here was proposed as a means to expedite development. While such flirtation with commerce is attractive in the abstract, if embraced, sadly such a proposal could, and likely would, be implemented without any design intention. Might one ask what happened to architecture?

Hoping to encourage longer-term dialogue, Gil approached Chicago’s larger architectural firms with the idea of collaborating with new and younger voices. Chicago heavyweights Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) were willing and worked with CAMESgibson (Grant Gibson) on an open-frame tower. The proposal, called The High Life, was one that accepted “plug ins,” a riff on the modular concepts of the 1960s. Detailed in high resolution in model (by SOM, with their effort led by Brian Lee) and in drawings by Gibson, its level of resolution was very high. SOM examined the system’s capability to accept variation while Gibson probed the narrative of alternate lifestyles. These became two realities, staring at each other across a divide, and made for one of the highlights of the Biennial. Here could be found our two Chicagos: one of production, the other of impact. The difference between these two specificities could be probed further and even serve as themes for an entire show.

Original planning for the Biennial proposed Gallery 37, across the street from the Chicago Cultural Center, as a space for showing local answers — part of an ambitious plan to “spread” the Biennial beyond the limits of one building. With this basis for Chicago representation in the Biennial, Gil (in concert with Sarah Herda) initially conceived a large range of work, starting from the regional and spiraling inwards to local and more specific solutions. As things developed, this separate venue was wisely jettisoned and all the work was placed together in the Cultural Center, scaled down but otherwise unaltered. Such scope might have worked if writ large; but as presented in the Chicago Room, the variation and changes in scale were too great. Was the idea to put forth an agenda, or was this to serve as a collection of individual thoughts? While energetic, more cohesion would have served the audience better. Nevertheless, the room was well organized, and getting all this work on display was no small feat, especially in the complexity of this first Biennial.

Underlying this exhibition about Chicago and the region was a counterpoint discussion, one comparing BOLD to exhibitors elsewhere in the building. In short, the main show in the Chicago Cultural Center featured exhibitors individually, while those in the Chicago Room remained a subset of a different approach. Discussion between these two propositions would have been welcome.

How did other Chicago-based architects elsewhere in the Biennial fare? Thomas Kelley, John Ronan, and Jeanne Gang each had large presentations with varying levels of success. Kelley’s super-graphics on the windows of the Chicago Cultural Center were a popular favorite, recasting this classic building with a contemporary commentary on the city. Ronan’s exterior “armature-of-bushes” outside the building reminded one of Herzog and de Meuron’s Dominus Winery. But rather than using their rocks, Ronan’s leaves suffered as the seasons changed — although, perhaps that was the point. Studio Gang’s proposal for engaging police stations was a normative urban design project, popular with some locals. Yet in this context, why did one of Chicago’s leading voices back away from architecture? Its placement at the beginning of the show suggests the curators were worried about where to situate the Mayor’s favorite architect.

The Chicago Room was clear of such political matters. Although integral to almost all the presentations, the politics in BOLD was never a subject taken on directly. One could imagine an alternate posture, not to emphasize local politics, but rather to use locality to spur further thinking. For example, what of Chicago architects working on issues across the field, and not necessarily being limited to Chicago? Or perhaps architects from elsewhere could look at “Chicago-type” problems, with a methodology informed by Chicago’s history to see what new ideas they bring in their responses.

Curators historically serve a function, which could be described as “Go forth, find good things, and show us.” This remains a time-honored role and one appreciates the “shoe leather” expended by Gil, Herda, and Grima, the latter two globe-trotting to find work they thought interesting. “Uncovering the unknown” remains a time-tested model for transferring knowledge, and was adopted here without discussion or definition. Yet today, the presence, nay, the celebration of curation (as opposed to the work itself) has become a phenomenon of the mega-show today, slipping in through a side door with the curator now serving as today’s taste-maker. There are however other ways to approach the problem of curation, as was evidenced in Fujimoto’s assembly of small “architectural object-ideas.” Here curation was part of the problem, used to reinforce an architectural proposition. This was a proposal that established intense relationships between small, innocuous objects with reference to larger architectural ideas. Collection was successfully used to provide credibility. It’s an approach one might consider at the larger scale as well.

BOLD went in a different direction entirely, providing specific answers. It fit a particular brand of Chicago’s history, one where concepts are easily legible and accessible. For this Architecture Biennial to continue to operate on the world stage, it will need greater definition of its intention. Proposals made large and more real are not a substitute, as high-resolution answers are only successful when responding to proper questions. BOLD offered one approach, the rest of the Biennial another—the two together bracketing the fact that future success of the Biennial will require greater awareness of what is being addressed and why.


Geoff Goldberg has practiced architecture and urban design in Chicago for the past twenty-five years. His research and practice operate in a particular way, with the advantage of long and in-depth exposure to a broad range of architectural issues. At the large scale, he is interested in integration across disciplines in the design of complex infrastructures and in finding opportunities in overlays otherwise overlooked. At a more intimate scale, Goldberg’s architectural work engages formal considerations with a contemporary notion of craftsmanship.

BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago


BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago © Tom Harris Photography


Exhibition statement by Iker Gil, curator of BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago


Chicago is a fascinating city, a reference for many around the world. There are multiple reasons but one undoubtedly is its impressive architectural legacy. It is also a complex city, one facing social and economic challenges that manifest themselves in very tangible ways. As the city looks forward and works on addressing them, we question if there are alternative ways to think about its future and we wonder what architects can bring to the table.

The eighteen projects included in this exhibition explore new possibilities for the city of Chicago. Generated by both emerging and established Chicago-based architects and designers, these projects rethink the future of the city without the need to respond to a brief by a client. At the same time, it explores the agency of the architect in shaping these scenarios. While they are generated without a client, these projects operate fully aware of the constraints and realities of Chicago with the intention to engage in fruitful conversations with public and private agencies to shape its future.

The selection of projects offer alternative strategies to key issues present at multiple scales: regional studies exploring interconnected layers such as biodiversity dynamics, agricultural production, and hydrology; urban strategies addressing ecological and infrastructural challenges while providing a sustainable revenue stream and conceptualizing new civic possibilities; speculative proposals exploring the urban design potential of Chicago’s vacant lots; innovative high-rise typologies marrying the latest technology, economic motivations, and idealized urban domestic life; new forms of architecture (aesthetic, spatial, and social) embracing technology’s influence on human sensory perception and environmental control; and a reexamination of issues, such as the use of history in the design of architecture and contemporary ideas surrounding libraries and the city, sparked by a late entry to the 1987 Harold Washington Library Center competition. These projects present the issues at stake in Chicago and the architectural scenarios to address them.

But architects are not the only ones looking at the city. Other disciplines are exploring the same issues that architects are interested in but through different lenses — complementing, expanding, and even questioning our understanding of the city. To generate that exchange, two projects that chose photography and map-making as their medium are incorporated into the exhibition to provide a look at the current state of the city. These projects document our relationship with vacancy, questioning how we might bridge disparate experiences of vacancy and what the relationship between planning and informality is, as well as uncover the stories hidden in the city through the abstraction and isolation of big data.

The eighteen projects that are part of this exhibition, along with a series of related events, present an excellent opportunity to engage in public debates about the issues we face, the possibilities they present, and the challenges we need to overcome to make them happen. Eighteen ideas that have the potential to foster complex and fascinating conversations that carry on past the duration of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Eighteen scenarios that envision possible futures for Chicago.




“The explorations here posit a palpable group of ideas about how to design cities, with the focus on Chicago. What can investigations in a lively urban place like Chicago teach the rest of the world? BOLD embodies much of the Chicago-specific things about the Biennial, with a strong sense of place and a clear mission that translates globally.”
– Matt Shaw, Senior Editor of Architect’s Newspaper [1]


“One of the most successful aspects of the BOLD exhibition is that it started new conversations between both new generations of Chicago city officials and Chicago designers, both interested in challenging Chicago’s 21st century status quo.”
– Andrew Moddrell, Partner and Director of PORT Urbanism


“Chicago has deep, serious social and environmental issues that are intertwined with the current physical form of our city. BOLD gave voice to many of us who believe we can change the present trajectory of inequity in the quality of life for Chicagoans.”
– Brian Lee, Design Partner of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)


1. Matt Shaw, “Bold new visions for the future city take shape at the Chicago Architecture Biennial,” The Architect’s Newspaper, October 1, 2015.


Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is the editor in chief of MAS Context. He is the editor of the book Shanghai Transforming (ACTAR, 2008) and has curated several exhibitions, most recently “BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago” as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club and has been recognized as one of “Fifty Under Fifty: Innovators of the 21st Century” by a jury composed by Stanley Tigerman, Jeanne Gang, Qingyun Ma, and Marion Weiss. | @MASContext

Make Bold Plans, or Something Along Those Lines


BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago © David Schalliol


Notes on the BOLD Identity by Renata Graw, Founder of Normal


Last fall, the BOLD exhibition invited the public to explore architectural and urban planning alternatives for Chicago, the physical and intellectual opportunities that lie between the seemingly rigid constraints and conventions constructed in the city since its foundation 179 years ago.

Just as we have come to appreciate the efficiency of the orthogonal grid that organizes Chicago, we have become used to the graphical representation of time passing on a straight horizontal line. For the exhibition, we wanted to explore that relationship between time and line, projecting us into future while still being connected to the present.

We extended the horizontal lines to interrupt the conventional flow thus opening spaces in unexpected places. The (blanks) in the typography offer room for new ideas just as unused urban lots and ill-conceived plans are asking for better answers. Ultimately, it forces the visitors to pause and rethink.

Instead of confining the typography to the boundaries of the two-dimensional plane, we applied it onto three-dimensional objects within the exhibition. The visitor had to physically move around them to make sense of the collection of cryptic fragments and decipher the whole. We wanted to invite the visitors to explore and ask: Why?

Sometimes we need to stretch the conventions and assume different perspectives to see other futures.











– STA 100 competition organized in 2016 by the Society of Typographic Arts. For more information, please visit

– 2017 Award of Excellence by Communications Arts. For more information, please visit Communication Arts.


NORMAL is a small, independent team of creative thinkers based in Chicago. Their work centers on the belief that thoughtfully designed experiences can have a profound impact on how people interpret the world, and that the most powerful experiences come from close collaboration between the client and the creators. | @TheNormalStudio

Reckoning with Vacancy


Reckoning with Vacancy © David Schalliol


Project by David Schalliol


In Chicago, where one lives affects how one understands vacancy.

In many North and near Northwest Side neighborhoods, vacancy heralds the construction of larger and more expensive buildings, while in many South and West Side neighborhoods vacancy is the harbinger of yet another derelict lot. The result is that while many Chicago neighborhoods are maintaining — if not gaining — density, other sections of the city are increasingly sparse.

Reckoning with Vacancy grapples with these divergent conditions by concentrating on the city’s South and West Sides, where the last several decades have brought major changes to the built environment and the communities that constitute and inhabit it. From coordinated efforts like the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation to the more chaotic effect of the Great Recession’s foreclosure crisis, these events have dramatically affected the neighborhoods many of us call home.

While some of the resulting vacant properties are targeted for long-term development or are being winded through the city’s vacant property ownership programs, the majority of these parcels are in an ambiguous position: either informally maintained by community members or derelict and seemingly up for grabs. How are we to understand such sites, and how can residents and municipal planners work with them? This orientation also allows us to engage broader puzzles related to the city’s future, including which factors determine vacancy in our cities, how we might bridge disparate experiences of vacancy, and how we might understand the relationship between planning and informality.
































David Schalliol is an assistant professor of sociology at St. Olaf College who explores the transformation of urban centers through hybrid ethnographic, filmic, and photographic projects. His work was recently featured in the Chicago Architecture Biennial, and in 2014 the Japanese publisher Utakatado released his first book, Isolated Building Studies. Schalliol contributed to Highrise: Out My Window, an interactive documentary that won the 2011 International Digital Emmy for Non-Fiction. His current film project, The Area, is about the displacement of more than 400 families by the expansion an intermodal freight terminal. | @metroblossom

Of All of the Facts, and All of the Figures


Of All of the Facts, and All of the Figures © David Schalliol


Project by Michael Pecirno


Over the past few years cities have rushed to quickly establish data stores and data portals; places in which anyone with internet access can log on, download a dataset, and often, visualize them directly in-browser. This data can be anything that fits neatly into a spreadsheet, and its topic can range from the locations of police stations to lists of “problem landlords.” But aside from an act of novelty or neat visualization, what does it all mean? Can these spreadsheets change the way we perceive our cities, or are they just a trend fueled by the buzzword “big data”?

Of All of the Facts, and All of the Figures takes a dive into various data portals to find out what spreadsheets can tell us about our city, region, and state. What can happen when we begin to look at vignettes of the city with only a single feature mapped? Free from the ubiquitous political map background, can they tell us something more about our city? Through the abstraction and isolation of big data, we find that the city begins to tell a story too often obscured by geography, boundaries, and our own history. By refining the chaos of information into minimal statements, patterns never before seen emerge and perhaps a greater understanding of our landscape evolves.






















Data from: USDA, USGS, NRCS, NASS, APFO, National Geospatial Center of Excellence, and the Prairie Research Institute.


Michael Pecirno is a London-based designer whose work focuses on storytelling through visual and built experiences. His work crosses the boundaries of traditional design disciplines in order to create enriched objects, spaces, and ideas. Pecirno has been an invited research fellow and scholarship recipient at multiple institutions, including the Architectural Association in London, and Archeworks School of Design in Chicago. His work and writing have been featured in Wired Magazine, Gizmodo, The Washington Post, and numerous other spaces and publications. | @mpecirno

Logistical Ecologies


Logistical Ecologies © Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape


Project by Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape with MODUS Collective


Even for those of us who may be focused on the cities as zones of intervention, we can’t understand what is going on within them unless we look outside them, far outside them. [1]
—Neil Brenner


Logistical Ecologies is an urbanization strategy for northeastern Illinois derived from planetary logistics networks and regional ecologies with an emphasis on biodiversity, agriculture, and hydrology. The strategy colocates housing, retail, warehousing, distribution facilities, and intermodal freight facilities to leverage dynamic environmental processes, regional land uses, and transportation infrastructure.

Background: Since the deregulation of the transportation industry in the 1980s, the use of the shipping container for transporting goods manufactured in newly industrializing Asian countries to sites of consumption in the United States has transformed swathes of North America’s hinterlands into vast logistics landscapes. This back-stage network of rails, warehousing, and distribution facilities sustains the front-stage lifestyles commonly occurring within municipal city boundaries.

Logistical Ecologies develops analytical categories rooted in the fields of ecology, landscape architecture, transportation geography, and critical urban theory to uncover new methods for design and sites of intervention for their deployment. By confronting the complexities of twenty-first century urbanization head on, the strategy is both a critique of and an alternative to design’s existing theoretical frameworks.




With even modest projections indicating that containerized freight throughput at United States coastal ports will more than double by 2030, the North American hinterland is poised to be radically transformed by the construction of expanded logistical infrastructures like double-stack corridors and intermodal freight facilities. [2] Nowhere in the United States will these effects be felt more acutely than in northeastern Illinois, where six of North America’s seven Class I railroads meet. The importance of this region in national and planetary logistics networks is exemplified by the adjacent inland ports of Joliet, IL (Global IV, Union Pacific) and Elwood (Logistics Park, BNSF), constituting the third largest container port in the United States; this inland behemoth lags only behind the coastal Port of Long Beach / Port of Los Angeles and the Port of New York and New Jersey. [3] While nearly half of the containers passing through the region annually are destined for other domestic or international markets, the rest originates or is consumed in the region. [4]

As we move forward into an era of unpredictable climates, increasingly frequent storm events, new biodiversity trends, and ongoing pollution from the agro-industry, these logistical transformations and the market-driven development they enable—all largely devoid of ecological and hydrological sensitivity—put our economic and ecological future at great risk.

Logistical Ecologies is an alternative strategy for urbanizing northeastern Illinois in response to these issues. It is not only aware of hydrological and ecological concerns, but uses them as the very drivers of new processes of urbanization. The strategy comprises three phases.



Logistical Watersheds
As volumes of containerized freight in the United States continue rising, developers and railroads in northeastern Illinois are building larger intermodal freight facilities beyond Chicago’s historic core. Combined with the rail and highway infrastructure binding them together, these new inland ports (#3, #18, #19) enable 21st century urbanization in the region.



The Bison Mosaic is the primary organizing framework for the strategy, and is established over a ten-year period by converting underperforming and degraded cropland into tallgrass prairie and wetlands. The conversion, initiated by prescribed prairie burns and perpetuated by a combination of burns and bison grazing, gradually connects existing regional bison strongholds at Nachusa Grasslands and the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.


Freeport Central
A prescribed prairie burn converts degraded cropland into the Bison Mosaic near the Freeport Central clustered development. A riparian corridor buffers fire from an expanded double-stack corridor, slows down stormwater, and curbs topsoil erosion. Over time a regenerated tallgrass prairie is monitored for transition back into cropland. Bison (Bison bison) roam freely.




The second phase begins ten years after the Bison Mosaic takes shape and proposes the clustering of hybrid logistical developments along heavily-used double-stack rail corridors that cross the interface between the most and least profitable agricultural land in northeastern Illinois. The typologies are combinations of residential, commercial, and agro-industrial buildings directly connected operationally, and in close physical proximity, to an intermodal freight facility and associated warehousing and distribution facilities. These programs and their architectural forms are hybridized through a series of ecological relationships. Each set of adjacencies leverages ecological and economic processes to produce new public space and new settlement typologies, helping accommodate projected pressure from increased containerized imports and population increase.


Kittredge Median
Buildings at Kittredge Median help direct stormwater towards nearby croplands, while bison (Bison bison) enrich soils through patch grazing and creating wallows. Over time the wallows—created by bison dust bathing—become seasonal pools and attract other animals. Milkweed species (Asclepias spp.) planted beside transportation infrastructure creates Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) habitat.




As clustered logistical developments continue to take form, now intertwined ecologically and economically with regional and planetary logistics networks, ongoing efforts to monitor crop suitability within a changing climate and prairie / cropland rotation continues.


Camanche Lateral
Agricultural products are passed through grain transloading facilities at the Camanche Lateral to fill empty containers for export to markets in Asia. Recreational bike paths wind through tallgrass prairie where bison (Bison bison) graze nearby, enriching soils. Over time this prairie will again become cropland, as it cycles between ecological and economic uses.







1. Genoa Transect
Located in the Kishwaukee watershed in Northern Dekalb County, this early logistical development leverages the interface of cropland, the Bison Mosaic, and an expanded east-west Canadian Pacific and Canadian National double-stack corridor intersection. [pop. 1,000,000; 4 million TEUs / year]

2. Deer Grove Extension
Located in the Green watershed along the border of Whiteside, Lee, and Bureau Counties, this second logistical development is smaller in size than the first. Deer Grove Extension straddles a newly expanded Union Pacific north-south line, taking advantage of the interface between the Bison Mosaic and productive cropland. [pop. 250,000; 1 million TEUs / year]

3. Freeport Central
Located in the Rock watershed between present-day Freeport and Rockford along an expanded east-west CN double-stack corridor, Freeport Central leverages the interface of the Bison Mosaic, productive cropland, and existing transportation infrastructure. [pop. 250,000, 1 million TEUs / year]

4. Kittredge Median
Straddling the Mississippi and Rock watersheds in northwestern Carroll County, the Kittredge Median is a linear development along an expanded east-west Canadian Pacific Railway corridor. Given its dual watershed location, this development has significant hydrological potential. [pop. 250,000, 1 million TEUs / year]

5. Camanche Lateral
As the Bison Mosaic expands, outlying clusters of logistical developments like the Camanche Lateral are made possible. Located in the Mississippi watershed in eastern Clinton County, Iowa, along an expanded Union Pacific east-west line, this hybridized settlement typology is unique due to its location along the Mississippi River, allowing it to enhance waterborne and terrestrial freight opportunities. [pop. 1,500,000, 6 million TEUs / year]

6. Kankakee Easterly
At the outskirts of the Bison Mosaic in Kankakee County, the Kankakee Easterly straddles the Kankakee and Grundy watersheds along the Norfolk Southern and CSX east-west line. This linear logistical development interfaces leverages the prairie / cropland interface as well as a thick web of highways, rail, and the Kankakee River. [pop. 750,000, 3 million TEUs / year]


1. Neil Brenner, “Wildly Civilized: Ecological + Extreme + Planetary Urbanism…What’s Next?” (moderated panel, Harvard Graduate School of Design, September 13, 2014).

2. “Projected growth in the US economy and historical trends at US ports suggest that port container traffic will double by 2020 and triple by 2030… even if the growth rate falls to four percent, container traffic could still more than double by 2030.” US Maritime Administration (MARAD), America’s Ports and Intermodal Transportation System (January 2009), 59,

3. Intermodal freight facilities are coastal or inland ports where containers transfer between ship and train, train and train, or train and truck. The total number of containers moving through a port is referred to as the throughput or as twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). Most containers are at least 40 feet long, counting as two TEUs. CenterPoint Intermodal Center–Joliet/Elwood, with a capacity for 6 million TEUs, is the largest inland port in North America. The Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach have a combined annual throughput of 14.1 million TEUs. The Port of New York and New Jersey has an annual throughput of 5.5 million TEUs. The entire Chicago region’s annual throughput is over 5 million TEUs. Coastal Ports: American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), “NAFTA Region Container Traffic Port Ranking 2012,” accessed April 2014, Eric Gilbert, “Joliet Arsenal Redevelopment: A Public-Private Partnership Success Story,” (presentation, CenterPoint Intermodal Center–Joliet/Elwood, June 13, 2013). Chicago regional total throughput: American Association of Railroads (AAR). “Top 15 Markets for Intermodal Traffic Handled in the United States in 2011,” Rail Intermodal Keeps America Moving.

4. Cambridge Systematics, Inc. with Vicki W. Bretthauer and Carl D. Martland “Regional Freight System Planning Recommendations Study” (June 30, 2010).


Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape
Conor O’Shea (Founder and Principal) and Chris Bennett (Architectural Collaborator).

MODUS Collective
Luke Hegeman (Founder).


Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape is design research office founded by Conor O’Shea in 2014. O’Shea is a landscape designer and urbanist based in Chicago, Illinois, where he is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Master of Landscape Architecture program in the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. His current research uses critical urban theory to inform contemporary landscape architectural theory and design research. | @ceoshea773

Filter Island


Filter Island © Iker Gil


Project by UrbanLab


In the 1909 Plan of Chicago, Daniel Burnham hybridized infrastructure and public amenity when he proposed combining roadways, railroads, and harbors with a continuous landscape of park and public buildings along Chicago’s lakefront. A decade before, Chicago’s engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River away from Lake Michigan to prevent the river’s pollution from contaminating the lake. Today, Chicago faces new challenges. Because the Chicago River acts as an overflow for the city’s sewer system, raw sewage overflows into Lake Michigan every time there is a severe rainstorm.

It’s time to redesign the river. Our project—Filter Island—springs from Chicago’s legacy of leveraging infrastructural improvements to create new civic space. The first step is to dam the Chicago River and remove the existing lock system. Because the river will once again flow into the lake, a new infrastructure is needed to remove pollutants.

Filter Island cleans the new Chicago River by filtering pollutants in a series of large-scale biocells. Polluted water flows from the river into Filter Island over a shallow waterfall at the northern edge of the new island. Through a series of wetlands and biopools, polluted water is cleaned of contaminates before being discharged into the lake. The ratio of water cleansing landscape to park program landscape flips as the park extends southward. Park programs range from wetlands, marshes, and fields to swimming pools, water parks, sports fields, and playgrounds. The whole island is wrapped in beaches and breakwaters. A new dry-dock transfer exchange accommodates boat traffic between the river and the lake.

In keeping with Burnham’s legacy, Filter Island is a hybridized landscape, combining infrastructure with cultural space.



Waterways Before © UrbanLab



Waterways After © UrbanLab



Program Aggregations © UrbanLab



Program Aggregations © UrbanLab



Plan © UrbanLab



Water Flow © UrbanLab



Water Cleaning © UrbanLab



Program Distribution © UrbanLab



Program © UrbanLab



Program © UrbanLab



Filter Island © UrbanLab



Filter Island flooded © UrbanLab



Filter Island model © David Schalliol



Filter Island model (Detail) © David Schalliol



Filter Island model (Detail) © David Schalliol



Filter Island model (Detail) © David Schalliol


Sarah Dunn + Martin Felsen with Jeffrey Macias, Matthew Busscher, Matthew Schneider, Aishwarya Keshav, Anya Nair, Austin Tsai, and Michelangelo La Tona.

Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Illinois at Chicago, and the Chicago Architecture Foundation.


UrbanLab is a research-based architecture and urban design practice led by Sarah Dunn and Martin Felsen. UrbanLab strives to respond to the complexity, growth, and unintended consequences of the modern city by developing catalogues of architectural, infrastructural, and urbanistic design strategies. UrbanLab’s projects range from urban infrastructural plans to buildings and architecture proposals. In parallel, Felsen and Dunn are principal investigators for funded research focusing on public space, infrastructure, and resources in American (and American-style) cities and megaregions. Dunn is an Associate Professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Felsen is the Director of Landscape and Urbanism at the Illinois Institute of Technology. | @TeamUrbanLab

The Big Shift


The Big Shift © PORT Urbanism


Project by PORT Urbanism


One of Chicago’s greatest civic assets is its lakefront. However, since new development is prohibited east of Lake Shore Drive (LSD), the city has been hindered in its ability to fundamentally enhance this territory. This is a missed opportunity.

The Big Shift imagines a scenario wherein Chicago embraces the lakefront’s latent potential by proposing a dramatic, yet conceptually simple infrastructural transformation. By shifting the 1.5-mile stretch of LSD running along Grant Park eastward, the city could create hundreds of acres of new lakefront real estate—importantly, west of LSD—that would generate enormous long-term revenue streams, despite the significant upfront infrastructural costs of the endeavor. Further, the “shift” would allow for the reconfiguration of LSD—changing its alignment and sinking portions of it to reduce its adverse impact on pedestrian and bike access to the lakefront.

More significantly, the project would serve to enhance two of Chicago’s most beloved public spaces. A fourth street wall would frame the east side of Grant Park, while stately, tree-lined boulevards would connect from the west side of the existing park across the new development district to a world-class 130-acre public waterfront. This newly configured lakefront would include softly rolling topography, beaches, spaces of prospect and refuge, as well as generous planting and furnishing. The proposal would more than triple the size of the current lakefront adjacent to Grant Park, providing the recreational amenities now missing from the area.

Simply put, The Big Shift imagines a scenario where a public infrastructural renovation is leveraged to create urgently needed municipal revenue sources while simultaneously enhancing and expanding Chicago’s most important public spaces and civic assets.









Forever open, clear, and free…sometimes. Although popularly considered “forever open, clear, and free,” Chicago’s lakefront has actually been in a constant state of transformation throughout the last 150 years. These various alterations have resulted in the creation of more than 1,000 acres of new land, the construction of dozens of buildings, and continued domination by changing configurations of Lake Shore Drive.




Existing Public Realm
Of the 252-acres comprising the Grant Park complex, approx. 45- acres (nearly 20%) are consumed by transportation infrastructures like roads and rail lines. The result is a disjointed, fragmented public realm. While significant institutions and civic spaces reside within the park, the overall state of the complex is deficient. The narrow lake edge along Monroe Harbor is particularly inadequate from a public amenity perspective.




Lake Shore Drive
No element dominates Chicago’s lakefront to a greater degree than Lake Shore Drive. For example, South Lake Shore Drive running along the eastern edge of Grant Park ranges from 8 to 12 lanes of vehicular traffic. This represents an approximately 125-foot wide barrier to lakefront access. No single urbanistic modification would have a greater impact on the quality of Chicago’s waterfront public realm and Grant park than reconfiguring the current alignment of Lake Shore Drive.




The Big Shift
We propose to realign Lake Shore Drive, separating local traffic onto a new winding at-grade boulevard, and allowing through traffic to bypass the park via a new vehicular tunnel. Such a modification has the potential to create more than 240-acres of new waterfront real estate capable of funding both the reconfigured roadway, and the enhancement and renovation of Grant Park.




Iconic Lake Front + Enhanced Connectivity
Our proposed reconfiguration of Lake Shore Drive would also generate the opportunity to create one of the world’s great public waterfronts at the center of the city, befitting of Chicago’s past urbanistic accomplishments and current global status. This new lake front district would become the centerpiece of Chicago’s 21st century evolution.




A Transformational Proposition
The Big Shift imagines a scenario where a major public infrastructural renovation is leveraged to create urgently needed municipal revenue sources while enhancing and expanding Chicago’s most important public spaces and civic assets.




Block Structure + F.A.R



Illustrated Floor Area Ratios Range (FAR)



Proposed Lake Shore Drive Reconfiguration



Proposed Lakefront District Road Hierarchy



Proposed Lakefront District Road Hierarchy



Proposed Land Reclamation + Development Phasing



Planting Surfaces + Canopy Palette



Primary Lakefront Circulation




Birdseye View Looking West © PORT Urbanism



Lakefront Promenade © PORT Urbanism



Great Lawn at Lakefront © PORT Urbanism



Congress Gardens Approaching Lake © PORT Urbanism



The Big Shift © David Schalliol


PORT Urbanism
Christopher Marcinkoski, Andrew Moddrell, Brandon Biederman, Selina Chiu, Laura-Anne Wong, Ryan Hernandez, Alex Culler, and Chi Yin Lee.


PORT is a design consultancy based in Chicago, and founded by Andrew Moddrell and Christopher Marcinkoski in 2010. Drawing from a collective background in contemporary urban issues, the practice specializes in new forms of collective space ranging from plazas and public waterfronts to framework plans and regional planning strategies. With projects in Denver, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia, PORT’s work has been the recipient of a number of professional awards including an AIA Award in 2014 for the Denver Parks and Recreation City Loop project. | @porturbanism

Second Sun


Second Sun © David Schalliol


Project by WEATHERS


Two of the greatest pressures on society today include humanity’s manipulation of the environment and the advancements in bioengineering of the human body. The first is changing the makeup of the physical spaces we occupy and the second, the very body that senses that environment. At this intersection are the physical boundaries that create architectural space. Integrating these two quickly advancing industries as the epicenter of architectural design can open the possibilities of the disciplines spatial, social, and environmental discourse.

The urban public park is the backbone of leisure, recreation, health, and community engagement. Nowhere is this more apparent and clearly demonstrated than in Chicago during the summer months. Yet as climate change continues and technologies open the possibilities of how our bodies communicate with our environment, parks are still seen as passive spaces subject to local weather and an outmoded definition of the human body. Second Sun takes street lighting as a starting point, layering additional forms of energy (thermal, acoustic, electromagnetic, chemical) in an attempt to give shape to a new architecture.

As advancements in steel, glass, and concrete have shown before, new materials can do more than reproduce existing architecture — they form a dialogue with emerging social and political pressures to produce new spaces, aesthetics, and social engagements. Second Sun places architecture at the center of today’s pressures to engage and inform the industries and policies that will give shape to our environment, our bodies, and the spaces we call architecture.




Chicago, IL
November 01, 2015
4:30 pm

Existing Site Conditions:
Temperature: 42 F
Wind Chill: 32 F
Dew Point: 29 F
Humidity: 60 %
Pressure: 30.4 in
Visibility: 10.0 mi
Wind Direction: ENE
Wind Speed: 8.1 mph
Precipitation: 0.2 in
Partly Cloudy










Sean Lally, Marina Nicollier, Veronica Gomez, Angela Ngo, and Maged Guerguis.


WEATHERS is a Chicago-based design office founded by architect Sean Lally. Lally is the author of the recently published book The Air from Other Planets: A Brief History of Architecture to Come (Lars Müller Publishers, 2014). He is the recipient of the 2012 Prince Charitable Trusts Rome Prize in Landscape Architecture from the American Academy in Rome and the winner of the 2012 Architectural League Prize for Young Architects and Designers. | @Sean_Lally

Late Entry to the Chicago Public Library Competition


Late Entry to the Chicago Public Library Competition © David Schalliol


Project by Design With Company


This Late Entry to the Chicago Public Library Competition uses the parameters of the 1987 architectural competition as a framework to reexamine issues at stake not only in the original design prompt, but also: the choice of the winning scheme, the use of history in the design of architecture, and contemporary ideas surrounding libraries and the city. The Late Entry format borrows from Claes Oldenburg’s Late Entry to the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition as well as Stanley Tigerman’s exhibition of the same name from 1980. With this reboot, we are drawing a connection between the Tribune Tower and the Public Library competitions, each of which have been instrumental in shaping attitudes toward architecture in Chicago. Both competitions resulted in buildings that self-consciously deploy historical forms and ornament to communicate with the public.

Certain architects and writers have been critical of these outcomes, with Stanley Tigerman quoted as saying, “By selecting that scheme [the winning design for the Chicago Public Library], it sends Chicago backwards, away from its own future precisely the way the Tribune Competition and the Columbian Exposition did.” [1] This project contends explicitly with Tigerman’s, not necessarily to correct or solve the problem, but to revisit the polemic in a revealing and contemporary way. It presents two dozen late entries in the form of a single building. The result is a building that behaves like a city, playing on scale, legibility, and narrative.










1. Triumphal Arch
In the information age, the physicality of the library is no longer necessary for book storage. In its place, the building can be liberated as a pure civic monument. Triumphal Arch casts the existing library building and flips it inside out. What was solid is now void as a monumental absence in the city of Chicago.



2. Empty Frame
Stripping the library from all its adornment, we are left with an empty frame. Is it a frame for a new building or one awaiting demolition? A ghost or an infant? Is it Miesian at heart (or would it be in skeleton)?



3. Child’s Play
“Cartoon Classicism,” people have declared about the Beeby design. Children’s blocks can be a tool for play and profound invention. What’s wrong with a good cartoon plopped into our realistic city? It might brighten our day with some surreal juxtapositions.



4. An Arch of Any Other Name
The library draws reference from certain buildings like the Biblioteque St. Genevieve and the Art Institute of Chicago. This proposal uses the same diagram as the Hammond Beeby and Babka design but substitutes other historical arches like the Sullivan Transportation Building, etc.



5. Unopened Proposal
This proposal has sat, unopened in its crate, for twenty-eight years. What is inside there? How disappointing it was never considered. How intriguing. Why wasn’t it opened?



6. Escalating the Library
From the project brief: “There should be open sided escalators to all public floors. This will allow patron “shopping” of the collections from the escalators, similar in function to a Department Store escalator…”



7. Navy Pier’s Ferris Wheel
Navy Pier is getting a new Wheel, we propose to use the old one for the library. Read while tracing a circle in the sky. Up and down, back to where you began. What could be a better metaphor for a library than a ferris wheel?



8. Blow it up
How much does your building weigh Mr. Beeby? There was a certain amount of initial argumentation about the “meaning” of the balloon, this subsided, because we have learned not to insist on meanings, and they are rarely even looked for now, except in cases involving the simplest, safest phenomena.



9. Hoo Who?
Owls represent wisdom and knowledge. They sit perched atop the Harold Washington Library watching over the city. The owls are the most distinctive part of the building, so we’re proposing to make the entire thing from a parliament of owls.



10. Aircraft Carrier
Why keep books in a building downtown? Real estate is too valuable to devote so much space to the storage of books. We propose building a small airport for book delivery on top of a building. See Hans Hollein.



11. Parking Garage for Bookmobiles
Why does the city need a static library at all? While awaiting construction, the books were stored in a warehouse outside the city. The books could always be moving. Never settled, always moving.



12. Parks!
Parks were the most publicly requested design feature during the Chicago Public Library competition. This multilayer park multiplies the ground plane to achieve a layer cake of outdoor programs. Maybe it isn’t the best design for a library, but it’s definitely a great place to read.



13. Terrarium
Rather than consuming trees, we could grow them. Paper books are relics of the past, texts are read digitally. What would be better than reading in a forest in the middle of downtown Chicago?



14. Upside
The roof is the best part of the Harold Washington Library. However, it is only visible from far away. Pedestrians are greeted by a massive fortress at ground level. Why not put the best part on the ground so the public can see and use it?



15. Library Scrolls
Literally read the library. Container and contained collapse into a single object. Texts, both physical and ephemeral, merge into a conglomerate of legibility. Chicagoans begin eating lunch nearby to catch today’s story. Writers develop new material just for this site. A new genre of literature develops.



16. Buttons and Tufts
Adorning the top of the Harold Washington Library are a series of large-scale buttons that appear to be holding down the roof. What if the entire library looked like a tufted piece of furniture that makes use of these buttons?



17. Jahn the Beeby
Helmut Jahn’s proposal for the Chicago Public Library Competition featured an elevated building spanning the ‘L’ train tracks. Underneath was a public space with large objects housing various programs. Can this design strategy be applied to the current library?



18. The Titanic
This is a challenge to architects. Either bury history as a source of legitimation, or be doomed to repeat it.



19. Prentice’s Ghost
In 2014, Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital building was torn down at the hands of Northwestern University. It was a controversial situation. Even Frank Gehry wrote a letter to try and save it. Why not bring it back as a library?



20. Trimmed Out
One issue that confuses people about the existing design is how out of scale it is with the rest of the city and with the pedestrians on the street. Trimmed out takes elements that are typically associated with interiors, scales them up, and turns it inside out.



21. Mining the Cultural Center
The building that is now known as the Cultural Center was once the home of the Chicago Public Library. Why not mine it for parts? They can be paraded through the city, to be reconstructed on the site of the new library. Of course, it is smaller than the new one, so we would have to supplement it a little…



The public was up in arms when the TRUMP sign was installed along the Chicago River. The library could feed off the controversy to establish relevance again. The city can offer naming rights in the tradition of sports stadiums. Sell the parking meters, sell the library name…



23. Ancient History
The Beeby library design references historical buildings by looking like them. Why stop with a new building that looks like old ones? Why not make it a ruin? Everybody loves a good ruin, especially the picturesque kind.



24. Drape
A bag over its head? A shroud? Will there be an unveiling? Is it dead? New or old, it is up to you.














Design Wars,” Season 17, Episode 3 of NOVA, PBS, October 17, 1989.


Design With Company
Stewart Hicks, Allison Newmeyer, Claire Gaspin, France La, Obed Lopez, Andrew Newmeyer, and Jeisler Salunga.


Design With Company (Dw/Co) is the Chicago-based architectural collaborative of Stewart Hicks and Allison Newmeyer. Dw/Co seeks to transform the world through textual and visual narratives, speculative urban scenarios, installations, and small-scale interactive constructions. Hicks is currently an assistant professor of architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Newmeyer is a visiting assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and also teaches at the University of Wisconsin‚ Milwaukee, and the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago. Both of them are fellows of the MacDowell Artist Colony and recipients of Architectural Record‘s Design Vanguard Award and the Young Architect’s Forum Prize. | @designwithco

The High Life


The High Life © David Schalliol


Project by SOM and CAMESgibson


The High Life is a proposal for novel domestic arrangements made possible by a new residential high-rise building type that allows the broadest range of housing options in the urban tower. Seeking to indirectly address some of the pressing problems of urban life in Chicago’s neighborhoods, this alternative building type is born from three bold ideas:

1. A Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) zoning initiative within 900’ of all CTA and Metra stations in under-developed neighborhoods allows building heights of 450’ and unlimited floor area ratio (FAR) when unit price points are guaranteed to be representative of wealth distribution of the city as a whole.

2. A small footprint “tree trunk” structure can allow for a flexible and inclusive range of housing types and lifestyles. Anything from micro apartments to the single-family house can be accommodated in a vertical aggregation of idealized and personalized dwellings at the density of the city.

3. The tower’s systems and innovative structure are a neighborhood chassis that turns the building core into a new vertical public domain with privately owned cantilevered trays. This arrangement would operate the same way streets and city blocks are constructed with speculative lots being sold to individuals to do as they please (within the rules of the codes).

The range of flexibility and architectural character that this building type could assume is apparent in this presentation. The model offers a gracefully minimal version that allows the essential building principals to be understood through the tower’s composition of an additive manufactured compression core, outriggers, and self-actuating tension members with trays for idealized homes and gardens. Meanwhile, the drawing of a number of towers eludes to the proposal’s acceptance of a somewhat haphazard diversity and potential vitality common to socially and economically resilient neighborhoods.




























Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)
Brian Lee, Bill Baker, Andrew Obendorf, Benton Johnson, Anthony Dombrowski, and Jacob Gay.

Grant Gibson, Aura Venckunaite, and Drew Stanley.


Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) is one of the world’s leading architecture, engineering, urban planning, and interior design firms. Founded in Chicago nearly eighty years ago, the firm has completed more than 10,000 projects across fifty countries. The portfolio includes some of the most important design accomplishments of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, ranging from the plan of Chicago’s Millennium Park and London’s Canary Wharf, to civic structures such as the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., to towers including Chicago’s John Hancock Center and Willis Tower, New York’s One World Trade Center, and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. | @SOM_Design

CAMESgibson is an architecture and design practice based in Chicago. Founded in 2009 by Grant Gibson and the fictitious T.E. Cames, the firm produces critical work that blends modern enthusiasm and postmodern irony. Grant Gibson is clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture. | @CAMESgibson

The Available City


The Available City © David Brown


Project by David Brown


The Available City is an ongoing exploration of the City of Chicago’s ownership of 13,000 vacant lots as an opportunity to impact an area twice the size of the Loop through the lot—the smallest increment of the city grid. Considering the city-owned lots as a set, The Available City proposes a publicly accessible collective space system in which each city-owned lot has potential as a surface element—a softscape, hardscape, or small building by a local nonprofit organization or the city—in that system, while those adjacent to privately owned vacant lots have additional potential to provide volumes of collective space within buildings on 2–5 lots. Those buildings receive more footprint and square footage allowances than zoning permits through the provision of publicly accessible volumes of collective space within the building with a surface area that equals, if not exceeds, the area of the city lots. The Available City is thus an urban proposition comprised of up to 13,000 local effects.

Each collective space within The Available City—designed to be flexible, nonhierarchical, incremental, open ended, and variable in outcome—is independently complete and viable, yet gains in impact as instances of collective space increase and entwine. With components and provisions that enable multiple interests and scales—resident, developer, neighborhood, ward, and city—to address various concerns and needs, The Available City solicits wide participation in speculation of what this new collective space—and consequently the neighborhoods and wards in which the city-owned lots are most prevalent—could be.


Chicago City-Owned and Surrounding Privately Owned Vacant Lots




Aggregate Size



Variable Lot Potentials




Intensive development of surfaces or four story or less buildings, on combinations of city and private land, creates a set of collective spaces equal in size to the Loop.






Intensive development of buildings above five stories provides a set of collective spaces greater than the size of the Loop.






Spaces and Chambers




Click here for larger view



A periodic table of prompts—moving from aspects of form, across qualities and characteristics, to program and activity—to enable individuals and groups to think expansively about the opportunities and associations available within up to 13,000 surfaces and volumes of collective space.


Shape and Pattern Play

Organizations of a selection of prompts for Collective Space Surfaces and Chambers.



Quilt 1 (left) and Quilt 2 (right) © David Brown



Boat Tangram (left) and Duck Tangram (right) © David Brown


Softscapes, hardscapes and small buildings provide a collective space conditioned by the work activity or opportunities introduced by the form accommodating that activity. Each should include a small workspace if the primary activity does not provide such space.


Surface Types: Softscapes




Surface Types: Hardscapes




Surface Types: Buildings






Fence structures or other elements that block entry onto a lot. They are not unlike the bollards the city uses. However, they are more sculptural and might provide activities along the street and alley edges or provide side spaces for the adjacent neighbors.


Surface Types: Fills




Distributed surfaces work in conjunction with others to operate as a dispersed network for activities such as farming, water detention, or power generation.


Surface Types: Distributed




4 Stories and Below: L Building (Column 1 and 2)
Studies of the form to shape the collective space.

4 Stories and Below: Modular (Column 3 and 4)
Studies of modular components to form collective space.




4 Stories and Below: Surface Variations
Studies of the influence of the collective space on the siting of a building form.




4 Stories and Above: Form Implications of the Collective Space Volume Rules





Chambers (Column 1 and 2)
Ready-made collective space volumes that can be used in an additive approach to designing the collective space within a building.

Chamber-Based Building Studies (Column 3 and 4)




4 Stories and Above: Possible Massings for All City+Private Combinations












Switch-a-Shape © David Schalliol


Cady Chintis, Matt Van Der Ploeg, and Christina Stamatoukos.

General Design Proposition and Design Development
Jared Macken and Lyndsay Pepple.

Design Development
George Louras, Jared Macken, Cole Monaghan, Ji Noh, Tafhim Rahman, Matthew Schneider, and Jenna Wolf.

Scapes and Chambers
Collaboration with Dept US (Adrianne Joergensen, Jason Mould, and Meghan Funk).

2012 Venice Architecture Biennale
Jacob Comerci, Nicholas Krause, George Louras, Cole Monaghan, Roy Mwale, Lyndsay Pepple, Tafhim Rahman, Mark Rowntree, Julia Sedlock, and Jenna Wolf.

2d—Matthew Schneider,3d—David Ramis.

Chicago Architecture Biennial
Stephen Adzemovic, Caroline Grebner, David Ramis, and Samra Qasim.


David Brown’s current design research, writing, and teaching explore process-oriented approaches to urban design and the city. Brown is author of Noise Orders: Jazz, Improvisation, and Architecture (University of Minnesota Press, 2006), a study of the design implications of structures that facilitate improvisation in jazz, and co-edited Row: Trajectories Through the Shotgun House (Architecture at Rice, 2004). He is associate professor and the associate director at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Architecture.

Making Architecture That Heals


Making Architecture That Heals © David Schalliol


Building upon the urban exploration of vacancy proposed in The Available City project by David Brown, nine Chicago-based teams present their own responses to the issue at stake. Employing drawings and models, each project investigates the architectural possibilities of vacancy, with a specific focus on the role of collective spaces and the relationships they can foster. Diverse in their location, scale, program, and aesthetic sensibility, these projects ultimately demonstrate that we can leverage vacancy to generate new architectural scenarios that have the potential to address current social and economic issues.


Project by 3D Design Studio


The voids that exist in our city are symptoms of a larger multi-layered condition that is destroying communities and sapping life from the people who live there. Architecture has the ability to promote growth and healing in these communities where vacant lots and buildings stand as visible signs of the wounds inflicted.

Within the context of The Available City our proposal is to create a place that promotes healing. Our MATH Technology Center provides an environment where learning, teaching, and collaboration reactivate a community. The five major elements of outdoor collective/performance space, upper outdoor terrace, interior collective space, classrooms and a pop-up for use as an economic engine for the programs, and community provide the path to healing.

The “Collective Spaces” are like a salve wrapped by architectural bandages to accelerate the healing process. The intentionally small footprint is designed to facilitate collaboration and promote use.




















3D Design Studio A. Melinda Palmore and Darryl G. Crosby.


3D Design Studio was founded in 1997 by A. Melinda Palmore and Darryl G. Crosby in order to pursue their desire to bring a renewed energy and design philosophy to projects responding to urban and inner city environments. Architecture is a critical practice that endeavors to recover/discover the mystery of the ordinary. Everyday materials take on new meaning, reveling in their power to create new symbols and emotions. It communicates language and culture through literal and abstract phenomenon, adding texture and changing scale. Then finally giving rest to the mind and soul through a beautiful blend of all that is possible. Architecture at its best, captures the soul of the client and elevates the designer to new heights of understanding about the importance of his/her craft.

Forum Pavilion


Forum Pavilion © Travis Roozée


Building upon the urban exploration of vacancy proposed in The Available City project by David Brown, nine Chicago-based teams present their own responses to the issue at stake. Employing drawings and models, each project investigates the architectural possibilities of vacancy, with a specific focus on the role of collective spaces and the relationships they can foster. Diverse in their location, scale, program, and aesthetic sensibility, these projects ultimately demonstrate that we can leverage vacancy to generate new architectural scenarios that have the potential to address current social and economic issues.


Project by Ania Jaworska


Forum Pavilion provides a framework for leisurely community gatherings. Drawing inspiration from disparate sources, such as the traditional Roman forum and the common area of a residential high-rise apartment building, Forum Pavilion is an accessible space for neighborhood pastime. The pavilion functions as a space somewhere between a living room and a public plaza or a backyard and a park. Its shared areas host semi-private activities such as block parties, barbeques, hangouts, or afternoon tea with a neighbor. The pavilion combines indoor and outdoor space, independent activities along with small vendors. The attractive form serves as an encouragement for public assembly within a typical Chicago neighborhood.



Axonometric © Ania Jaworksa



Axonometric (detail) © Ania Jaworksa



Plan © Ania Jaworksa



Plan (Detail) © Ania Jaworksa



Sections © Ania Jaworksa



Sections (Detail) © Ania Jaworksa



Forum Pavilion model © Travis_Rozzee



Forum Pavilion model and boards © David Schalliol


Ania Jaworska is an architect and educator. She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, School of Architecture. Her practice focuses on exploring the connection between art and architecture and her work explores bold simple forms, humor, commentary and conceptual, historic, and cultural references. Jaworska’s work was presented as part of Grounds for Detroit in the 13th Venice Biennale (2012), CHGO DSGN exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center (2014), and her solo show BMO Harris Bank Chicago Works: Ania Jaworska at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.



Cut/Fill © David Schalliol


Building upon the urban exploration of vacancy proposed in The Available City project by David Brown, nine Chicago-based teams present their own responses to the issue at stake. Employing drawings and models, each project investigates the architectural possibilities of vacancy, with a specific focus on the role of collective spaces and the relationships they can foster. Diverse in their location, scale, program, and aesthetic sensibility, these projects ultimately demonstrate that we can leverage vacancy to generate new architectural scenarios that have the potential to address current social and economic issues.


Project by Central Standard Office of Design


Working from and expanding on the zoning guidelines set forth by David Brown’s The Available City project, Cut/Fill takes cues from Brown’s proposed shift from typical city planning quantifications of floor area ratios and square footage zoning codes toward a qualification of relationships between private building volumes and public collective surfaces. Cut/Fill zooms in on corner lot conditions in the City of Chicago and expands on their inherent multiplicity and potential exaggeration of access points, frontality, and public iconicity. The proposal reorganizes a set of five adjacent individual lots from 25′ x 125′ strands to a shared 30′ x 30′ patchwork grid in order to produce spatial hybridization and programmatic slippage between public collective surfaces and private multi-family housing volumes. Cut/Fill adapts techniques from earthmoving to relocate existing ground matter for use in the labor-efficient and sustainable construction of eight housing units, expanding on the notion of material availability in an urban context.



Urban Cut/Fill. From Strands © Central Standard Office of Design



Urban Cut/Fill. From Strands (3 private lots + 2 city lots) © Central Standard Office of Design



Urban Cut/Fill. To Grids © Central Standard Office of Design



Urban Cut/Fill. To Grids (3 private lots + 2 city lots) © Central Standard Office of Design



Urban Cut/Fill. From Square Footage to Cubic Volume © Central Standard Office of Design



Building & Collective Space Cut/Fill. Building Volume to Surface Area Proportions © Central Standard Office of Design



Building & Collective Space Cut/Fill. Program © Central Standard Office of Design



Building Cut/Fill. Shape Shift © Central Standard Office of Design



Building Cut/Fill. Shape Shift © Central Standard Office of Design



Axonometric © Central Standard Office of Design



Axonometric (Detail) © Central Standard Office of Design



Plan © Central Standard Office of Design



Plan (Detail) © Central Standard Office of Design



Elevation © Central Standard Office of Design



Elevation (Detail) © Central Standard Office of Design



Model and boards © David Schalliol


Kelly Bair, Alejandra Edery-Ferre, and Ruta Misiunas.

Chen-Han Tu and Lukasz Wojnicz.


The Central Standard Office of Design philosophy hinges on a belief that the dynamic forces that shape our natural environment are central influences to the design of our built environment. Our work employs physical forces (gravity, weight, temperature, weather patterns) and urban dynamics (crowds, human interaction, context/history) to elicit experiences as strange as they are familiar. Whether this process results in the production of forms and features reminiscent of human or animal bodies (figural objects) or adopt more elusive atmospheric qualities (difficult to define yet utterly visceral in their effects), we strive to design architectural spaces that provoke human interaction and pique the curiosity of the collective mass. Central Standard Office of Design is directed by Kelly Bair.

KTC 234— Knowledge Trade Center


KTC 234— Knowledge Trade Center © David Schalliol


Building upon the urban exploration of vacancy proposed in The Available City project by David Brown, nine Chicago-based teams present their own responses to the issue at stake. Employing drawings and models, each project investigates the architectural possibilities of vacancy, with a specific focus on the role of collective spaces and the relationships they can foster. Diverse in their location, scale, program, and aesthetic sensibility, these projects ultimately demonstrate that we can leverage vacancy to generate new architectural scenarios that have the potential to address current social and economic issues.


Project by JAHN


A Place without Currency, Multinational, Objectless, Systematic, Self-Sufficient, Lightweight, Prefabricated, and Fully Energy Integrated.

The collective space is limitless, inside and outside each of the 10′ x 12′ x 36′ prefab self-sufficient cells. As they interlock, they create a place like no other, in which knowledge is the main form of currency and its exchange the primary function of this community.

Energy, water, and waste technologies are embedded in 50% of the high tech (mother cells) that support the low tech (surrogate cells).

13 layers, 18 cells per layer, form a total of 234 units, that once grouped create a nonhierarchical system of interconnected spaces. As the clusters stack, they generate vertical linkages and new spaces emerge, reinforcing the idea of a community in which the values of real estate assigned to height and orientation are proven obsolete and neutralized by Function.

Knowledge will conquer all frontiers; it is the only form of FREEDOM and true disengagement from a society in which image reigns.

KTC 234 — The Fall of Designed Cities and Rise of Organic Communities.



Axonometric © JAHN



Axonometric (Detail) © JAHN



Floor plans © JAHN



Plan © JAHN



Plan (Detail) © JAHN



Section © JAHN



Section (Detail) © JAHN



Model © JAHN



Model (Detail) © JAHN



Model and boards © David Schalliol



Concept and Development
Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido.

Constructability Concepts WS
Werner Sobek.

Joe Madon and Maria Miller.


JAHN is an international firm that, with over 75 years of experience, has achieved critical recognition and won numerous awards. JAHN’s ability to integrate design creativity and corporate professionalism makes it a leader in Global Design Innovation. Under the current leadership of Helmut Jahn and Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido, the firm has grown and evolved steadily from the practice founded in 1937 by Charles Murphy coming from the tradition started with Daniel Burnham. Our work addresses urban responsibility, performance, engineering synthesis, attention to detail and sustainability by design. We strive for the use of innovative technologies to improve human experience and raise ecological awareness.

Re-Imagining Wellness in Humboldt Park


Re-Imagining Wellness in Humboldt Park © David Schalliol


Building upon the urban exploration of vacancy proposed in The Available City project by David Brown, nine Chicago-based teams present their own responses to the issue at stake. Employing drawings and models, each project investigates the architectural possibilities of vacancy, with a specific focus on the role of collective spaces and the relationships they can foster. Diverse in their location, scale, program, and aesthetic sensibility, these projects ultimately demonstrate that we can leverage vacancy to generate new architectural scenarios that have the potential to address current social and economic issues.


Project by JGMA


Our vision re-imagines a unique void within Humboldt Park, in Chicago’s Near Northwest Side. The void, bordered by California Avenue to the east, Augusta Boulevard to the south, and Humboldt Park to the north and west has been in existence dating back to the original plans by William Le Baron Jenney and Jens Jensen. It represents a 24-square-block area, which was curiously never included into the park framework. Today, it reflects the demographics and conditions of the neighborhood overall, which is low-income, minority (primarily Latino), and suffering from economic marginalization.

Our development scenario focuses on Norwegian American Hospital, the anchor within this void for more than 120 years and the design potential of “wellness.” This proposal suggests a new wellness centered strata that inextricably links the Hospital with all facets of daily life within the community. This new strata blurs the former void and creates a continuum with the park, the 24-block area, and the surrounding community.



Urban diagrams © JGMA



Urban diagrams © JGMA



Axonometric © JGMA



Axonometric (Detail) © JGMA



Plan © JGMA



Section © JGMA



Model © David Schalliol



Model and boards © David Schalliol


Juan Gabriel Moreno, Miriam Neet, Dan Spore, Katie LaCourt, and Tad Jameyfield.


JGMA, founded in 2010 and led by Juan Gabriel Moreno, is a progressive architecture and design practice committed to inter-disciplinary collaboration, active community involvement, and the enrichment of peoples’ lives through attentive and dynamic organization of space and materiality. They understand that architecture and design has a unique ability to influence civic life and transform communities. Based in Chicago, they have successfully executed design projects at all scales from small to extra-large in North America, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. Their team represents a diverse collaboration of experienced architectural professionals with a vast portfolio of public and private work in the areas of education, research and technology, hospitality, residential, healthcare, commercial, interiors, urban and master planning, product design, and graphic design. | @JGMA_architects

Chicago Boogie-Woogie


Chicago Boogie-Woogie © David Schalliol


Building upon the urban exploration of vacancy proposed in The Available City project by David Brown, nine Chicago-based teams present their own responses to the issue at stake. Employing drawings and models, each project investigates the architectural possibilities of vacancy, with a specific focus on the role of collective spaces and the relationships they can foster. Diverse in their location, scale, program, and aesthetic sensibility, these projects ultimately demonstrate that we can leverage vacancy to generate new architectural scenarios that have the potential to address current social and economic issues.


Project by Krueck + Sexton Architects


When you own a unit here, you own

       a bed
       a living room
       a dining room
       a kitchen
       a cafe
       a restaurant
       a florist
       a barbershop
       a workshop
       a library.

You own everything.
Even an orchard.



Axonometric © Krueck + Sexton Architects



Axonometric (Detail) © Krueck + Sexton Architects



Plan © Krueck + Sexton Architects



Plan (Detail) © Krueck + Sexton Architects



Sections © Krueck + Sexton Architects



Sections (Detail) © Krueck + Sexton Architects



Rendering © Krueck + Sexton Architects



Rendering © Krueck + Sexton Architects



Rendering © Krueck + Sexton Architects



Model © Krueck + Sexton Architects



Model © Krueck + Sexton Architects



Model and boards © David Schalliol


Krueck + Sexton Architects
Tom Jacobs, Mircea Eni, Sean Myung, Shin Kim, Elias Logan, Don Semple, and Lindsey Telford.


Krueck and Sexton Architects is passionately dedicated to realizing architecture that embraces creativity and innovation. They achieve this through listening, collaboration, and by challenging assumptions. They believe in the power of imagination, the delights of discovery, and the ability of architecture to inspire and improve life. They work in close collaboration with industry-leading engineers and consultants, reinforcing an interdisciplinary and research-based studio culture. They have achieved a consistent design portfolio of the highest quality for over thirty years. The studio is conceived as an open source of creativity and ideas, and is led by principals Ron Krueck, Mark Sexton, and Tom Jacobs, with the vision that architecture is an evolutionary discipline of the arts. | @KrueckandSexton

South Chicago Collaborative


South Chicago Collaborative © Landon Bone Baker Architects


Building upon the urban exploration of vacancy proposed in The Available City project by David Brown, nine Chicago-based teams present their own responses to the issue at stake. Employing drawings and models, each project investigates the architectural possibilities of vacancy, with a specific focus on the role of collective spaces and the relationships they can foster. Diverse in their location, scale, program, and aesthetic sensibility, these projects ultimately demonstrate that we can leverage vacancy to generate new architectural scenarios that have the potential to address current social and economic issues.


Project by Landon Bone Baker Architects


During the height of South Chicago’s population, the US Steel South Works Plant was the primary source of jobs in the area. When the plant shut down in 1992, the population decreased drastically. Job markets today are slowly realizing a maker/seller platform, resulting in a variety of small cottage industries. Workforce development that specifically addresses trade skills that benefit these industries has become an essential amenity that is needed in many neighborhoods.

These smaller industries are selling products that require workspace to translate into objects heir often innovative ideas. As a Response to David Brown’s “collective space” proposal, Landon Bone Baker has developed a neighborhood-specific strategy to activate five adjacent vacant lots with affordable micro-housing units, indoor and outdoor maker spaces, a shared community kitchen, and a market area. Just as the US Steel South Works Plant provided jobs for people who created steel, this conjunction of amenities in South Chicago will house the new generation of makers and creators.



Axonometric © Landon Bone Baker Architects



Axonometric (Detail) © Landon Bone Baker Architects



Plan © Landon Bone Baker Architects



Plan (Detail) © Landon Bone Baker Architects



Sections © Landon Bone Baker Architects



Sections (Detail) © Landon Bone Baker Architects



Model © David Schalliol



Model © Iker Gil



Model and boards © David Schalliol



“Together with Claretian Associates, we asked, ‘What does a community of choice look like?’ and envisioned a place that puts the needs, desires, and strengths of South Chicago, and most importantly, its young people at the center of the equation. Architects can aid in the development of innovative and community-driven solutions if possessed with a real willingness to engage.

While slower and more complicated, a bottom-up approach proves to be most resilient and empowers communities to define the help they need. Chicago’ s policies can support this approach by bringing vision, leadership, and commitment to planning and asking for the neighborhood’s contribution and wisdom.”



Landon Bone Baker Architects
Peter Landon, Jeff Bone, Catherine Baker, Jack Schroeder, Trisha Girdwood, Dominik Soltys, Tyler Brown, Claudia Rodriguez, Terran Wilson, Josh Mings, Hope Dinsmore, Philip Schmidt, Maya Bird-Murphy, Cameron Acheson, Joseph Altshuler, Fariha Wajid, Brenda Gamboa, Michael Wu, Jungsik Kim, and Yona Chung.


Landon Bone Baker Architects (LBBA) is a hands-on, full-service architectural practice. The Chicago-based firm has earned a strong reputation for bringing responsible design to affordable housing and neighborhood planning. Landon Bone Baker Architects is distinguished by a community-based approach, working closely with neighborhood organizations, not-for-profit associations, and developers of affordable housing to create the best possible solutions for residents. Much like our clients and community partners, the firm is mission-driven. We believe that housing plays a critical role in creating comprehensive, sophisticated, and progressive urban development. LBBA strives to provide good design in a respectful way to the many lower and middle income residents and communities in Chicago and the Midwest. | @LBBArchitects

Circle the Wagons: A Community Enclave


Circle the Wagons: A Community Enclave © David Schalliol


Building upon the urban exploration of vacancy proposed in The Available City project by David Brown, nine Chicago-based teams present their own responses to the issue at stake. Employing drawings and models, each project investigates the architectural possibilities of vacancy, with a specific focus on the role of collective spaces and the relationships they can foster. Diverse in their location, scale, program, and aesthetic sensibility, these projects ultimately demonstrate that we can leverage vacancy to generate new architectural scenarios that have the potential to address current social and economic issues.


Project by Margaret McCurry, Tigerman McCurry Architects


Sited on a quarter of a vacant block owned by the City of Chicago and made available for a planned unit development (PUD) is an aesthetically conceived interactive community of affordable housing created from recycled shipping containers. Six 25′ x 125′ city lots were replatted to form a sustainable enclave of diversely configured, artfully colored units with green roofs and solar panels.

The parcel is ringed with thickets of shrubs and small trees, providing nesting sites, shelter, and a food source for wildlife. On the remaining land, a Great Plains ecosystem of native prairie grasses and plants provides habitat for endangered pollinators such as hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. Centered within this Tall Grass Prairie is a communal gathering place with a sand box and a fire pit. Bicycle and recycling containers, a greenhouse, and a half basketball court provide community support facilities.



Axonometric © Margaret McCurry



Axonometric (Detail) © Margaret McCurry



Plan © Margaret McCurry



Plan (Detail) © Margaret McCurry



Section © Margaret McCurry



Section (Detail) © Margaret McCurry



Model © Iker Gil



Model and boards © David Schalliol


Tigerman McCurry Architects
Margaret McCurry assisted by Margaret Sullivan.


Margaret McCurry is a partner of Tigerman McCurry Architects and the recipient of Honor Awards from both the AIA National and Chicago Chapters as well as Interior Design Awards from IIDA and ASID. Her projects have been published widely in architectural and interior magazines and exhibited at museums and galleries in the US and abroad. She has lectured at design conferences, schools of architecture and taught design studios. The author of two monographs, Margaret McCurry: Constructing Twenty-Five Short Stories (The Monacelli Press, 2000) and Distillations: The Architecture of Margaret McCurry (ORO Editions, 2011), McCurry is former Chair of the National AIA Committee on Design and has been President of the Alumni Council of Harvard’s GSD, Director of the Alumni Association (HAA), and President of the Harvard Club of Chicago. She currently serves on several boards including the Architecture and Design Society and the Textile Department at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Cluster Container Housing for the Disabled


Cluster Container Housing for the Disabled © David Schalliol


Building upon the urban exploration of vacancy proposed in The Available City project by David Brown, nine Chicago-based teams present their own responses to the issue at stake. Employing drawings and models, each project investigates the architectural possibilities of vacancy, with a specific focus on the role of collective spaces and the relationships they can foster. Diverse in their location, scale, program, and aesthetic sensibility, these projects ultimately demonstrate that we can leverage vacancy to generate new architectural scenarios that have the potential to address current social and economic issues.


Project by Stanley Tigerman, Tigerman McCurry Architects


On scattered sites throughout Chicago, made available by the city for social activism, are a series of 480 sq. ft. affordable dwelling units composed of three 8′ x 20′ European Pallet shipping containers fabricated in Hamburg, Germany.

Erected on permeable pavers with green roofs and solar panels, each sustainable sky-lit unit is organized in a “U”-shaped configuration to support a disabled person living in one wing with a caregiver in the other wing, both bracketing a central core containing the shared bathroom and kitchen.

The negative of the “U”-shaped plan is a sunlit courtyard that becomes a communal zone when a series of “U”s are placed in a pattern. The dwellings are so positioned as to allow for a handicapped parking space for the caregiver of each disabled inhabitant.



Axonometric © Stanley Tigerman



Axonometric (Detail) © Stanley Tigerman



Plan © Stanley Tigerman



Plan (Detail) © Stanley Tigerman



Elevations and Sections © Stanley Tigerman


Elevations and Sections (Detail) © Stanley Tigerman



Model (Detail) © Iker Gil



Model in context © David Schalliol



Model and boards © David Schalliol


Stanley Tigerman assisted by Jessie LaFree (Tigerman McCurry Architects), Eugenia Macchia, and Verónica Pérez.


Stanley Tigerman is a principal in the Chicago architectural and design firm of Tigerman McCurry Architects and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects as well as the Society of Architectural Historians. Of the nearly 500 projects defining his career, 200-plus built works embrace virtually every building type. He has delivered over 1,100 lectures worldwide, he was the resident architect at the American Academy in Rome in 1980, and he was Director of the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago for eight years. In 1994, in association with Eva Maddox, he co-founded ARCHEWORKS, a socially oriented design laboratory and school, where he remained as Director until 2008 when they were awarded Civic Ventures’ Purpose Prize Fellows.

BOLD Studio Visits and Panel Discussions


Models at John Ronan Architects © Iker Gil


As part of the BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago exhibition, curator Iker Gil organized a series of weekly visits to architecture studios in Chicago. The eleven architecture studios selected ranged from large-scale multidisciplinary studios employing hundreds of people to small-scale architecture studios, all of them discussing some key urban and architectural projects and ideas being explored in their office. These visits were meant to expand the conversation around projects featured in BOLD as well as visit other Chicago-based offices not featured in the exhibition but with other projects in the city. Ultimately, it was an opportunity for architects and the public at large to engage in a direct conversation about forward thinking ideas for our built environment.


October 5, 2015





October 12, 2015
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)





October 19, 2015
Woodhouse Tinucci Architects





October 26, 2015
Ross Barney Architects





November 2, 2015
Studio Gang Architects





November 9, 2015





November 16, 2015





November 23, 2015
Wheeler Kearns Architects





November 30, 2015





December 7, 2015
John Ronan Architects





December 14, 2015
Krueck and Sexton Architects





Besides the studio visits, the Chicago Architecture Biennial organized two public panel discussions with all the participants from BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago. The first panel took place on Tuesday, October 20, and featured the seven projects that comprised the Future Scenarios category. Presenters included David Brown, Design With Company, Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape, PORT Urbanism, SOM and CAMESgibson, UrbanLab, and WEATHERS. The second panel discussion took place on Tuesday, November 24, and featured all the nine responses to David Brown’s The Available City. Presenters included David Brown and the nine participant firms: 3D Design Studio, Ania Jawroska, Central Standard Office of Design, JAHN, JGMA, Krueck + Sexton Architects, Landon Bone Baker Architects, Margaret McCurry, and Stanley Tigerman.





Second City’s Second Coast


Chicago © Iker Gil


Competition organized by Perkins+Will


Every year, the Design Leadership Council (DLC) at Perkins+Will supports a competition eliciting the engagement of its younger professionals within the organization to take part in a design charrette in the hope of generating responses to provocative design challenges.

In 2015, the DLC Design Competition pivoted from being an internal-facing initiative, to becoming a dynamic, public-facing event. Perkins+Will partnered with the exhibition “BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago” so that their emerging designers could share their ideas and work with the public, and start a discussion on why design matters so much to Chicago.

In this edition, the competition, titled “Second City’s Second Coast: An intervention along the Chicago River,” focused on a site comparable in complexity to Millennium Park and much larger in scale. The 200+ acres of land, just south of Chicago’s urban core, is one of the largest remaining areas that is looking for a creative solution to vitalize this otherwise underutilized opportunity. Over the last seventy-five years, this area on the river adjacent to Chicago’s Loop has been slow to develop, remaining for the most part vacant.

With a program to be defined by the participants, each team was tasked to develop a conceptual master plan for the site and develop one component of that plan in more detail. After deliberating in front of a live audience in the Chicago Cultural Center, the jury decided on three winners and three honorable mentions for the 2015 Design Leadership Council competition.


Grant Gibson (CAMESgibson)
Eleanor Esser Gorski (City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development)
Audrey Matlock (Audrey Matlock Architect)
Andrew Metter (Epstein)
Isabel Zempel (Sasaki)


First Place- Grid | River | Landmark
Silas Haslam, Yanwen Xiao
Washington, D.C. Office




The Chicago River is a critical component in identifying the sense of place of the competition site. The river’s path has consistently been modified to accommodate urban development, while the flow direction has been changed to push pollutants to the south. However, we propose to redevelop this area with a long standing goal: purify the Chicago River.

This area will not be further developed without improving the river’s water quality and direct interaction with the water will never become a reality until real, large-scale decontamination efforts are instituted. Using the old river paths as a datum, we developed a wetland and a landmark building as a system to purify the water.


Second Place – South Branch Succession
Chris Loyal, Lauren Fraley
Atlanta Office




Throughout history, the Chicago River has played various roles in the process of urban planning and development: contributing as a life source, a natural highway and in last century as an industrial corridor that linked the city core to the larger regional framework. Like many river-cities today, Chicago is working to establish a balance between economic influence, quality of life, and the historical to present day industrial uses that occur along the river’s edge.

Our project seeks to reconnect a fragmented urban landscape, instill memory in Chicago’s new urban “tell”, and anticipate resiliency in order to set the framework for future succession. Through the interplay between high and low, ascending and descending, different elements of the site and the larger urban context are revealed, providing a unique perspective of the city and site. Exposing the active rail lines below the development allows people to witness industrial forces that have fueled the growth of Chicago, while also activating the site from below. Creating a wetlands park that follows the old path of the river allows the visitor to understand the sheer amount of effort that went into making the city what it is today. A build-up of density and verticality closer to the Central Business District provides amazing views from the north end of the site, allowing one to experience it in one glance from a tower’s-eye level.

These design elements address many aspects of the site’s rich history, and look to the future with proposed parks and buildings. It is the revelation of historical elements and the future activation of a very important site in Chicago that help this project tell the story of succession.


Third Place – Switchrail
Scott Hefner, Ian Zapata, William Sendor
Research Triangle Park and Charlotte Offices




Historically, rail lines have barricaded neighborhoods from one another and prevented access of health services and fresh food. Using existing rail networks as well as new lines, Switchrail provides a framework to reconnect these neighborhoods. In the case study, the site just south of the Loop, an existing rail yard, is repurposed as a massive transformable park in which rail cars outfitted with trees, benches, band shells, restaurants, kayak rentals, all move along the network of rails. This dynamic view of park space brings patrons what they need at any given time – the program of the park will change from day to day and season to season. On the east side of the riverbank, a wetland helps filter water from one of the most polluted rivers in the country. Over this elaborate natural system is a network of new weaving tracks and mixed use development. The tracks connect all of the buildings and act as a dynamic pedestrian interface at the street level. The Switchrail network in Chicago will transform the way the city views unused rail lines: now as an opportunity for a small pocket park or an opportunity to connect neighborhoods.


Honorable Mention – ACCESS CHICAGO: Establishing a New Infrastructure for Public Life
Jon Loewen, Dan McTavish, Martin Lariviere
Toronto Office




Chicago is defined by its vast infrastructures. Sitting at the junction of two great water systems, where the Great Lakes almost touch the Mississippi, the city is a space of connection – seven interstate highways, the world’s busiest airport, and the primary hub for the North American rail system. Chicago has grown and flourished because of these infrastructures.

Within the city, however, the infrastructures of connection become instruments of disruption—scars in the physical and civic tissue of the city, compromising its inhabitants’ ability to access food, learning, employment, health, and engagement. This site is one of those scars: a huge tract of land that is not only inaccessible itself, but which also inhibits access between the places that surround it—the Loop, the lakefront, Chinatown, the University district, and the river.

The proposal aims to increase connectivity and access at the scale of the city through the introduction of three elements; 1) a series of physical bridges and digital infrastructures which knit the site into the fabric of the city, 2) a sequence of urban rooms which juxtapose different programs, space types, intensities and durations, and 3) new social condensers which catalyze development and social action.


Honorable Mention – River Colonies
Gustavo Mendoza, Gia Zapattini
Miami Office




River Colonies are terraforming communities made of pods that are dispersed in the river to seek blighted industrial zones along the river’s edge. They will attach themselves to an area and begin the clean-up process to reactivate the river into pedestrian and commercial zones. The transformation starts from within the river then moves out along the rivers banks creating a soft zone for habitat. Once the transformation is complete, the neighboring urban zones can plug into the River Colony.

The pods are self-organizing autonomous mobile parts that react to their physical environments. They are composed of a series of typologies, which link together to create a community cluster. These community clusters can then link to other clusters creating a larger network of infrastructure needed to respond to its location.

The existing rail yard on the West end of the site will be adapted into a solar farm. A canopy of photovoltaics will placed along the train tracks covering the field of rails and rail cars. To the East, the undeveloped 64 acre site will be programed with geothermal wells, maintaining the site as a large urban park. The captured energy from both the solar rail yard and geothermal park with processed in the former coal power station. The energy will then be distributed to the colonies along the river banks.

We believe the subtle transformation of sites along the river can connect to create the ultimate river walk and new urban experience in Chicago.


Honorable Mention – Values-Engineered Landscape
Martin Chow
Toronto Office




Formal mega projects have become too risky an undertaking in American culture. Great plans have collected dust for decades, while the form of the city continues to take its shape as an aggregation of piecemeal additions from diverse and competing interests. The result merely reflect notions of best practices that could be quantified and formalized into building bylaws, but not necessarily reflecting the values of the community. The notion of aesthetics, at once powerful yet intangible, is harder to justify controlling in a free market, as it is seen as rather arbitrary to developers, especially at a scale beyond their immediate project. Recognizing that larger economic and political forces are beyond the influence of architecture and local planning, and re-evaluating what rational community values can translate to incentives within a planning policy, this proposal explores how the profit motive driving individual private sector land development can contribute to single iconic vision on an urban scale.


All 64 proposals can be viewed at



Perkins+Will is an interdisciplinary, research-based architecture and design firm established in 1935 and founded on the belief that design has the power to transform lives and enhance communities. The firm’s 1,900 professionals are thought leaders developing 21st century solutions to inspire the creation of spaces in which clients and their communities work, heal, live, and learn. Social responsibility is a fundamental aspect of Perkins+Will’s culture and every year the company donates 1% of its design services to pro bono initiatives. In 2015, Fast Company ranked Perkins+Will among “The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Architecture.” | @perkinswill



Image by JNL Graphic Design © MAS Context



Issue statement by Iker Gil, editor in chief of MAS Context


With consummate skill the spectacle organizes ignorance of what is about to happen and, immediately afterwards, the forgetting of whatever has nonetheless been understood. The more important something is, the more it is hidden.
—Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, S, M, L, XL


I borrow the last sentence of Rem Koolhaas’s definition of Hidden for the title of the introduction to this issue as it perfectly captures our approach to the topic. Our built environment is constantly changing, with new developments taking place close and afar that briefly capture our imagination and take over our conversations. It does so until news of the next new thing comes our way almost immediately via multiple devices, and we forget about what came before, creating an endless cycle of new becoming old. But behind all the shine of all the changes that we witness, we question what the conditions are that allow them to happen. We question what all those elements are that we can’t see, metaphorically and physically, and that allow for our built environment to work and evolve. Therefore, those hidden conditions can be considered the critical components needed for our cities to exist and what we see, whether positive or not, just their consequence.

The topic itself continues an ongoing interest of our team in exploring what is hidden that was initiated with the Visibility issue followed two years later by our Ordinary issue. Both explored the aspects of the topic from different angles and we wanted to continue this exploration with new perspectives and voices. Those come in the form of essays about forgotten buildings, interviews about outsider artists, speculations about Los Angeles and Boston, analysis of the conditions that shape Johannesburg, photo essays about massive water infrastructures and ordinary tunnels, videos contrasting the logistical infrastructures of the Midwest and Texas; illustrations about what we miss when we don’t pay attention, and hidden tracks in some of our favorite albums, just to name a few of the contributions included. All of them provide new possible ways of looking at our cities and the people that inhabit them. They reveal what we were not able to see until now.

For the design of the issue, we collaborated with Chicago-based graphic designer Jason Pickleman of JNL Graphic Design. Jason is not a stranger to MAS Context: he has been on our board of advisors since 2012, we interviewed him in our inaugural issue MORE for which he also designed the cover, he has contributed his poetry and artwork to three other issues, he lectured in our first MAS Context Analog event in 2011, and we visited his studio last year as part our spring events. His work is superb and we are thrilled that he agreed to give shape to our Hidden issue.



Hidden has had invaluable help from Emily Louise Allen, Chris Bennett, Michelle Benoit, Roberto Boettger, Julio Brenes, Andrew Clark, Odile Compagnon, Carlos Copertone, André Corrêa, Counterspace, Leandro Couto de Almeida, Caroline Dagbert, Patxi Eguiluz, Naomi Evans, Albert Ferré, Iker Gil, Igor González, Luke Hegeman, Matthew Hoffman, Sam Holleran, Tom James, Rene Kersting, Sergio Lopez-Pineiro, Reinaldo Loureiro, Geoff Manaugh, Julie Michiels, Conor O’Shea, Jennifer Park, Bertrand Prévost, Shame Ray, Charles Rice, Andrew Ruff, Dan Rybicky, David Schalliol, Theo Simpson, Smout Allen, John Stirratt, Studio Déclic, Luke Sturgeon, Jan Theun van Rees, Florence T. Twu, Faiza Uppal, and Cyrille Weiner.

We would like to extend our gratitude to the studios and institutions that have provided photographs for this issue: the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), the Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de Madrid (COAM), Construire Architects, Daniel Cronin Photography, and Salvemos el Beti Jai.

Special thanks to Jason Pickleman, Ashley Ryann, and Daniel Marsden from the JNL Graphic Design for their excellent work designing this issue and for being some of the smartest and most supportive people we have ever met.


Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is the editor in chief of MAS Context. He is the editor of the book Shanghai Transforming (ACTAR, 2008) and has curated several exhibitions, most recently “BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago” as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club and has been recognized as one of “Fifty Under Fifty: Innovators of the 21st Century” by a jury composed by Stanley Tigerman, Jeanne Gang, Qingyun Ma, and Marion Weiss. | @MASContext

Logistical Ecologies of the North American Operational Landscape


Wind turbines, like the one seen here in Rochelle, IL, are among the recent transformations of Illinois soybean and corn croplands. © 2015 Luke Hegeman / MODUS Collective


Essay by Conor O’Shea, Luke Hegeman, and Chris Bennett


Even for those of us who may be focused on the cities as zones of intervention, we can’t understand what is going on within them unless we look outside them, far outside them.
— Neil Brenner [1]


The UN has declared the twenty-first century to be an urban century [2] and across the United States the popular press and scholars alike herald a “return to the city” and an “urban renaissance” [3]; accordingly, the design disciplines are now preoccupied by high-profile design projects in dense urban centers. These projects—outmoded infrastructure or buildings transformed into parks, retail, office space, or museums, for example—have become almost compulsory tools for municipal governments seeking to attract investment from jobs, tourism, and recreation in lieu of an eroded manufacturing tax base and amidst increasingly neoliberal policies.

With a practical financial interest in these new urban projects and with formal training rooted in twentieth-century urban theory hindering the prospect of alternative viewpoints, much of design myopically focuses on “the city” as a site of intervention. [4] Possibility for density, walkability, social interaction, and creative exchange are frequently cited as reasons for an interest in designing in cities. However, when reframed in a regional, continental, or even planetary context, the situation is quickly complicated as the global systems of waste, energy, food, and mobility needed to sustain any settlement, dense or otherwise, emerge into view.



Millennium Park, Maggie Daley Park, and the Lakeshore East development pictured here in downtown Chicago typify the type of landscape architectural projects used to lure investment dollars back into the historic cores of American cities. © 2015 Chris Bennett


Logistics Landscapes
Among these systems, the movement of containerized freight by train and truck along railways and highways is an illuminating lens through which to decipher twenty-first century urbanization processes. Considering the urban as a process, rather than an aggregation of discrete areas, underscores the fact that the aforementioned zones of downtown reinvestment are but one moment of capital accumulation. Virtually all the goods consumed in North America arrive by containership at North American coastal ports, mostly from newly industrialized Asian countries, where they move to market by train and by truck. Since the early 2000s, mounting spatial, economic, and labor pressures on coastal United States ports coupled with a rise in online commerce and an increasingly fragmented global supply chain have caused activities historically associated with coastal ports to spill over into the interior of the continent. This interiorization of port activities has produced vast logistics landscapes in former rangeland, cropland, and pasture areas.

These logistics landscapes, where third-party logistics providers, warehousing and distribution facilities for online retailers, and manufacturing plants cluster around massive inland ports, are more than the just the inverse of America’s centers of tourism and commerce: they are distinct urban environments, critical junctions in the global circuitry of twenty-first century capital.

Like the shipping container itself, these environments are hyper-engineered for efficiency and economy, and are done so in an effort to transcend existing local ecological and hydrological dynamics. Standard rail turning radii, warehousing dimensions, and road widths are deployed across the country in an effort to maintain a physical uniformity that keeps the specifics of place at bay, thereby sustaining the high standard of living across the continent that so many Americans enjoy. However, if these logistics landscapes, like the sites of reinvestment so popular with today’s designers, are categorized based upon form alone, much is overlooked. The infrastructure and development needed to deliver goods to market collides with existing local economies and ecologies to produce regionally-specific logistics landscapes.

As a first step towards classifying these variations, or logistical ecologies, distinct adjacencies (of land uses, infrastructure, development, and ecologies, to name a few) of Northern Illinois and Alliance, Texas are documented in the accompanying photo essay.




Located at the crossroads of the North American rail system where six of the Class I railroads meet, Chicago’s older intermodal freight facilities, like the Burlington Northern Santa Fe one seen here, are hemmed in by nineteenth-century fabric, with little room for expansion or the clustering of twenty-first-century logistics related facilities. © 2015 Chris Bennett



Completed in 2002, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Logistics Park seen here is part
of the CenterPoint Intermodal Center in Joliet / Elwood, IL, North America’s largest inland port, where more containers move through annually than all coastal ports except for the Port of Long Beach, Port of Los Angeles, and Port of New York and New Jersey. © 2015 Chris Bennett



Completed in 2010, this Union Pacific Global IV intermodal freight facility seen is part of the CenterPoint Intermodal Center, which abuts the former Joliet Army Ammunition Plant, now the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and site of a 2015 American Bison Bison bison herd reintroduction. © 2015 Chris Bennett



Facilities like this Menards distribution facility in Plano, IL collide with existing croplands and agricultural communities to produce a logistics landscape unique to the region. © 2015 Chris Bennett



The Union Pacific Global III intermodal freight facility pictured here was constructed in 2003 outside of Rochelle, IL atop some of the nation’s most productive soils. © 2015 Luke Hegeman / MODUS Collective



Dating back to the 1980s, Alliance, Texas is the nation’s most mature logistics landscape; anchored by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe intermodal freight facility seen here that was expanded from 2001 onwards, this 18,000-acre master-planned logistics community was constructed on the natural gas field known as the Barnett Shale and includes industrial, residential, office, and retail space. © 2016 Luke Hegeman / MODUS Collective



In the Alliance Gateway section of Alliance warehousing and distribution facilities, like the DSC Logistics and Martin Brower facilities seen here, leverage their proximity to the BNSF intermodal facility in order to decrease shipping times and costs. © 2016 Luke Hegeman / MODUS Collective



Due to union contract negotiations at the General Electric facility in Erie, Pennsylvania, jobs have moved to the General Electric Forth Worth Locomotive Plant in Alliance, Texas, pictured here, which opened in 2012 and employs over 500 people. © 2016 Luke Hegeman / MODUS Collective



Infrastructure, including the Alliance Highway seen here, continues to expand into adjacent rangelands and near low-density single-family housing developments to accommodate rising levels of imported containerized goods. © 2016 Luke Hegeman / MODUS Collective



Overlapping rail, highway, rangeland, and access roads to oil and gas drilling sites characterize the logistics landscapes of Northern Texas. © 2016 Luke Hegeman / MODUS Collective



The infrastructure connecting Alliance, Texas to the North American rail system is built atop the Barnett Shale, a natural gas field, where surface wells and their associated infrastructure sit within rangelands. © 2016 Luke Hegeman / MODUS Collective



Expanded rail corridors, like the one seen here near Alliance, Texas, are built to accommodate longer container trains delivering goods to downtown retailers and low-density big-box stores alike, thereby transforming the hinterlands they cut through in into regionally specific logistics landscapes. © 2016 Luke Hegeman / MODUS Collective



1. Neil Brenner, “Wildly Civilized: Ecological + Extreme + Planetary Urbanism… What’s Next? (moderated panel, Harvard Graduate School of Design, September 13, 2014).

2. A range of publications, from major world newspapers to graduate student thesis projects, now reference the UN’s claim that “over half of the world’s population now lives in cities.” For a critique of this claim see: Neil Brenner and Christian Schmid, “The ‘Urban Age’ in Question,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38:3 (2014), 731-755; also: Neil Brenner, ed, Implosions / Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization (Berlin: Jovis, 2014).

3. See for example, Edward Glaeser, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier (New York: The Penguin Press, 2011). I attribute these observations on twenty-first-century urbanization to my participation as a researcher during the spring of 2013 in the Urban Theory Lab at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. More information on their ongoing research can be found here:

4. Within much of design discourse, the urban is still synonymous with “the city” and vice versa, a term wrought with ideology. For a discussion on the widespread use of the term city as an analytical category, see: Hillary Angelow and David Wachsmith, “Urbanizing Political Ecology: A Critique of Methodological Cityism,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 39, no. 1 (2015): 16-27.


Chris Bennett is an architect, designer, and researcher from Chicago, Illinois. His work focuses on large scale urban processes that expand beyond the typical building site, questioning how to operate in the built environment as well as post-industrial landscapes. He holds a Master of Architecture from the University of Michigan with High Distinction, and a Master in Design: Urbanism, Landscape, and Ecology from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design with Distinction. | @COE_architect

Luke Hegeman is a landscape architect and designer from Green Bay, Wisconsin. He is the founder of MODUS Collective, an aerial analysis and cinematography firm focused on utilizing unmanned aerial systems to investigate new frameworks for analysis and visual representation. Luke holds a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture from Colorado State University and a Master in Landscape Architecture from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. | @moduscollective

Conor O’Shea is a landscape designer and urbanist based in Chicago, Illinois where he is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Master of Landscape Architecture program in the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. In 2014 he founded the design research office Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape. His current research uses critical urban theory to inform contemporary landscape architectural theory and design research. | @ceoshea773

Exploring the Physicality of the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan


Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, 2015 © David Schalliol


Text and photographs by David Schalliol


Chicago’s permanent residents have a complicated relationship with the region’s waterways. Since the founding of the city, Lake Michigan, the Chicago River, and the city’s numerous other waterways and wetlands have been essential sources of everything from drinking water to industrial fodder. But concentrating millions of people along the banks of the water supply created a real problem for wastewater disposal, famously influencing the decision to reverse the Chicago River and the construction of the Sanitary and Ship Canal in 1900.

Nevertheless, reversing the river did not solve the region’s water problems. Among the persistent complications is the legacy of a combined sewer system. The system, which carries wastewater and stormwater, directs them to the region’s water treatment plants, where they are cleaned and then released into the area’s waterways. However, heavy rainstorms overwhelm the system, during which the combined sewage and stormwater are emptied into the area’s watercourses—and sometimes residents’ basements—before they can be treated. Residents primarily experience the subsequent pollution through beach closures, but the discharge affects the regional ecosystem in untold ways.

Started more than 40 years ago, the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP) is a goliath project designed to mitigate this problem by reducing the number of times when untreated sewage must be released into the area’s waterways. During periods of heavy precipitation, rain is diverted into the Deep Tunnel, a network of more than 100 miles of conduits as wide as 33 feet in diameter and deep as 350 feet below ground. The tunnels channel the effluent and rainwater into large reservoirs, which store the combined wastewater until it can be treated by the plants—and then released into the waterways.

These photographs present the three major portions of the southeastern section of the system: the Deep Tunnel, the Thornton Reservoir, and the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant. These interconnected facilities serve large portions of Chicago and its south suburban communities.

The portion of the Deep Tunnel shown here is the final 1,000 feet of a 36-mile system that leads to the reservoir approximately 325 feet below ground. When photographed, workers were finishing the installation of the 100-ton steel gates that control the flow of water in and out of the reservoir.

The Thornton Reservoir itself is being constructed from one of the world’s largest aggregate quarries and will hold 7.9 billion gallons of water when complete.

The final section is the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant and its underground pump room, which pumps the water out of Deep Tunnel and the reservoir to be treated and then discharged into the Little Calumet River.

The reservoir went online on November 26 and 27, 2015, during which it captured about 300 million gallons of water, enough to fill 15 feet of water from the reservoir floor. After decades of work and more than $1 billion spent during this phase (almost $4 billion in total), it is time to evaluate the effects that this portion of TARP will have on the quality of the region’s drinking water, the quality of the area waterways, and our resilience to flooding.










































David Schalliol is an assistant professor of sociology at St. Olaf College who explores the transformation of urban centers through hybrid ethnographic, filmic, and photographic projects. His work was recently featured in the Chicago Architecture Biennial, and in 2014 the Japanese publisher Utakatado released his first book, Isolated Building Studies. Schalliol contributed to Highrise: Out My Window, an interactive documentary that won the 2011 International Digital Emmy for Non-Fiction. His current film project, The Area, is about the displacement of more than 400 families by the expansion an intermodal freight terminal. | @metroblossom



That Through Your Valleys Roll © Theo Simpson


Photographs by Theo Simpson. Text by Tom James.
From the project That Through Your Valleys Roll by Theo Simpson


If you go looking for something, chances are you’ll find it.

Longdendale is a valley in the Peak District, a national park in the north of England, which straddles the hills that form the country’s spine. The valley runs west, from the bare tops of the moors down toward Manchester, and for the most part it’s fairly typical of the Peaks. There’s the thick, dark line where the hills meet the grey December sky; the dull orange-brown of the dying-back bracken; the threadbare grass for the sheep to graze on; and the soft green moss on the bare tree trunks next to the road, like pyjamas on an old man.

But on my visit, I didn’t notice any of this. Because Longdendale is also home to something else: a chain of electricity pylons, 100 feet tall, which march down the valley for six miles, and which, in 2014, were officially diagnosed as amongst the ugliest in Britain. It was these that I’d come to see.

The shortlist had been drawn up by the UK’s electricity supplier, the National Grid. They’d set aside £500 million from the nation’s energy bills, towards removing the “biggest and ugliest” pylons in some of the country’s most well-known beauty spots. This was a perverse, reverse beauty contest, with a tantalising prize for the affected communities: the winning wires would be hidden, buried in a process known as “undergrounding,” with only a small scar to remind the land that they were ever there at all. Throughout 2015, the valley held its breath.

The line bursts out of the ground near the top of Longdendale, having travelled through the peaks in an old railway tunnel. The wires leap into the arms of the first pylon, and are then carried aloft down the valley in a permanent procession, celebrating the miracle of electricity, and the heroism of the men who mined and forged and erected these structures, to bring power to these hills.

Are they ugly? This being an architecture journal, you might expect an impassioned plea in their defence, or an outraged demand for local people to change the way they think. It’s true: the pylons themselves are quietly beautiful. They’re pure structure, with no embellishment, their latticed form somehow rendering them as subtle as it’s possible for 100-foot high metal structures to be. They look like rocket towers, launchpads of progress. Viewed head on, they almost disappear.

But the wires are a different story. Hung against the backdrop of the hills, they’re hard to make out. Like the puppet strings in the Thunderbirds, you can just about ignore them. But where the horizon falls away, and the wires are strung against even this grey winter sky, they’re much more visible, like washing lines between concrete buildings. And when the line turns abruptly right over the reservoir, and the pylons march up and out of this valley, and into the next, the wires are all you can see.

You only have to look the other way to see what local people could have won. The other side of the dale is soft, brown, and simple. Wood smoke from an isolated farmhouse hangs lazily overhead. Death-defying dry-stone walls sprint uphill. Tributaries run down tight, folded valleys, to the reservoirs below. You have to admit, it would be a lot prettier. It’s easy to imagine an influx of tourists, walkers, and afternoon-tea takers. And if you opened your kitchen curtains every morning to see them, perhaps you’d want rid, too.

Yet there’s something more than aesthetics going on here. The wires and the pylons are not optional extras: they exist to provide the power that local people want and need. Power for homes, schools, pubs, and shops; for traffic lights, water pumps and sewage works; for bathroom lights, reading lamps, the big light in the kitchen. Power for fridge-freezers, kettles, and toasted-sandwich makers; for televisions, Skyboxes, broadband routers, and laptops; for hair-straighteners, Nespressos, electric toothbrushes and smoothie makers. Power for iPhone sixes, Xboxes, Kindles, and fitness trackers. Power for those tiny, pointless, flying drones, to briefly amuse the man in your life on Christmas Day. The pylons make life possible, make it easy, make it boring. And, somewhere, further down the line, the power stations that feed them leach carbon into the atmosphere, or create nuclear waste that no one has ever known what to do with, and which no one ever will.

These pylons are the modern age incarnate, the twentieth century in one simple metal structure: noble but wasteful, easy but ugly, a heroic feat of engineering that we don’t want to look at anymore.

And this isn’t just the case for the residents of Longdendale, but for all of us, town and country, the UK and beyond. We want the benefits of modern technology, of “inexpensive progress” as John Betjeman sardonically termed it, but we don’t want to have to see it. We’d rather let someone else do the dirty work, mine the coal, make the steel, assemble the iPhones, work at the megadairy, further down the line. Out of sight. Out of mind.

In September 2015, the National Grid announced which sections of pylons they’d be burying. As it happens, the Longdendale wires weren’t deemed quite ugly enough. Another stretch, just over the other side of the Peaks, will disappear, but these ones will remain. Apparently, they’re still on the list, for consideration at some future date, when another £500 million is available. Second prize in an ugliness competition. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Are they uglier now that they’ve been deemed as such? Are they harder for local people to look at, now that their hopes have been raised, and cruelly dashed? Would we prefer a world without our fitness trackers, our evenings idling in front of the telly, our Skype calls to distant relatives, if it meant we could be rid of them? Do these towers spoil the valley? Do we?


















Tom James is a writer, self-publisher, and artist based in London. His projects have included imaginary tourist boards, fanzines about cities, and a heroic-but-doomed attempt to reuse a pair of abandoned cooling towers as spaces for public art. His work has been featured across the British press, and his fanzine project, GO, is held in the permanent collection of the V&A. He’s currently producing a DIY guide to surviving in the bitter, barren future we’re creating for ourselves, which is a laugh a minute. | @tomcommon

Theo Simpson lives and works in the South of England. His works examine and document British material culture and heritage through the examination of the built environment, vernacular architecture, and objects of the everyday. Simpson’s work has featured most recently in Shooting Space: Architecture in Contemporary Photography (Phaidon, 2014) and exhibited at RIBA in London. His work is also held in various international public collections including the V&A National Art Library, Fotomuseum, Winterthur, and the Tate Artists’ Book Library. | @theo_simpson



Tunnel © Rene Kersting


Photographs by Rene Kersting


A connection between two points.
Direct. Fast. Subterranean. Raw.
Urban space.
A place between anxiety and formal aesthetics.


As a result of the economic boom that took place after the end of the Second World War, the German population started becoming mobile. Due to the increase in the number of cars on the roads, there were problems with the traffic flow.

Following the theory of the autogerechte Stadt (car-friendly city), German cities were subjected to numerous interventions. One of the measures that was taken was the construction of tunnels—subterranean footpaths that built a connection between two points. The basic idea was to split people and car traffic by putting them on different layers.

These days, the theory of a car-friendly city is no longer in focus. Tunnels became some kind of strange hidden public space—relics that are constantly used but not significant.

Tunnels are motion. Their primary function is to connect two places in the most direct way. Pure function. No beauty. No reason to stay. Nevertheless, there are some kinds of aesthetics present. The rhythm of light. The pattern of tiles. The structure of surfaces. The linear orientation. Aesthetics that should be noticed. Architects and creators of modern cities should be aware of them.

But that is not the case. People are not impressed by these kinds of places. They are afraid of them. The thought of being subterranean without daylight makes them feel uncomfortable. Even nowadays architects are not interested in these off-spaces. Nobody likes to be there. Nobody thinks about them. Nobody wants to take care of them.

To me, the interesting thing about tunnels is the contrast between anxiety and formal aesthetics. I am always interested in urban spaces that are not part of the superficial image of a city. Spaces that are under the surface. Hidden, unsightly, and unpopular.

The photographic series Tunnel deals with these subterranean public spaces. It is a documentation of tunnels in several German cities. All photographs are taken in black and white, from a central perspective. Working in black and white allows me to pay full attention to the proportions, rhythms, and structures. Using the same perspective in all pictures makes them comparable.

The intention of my work is to create a discussion about tunnels as a part of the urban space.
































Rene Kersting, born 1989 in Düsseldorf, first studied architecture at the Peter Behrens School of Arts. Since 2013 he has been studying architecture with Calle Petzinka, Max Dudler, and Nathalie de Vries at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. In 2015 he received the Gargonza Arts Award for architecture. In his dispute over architectural ideas he works with different methods—especially photography.

Beti Jai
The Last Surviving Basque Pelota
Historic Fronton in Madrid


Image: Google, DigitalGlobe


Essay by Carlos Copertone and Patxi Eguiluz


The game of pelota is probably as old as humanity, as you only need a ball and a vertical wall. In Spain, the game of pelota played against a wall has been present in every province, each one having their own rules, with the vertical wall being the essential part of the urban morphology of the towns.

It was in the Basque Country, however, where more variations of the game developed: pelota mano (hand-pelota), pala (using a wooden racket), and the more iconic modalities, cesta punta (jai alai), and remonte (a variant of jai alai where the ball can not be retained, for which the player uses a wicker curved basket that allows him to pick up the ball and throw it at speeds up to 300 k/h).

These games, which had traditionally been played locally, had an unparalleled expansion at the end of the nineteenth century with a worldwide reach, maintaining the original rules and even exporting the Basque name Jai Alai (Merry Festival). There were frontons (pelota courts) in China and the Philippines, in New York, and in all of South America. It was one of the most popular games in Cuba, Florida, and, of course, Spain.

In Madrid, hidden between residential buildings and scaffolding that masks its current state of disrepair, there is a witness of that glorious period for the Basque pelota: the fronton Beti Jai. We look back at the past, present, and, we hope, promising future of the only example of a sports venue still remaining in Madrid from the nineteenth century.


The expansion of the game of pelota

After the death of the King of Spain Alfonso XII in 1885, the Queen Regent Maria Christina of Austria moved her holiday destination to the coastal city of San Sebastián, Spain in the Basque Country. The consequence of that decision was a large presence of the aristocracy of Madrid in the city. It turned, first the Queen Regent and then the wealthy classes of Madrid, into fans of the sport in fashion at that time in the city: the Basque pelota. The game was, by that time, a professional sport, with big sums of money being spent on bets.

Thanks to its influence, there were several frontons built in Madrid in a short period of time so that its citizens could also enjoy the new fashionable game of pelota. By the time that the permit to build the Beti Jai was requested in October of 1893, there were already six other frontons in Madrid and, some of them, like the Fiesta Alegre, had an elegant façade similar to a neoclassical theater boasting a capacity of more than 5,500 people.


The developer

José Arana was a businessman from San Sebastián that had become wealthy by investing the money he had won in the Spanish Christmas Lottery in a company exporting foreign food products. He opened the Beti Jai fronton in San Sebastián in the summer of 1893, later known as Fronton Arana in honor of its developer. Witnessing the success of the pelota game in Madrid, that same year he decided to build a fronton in Madrid with the same name.

He located the building in a parcel in one of the blocks that were being developed north of the historic center of Madrid. Near the Paseo de la Castellana, and only five hundred meters from the historic center, the parcel was perfectly located in the new area of Madrid.

To build the fronton, Arana and his business partner Antonio Modesto de Unibaso hired the architect Joaquín Rucoba. Rucoba had been a municipal architect in Malaga, where he built La Malagueta bullring (1874) and the Atarazanas Market (1879). In Bilbao, he built two of his most important projects: the Arriaga Theater (1890) and the new City Hall (1892).


The architect

Joaquín Rucoba studied architecture at the School of Architecture of Madrid. He was a clear representation of a school that had broken off from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando to offer studies that combined traditional artistic aspects with a new technical education: the industrial revolution brought new materials and new technical solutions that could be applied to buildings.

Already in his early project for the Atarazanas Market in Malaga, he used forged steel to achieve large spans that simplified the structure. Like many of the architects of the era, he was unable to understand that this new technique required a new language, so he ended up covering the steel pillars with Arabian-style decorations to soften their industrial appearance.


The building

The Beti Jai opened on April 29, 1894. It was a summary of the best projects of Joaquín Rucoba. For this project, Rucoba created a neoclassical façade facing the Marqués de Riscal street in which he employed the same stylistic elements previously used in the Arriaga Theater in Bilbao: big openings that ended with semicircular arches that covered the ground and mezzanine levels and, above them, vertical windows with an oculus above the lintel in the main floor. For the area of the stands, he used a structure of forged steel pillars and beams (with lavish decoration created with molds offsite) that facilitated the viewing of the sports area, a structural solution similar to the one he used in the La Malagueta bull ring. Unlike other frontons, Beti Jai had a curved stand area that increased the distance to the court to avoid the possibility of stray balls hitting the spectators. But the main novelty of the building was the use of curved beams in the stands, creating a slope that provided optimum viewing conditions for the game. All the elements of this structural system were manufactured in an offsite factory and assembled on site, making it one of the first examples of prefabricated construction. For the side façades of the building, Rucoba created brick walls of neomudéjar style (a Moorish Revival architectural movement), a style he also used in the side of the frontis (the wall of the fronton), where the access door is finished with a horseshoe arch. The use of the neomudéjar style is a clear sign of the period in which the building was built, when old styles were reintroduced to affirm a “national identity” in troubled times such as the ones in those years.

The new fronton competed with the Fiesta Alegre in elegance and design, and became known from that moment on as the “Royal Theater of the frontons.” [1] It had lounge rooms facing the Marqués de Riscal street, as well as a café and kitchen in the back area. As can be seen from the map of Madrid drawn by Pedro Núñez Granés, [2] in 1910 the Beti Jai was still the only building in its block, and all façades were visible from the main street.



El Pelotari, 1894. © Courtesy of the author



Elevation © Historic Archive of the City Hall of Madrid



Plan © Historic Archive of the City Hall of Madrid



Longitudinal section © Historic Archive of the City Hall of Madrid



Early images of Beti Jai, 1893-1919 © Courtesy of Salvemos el Beti Jai



Early images of Beti Jai, 1893-1919 © Courtesy of Salvemos el Beti Jai



Early images of Beti Jai, 1893-1919 © Courtesy of Salvemos el Beti Jai


The decline

Probably due to the saturation of frontons and daily games, but also due to its own design (it was a very large uncovered fronton in a city with cold winters), the exclusive use of Beti Jai for the game of pelota did not last long. Between 1897 and 1916 the building was used for charity and social events, horse shows, professional meetings, invention demonstrations, and even political rallies such as the protest against the shortage of goods in 1916. In many occasions, the game of pelota was followed by other sports, such as fencing.

But all these other activities were not enough for this building to be profitable. In 1909 the journalist Rafael Solís wrote in the La Correspondencia de España newspaper:

The game of pelota attracted the fans and tastes of the people back in 1890…. After that, it was just a flash in the pan due to the rogue money involved that ruins everything… in the Marqués de Riscal street, near the Castellana, there was another building built for pelota, baptizing it with the name of Beti Jai, with an enormous court, and luxurious stands and galleries. Not many games were played in the building—there was no interest by then and almost no money and it is currently not leased and without any kind of practical use.[3]


The oblivion

Despite the fact that during that period there were other frontons being built, the uncovered Beti Jai was no longer the most convenient option to enjoy a game of pelota. On top of that, the public had moved on to watching other games that required smaller courts, such as pala or pelota. Those games allowed for covered buildings such as the Jai Alai built in 1922, a project by Joaquín Otamendi that had all the modern features of the time. Or the 1936 Recoletos fronton designed by Secundino Zuazo with the collaboration of the engineer Eduardo Torroja, one of the most important buildings of the so-called first Spanish Modern Movement (developed right before the Spanish Civil War). The building was covered by two overlapping barrel vaults, which used reinforced concrete that was only eight centimeters thick. It was an extraordinary example of the technical expertise of the engineer Torroja.

Meanwhile, the Beti Jai continued to adapt to new uses: As it appears in the Historic Municipal Archives of Madrid, in 1919 the Beti Jai widened its main door to build a factory for cars; in 1924 a permit was issued to build garages; in 1943, it was turned into a machinery storage; and in 1944, a permit was issued to open up a shop for cast and papier-mâché work. The last known use was a garage and warehouse for cars that lasted until 1997, when the Frontón Jai Alai Society bought it with the intention of bringing back its original use.



Longitudinal section of Beti Jai as a garage, 1924 © Historic Archive of the City Hall of Madrid



Plan of Beti Jai as a garage, 1924 © Historic Archive of the City Hall of Madrid



Beti Jai used as a garage, 1977 © Colegio de Arquitectos de Madrid (COAM)



Beti Jai used as a garage, 1977 © Colegio de Arquitectos de Madrid (COAM)



Beti Jai used as a garage, 1977 © Colegio de Arquitectos de Madrid (COAM)



Beti Jai used as a garage, 1977 © Colegio de Arquitectos de Madrid (COAM)



Beti Jai used as a garage, 1977 © Colegio de Arquitectos de Madrid (COAM)


The recovery

Luckily, years of neglect did not fatally damage the building, and in 1977 the Architects’ Association of Madrid submitted a proposal to declare Beti Jai a National Monument. In the General Urban Development Plan of Madrid, which took effect in 1997, the building was labeled as a monument, with the use and typology typical to a public building.

In 2004, the City Hall of Madrid received a preliminary project proposal by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rafael Moneo that proposed an aggressive intervention to turn the building into a hotel, where rooms were located against the walls of the original court. Fortunately, the Institutional Commission of Artistic and Natural Historic Heritage (that included members of the Architects’ Association of Madrid, the City Hall of Madrid, and the Community of Madrid) rejected the proposal as it negatively affected the intrinsic values of the building.



Schematic design by Rafael Moneo to turn Beti Jai into a hotel, 2004 © Colegio de Arquitectos de Madrid (COAM)


In 2008, the citizen platform Salvemos el frontón Beti Jai (Let’s Save the Beti Jai fronton) was formed to initiate a thorough and constant campaign to save the building by publishing articles in the media, organizing lectures, and coordinating calls for action via social media. During that time, the building remained without a specific use and was illegally occupied by homeless people.

Finally, the legal proceedings to declare the Beti Jai an Official Asset of Cultural Interest in the category of Monument started on May 18, 2010, and became effective in early 2011. The official ordinance, published on February 9, declared that “the building is a significant example of the architectural duality characteristic of the end of the nineteenth century, where the historicist shapes, eclectic and neomudéjares, hide daring steel structures, creating a rich spatial proposal with an area for the stands, light and elegant, where the highlights are the curve façades and large roof.”

During that time, the City Hall of Madrid started the process to expropriate the building, successfully acquiring it in 2015 after paying seven million euros.



Current condition, 2015, 2004 © Igor González



Current condition, 2015, 2004 © Igor González



Current condition, 2015, 2004 © Igor González



Current condition, 2015, 2004 © Igor González



Current condition, 2015, 2004 © Igor González



Current condition, 2015, 2004 © Igor González


A new interest

The interest in the building and its possible rehabilitation has increased constantly during the last few years. Besides the innumerable articles published in newspapers and on TV about its state of disrepair, there have been multiple efforts from citizen platforms, such as the previously mentioned Salvemos el frontón Beti Jai and Madrid: Ciudad y Patrimonio (Madrid: City and Heritage). The documentary “Beti Jai: la Capilla Sixtina de la Pelota” (Beti Jai: The Sistine Chapel of the Pelota), directed by Richard Zubelzu, was also released last year. [4]

On December 9, 2015, the City Hall of Madrid finally initiated limited work to shore up the structure of the building with plans to start its rehabilitation, first with a process involving citizen participation followed up with an international ideas competition.

What is more problematic, however, is the lack of support to the actual game of Basque pelota. Another documentary released in 2015, “Jai Alai Blues,” [5] shows the explosive increase in interest in the game during the 1970s and early 1980s and the temporary madness that hit the US, with magnificent buildings being built in Tampa and Daytona Beach in Florida, unfortunately no longer standing. The sport of jai alai was, at that time, one of the most recognizable symbols of the city of Miami. [6] Recent articles, however, show the current disinterest in the different modalities of pelota, with less than 180 professionals active today. [7]

The interests of people change continuously, following trends that come and go. But it would be unfortunate to have to wait until we witness a resurgence in the interest in the game of Basque pelota to recover this architectural gem from oblivion and make it, once again, a shared space for the citizens of Madrid.



1. Antonio Peña y Goñi, La Lidia, June 3, 1894.

2. “Plano de Madrid,” Instituto Geográfico Nacional,

3. Ignacio Ramos Altamira, Frontones madrileños. Auge y caída de
la pelota vasca en Madrid
(Madrid: Ediciones La Librería, 2013).

4. “Beti-Jai: La capilla Sixtina de la pelota,” Artistic Metropol,

5. “Jai Alai Blues,” Atera Films,

6. “Miami Vice Theme HD,” YouTube video, 0:55, posted by AMB
Production TV, August 5, 2014

7. Pedro Gorospe, “La pelota vasca pierde el apellido,” El País,
November 30, 2015,


Carlos Copertone is a judge who received his PhD from the University of Extremadura in Spain. He specializes in urbanism and regional planning and has taught at the Carlos III University in Madrid. He is a permanent contributor to the Spanish edition of Architectural Digest (AD España). | @carloscopertone

Patxi Eguiluz is an architect with more than fifteen years of experience in building construction and urbanism. His work has received multiple awards and has been published internationally. He is a permanent contributor to the Spanish edition of Architectural Digest (AD España). | @EguiluzPatxi

Space Travel


John Portman and Associates, Bonaventure Hotel, Los Angeles, 1977. © 2009 Charles Rice


Text and photographs by Charles Rice


In J.G. Ballard’s short story of 1982, “Report on an Unidentified Space Station,” a group of interplanetary travelers makes an emergency landing on a space station that didn’t appear on their charts. They determine initially that the station was a transit center, part of a larger network that eventually became surplus to requirements, “a relic of the now forgotten migrations of the past.” [1] Through a series of survey reports, the team discovers that the extent of the station is far larger than initially thought; they traverse a terrace containing “thousands of tables and chairs” but soon discover that “this restaurant deck is only a modest annex to a far larger concourse. An immense roof three stories high extends across an open expanse of lounges and promenades. We explored several of the imposing staircases, each equipped with a substantial mezzanine, and found that they led to identical concourses, above and below.” [2] The station soon takes on the proportions of a small planet, with no relief from the endless array of concourses, lounges, and terraces. Finding it impossible to locate themselves, the team surmises that the temporary inhabitants of the station must have “possessed some instinctive homing device, a mental model of the station that allowed them to make their way within it.” [3] They discover that the structure curves gently as if to suggest a spherical form, yet it seems also to be expanding equally in all directions, scaling itself to the potentially infinite length of the journeys taken within it. Slight variations in the decor seem also to suggest evolutions in the architecture itself. The endlessness of the space gives form to their journey as itself endless. The station envelops the entire cosmos and everything within it, becoming the object of the journey, and, in the end, of the travelers’ worship.

From its planetary vantage, the short story satirizes the exponential increase in interest in spatial interiority. It is this interest, as much as the space itself, which consumes the travelers. This appears to the contemporary “space traveler” as a fable: is it still possible to investigate the dimensions of a condition that has been overtaken by its own ubiquity and banality? Is it possible to return to a moment when interest was not yet worship, which we see today in the impending convergence of junkspace, nonplace, and a theory of spheres? These questions took me back to the vast interiors of John Portman’s atrium hotels of the 1970s, the quintessence of what Fredric Jameson called “postmodern hyperspace,” not long after Ballard was writing his short story. [4] The photographs are a kind of survey report of a journey through these spaces, taken in 2009. They initiated a project on what I termed interior urbanism, but looking back at the photographs now serves as a reminder, at least to me, of both spatial discovery and the abandonment of spatial possibility.



John Portman and Associates, Bonaventure Hotel, Los Angeles, 1977. © 2009 Charles Rice



John Portman and Associates, Bonaventure Hotel, Los Angeles, 1977. © 2009 Charles Rice



John Portman and Associates, Renaissance Center, Detroit, 1977. © 2009 Charles Rice



John Portman and Associates, Renaissance Center, Detroit, 1977. © 2009 Charles Rice



John Portman and Associates, Renaissance Center, Detroit, 1977. © 2009 Charles Rice



John Portman and Associates, Renaissance Center, Detroit, 1977. © 2009 Charles Rice



1. J. G. Ballard, “Report on an Unidentified Space Station,” in The Complete Short Stories, vol. 2 (London: Harper Perennial, 2006), 635-640.

2. Ballard, “Report on an Unidentified Space Station,” 636.

3. Ballard, “Report on an Unidentified Space Station,” 637.

4. Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism: the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” New Left Review 146 (1984): 83.


Charles Rice is Professor of Architecture at the University of Technology Sydney. He is the author of The Emergence of the Interior: Architecture, Modernity, Domesticity (Routledge, 2007) and Interior Urbanism: Architecture, John Portman and Downtown America (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016).

One Wall Away
On Hidden Spaces


Chicago Theatre at 175 North State Street, The center of the auditorium ceiling is heightened and contains openings for special spotlights. A small corridor, lit by a red colored light, runs along the openings with green light from the auditorium projecting the openings onto the corridor wall. © Jan Theun van Rees


Text and photographs by Jan Theun van Rees


The concept of exploring hidden spaces emerged simultaneous with my initiation as a photographer. To execute some elementary experiments on space and light, I set up a camera in the crawl-space underneath my studio. While the lens of the camera was opened, I painted light onto the space by waving a flashlight through the open space.



Crawl space underneath the studio, lit by flashlights. © Jan Theun van Rees


When I showed the first results to some visitors in the studio, they asked me where the photographs were taken. The images reminded them of ancient archeological sites they had seen in Turkey. I explained that the space in the photographs was located directly underneath the floor and that they were literarily standing on top of the photographed space. A sudden gaze of confusion but wonderment appeared on their faces: how could a space that looked so strange and exotic actually be directly connected to the space we were in? I realized that their response to the photographs showed the way I had to go.

When a person is viewing a photograph of a hidden space of a familiar building, the viewer’s mind will automatically add this image to all the collected impressions and knowledge of that site. The interaction between the photograph and the viewer’s perception of the building becomes most immediate and effective when the image of the hidden space is presented inside the building where the photograph is taken. This makes the photograph “site-specific.”

Many photographs are still considered to (re)present the truth; documents that show “how it is” and “what is there.” This observation in particular plays an important role for the photographs of the hidden spaces. If the viewer cannot trust his eyes—that which he sees is real—the photograph inevitably loses all meaning. An utmost neutral and descriptive photograph of a hidden space will bear no visual interest; moreover, it will destroy every mystery. With my photographs I earnestly aim to show what is actually there, without adding or altering any elements of a given space. Simultaneously, I try to suggest and prove that the building is much larger than it seems, and a complete world is waiting behind the walls to be explored. The “proof” lies in the credibility of the photograph itself.

The main tool that I use to reach my goal is the distribution of light. Even when no additional light is added, one can make use of the specific color atmospheres of the different light sources. To put it simply: fluorescent lights turn green, halogen lights turn yellow, regular light bulbs emanate redder light, and daylight is blue. In essence, these colors cover the total spectrum of light, and in most instances a multitude of sources can be available. Even when the scene is without colors, the mixture of different light sources creates a distribution of color on the photograph, which helps to highlight particular spatial aspects.

The hidden spaces I explored in Chicago are located in many different buildings, but in my perception they are all connected as parts of the same structure, which is the city of Chicago. Since then I have explored many spatial themes where the separation or interaction of spaces carry a motif. When the transition between private space and the public domain is explored, I am dealing with two tangible spaces, namely inner and outer spaces. Photographs of prison cells in detention centers are related to the freedom of the mind, which is visible in drawings on the cell walls.

Last fall I visited the densely populated metropolis of Tokyo. Within the city, every square inch has its purpose, and everything is consciously placed in the available space. Thus, all spaces are related to each other: the cup on the tray, the tray on the table, the table in the room, the room in the house, the house in the street, etc. This implies that ultimately all the spaces in the world are connected in a strange way. My task is to explore and visualize this ever-expanding myriad of interconnected spatial structures.



Metropolitan Tower at 310 South Michigan Avenue, view inside the beehive on top of the building with the blue glass box. © Jan Theun van Rees



Medinah Temple at 600 N. Wabash Avenue, view underneath an onion-dome. I’ve often been told, “there is nothing there to see.” “Nothing” is always interesting to photograph. © Jan Theun van Rees



Bridge over Chicago River at West Adam Street, view inside the space underneath the bridge for the counterweight to move into, when the bridge is opened. © Jan Theun van Rees



Fountain of Time at 5531 South Doctor Martin Luther King Junior Drive, view inside this enormous sculpture, created by Lorado Taft (1860–1936). © Jan Theun van Rees



Saint James Cathedral at 65 East Huron Street, view into the bell tower. Built in 1834, the Belltower was the only part of the church that survived the Great Fire in 1871. Burning marks on the outside are still visible. © Jan Theun van Rees



John Hancock Centre at 875 North Michigan Avenue, view of the air-cooling system on the top floor. © Jan Theun van Rees



Chicago Temple Building at 77 W. Washington Street, view into the hollow peak in neogothical style to mark the building as a church and not just an office building. © Jan Theun van Rees



S. R. Crown Hall at 3360 S State St, Chicago. In modern architecture, “hidden spaces” are considered as flaws in the design. The space in between the huge girders on the roof can be considered as a hidden space. © Jan Theun van Rees



Cloud Gate Sculpture at Millennium Park, view inside the sculpture gives an impression that contradicts the immaterial shining surface. © Jan Theun van Rees



Holy Family Catholic Church at 1080 W Roosevelt Rd. The space between the interior and the exterior shows that it is a wooden barn enveloped by a brick structure. © Jan Theun van Rees



Harold Washington Library at 400 S. State Street, view behind the giant owl sculpture on the top of the façade. © Jan Theun van Rees



Crown Fountain at Millennium Park. The interior of the glass video towers are lit by constantly changing LED colors. © Jan Theun van Rees


Jan Theun van Rees is an Amsterdam-based photographer whose work documents the inner workings and hidden spaces of buildings and visualizes interconnected spatial structures. His work has been exhibited internationally and he is the author of One Wall Away: Chicago’s Hidden Spaces (US Equities, 2007) and VERBORGEN STAD / HIDDEN CITY Amsterdam 2003–2013 (one wall away, 2013).

Blinded by “Delight”


Blinded by “Delight” © Jennifer Park and Faiza Uppal


Image by Jennifer Park and Faiza Uppal


Blinded by “Delight” is an image that addresses the theme of the first Chicago Architecture Biennial, the State of the Art of Architecture. The work refers to architecture’s current realm as limited to what Vitruvius would call “delight.” While firmness and commodity are largely controlled by engineers and developers, architecture’s control is regulated to delight. Architecture’s fascination with the complexity of patterns and forms creates a “veil” over our eyes.

On one hand, this veil protects the relevancy of our profession, but on the other hand, the “veil of delight” allows architects to hide away from the difficulties of social and political issues. The veil is superficial yet mesmerizing, and serves only to disguise reality. The complex web lures, the intricacy traps, and the delicacy binds. Ultimately, we are lost in this layered field and shrouds the world beyond.



Chicago building details © Jennifer Park and Faiza Uppal


Each pattern overlaid is a translation of modern Chicago building details forming the skyline of Chicago. Patterns are created using digital scripts based on the original detail’s ordering system. The redoubling of systems and rules to create more patterns from patterns reinforces the strength of the veil that hides ourselves from the political side of architecture. This inhibits us from challenging our cultural needs and desires.


Blinded by “Delight” was co-awarded the 2015 Burnham Prize hosted by the Chicago Architectural Club in alliance with the Chicago Architecture Biennial.




Jennifer Park is principal and owner of Jurassic Studio, a firm exploring form, patterns, composition, and their translation into our social context. Jennifer received a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture and Art History from Columbia University in New York and her Master of Architecture from the University of California, Los Angeles. She currently serves as an adjunct professor for the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology. | @Jurassic_Studio

Faiza Uppal is an intern at Jurassic Studio and a fourth-year Bachelor of Architecture student at Illinois Institute of Technology. At Jurassic Studio, she helps to research ornamentation, patterns, and the use of parametric tools to translate the decorative to the spatial. | @Jurassic_Studio

Almost There


Peter Anton © Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden


Iker Gil and Julie Michiels in conversation with Dan Rybicky


Almost There, an award-winning documentary codirected by filmmakers Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden, follows “outsider artist” Peter Anton for almost a decade.

The film focuses on Peter’s art and life, one that hides more than we initially anticipate when we first meet him painting people’s portraits at the Pierogi Fest in Whiting, Indiana. Living in the basement of the dilapidated house he grew up in, he spends his time secluded from the outside world, only accompanied by his scrapbooks, paintings, and cats. But we later learn that it is what he hides from his past that keeps him in that basement. A revelation that deeply affects Peter’s life as well as the filmmakers’ who, from that point on, are forced to confront the unpleasant discovery and its consequences.

Iker Gil and Julie Michiels talk to Dan Rybicky, codirector and producer of the film, about the genesis of the documentary, his complicated relationship with Peter, exposing the vulnerabilities filmmakers have, and what makes Almost There a film that people can relate to.



Peter Anton © Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden


IG: How did the collaboration between you and your codirector, Aaron Wickenden, start?

DR: It started with us meeting in Chicago when we both moved here around 2002. It was through a mutual friend who had helped start a magazine called Found Magazine, which is still in existence. It’s a whole compilation magazine of found items: people getting and finding things, notes on cars, letters that weren’t supposed to reach them . . . it’s hilarious.

We actually met at an exhibit that I was part of called Really Real, which was an exhibit in which there were performance objects that were real and some that were there that were artificial but looked real. I think he was interning at WBEZ at the time. I had just moved from Los Angeles. I was writing a screenplay for people out there but I wanted to live in Chicago.

JM: How did you and Aaron meet Peter?

DR: At the time that we met Peter in 2006, Aaron and I had already been friends for a few years. We went out to Pierogi Fest in Whiting, Indiana, to see the world’s largest pierogi, which was being unveiled that day for the Guinness Book of World Records. A friend had told us about it and I think it was also one of Oprah’s top five food festivals in the country. Anyway, we biked there and we saw the pierogi, which was so disgusting and unbelievable. I don’t even know if it was edible. It weighed over 100 pounds.



The world’s largest Pierogi © Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden


After seeing the pierogi we met Peter. He was at this rickety table doing pastel portraits of kids, telling corny jokes. He just had an energy about him that was vibrating with something that was compelling. Maybe in the spirit of the sad clown, like that song, “Smile When Your Heart is Breaking,” or whatever it is. He was being very jokey and funny but was dressed as a dandy of a sort. He had a bowtie and he wanted to look pretty good but he was a wreck, this total disheveled dandy. Then he pulled two scrapbooks from under his table. We saw the texture, the illustrations, this quality of something that was vibrating off those books. This idea of autobiographizing your life through art, which is what these books were, was like an obsession. I’m interested in obsession. So we took some photos, he asked for our information, and he probably sent us a letter or two.



Here I Do Pastel Portraits © Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden


We knew about outsider art. I’d been to exhibits at Intuit and that work has always compelled me. Work that people working outside of the commercial or cultural mainstream are compelled to produce. I’m just interested in art as an expression, as a pure expression, more so when people aren’t even thinking about it in a commodity way, which is definitely the case with someone like Peter.

IG: When you went to Pierogi Fest, were you already looking for characters for your documentary?

DR: No, we weren’t. We went back to Pierogi Fest a couple of years later. We brought some photos of what we had taken and we saw Peter there again. Every now and then we would send a letter back and forth. He was encouraging us to come to his house but we didn’t go because we were busy. But there was a moment where we just said, “He has done thirteen of these scrapbooks, let’s go.”

His house was impossible to find, we got lost trying to find it in Whiting. We finally got there and it was intense. Aaron grew up in an environment where it was spotless. In the film you saw me pointing to the mold in my mother’s ceiling but Aaron was the opposite of me. I think on that day Aaron could not even go within thirty feet of the house, the smell was too intense. I am someone who just goes. I think I walked into the foyer and into this black hole where Peter was going down. I just took a few snaps in the house that day with a flash because it was all so dark and intense. We also took some pictures just in the yard.



© Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden



Peter Anton studio © Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden


I remember going home that night and just looking at them. They were so intense. It is like that phrase that you cannot “unsee” what you’ve seen. One of the photographers that filmmaker Brian Ashby alerted us to, Zoe Strauss, who did this amazing book called “America,” had this weird photograph of a storage space with this big banner on it that says, “If you break the skin, you must come in.” We always said that to ourselves. Once we saw this, it really was hard to just forget about it. That maybe says something more about who I am as well. When I was in Los Angeles I had a business card that just said my name and then, in italics, human being. That is really the truth. I am just drawn to whatever it is. There is something that drew me to it, to the work, to the art, to this guy.

Then, as the film details, we did try to help him like anyone, I think, does. We didn’t want to get too close too fast or anything, but we were determined to go in there. It was a curious thing. It was like, “Don’t go in the basement but go in the basement.”

As documentary people, we were also interested what the context is of how people make art and where they make art. We have always been interested in the juxtaposition of this work going up on white walls and how, particularly in this field, you keep the artist. Do you keep the artist out of the gallery? What is their life really like? I’m interested in what motivates people to make art, much more than the art itself.

JM: You mentioned that Almost There didn’t start as a documentary. You took photos for quite a while. What made you change that idea?

DR: By 2008, after having taken many photos, we thought that we wanted to contextualize this, maybe as an art show. We shared Peter’s art with Intuit [The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago] as we knew people there. We brought in some scrapbooks and they were interested. We kept taking photos and, in the summer of 2008, we went to Review Santa Fe, which is a photography festival in New Mexico. We showed a series of photographs that we had fancily printed up to someone from Princeton Architectural Press who, I think, was the first person we had a meeting with. She burst into tears when she saw our twenty, really well done photos, and she said, “Let’s do a book.” We started to take more photos and work on a book with Princeton Architectural Press. Unfortunately, this took place around the economic collapse and the book was never published.



Peter Anton resting © Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden


With the same DSLRs that we were shooting with we started to do video clips that we thought we would include in the 2010 exhibition at Intuit. It became natural for us to start using the camera to film with him and we did a series of interviews. The first thing we did was just a series of sit-down extensive interviews with him for two or three days trying to get a history of his life. Then we started to try to sift through all of the books and the hundreds of pages of him writing about his life for the exhibit. We put them on iPads mounted on the wall so people could hear from him and have further context. The whole idea of the show was that it was Peter telling the story of his life. It was almost a narrative within the room. We had him literally create panels. Written things that we put in frames on each wall that took us through epochs of his life. He literally named each wall and then wrote about that era of his life.

We filmed the opening of the exhibit. I think that maybe it was around that time that we thought maybe we’ll do a film that is just telling the story of Peter getting his exhibit. It could travel with the exhibit or something like that. We didn’t know that things would take such an intense turn. The goal really was to tell Peter’s story, to help him tell his story, his last life’s wish, through an exhibit, maybe through the film.

And then the stuff happened [we will not discuss the actual event so we don’t reveal a significant moment of the documentary].

It became natural to have our cameras with us. We met him in 2006, and this happened in 2010. We went to his house with the cameras. We didn’t know what it would be but we knew that it was creating a big row at Intuit with their board members. A big row that they had never had in their entire existence. It was the first time that their entire organization had ever actually started to grapple with the very issues that exist and are loaded all around the art that they are studying.

IG: In a way it uncovered those hidden aspects that are part of some of the lives of the outsiders.

DR: There are people who think you can separate the art from the artist. That is one of the hypocrisies of the art world: that the work needs to stand on its own. Especially in the fancier galleries, gallerists don’t necessarily give you huge backgrounds on the work. The work should be separated from the artist, so they say. I think it is a hypocrisy. Even Banksy has a story of a sort that is attached to his art.

We were also not art curators. When the exhibition went up, there were people who were horrified and outraged by what we had done. Literally the night before the show started, while we were not there and they were still putting up the show, the head curator of Intuit called everyone in and said, “Look at this disgusting show. It makes me sick, it looks like a high school art project collage nightmare.” We didn’t even find this out until later. She totally trashed us to the entire group. She agreed to be interviewed as we went forward, so she was a good enough sport to agree, but she hated it, hated what we were doing. What we were doing was radical and not appropriate, but it also drew huge crowds to them because we were calling attention to the very thing that is always kept tamped down. Peter’s art was autobiographical so it made sense for us to contextualize it. It wasn’t like his art was visionary or about some fantasy world. This was about him so we wanted to play that up.

That’s when we filmed all that stuff because we said, “If there’s a whole organization here that’s grappling with this, they’re about to shut a show down, let’s just keep filming.” How can you stop after all those years? Then Peter’s house was condemned. It just becomes “what’s going to happen?” There’s got to be an ending here somewhere. Our lives went on. I’m a full-time teacher at Columbia College and Aaron was becoming one of the most sought-after editors working in documentary, having just edited “Finding Vivian Maier” and “Best of Enemies.”

Aaron was editing, I was teaching, and we did pull back more after the whole thing. That was probably during the time when I did really question why we were doing the project, and that’s where the inclusion of my family started to come into it.



The Talent Club in 1952 © Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden


JM: It is evident throughout the film that you become close to Peter and that there is a personal investment in him. And then, at one point in the documentary, you also begin to reflect back on your own life and family. When did that connection between what you were seeing as the subject of the documentary and your relationship with your own family happen?

DR: It was definitely during that time when all this stuff blew up and our friends, more than ever, were like, “Why are you still doing this project? This guy is not grateful for anything you’ve really done. He has evaded questions and your names are associated with a project, which now might be shut down. Everyone thinks he’s creepy. Why are you doing this? When is this going to stop?”

I have worked in offices where I’ve really recreated my dysfunctional family because I am still living out haunts and hurts and unresolved issues. I have manifested and made them come right back to me in my present life with other people. In some ways, it didn’t take so long for me to look and see that this was probably the biggest one and it was right in front of my face. It only took a moment like this for me to really explore and see how I was doing this with Peter. That I could never solve the sadness of my family, my own mother and brothers’ twisted and dysfunctional relationship. Here I was, in some ways, trying to help this person who is, in a way, the ghost of my brothers’ Christmas future. I think that that happens a lot where we’re trying to do something in our present because we haven’t solved it in the past, and we may never. That’s what I think one of the motivators of life is in a way.

I conceptually have always said that, I think more than ever now in our culture, we’re wary of the God eye, particularly in film. I’m always interested in why someone is filming something; for example, who are these three white filmmakers filming in Uganda? I want to see them back in their condo ordering something from Room & Board. I want to see full context. I want all the veils to be pulled back. I believe that the films that some of these filmmakers are making in front of their camera are much less interesting than the stories of what they are leaving out between the dynamics that they are in with their subjects.

One of the things that has happened in our film is that many documentary filmmakers have come to us and said, “I can’t believe you put these things in your film.” I think a lot of people have these really interesting negotiations with their subjects and the fluidity of a documentary filmmaker’s role, when it tips over into an advocate or a caretaker. It’s not an easy exchange, it’s not monetary, but there is something exchanged. Like Peter says in the film, “You’re serving me, I’m serving you, we’re serving each other.”

Conceptually I have always felt like I will never ask a question of the subject that I myself wouldn’t answer. I wanted to have the veils lifted back on what vulnerabilities filmmakers have and how this is a deeper thing than what you might think. That’s why these filmmakers devote years to projects like this that are barely funded.



© Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden


IG: I: I think bringing you as another character into the movie helps to navigate that fine line. Some people might perceive that you are exploiting Peter to make your own film. The moment that you expose your life the same way that you are asking Peter to expose his, it becomes clear that now it is an even trade, now you both have the same skin in the game.

DR: One of the people at Kartemquin who is a huge friend and has been an incredible mentor in our project is Steve James. After Hoop Dreams, Steve made the last film that everyone wanted him to make. Everyone wanted him to make Hoop Dreams 2. Instead, he spent eight years making a film called, Stevie. Stevie is a very powerful film and one that he was both loved for and hated for. It was about him going to Southern Illinois to reconnect with Stevie Fielding, for whom Steve once served as an advocate Big Brother. In the film Steve gets a call from Stevie saying that he’s in jail for a serious crime and to see if Steve can post bail. The can of worms opens because this guy really did commit this crime. It is an amazing, complicated, and difficult film. So Steve really helped us navigate some of these very ethically complicated issues, as did our executive producer Gordon Quinn. We had an incredible team of people who have been doing this for decades who helped us navigate these issues.

But going back to your comment, your point is well taken. We had seven feedback screenings over a year, and there were some early on in which people were attacking me for yelling at Peter at the end of it. People only see what’s on screen for those ten minutes and don’t see the amount of hours we spent with Peter. After this event, we started to think about how to put me in the film and, over the course of those seven screenings, we realized we had to put my story in before the showdown with Peter and that is what I believe was the final piece in the puzzle that made us land the middle of the film. Like you said, you see me as a character and, by the time that I am confronting him and get feisty with him, you can see what my investment is as a character.

Yet a film like this is not easy. It is a film that is traversing very complicated ethical issues. We just got on to Amazon Prime. Ten years later, many zillions of hours later, and the first review is by “Margot Sexiest Goddess Ever” whose first line is, “The directors did a great job of convincing me they’re total scumbags.” First line.

IG: You should put that in your reviews. [laughs]

DR: It’s so great. Even trying to deal with these things is going to rile people up. Like I said, I think even the fact that I don’t pity this person is controversial. Most people can pity a person like Peter. That makes it so much easier for them, to write him off and feel whatever it is that keeps a wall between them and him. I am pretty much the way I am with him that I am with you, that I am with my family, that I am with my partner. That is just who I am. That alone is complicated for people.



Removing homemade braces© Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden



© Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden


IG: If you do a movie that is complicated, you can’t expect simple responses. You’re setting up the framework for a wide range of reactions, and that is great. It generates a much more interesting conversation.

DR: We always get asked why my story is in the film. Some people think it worked really well and it had to be in there. Other people say that it should be cut out. Those diverse opinions start a conversation, and that’s definitely a conversation I wanted our film to have: To question on a deeper level what the role of the documenter in this world is. In the age of the selfie, who documents who? Why are we documenting? I think it is going to be bigger than ever because everyone is doing it. To me it is a really important thing.

For example, Jeff Malmberg, who made a beautiful film called Marwencol, is not really in the film. When we asked him, “Do you want to watch our film?” he saw our trailer and said, “Forget it, I want nothing to do with your film.” We talked and had this deep conversation and he came around to understanding our point of view. His perspective, which I understand, is that if the filmmaker isn’t in it then the audience becomes the camera. I think that that’s okay, but I think that’s just not true. There is always a director, it is shaped, the work is manipulated, and basically a million decisions are made.

JM: The way you shoot, edit, and present a movie is based on very personal and subjective decisions. Each person could make a different film with the same footage. It is a little bit naive to pretend that that doesn’t exist and you’re seeing the real life.

DR: Exactly.

IG: It is also interesting that, in the same way Peter’s life relates to your life, his life can be understood as a commentary on larger aspects of society such as aging, mental illness, and poverty. Was this something that you set to do from the beginning?

DR: Our film has a lot of things going on, but I feel that it has a straightforward plot. There is this idea that the plot is the hook that you hang the meat on, and there is a lot of meat you can hang. To me, there are a couple of questions that stick over the film, one being that this guy is going to die if he stays in this house. From the moment you watch it, you think, “Something has got to happen here. I don’t know what it’s going to be and I’m horrified because it might not be good and it probably isn’t going to be good.” There are also all the complicated aspects related to the art show and Peter’s life. To me there’s a strong plot in our film. The meat comes through just following a story. I feel like if you follow any one story, all the issues, “social issues,” will come up. There are social issues around all of us if we look close enough. The character is the motor upon which those come through.

We were invited to present our film at South Korea’s EBS Documentary Festival this year, and we asked them why they had extended the invitation as we didn’t apply to exhibit the film. They though it was a great film to start a conversation with their elder population. There is a senior tsunami there and, more than any culture, theirs is very much beholden to elders. Our film showed a person similar to many people in Korea that, while maybe they aren’t as extreme as Peter, they are in a similar position, refusing to leave their home saying they would die if they leave their home. However, when they leave their home, they end up having a new lease on life. Many people have approached us and said, “This film is about aging in America.” We have screenings planned with elder care organizations and art therapists as well are very interested in the film.

IG: It goes back to the idea that the movie is complex and it is not trying to remove any of these layers. It gives the viewers the opportunity to have these conversations and these different readings that people can extrapolate to their own life, to their own conditions.

DR: I always feel like life is a mirror. If you share a lot, people will share back. By opening yourself up, people open up to you. I also think that only through the deeply idiosyncratic could you ever hope to be universal. That is something I have to teach my students because they often try to write vague proclamations. They think that vague clichés are the way in, that those are the universal things, but only by getting incredibly specific can you actually get other people to relate. You think that people wouldn’t understand something if it is too specific to them, but I think they do. That is what allows people to see their own self or story in something.



© Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden



Dan Rybicky is an award-winning artist and teacher whose photographs, installations, and plays have been seen in venues in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. After receiving his BA at Vassar College and his MFA at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Dan began working with and consulting in various production capacities for filmmakers Martin Scorsese, John Sayles, and John Leguizamo. Dan recently directed the feature documentary Almost There, which screened at over thirty film festivals in 2015 before being distributed theatrically and digitally throughout the world. Dan is currently an Associate Professor in Cinema Art + Science at Columbia College Chicago where he designs and teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses.
@danrybicky | @almostthereproj

Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is the editor in chief of MAS Context. He is the editor of the book Shanghai Transforming (ACTAR, 2008) and has curated several exhibitions, most recently “BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago” as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club and has been recognized as one of “Fifty Under Fifty: Innovators of the 21st Century” by a jury composed by Stanley Tigerman, Jeanne Gang, Qingyun Ma, and Marion Weiss. | @MASContext

Julie Michiels is a contributing editor to MAS Context as well as an architect and senior project designer with Perkins+Will. With a focus on shaping how people experience interior spaces, she has worked on projects that range in location, scale, and program, from pre-K, to international transit hubs, workplace, and residential.



Farhana © 2008-2015 Ministerio del Interior / Guardia Civil.


Project by Reinaldo Loureiro


In the Farhana border crossing one can easily observe the terms in which the contemporary colonial encounter is taking place in the context of a globalized and neoliberal world order. Farhana is part of the highly contested border of the fortress Europe has chosen to become: the creation of the European Economic Area and the Schengen space with their violent dynamics of inclusion and exclusion has made journeys much more dangerous and even lethal.

The border police of the Spanish enclave of Melilla in Northern Africa routinely check for cars used by people-smuggling mafias operating on both sides of the barbed wire fence. Once a victim of these traffickers is found inside a car, the driver is arrested and will most likely face a minimum four-year custodial sentence. These images have been taken in the course of these operations and then made available to news agencies and newspapers through the online archive of the police. Although I have permission to access the archive, I have instead chosen to collect them from the local and national newspapers that have published news related to these police operations.

Selecting this place of appropriation allows me to make reference to the process of production, distribution, and consumption of these photographs. In fact, the time of the images in this project is not the time of the specific police operations, but that of its signifying practice in society. The original currency of these images seems to be negotiated between its intentional referent, the documentation of the operations against human smugglers, and what is later placed in a symbolic regime of representation: a discursive construction of migrants as intruders, visually trapped in their rites of passage and intensively articulated in the body of the news story and later in many comments left by readers.

It is important that these images can circulate again and be reconsidered without the mediation of the institutions that produced, disseminated, and prescribed their value. In fact, putting them together in a new context without their institutional badges allows new meanings to emerge, breaking away from their single, iconic, and illustrative currency they originally had in the newspapers. Beyond the debris left behind by customs and forensic probes and the inventory of alterations made to vehicles, these images consistently reveal re-enactments, performances, fractured representations of the body, erased faces, empty spaces, traces of presences, absences, encounters, relief, and trophies.

There seems to be a selective right to the representation of the bodies of these victims being exerted in these police images. The traffickers are always kept outside the constructed frame of the scene and only their victims occupy the reading surface of the image. The camera sifts through these wreckages to show these people hidden, twisted, bent out of shape with their faces placed outside the frame. Alternatively, a black bar is placed on their eyes in postproduction to protect their identity. Preventing an encounter with their eyes, their faces and the dignity of their bodies allows a new function to emerge beyond identification and reminder of police power: to define these migrant bodies.

In conclusion, the intention is to reassess both this vernacular practice and my artistic intervention within a critical framework in order to draw attention over any illusion of transparency they might convey. One witnesses a strong sense of agency in these victims of trafficking, a determined migratory project and their resistance to discriminatory entry policies. These journeys are indeed a social, economic, and political phenomenon, but also the object of vigorous forces claiming its hegemonic representation.


All photographs © 2008-2015 Ministerio del Interior / Guardia Civil.




























Reinaldo Loureiro works with found and archival images, together with his own photography, creating photographic essays that address the complexity of migratory movements in the present context of political and economic inequality.

Revealing Tendencies
Chinese Urbanization & the Floating Population


Demolished area near Gulou Dajie subway station, Beijing, Fall 2009. © Florence Twu


Essay by Florence Twu


Shenzhen may seem prosperous, but it’s a desperate place.
— Anonymous Chinese migrant factory worker [1]

Friends, we were born into the world poor through no fault of our own. But to die poor is a sin.
— Diary entry of female Chinese factory worker [2]


They are known as liudong renkou, the floating population in China, an estimated 250 million migrant workers who have moved from their countryside homes in search of better opportunities in the city. The sheer volume of people migrating to urban areas as labor has allowed China to develop at the unprecedented pace and scale as it has for the past three decades. [3] While the image China projects to the world is one of pure progress—all glittering skylines and modern shopping malls—an inconvenient reality is that the invisible hands whose labor have made China’s developmental miracle possible live on the margins of urban society as “second class citizens,” hidden from public view in underexamined housing formations. By moving from their locations of birth, rural-to-urban migrants have relinquished their rights to state-provided public services including subsidized housing under China’s geographically based household registration system referred to as hukou. As a result, they have little choice but to make their lives in the all-too-often difficult environments of factory dormitories, condemned neighborhoods, and makeshift migrant housing settlements.

Just as their contributions to the Chinese economic miracle are unrecognized officially, the spaces these invisible hands inhabit have been similarly neglected and hidden from sight. Factory dormitories are perhaps the most widely known living quarters, due to the high global profile of Apple products manufactured through Foxconn Technology Group and the infamous dormitory suicides that briefly dominated headlines in 2010. Rather than directly address the regimented working and living conditions that likely contributed to the suicides, Foxconn chose to outsource their dormitories to push the responsibility—and any additional blame—to another subcontractor in order to continue their business operations as usual. [4] Demonstrating particular cunning in the service of profitable returns, the Foxconn case illustrates some of the nefarious tactics of global business to maximize return on what has been viewed as an inexhaustible supply of replaceable labor.

The phenomena of factory dormitories located a short walk from a manufacturing facility is hardly novel. Industry has always sought to capitalize on a proximate and captive labor market—the docile and already-trained farmers’ daughters brought in to replace child labor in the Lowell Mills, the planned worker community of George Pullman, and single-industry cities such as Detroit are all examples. Those that persist in our historical consciousness have typically been connected to some utopian or moralizing mission. One is hard-pressed to find such overt idealism in factory owners even if the practice of market capitalism in China was supposed to be guided by the ideals of Chinese socialism.

What does stand out is the relentless drive of China’s general growth-above-all approach. As a result, dormitory construction is driven by efficiency and cost, creating a monotonous built landscape of the generic, banal, and easily overlooked.



Shoe Factory Dormitory in Guangzhou, China, 2008 © Daniel Cronin



Shoe Factory Dormitory in Guangzhou, China, 2008 © Daniel Cronin



Kitchen in Guangzhou, China, 2008 © Daniel Cronin



Kitchen in Guangzhou, China, 2008 © Daniel Cronin



Dormitory in Guangzhou, China, 2008 © Daniel Cronin


Out with the Old, in with the Laborers

Elsewhere in the country, migrant workers have taken shelter in undesirable old housing stock representing a previous way of life that is quickly disappearing. Rent in traditional apartments is too expensive and because of the hukou system, rural migrants lack the urban residence permits that would give them access to lower-cost social housing. Dilapidated and disposable housing stock—sometimes already slated for demolition—becomes one of the remaining refuges for migrant workers.

The old city center of Beijing is made up of a network of alleyways known as hutong that link together a network of low-lying grey-brick courtyard homes known as siheyuan. This basic urban fabric was established in the thirteenth century and remained largely unchanged through the Communist transition in 1949. When Beijing’s population rose in the 50s and 60s, inhabitants spilled into the open courtyards, infilling the spaces with makeshift shelters to accommodate more people. The city also grew, but outward, in the form of four-to-five story Soviet-style housing compounds.

The onset of hutong demolitions in Beijing coincided with the opening of international markets in the early 90s when real-estate profits through redevelopment became realizable. The lead-up to the 2008 Olympics further accelerated a citywide demolition project of unprecedented proportions. Opinions on the destruction of the hutong were mixed, however. While intellectuals decried the policy’s historical and cultural erasure, many original hutong residents themselves were not opposed to relocating to higher quality living conditions as long as compensation and notice were adequate. [5] For those who lived through the Mao era, government housing complexes are seen as an ideal. [6] As a result, many hutong neighborhoods fell into disrepair, paralyzed by an uncertain future.

With the government eager to see the neighborhoods demolished to make way for commercial development and previous inhabitants ready to move into better accommodations, the hutong have provided inexpensive housing option for incoming migrants to the city. Areas slated for demolition are marked with the character for chai, to tear down, but signs of life persist throughout condemned neighborhoods. As migrant families make do with what shelter they can find, they have attracted targeted demolition and relocation efforts by the government in order to “improve the population structure” and attract “more civilized” residents through the redevelopment of heavily migrant-populated districts such as Chaoyang. [7] As of 2010, an estimated two-thirds of Beijing’s hutongs have been demolished. [8] Yet the evictions and demolitions do not provide solutions, only pushing migrants into other informal urban living arrangements that have arisen to accommodate the human tide.



Demolished area near Gulou Dajie subway station, Beijing, Fall 2009. © Florence Twu



Demolished area near Gulou Dajie subway station, Beijing, Fall 2009. © Florence Twu



Demolished area near Gulou Dajie subway station, Beijing, Fall 2009. © Florence Twu



Demolished area near Gulou Dajie subway station, Beijing, Fall 2009. © Florence Twu


“Villages within Cities”

Present in all major Chinese cities is the phenomena of “villages within cities” or “urban villages,” rural farming villages that once existed on urban outskirts now enveloped whole by rapid urbanization and home to numerous migrant workers. These rural islands are a product of China’s dual land-ownership policies where urban land is publicly owned by the state and rural land collectively owned by the villagers’ themselves. Local governments chose to convert more easily obtained rural cropland for urban development while leaving residential rural areas untouched. Stripped of the croplands that were their previous source of income, villagers turned to renting extra rooms to incoming rural migrants. To address the need for affordable housing and generate additional revenue, an entire informal housing market has developed as villagers further subdivided rental properties and began building larger, unregulated structures up to four or five stories tall.

In cities such as Shanghai and Fuzhou, converted shipping container serve as ad hoc homes for construction workers building the most decadent of luxury high-rises. Ironically lurking in the shadows of high-rise job sites or conveniently concealed a sufficient bus ride away, these makeshift structures have become self-sustaining communities that function at a scale and manner more familiar to the environments the migrants left behind.

While tolerated for decades, these migrant enclaves have increasingly come under attack as local governments reframe their urbanization efforts. One Shanghai community was established by an entrepreneurial recycling industry worker with access to shipping containers. After four years of existence, the village was shut down in days when the circulation of images on the Internet embarrassed local officials. As a whole, however, these informal housing markets have helped to keep the cost of labor down, on the order of multiple decades worth of annual revenues in large cities such as Shenzhen. [9]


Moving Underground

Nowhere is the dual nature of Chinese society more evident than in the teeming underground labyrinth of basement units and air raid shelters that house migrant workers in Beijing. Again a consequence of sharply increasing rents and the lack of affordable housing options, a literal subterranean city three-stories below street-level has developed as a physical counter-narrative to the progressive skyline above. Annette Kim, professor at the University of Southern California, has worked with a team of Chinese researchers to map the types of rentals available under Beijing, finding the median size to be 9.75 square meters (about 105 square feet)—just under the 10 square meter minimum required by Beijing’s local codes. In comparison, the average worker dormitory accommodation is only 6.2 square meters (about 67 square feet). [10]

Unflatteringly referred to as the “rat tribe” both in the Chinese press and among legal urbanites, the underground denizens are too poor to afford aboveground private housing. The epithet joins a colorful lexicon built around unconventional living conditions: “cupboard tribe” for those living in shipping containers, “well tribe” for a group that found shelter in unused wells near a five-star hotel, and “ant tribe” for the intelligent but powerless class of university-educated youth settling for low-income jobs, bonding together in urban colonies for support. [11]

Subterranean living is perilous and uncomfortable. Heavy rains in 2012 claimed 79 lives and forced thousands of underground occupants into the streets above. [12] There is also the ever-present risk of cooking fires breaking out. The difficult living conditions are tolerated as temporary by some, but others decorate their tiny rooms as homes, dreaming of the day they can afford to live above ground.


Changing Conditions

Uninhabitable dormitory conditions, insecure housing amid urban ruins, a belowground shadow city—all are expressions of the suppressed internal contradictions that have fueled China’s miraculous economic growth. The country’s hybrid of capitalist and communist impulses has resulted in novel forms of social and spatial segregation as it has benefited from the influx of a vulnerable, itinerant labor force. By keeping blue-collar workers out of sight from both locals and tourists alike, Chinese cities were able to maintain a certain facade of progress—a fiction that is quickly dissipating with a changing economy and increasingly dramatic instances of environmental decline.

Two factors that have overwhelmed affordable housing options and driven migrants to less desirable forms of urban shelter—the sheer volume of migrants and the underlying hukou system—are beginning to show signs of change, however. Exhausted workers who have not attained their goals of amassing savings and upward mobility are returning to inland cities in a mirror image “tide of return.” Simultaneously, the hukou system also shows signs of loosening, allowing migrants access to social services in hopes of increasing consumer consumption and urban growth. [13] Whether economic and urban growth can occur while simultaneously improving living standards has yet to be seen.



1. Howard W. French, “Chinese Success Story Chokes on Its Own Growth,” New York Times, December 19, 2006,

2. Leslie T. Chang, Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2009), 64.

3. Francesco Sisci and Lu Xiang, “China’s Achilles’ Heel: The ‘Floating Population,’” May 17, 2003,

4. David Barboza, “After Suicides, Foxconn Will Outsource Its Worker Dorms,” New York Times, June 25, 2010,

5. Andrew Jacobs, “Bulldozers Meet Historic Quarters in Beijing, to Mixed Reaction,” New York Times, July 20, 2010,

6. Nicolai Ouroussoff, “Lost in the New Beijing: The Old Neighborhood,” New York Times, July 27, 2008,

7. Human Rights Watch, “China: Beijing Relocations Put Migrants at Risk,” Human Rights Watch, accessed January 17, 2016,

8. Jacobs, “Bulldozers Meet Historic Quarters in Beijing, to Mixed Reaction.”

9. Lucy Hornby and Jane Lee, “China’s Urbanization Drive Leaves Migrant Workers out in the Cold,” Reuters, March 31, 2013,

10. Andrew Good, “The City of the Future Could Lie below Your Feet,” USC News,
November 20, 2014,

11. Yan Dan, “‘Rat Tribe’ Lives in Shadows of China’s Cities,” Epoch Times, July 24, 2014,

12. Youqin Huang and Chengdong Yi, “Invisible Migrant Enclaves in Chinese Cities: Underground Living in Beijing, China,” Urban Studies 52, no. 15 (2015): 2948–73.

13. “China to Ease Restrictions on Living in Cities for Millions,” Guardian, December 12, 2015,; Tania Branigan, “China Reforms Hukou System to Improve Migrant Workers’ Rights,” Guardian, July 31, 2014,


Florence Twu is an emerging voice, currently working through issues of knowledge, space, and power in our contemporary political economy. In design practice, she has contributed to projects ranging from installations to supertall buildings. Her perspective reflects her education in social theory and architecture.

7 Modes of Counterespionage


Figure 9 – Adverts for muti (traditional medicine) paper the vertical surfaces of the city. A large conglomerate of muti practitioners and vendors is visible at Mai Mai market, south east of the city. Photo by Amina Kaskar


Text by Sumayya Vally and Sarah de Villiers of Counterspace



By its very contexture, Johannesburg is an amalgam of many spatial blind spots. Since its inception, the city has beguiled migrant communities from across the continent and beyond. Migrant populaces entering Johannesburg in the years of its beginning, from other parts of Southern Africa and across the borders, survived the metropolis by creating diasporic urban conglomerates around the city. These were territories arranged by culture, by new evanescent economies, by innate and endemic dexterities—codes to access spaces only legible to those who could perceive its respective lexicons. The peripheries thickened and multiplied, and became savvy at defending and entrenching their modes of city existence.

Because governance privileged only a minority demographic, the majority of urbanities that formed were these thickened peripheries—now expert at their own autonomies, which existed despite the formal city. But these many margins, in many senses hidden to those external to it, are what make up Johannesburg.

Many have thought of Johannesburg as elusive (Mbembe and Nuttall in particular theorized this in The Elusive Metropolis), [1] but the way that we read the city has more to do with understanding its assemblage of spatial languages than with its elusiveness. Some of these hiddens are hidden in plain sight, in broad daylight—they are here, if you care to read them.

For the most part, our profession situates itself within a small margin of the city, recognizing only what is superficially and conventionally understood as “architecture”; many are perpetuating a blindness to most of what the city offers to engage with. As spatial practitioners, we must become more fluent in comprehending our own context. Our realities are replete with clues for new stereoscopic possibilities—if only we start to engage with them. We do not situate our practice with having the luxury of choosing to not see the realities of our city. The “immaterial” is more material than the material. The city is there, if you know how to read it.


Definition of counterespionage in English: Noun. Activities designed to prevent or thwart spying by an opposition: the Security Service has responsibility for counterespionage. [2]


Which side are you on?
Which realm is the legitimate, the real?
What is rendered opaque, and from whom?


A great deal of Johannesburg’s existences are made up too of counterexistences which work despite limitations and what is recognized as the nominal city—structures formed and designed for survival against economic and spatial deprivation, in the leftovers, slippages, and loopholes of the city, which we recognize as the city. Architects unravel the secrets of space through an all seeing plain of plan or section, both not actual perspectives by a person in space, but an all-seeing flattened view, equidistant from a slice in space. In a perspective, there is foreground and background—in section or plan, there is isolation in empirical space.

Imagine a spy, crouched above the city’s streets, viewing the goings on through windows and alleys from a parapet up above. Now, turn your mind’s eye toward the fugitive, running through the sewer tunnels in the bowels of the city, navigating through the hidden services that connect the individual properties above. The vision of these two is parable in a section, a vertical slice to forego the horizontal sprawls and runnings-on of the city. We feel Johannesburg is necessary to be unpacked through an archaeological section (fig 1)—from vantage points high above, to those below, to straddle the complexities and tensions that are spoken of, that run the city—following our eyes along the ventriloquist’s strings that hang up the motions of everyday life. As Jameson observes, in the observance of a stratification of a city, it is possible to note the ability of layers to fold and collapse onto the next, hierarchically overruling, smothering and bearing, but also polluted or fertilized by their forebearers. [3] Unlike the vision of a city on plan, thus, the city’s various layers lose autonomy on the drawing and do not remain separate and impenetrable bubbles of existence. These bubbles, in reality, are sliced diagonally by interjected modes of movement, from economical exchange, and by oppressive powers of the time.



Figure 1 – Various surfaces of hidden space in Johannesburg may be conglomerated into an all-seeing section; slicing through what is normally hidden in plain sight. Image developed by Counterspace.


Johannesburg’s everyday life could be viewed in the most part as a city of practicality, its processes and industry pierced on its skin, metallically adorning its otherwise bare appearance. However, it is in and on this modernist mechanism that stories, life, and secrets are produced. Leach describes that “use never does anything but shelter meaning” [4]—alluding to the point that use or function—in Johannesburg’s case certainly its mining industry—has an innate ability to shelter, protect, and in so doing, an ability to hide. These former structures of monument and memory—for example the grand mine dumps that have grown to embrace the city and identify it as its own made, familiar mountain range—are slowly being taken away, one brush, sweep, and bucket at a time. Since many processes are hidden, inherently they operate unannounced, almost somewhat antimonumental. Thus, one may argue, if one does pay a little respect in the wondrous feat these processes are silently, stealthily making in the dark overnight, one may return in the day to a new city, where all the locks have been changed. Through this archaeological approach, we aim to dissect the hidden processes, expose them for a split second in their existence, and offer a moment for celebration for the momentous, crucial processes that are adding and rebuilding, quietly and fantastically.

For the twenty-first century spy in Johannesburg, there are so many places to look and to hide when looking (hence counterespionage); the remnants of mine dumps the first agglomeration of secrets and remnants of lost treasures waiting to be exposed and reported.


1. Deep Level Mines (-6500 feet)

a. Zama Zama

Try your Luck!

“Next, Botes’ team investigated the Zama Zama’s methods of operation. The cleverest among them exploited the mining house’s operations. When the legal miners detonated explosives at the end of their shifts, the dust was given four hours to settle before the next shift arrived to remove all the rocks containing gold.

The Zama Zamas covered their faces with wet cloths and accessed the blast site after two hours to remove the gold-bearing rock.

They ground, washed, separated, and burnt their loot in the tunnels. They used ingenious methods to smuggle the pure gold out of the mines, Botes says. Some filled condoms with gold and asked female miners to insert them in their vaginas when they went to the surface.” [5]


Gold is the grand irony of Johannesburg.

Its lucky unearthing in 1886 galvanized the shaping of a sleepy stretch of leftover farmland into the continent’s richest metropolis. But the gold that brought Johannesburg was also used as a device to deepen the race divide. Migrant and black labor forces were exploited in the mines, and the mass mountains of yellow earth excavated from the underground in search of were used to contain the areas that separated race groups during apartheid.

Today, large areas of the city are hollow underground, and most of the accessible gold is gone—leaving an extensive underground network of tunnels in its wake. Miners who scavenge on the leftover gold underground are known as “zama zamas” in South Africa (which translates to “try and try” or “try your luck!”). Their modus operandi is to enter the underground city, often paying exorbitant bribes to do so. Once the miners are in, they dwell underground for months at a time, “invisible citizens of an almost surreal, subterranean state.” [6] The miners’ skins become grey, their lungs become polluted—their very existence is a complete feat of persistence against the extreme conditions. Naturally, because the miners are persistently underground for months at a time, whole subterranean economies develop in response to their needs to survive, with prices getting steeper the deeper underground the miners are (fig. 2).



Figure 2- Zama Zamas, or illegal miners, participate in a subverted economy; where the price of commodities underground exponentially appreciate value, due to the adversity against their attainability. Image by Sarah de Villiers.


Botes’s spies established the prices of food sold to the Zama Zamas: a loaf of white bread cost R80 [R8 surface price] when delivered to a shaft, a jar of peanut butter R150 [R20 surface price], a bottle of brandy R1,500 and a loose cigarette delivered underground was R10 [R1.10 surface price]. [7]


The leftovers of the start-of-the city—a completely expansive set of tunnels, arguably taking up more volume than the city itself, is largely forgotten, and has eroded out of sight, shrouded by edifices, highways, and Highveld grasses. They have found new inhabitants, a group who is, at the very least, among the most vulnerable in the city—a reminder that the gold that built the city still allures desperation.


b. Disappearing houses/sinking sand

“An early morning on Delagoa colliery in the Witbank area, a man goes in search of coal. The local community of KwaGuqa live near the abandoned mine. David Ndlovu, from KwaGuqa, is one of the many who have fallen victim to the abandoned mines in the area. In 1999, he was walking to work along one of the many footpaths, which criss-cross the mine when a sinkhole collapsed beneath him. As he sank into the ground, he was badly burned up to his waist by the coal, which has been burning underground since the mine was decommissioned in the 1950s.” [8]


“Anna’s breathing has been badly affected and she relies on medicated breathing apparatus to relieve the tension in her lungs. The family suffer with sinus problems and constantly take antihistamine pills to relieve the symptoms. Anna’s grandson often wakes up with a bleeding nose and sleeps with a steam machine in his room to clean the air. Black dust is a constant problem. The value of the property has also drastically reduced. They had plans to build houses on the land. Soon after building commenced these plans were halted due to the foundations becoming saturated with acid mine drainage.” (fig. 3). [9]



Figure 3- Ashes to ashes–dust to dust: Mining of coal may be lucrative to many, but for those who live close to its extraction suffer the burnt of sustaining the lives of others. Image by Sarah de Villiers.


“The dolomitic situation is satanic,” says Gauteng MEC for local government and housing, Humphrey Mmemezi. [10]


“[Residents don’t realize] it comes during the night. . . . People can wake up and the section [of the township] is not there.” (fig. 4). [11]


“For instance, in the middle of the night on Aug. 3, 1964, a massive sinkhole swallowed a house in the mining village of Blyvooruitzicht, 50 miles west of Johannesburg. Six people were sleeping inside the home, and the hole was so deep that no trace of the family was ever recovered.” (fig. 4). [12]



Figure 4- According to one account, a massive sinkhole, caused by unstable ground from the deep level mine below; swallowed up a house – and no trace of the inhabitants were ever found because the hole was so deep. Image by Sumayya Vally.


Meanwhile, across the gold mining belt, deserted mine shafts have filled with groundwater, which mingles with the metal sulfides in the rock, turning it an orange color and rendering it potently acidic. Rising up through the shafts, this so-called acid mine drainage (AMD) spills into rivers, streams, and groundwater, poisoning drinking water and threatening the Cradle of Humankind, the UNESCO World Heritage site that is home to some of the oldest known hominin fossils in the world.” (fig. 5). [13]



Figure 5- Time and Space Spiral: Similar to the Geological Time Spiral developed by Joseph Graham, this image adopts the system of time-based progress to represent mutations of hidden creatures inhabiting an artificial landscape. Image by Amina Kaskar.


These news media excerpts describing architectural abduction and invisible toxic forces would almost fit well into the pages of a science fiction novel. The aftereffects of toxic mining processes are becoming visible a century after the mining commenced. Many of the mines were left unmarked after their closure, and it is not uncommon for structures to be swallowed into the hollow earth. Brilliant colors from the toxic earth surfaces eventually—ground water becomes contaminated as it reaches the toxins in the ground and oxidizes as it makes contact with air. These colors are often an eerie reminder of the mining, sometimes surfacing in areas that were not recorded as formal mines. Much of this unstable, sinkhole area is inhabited by informal settlers—although much of the gold is long gone, its haunting still persecutes the poorest citizens of the city.


2. Informal Recyclers (-20 to +20 feet)

Italo Calvino describes Beersheba as a city with two projections of itself— one where it has a “celestial zenith”; a monument adorned with expensive, useless items, and its opposite, an inferno of thrown away, discarded waste; items no longer functioning. [14] Calvino remarks certain honesty in the latter, where in its abandon, is just itself, raw and unmiserly. We find a similar observance in the close followings of the informal recyclers and their regenerated, Frankensteinian economies in Johannesburg. A spy may make the sludgy climb up to the summit of one of these wastemountains, and find upon it all sorts of intriguing evidences and traces of the lives and secrets Johannesburg shelters. A discarded exam paper from St. Johns, a renowned boys high school in the city, strewn over used condoms or stripped wires. The tickets to educational and eventual financial access, once seen, become information, their physical counterparts rendered useless, except for their material worth—R1.00 per kilogram of recycled paper. These waste dumps, therefore, become transient archives of all existence, completely democratic and equal to all types of uselessness—it is all collected and piled up here the same, vulnerable to anyone who could, but probably won’t, sift through it (fig. 6).



Figure 6- Informal recyclers sorting gathered waste. Photo by Michael Flanagan.


What also remains intriguing is the striking sense for anonymity by some sects of Johannesburg recyclers. Many explain that due to the nature of their work, they would prefer to not risk being recognized by a family member in a photograph in the press, and so many make use of the various forms of masks they carry on their person when approached by an outsider (fig. 7).



Figure 7 – Image by Sumayya Vally


3. Transport Interchanges. (-20 to +20 feet)

Reading the Johannesburg’s palms reveals secrets and futures fit only for the smoky rooms of the esoteric, or dark cinemas of science fiction. Perhaps the lines of its hands are the lines of recyclers emptying out the discarded truths of the suburbs on a weekly basis and collecting it on a mountain of democratic banality; or it may be studying the sluice gates of the lines themselves—the bustling transport nodes of Johannesburg for a surveillance of fugitives to its story, in flight across its surface, every day. A considerable amount of spatial practitioners in Johannesburg have been involved in the last two decades following democratic policy-making of infrastructural projects relating to taxi and bus nodes across the city, intended as enabling stepping stones for many of the far-flung to gain opportunity for entry into the city and to its daily economies. South African urban practitioners Dewar and Uytenbogaardt initiated ideals for public space-making in post-apartheid cities, one of which interestingly argues that “good public space” should provide environments that contain qualities of secrecy and complexity in order to be fully absorbed into a context which it sits, and provide opportunity for creative interpretation of space by its users. [15] Whatever Dewar and Uytenboogardt had in mind as meaning “good,” secrecy does seem to be part-and-parcel of today’s Johannesburg’s major taxi ranks. Eddies of gambling (fig. 8), convening men, and porn DVD sales gather in the gloomier corners of thoroughfares in these spaces; often separate from any institutional structure or governing systems; but certainly there because they exist, because they bring a desirable clientele, and because they can be serviced or protected by the quotidian structures of bureaucracy should the need arise. These sometimes occur on overhanging balconies, or basements to the main transport spaces.



Figure 8- In a quiet, derelict back-alley behind a major taxi rank in Alexandra, Johannesburg (seen in the background), men gather around a drafts table to gamble. Photo by Amina Kaskar.


4. Underground Underground. (-20 to +20 feet)

At eye level in and around the above-mentioned transport interchanges, Johannesburg streets are blazoned with an eye-height burgeoning tape of subliminal subtitles of dubious adverts for bodily endowment, reproductive remuneration, refound lost lovers, and immediate financial resurrection. Nutall discusses advertisements of Johannesburg as an uprooted projection of Johannesburg’s “surface,” indicative of the city’s unfixedness of commodity. [16] Sure enough, these plastered adverts are ripped off overnight by some opposing, unseen forces of the night; only to be repapered a week later with refreshed adverts of new numbers and agents to call (fig. 9). These adverts become the only crystalized physical sediment of this world that remains of this eddying, elusive economy of many (often bogus) traditional healers and paid-for-magics. Certainly, in Johannesburg, a lot is hidden because it is concerned with the processes of forgetting, for replacing and hiding the recent unsavory pasts with commodities of the fresh and current—this is echoed in OMA, Koolhaas and Mau’s observances of “hidden” where often a city’s processes contain with it skill of invigorating ignorance of a demonstration, in the process of the demonstration itself. [17] The future of Johannesburg slips from the gold pan of any hopeful one who tries to sift it.



Figure 9 – Adverts for muti (traditional medicine) paper the vertical surfaces of the city. A large conglomerate of muti practitioners and vendors is visible at Mai Mai market, south east of the city. Photo by Amina Kaskar


The Villages under the Highway

Beyond the equivocal underbelly of imitation supernatural, there are locations in the city with rich heritage of traditional healers, pockets of sanctuary and culture that exist in almost parallel spots of unlikely seclusion.

The islands between highway interchanges, abandoned buildings, and indeed many mine dumps in the city, are ritual spaces for many. Underneath an interchange of the M2 highway, in an abandoned old stable-yard, believed to be as old as Johannesburg, is one such place of retreat. An average day at the Mai Mai Market sees men and women carting trolleys laden with bovine heads, serving meat to hungry customers in their courtyard which functions much like an eating space in a village kraal. Beyond the courtyard are men and women selling medicines bearing ingredients from snakeskins, tree roots, and many unidentifiable constituents.

The space houses many cultural religious-affiliated activities, including prayer ceremonies and coffin making. Many of these spaces exist in such unlikely blind spots of space. Leftover, available pieces of land which carry with them a feeling of seclusion, left to transition into a state beyond what they are, these ruins sometimes become something of a paranormal wilderness, adopting new program and function through their newly grown spirit of unuse. It is interesting that most of these are manmade constructs, leftover pieces of unthought infrastructure, or sites of industrial waste; yet they are adopted and revered by their everyday protagonists as sites of catharsis and ritual. A pertinent and very prevalent use of the mine-waste dumps as ritual sites is described further up in the archaeological section.


5. Backyard / Balcony secrets (+0 to +200 feet)

Another unfolding, unexpected, hidden surface to Johannesburg’s standard datum is that of the backyard addition, a common phenomenon in many of Johannesburg’s proscribed Apartheid township properties, and to in recent decades in the high-rise apartment blocks of Hillbrow and Yeoville (figs. 10–11). What appears like one house or one apartment, in fact indoors or behind it, or on its balcony, has swelled to accommodate two or three extra households; mirroring the urgency for housing and business accommodation with the rapid growth of the city. Many hidden processes thus arise from this, for example the illegal sub-connection of power from the main connection to the squatting sub-spaces; as well as invented undeclared sub-renting economies to people from foreign countries or the urban poor. However, these sub-populations bring with them a whole set of resources unaccounted by the plain-site of the city; including goods and skills and presence in the city which adds to its vibrancy. Here, quite literally, fugitives of the state actually add to the street life and presence of the city, observing the processes, effectively acting as counterespionage agents to the city’s originally intended population.



Figure 10- A whole subvillage of shack-dwellings is visible in three consecutive backyards of Hillbrow, Johannesburg. Photo by Sarah de Villiers.



Figure 11- From a vantage view from Ponte City tower, many of the balconies in Yeoville and Hillbrow show the hidden lives of the dwellers inside- the often dense living quarters spilling outwards, so that the balconies serve as outdoor cupboards, laundries, and playgrounds; never visible from the street below. Photo by Sarah de Villiers.


6. Rituals on Man-made Mountain (+65 feet)

“The uniform of the John Masowe churches consists of white gowns for both men and women. They worship without shoes, belts, watches, and cell-phones on them as this is viewed as interfering with the descending of the Holy Spirit. The many different Masowe groups are mostly populated by Zimbabwean migrants although often times, other nationalities do come to seek help from the [priests].

A place of worship cannot simply be chosen out of the available land. The exact location needs to be revealed by the Holy Spirit through [priests]. After the Holy Spirit has revealed an appropriate place, the performance of sacralization rituals involves the marking and spiritual separation of the sacred from the profane land. There is a general belief among respondents that the bush us an abode of evil spirits that the groups need to get rid of. Usually the first step involves a night vigil to spiritually claim and take over the space from contrary spirits. As one member said, “If there is something wrong in this place we will definitely know through the spirit. We pray and sprinkle water around to cleanse the place.”
—Peter Kankonde Bukasa, Lorena Nunez Carrasco, Melekias Zulu, Matthew Wilhem Solomon [18]


The mountains of incandescent mine waste are monumental (but eroding) in areas along the gold-reef—mass scale architectures when seen from the air in relation to the built form of the city.

But a zoom-in of the dust mountains reveals new networks of activities. Though these are man-made mountains, they have become entangled in natural processes. The highly toxic chemical saps seeping from below often surface as iron red and cobalt blue rivers. Grasses and foliage—some planted during the mining age to contain the dust, others planted more recently in attempts to remediate the soils—are sprawling and uninhibited. The mine dump’s almost unearthly luminescent yellow structure is interrupted by smaller topographies of crevices and walls—slowly printed into a geology by an accelerated settling of the blasted rock with the poisonous by-products of the explosives. The invisible code for composing this landscape came from abrasive industrial processes decades ago—and their implications are still producing this landscape. Clues in the landscape are often testimony of toxic activity, even when the site is disguised or reconfigured from its prior use as a waste-dump site or an old mine.

Being on the mine dump often feels like being in a scene from a sci-fi film. Perhaps it is this otherworldliness and seclusion from the city that attracts ritual activity. The Masowe churches often use the mine dumps as sites of ritual sermon and ceremonial prayer (figs. 12–13). An exercise in place making: The process of preparing the space for ritual prayer.


1) Chase former evil dwellers.
2) Remove dirt.
3) Dig a hole, place salt in it.
4) Add a sheep’s tail to the hole if available. Sheep’s tails act as good amulets against witchcraft.
5) Cover the hole with soil.
6) Draw a circle of hot ashes within the limit of the cleared space.
7) Have three priests gather around it with a bucket of water in the middle.
8) Mix coarse salt in the water.
9) Pray over the water, simultaneously sprinkling it around.



Figure 12- A congregation of church-goers on the outlays of Vilage Mai Mine, south of Johannesburg. Photo by Sumayya Vally.



Figure 13- A group of white-clothed church-goers walk well-beaten path over the mine dump after leaving the ceremony. Photo by Sumayya Vally.


7. Sky Locations (+200 feet up)

Perhaps the most fascinating strata of Johannesburg inner city today is that of the uppermost—the innercity rooftop—an extruded surface, antithesis of the extracted volumes beneath the city, and an agglomerating symbol of its wealth. Elevated far above its natural datum, one may witness a myriad of strange and subversive apparitions of people and activities of building rooftops (fig.14)—ironically one of the most private spaces of the city (although open to the skies above).

Historically, the rooftops of inner city Johannesburg hosted a multitude of poorer servant staff during the mid-twentieth century, superimposed onto the riches of the elite below it. As Malcomess and Kreutzfeldt describe, in 1952, it was alleged that 40,000 people lived in Locations in the Sky (Locations = local word at the time for black slum). [15] When the ruling party of the time tried to limit the growing amount of family members joining the already dwelling resident in the rooftop servants quarters, the removal of such was given friction by the white landlords and building associations below it. As Malcomess and Kreutzfeldt note. [19] It is ironic that these rooms possess the best views in the city, and places where freedom for loopholes in the Apartheid regime could be explored. Overtime, many of these locations have developed into sprawling communities and networks of cities in the sky, with the descendants of housekeepers moving into the space as well.

Even today, when viewed from a vantage point on the top floor of the Carlton Centre building, the tallest building in the city, many unexplained, third-space activities continue to be hosted by this spectral strata of the city; echoed in the observances by Mary Wafer who shows that these spaces often provide a sort of marginality, “in-between,” a place that people can use and be accommodated, for however temporary. [20] Thus, here, it would seem, the hidden spaces provided a sort of “breathing gap” for the short comings of the city; where its inner accommodations and services are inadequate, and require an unseen, bleed out space of the sometimes unsightly services of the building, or temporary nature of structures that may pop up there to accommodate people moving though the city.



1. Sarah Nuttall and Achille Mbembe, eds., The Elusive Metropolis (Durham and London: Duke UniversityPress, 2008).

2. Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “counterespionage.”

3. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991), 39.

4. Neil Leach, ed., Rethinking Architecture (London. Routledge, 1997), 174.

5. “Inventive Zama Zamas not interested much in doing it legally,” Business Day Live, May 15, 2015,

6. Dean Hutton, “ZAMAZAMA4LIFE,” 2point8, viewed December 2015,

7. “Inventive Zama Zamas not interested much in doing it legally,” Business Day Live, May 15, 2015,

8. Ilan Godfrey, “Legacy of the Mine,”,

9. Godfrey, “Legacy of the Mine.”

10. “‘Satanic’ sinkholes plague Johannesburg: MEC,” Times Live, October 5, 2011,

11. Ibid.

12. Godfrey, “Legacy of the Mine.”

13. “Pollution Reaches Cradle of Mankind,” Rainharvest, January 15, 2011,

14. Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities. Picador Edition (London: Pan Books Ltd., 1974), 112.

15. David Dewar and Roelof S. Uytenbogaardt, Creating Vibrant Urban Places to Live: A Primer (CapeTown: [s.n.], 1995), 11.

16. Sarah Nuttall, “Stylizing the Self” in Kerstin Pinther, Larissa Förster, and Christian Hanussek, eds., Afropolis: City Media Art (Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2011), 278.

17. Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, S, M, L, XL (New York, NY: The Monacelli Press, 1995), 746,

18. Peter Kankonde Bukasa, Lorena Nunez Carraso, Bettina Malcomess, and Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon, Routes and Rites to the City: Mobility, Diversity and Religious Space in Johannesburg (Johannesburg: African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS), 2015).

19. Bettina Malcomess, Dorothee Kreutzfeldt, Not No Place: Johannesburg. Fragments of Spaces and Times (Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2013).

20. Mary Wafer, “Invisible Johannesburg Seen and Unseen: An Exploration of the Imaged/Imagined City” (thesis, University of the Witwatersrand, 2009), 9.


Counterspace is a Johannesburg-based collaborative studio of young architecture graduates, established in 2014 by Sarah de Villiers, Michael Flanagan, Amina Kaskar, and Sumayya Vally. Counterspace is dedicated to research-based projects, which take the form of exhibition design, competition work, urban insurgency, and public events. Their work is predominantly concerned with ideas for future and otherness; it plays with image and narrative as a means of deconstructing and reconstructing space and city and aims to incite provocative thought around perceptions of Johannesburg. | @_counterspace

L.A. Recalculated


L.A Recalculated © Smout Allen + Geoff Manaugh


Project by Laura Allen, Geoff Manaugh, and Mark Smout


Los Angeles is a city where natural history, aerospace research, astronomical observation, and the planetary sciences hold outsized urban influence. From the risk of catastrophic earthquakes to the region’s still operational oil fields, from its long history of military aviation to its complex relationship with migratory wildlife, Los Angeles is not just a twenty-first-century megacity.

Its ecological fragility combined with a dangerous lack of terrestrial stability mean that Los Angeles requires continual monitoring and study: from its buried creeks to its mountain summits, L.A. has been ornamented with scientific equipment, crowned with electromagnetic antennae, and ringed with seismic stations, transforming Los Angeles into an urban-scale research facility, a living device inhabited by millions of people on the continent’s westernmost edge.

L.A. Recalculated is a distributed cartographic drawing—part map, part plan, part deep section—that takes conceptual inspiration from the book OneFiveFour by Lebbeus Woods. There, Woods describes a hypothetical city shaped by the existential threat of mysterious seismic events surging through the ground below. In order to understand how this unstable ground might undermine the metropolis, the city has augmented itself on nearly every surface, with “oscilloscopes, refractors, seismometers, interferometers, and other, as yet unknown instruments,” Woods writes, “measuring light, movement, force, change.”

In this city of instruments—this city as instrument —“tools for extending perceptivity to all scales of nature are built spontaneously, playfully, experimentally, continuously modified in home laboratories, in laboratories that are homes,” exploring the moving surface of an Earth in flux. Architecture becomes a means for giving shape to these existential investigations.

Twenty-first-century Los Angeles has inadvertently fulfilled Woods’s speculative vision. It is less a city, in some ways, than it is a matrix of seismic equipment and geological survey tools used for locating, mapping, and mitigating the effects of tectonic faults. This permanent flux and lack of anchorage makes Los Angeles bathymetric, we suggest, rather than terrestrial, oceanic rather than grounded.

L.A. is also a graveyard of dead rocket yards and remnant physics experiments that once measured and established the speed of light using prisms, mirrors, and interferometers in the San Gabriel Mountains (an experiment now marked by historic plaques and concrete obelisks). Further, Los Angeles hosts both the Griffith and Mt. Wilson Observatories through which the region achieved an often overlooked but vital role in the history of global astronomy.

Seen through the lens of this expanded context, Los Angeles becomes an archipelago of scientific instruments often realized at the scale of urban infrastructure: densely inhabited, with one eye on the stars, sliding out of alignment with itself, and jostled from below with seismic tides.


The surface of Los Angeles is both active and porous. A constant upwelling of liquid hydrocarbons and methane gas is everywhere met with technologies of capture, mitigation, and control. In our proposal, wheeled seismic creepmeters measure the movement of the Earth as part of an experimental lab monitors potentially hazardous leaks of oil and tar underground.



The speed of light was accurately measured for the first time in this city of sunshine and cinema. Using complex scientific instrumentation assembled from rotating hexagonal prisms, mirrors, and pulses of light, housed inside small, architecturally insignificant shacks in the mountains behind Los Angeles, one of the fundamental constants of the universe was cracked.



In the heart of the city, atop the old neighborhoods of Chavez Ravine, erased to make way for Dodger Stadium, we propose a series of 360º planetariums to be built. These not only reconnect Los Angeles with the stars it can no longer see; they also allow simulated glimpses into the Earth’s deep interior, where the planet’s constantly rearranging tectonic plates promise a new landscape to come.



As the city changes—its demography variable, its landscape forever on the move—so, too, do the constellations high above. These shifting heavens allow for an always-new celestial backdrop to take hold and influence the city. A complex architectural zodiac is developed to give context for these emerging astral patterns.



Seismic counterweights have long been used to help stabilize skyscrapers in an earthquake zone; usually found at the tops of towers, these dead weights sway back and forth during temblors like vast and silent bells. Here, a field of subterranean pendulums has been affixed beneath the city to sway—and counter-sway—with every quake, a kind of seismic anti-doomsday clock protecting the city from destruction.



All of the oil, tar, and liquid asphalt seeping up through the surface of the city can be captured. In this image, slow fountains attuned to these percolating ground fluids gather and mix the deeper chemistry of Los Angeles in special pools and reservoirs.



The endless jostling of the city, whether due to tectonic activity or to L.A.’s relentless cycles of demolition and construction, can be tapped as a new source of renewable energy. Vast flywheels convert seismic disturbance into future power, spinning beneath generation facilities built throughout the city’s sprawl.



Through sites such as Griffith Observatory and the telescopes of Mt. Wilson, the history of Los Angeles is intimately connected to the rise of modern astronomy. The city’s widely maligned landscape of freeways and parking lots has been narratively reinvigorated through the installation of gates, frames, and other architectural horizon lines, aligning the city with solstices, stars, and future constellations.



L.A. Recalculated was commissioned by the 2015 Chicago Architecture Biennial, with additional support from the USC Libraries Discovery Fellowship, the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, and the British Council.


Special thanks to Sandra Youkhana, Harry Grocott, and Doug Miller.


Geoff Manaugh is a freelance writer and curator, as well as the author of BLDGBLOG, a website launched in 2004 to explore “architectural conjecture, urban speculation, and landscape futures.” His latest book, A Burglar’s Guide to the City, about the relationship between burglary and architecture, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux in April 2016.

Smout Allen is a London-based studio funded by Mark Smout and Laura Allen. Their work takes two routes: (1) architectural competitions, where the particular rigor of the competition brief, site, and program provide the basis for new investigations, and (2) conceptual design projects that test out the agenda and methodology of the design research practice. They focus on the dynamic relationship between the natural and the man made and how this can be revealed to enhance the experience of the architectural landscape. Mark and Laura are both Senior Lecturers at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. | @SmoutAllen

Archipelagos of Detritus
The Need for a Theory on Spatial Waste



Essay by Sergio Lopez-Pineiro


We are already familiar with the waste that urbanization brings along and leaves behind: closed mines and dried lakes, unfinished urban developments and urban voids, polluted land and landfills. All these spaces constitute residues of several different processes of urbanization. Although still requiring more, most of these spaces have received some attention from architects, engineers, landscape architects, and urbanists via theoretical and practical frameworks for rethinking, reusing, and reimagining them. [1]

In this text I focus on another type of waste, a spatial typology that as a whole has not received as much attention: spatial waste, literally, or what I call archipelagos of detritus. With this term I refer to the scraps of space that emerge in our space-hungry civilization every time we create, colonize, or inhabit space—of any type and in any medium. [2] These mostly uninhabited spaces are holes within the continuously patterned environment and they tend to emerge in one of the following four ways:


1. As imprecisions. Some scraps of space emerge as a consequence of the imprecise, inefficient, and anomalous implementation of urbanization. For example, gaps (mostly uninhabitable small and thin slivers of land) appear due to a surveyor’s error or a mistake in a deed description.

2. As obsoletes. These residues can also appear via the spatial obsolescence that results from functional changes. For example, white space (unused frequencies of the radio spectrum) appears due to technological shifts in broadcasting technologies.

3. As separators. We inhabit by spacing and separating: our social spaces require gaps between things. For example, setbacks inbetween buildings, planters separating cars from pedestrians, crawl spaces under houses, even the space under our beds. As by-products of territorial proxemics, these interstices become waste mostly due to their small impractical sizes.

4. As excretes. In the process of opening up space, our construction techniques require transferring material, in many cases literally spouting it as waste through different types of machinery. Spoil islands or snow mounds are two examples of by-products that emerge as a consequence of the creation of spaces needed for the built environment (canals, parking lots).


These residual spaces must always be referred to in plural, as they are neither singular nor unique instances within the capitalist environment. Rather, they systematically emerge as sets of multiples, defining archipelagos of disconnected, leftover patches of space. They happen by accident and on purpose: they are both flotsam and jetsam. [3] Archipelagos of detritus are a permanent fixture of our territorial development: they have a pervasive and by now almost natural and irremediable presence. Despite their existence, they tend to remain hidden as residues of the productive tissue we call urbanized landscapes. Only in certain moments do they gain visibility and are rediscovered, giving insight into our modes of inhabitation, leading to new spatial appropriations or becoming sources of the desired (i.e.: ecology, beauty, public space) and refuges of the unwanted (i.e.: weeds, vagrants, ugliness).

Biology has long understood that humans produce waste through excretion due to our biological functions and as the means for promoting homeostasis and achieving successful internal stability. [4] However, we are still in need of a theory that explains how humans produce spatial waste due to our functions of inhabitation and as the means for achieving successful spatial stability. Through ethnographic and spatial analysis, this theory would explain why we do not seem to be able to inhabit without producing scraps and residues of space: archipelagos of detritus happen, initially originating from the development of our methods for inhabiting the world but now perpetually fueled by industrialization and modernization.

There are not many precedents for a theory of this kind. Lars Lerup’s text “Stim & Dross: Rethinking the Metropolis” could be a useful—and maybe the only—precedent for such theory. He uses the terms stim and dross to respectively refer to “points of stimulation” (i.e.: inhabitable space) and to “the ignored, undervalued, unfortunate economic residues of the metropolitan machine.” [5] Together, these two substances constitute what he calls the “holey plane,” the surface of the urbanized landscape that is filled with holes as “fissures, vacated spaces, and bits of untouched prairie”:


“Patently unloved yet naturalistic, this holey plane seems more a wilderness than the datum of a manmade city. Dotted by trees and criss-crossed by wo-men/vehicles/roads, it is a surface dominated by a peculiar sense of on-going struggle: the struggle of economics against nature. Both the trees and machines of this plane emerge as the (trail or) dross of that struggle.” [6]


Alan Berger’s understanding of the holey plane is a precise portrayal of the power, uniqueness, and unprecedented aspect of Lerup’s work: “It reconceptualizes the city as a living, massive, dynamic system, or a huge ecological envelope of systematically productive and wasteful landscapes.” [7] In this seminal text, Lerup richly describes the existing tension between these two substances and ends the article with the following statement:


“The inadequacy of the binary opposition of Stim & Dross is becoming evident (the legacy of our stale language and its profound grammatical limitations). Only in the hybrid field of stimdross may we begin to rethink and then to recover from this holey plane some of the many potential futures.” [8]


At the urban scale, then, stimdross could be considered a useful precedent for a theory that would explain why we are unable of inhabiting without producing spatial residues.

In this text I have collected some of the scraps of space that systematically and inevitably surface as by-products from our daily construction and occupation of space. The following archipelagos have been included in this inventory: highway interchanges, spoil islands, micro plots, snow mounds, white spaces, crawl spaces, and disk fragments. They have been listed in order of size, from large to small, with typical sizes ranging from 100 acres (typical footprint of a standard four-leg all-directional highway interchange) to 0.00006 sq. millimeters (the physical space typically occupied by 4 KB, the smallest size of a data fragment in Windows 7). Due to the different methods of documentation that are required by each of these sets of spaces, each of these archipelagos is catalogued through a specific atlas and examples of these have been referenced in the text. The purpose of this text is not to criticize these remains. In many ways they cannot be criticized, similarly to how we cannot criticize skin flakes, crumbs, or fallen leaves. As it happens with these residues, we can only observe these detritus and categorize them as symptoms of some underlying condition.

Due to the prevalence of these remnants, this inventory could be as long as a list of our everyday spaces. For this reason, this collection is obviously incomplete and could be continued. The scraps I have selected show, however, a breadth of sizes and contexts, evidencing that this waste production is an inherent quality of our skills—or lack thereof—for colonizing space: regardless of the space we are designing or occupying, we will produce some type of spatial residue. Despite its incompleteness, this collection is an ethnographic cross-section of our industrialized means of spatial inhabitation.


Highway Interchanges

The land enclosed and locked in by highway interchanges generally becomes a dead zone disconnected from its surroundings. Despite the fact that the overall square footage of these dead zones can be very large, these patches of land do not even appear to have a proper name—probably due to their perception as scraps. These inaccessible patches of land include a variety of spaces and objects required by transportation safety protocols such as, for example, gores (area between the highway and an entrance or exit ramp generally defined by two wide solid white lines guiding traffic entering or exiting the highway), gore noses (tip of the gore usually incorporates retroreflective flexible signaling posts and impact attenuators), safety zones, or vehicle recovery areas. But, they also include large extensions of terrain cut off from the surroundings by the highways’ sinuous layouts. Safety sight lines and setbacks as well as demands for maintenance-free grounds generally prevent much from happening in these spaces—including, in most cases, vegetation taller than two feet.

Built during the 1930s as part of the Public Works Administration and opened on October 1, 1940, the Pennsylvania Turnpike was the first long-distance limited-access highway in the United States, “an unbroken ribbon of concrete cutting through mountains and across valleys, bypassing towns. No stop signs, no intersections, no speed limits.” [9] Despite it being the first highway of its kind, its designers seem to have been already aware of the unavoidable detritus this transportation network was about to produce as it can be concluded by the pochéd drawings of the turnpike interchanges that illustrated one of the first publications distributed to the public.

These spaces, which are seen daily by millions of people throughout the world, appear for the most part to be hidden from our visual field. Only in some rare cases do these dead zones gain visibility as when they are landscaped in particular ways or when they include a sculpture or another form of art installation. In some exceptional situations, when it has been possible to reconnect these patches of land to their surroundings, these dead zones have been reclaimed as urban parks, such as Barcelona’s Nus de la Trinitat designed by Batlle i Roig.

Atlas: Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, The Pennsylvania Turnpike [10]
Typical sizes: 1–100 acres [11]
Spatial type: Separators




Diagrams describing several Pennsylvania Turnpike interchanges as built by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, Pennsylvania Turnpike, 10-15.


Spoil Islands

Spoil islands are artificial islands that appear in waterways as by-products of the material accumulation resulting from channel construction and dredging. For example, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway in Florida was created in the late 1950s. The spoil resulting from dredging was used to create 137 spoil islands spread across four counties (Indian River, Brevard, St. Lucie, and Martin). Depending on the accessibility, ecological value, and historical human use, the islands are designated in three main categories that dictate their accessibility and use: conservation, education, and recreation. [12]

In Spoil Island: Reading the Makeshift Archipelago, Charlie Hailey has precisely described the duplicitous nature of spoil islands as a spatial remnant full of potential to be rediscovered: “Spoil islands are overlooked places that combine dirt with paradise, waste-land with “brave new world,” and wildness with human intervention. Seemingly mundane by-products of dredging, these islands are the unavoidable residue of technological process. At the same time, they are readily adapted for other, often unintended, functions and demonstrate the potential value and contested revaluation of landscapes of waste.” [13] He aptly calls them “topographic blind spots.”

Atlas: Charlie Hailey, Spoil Island
Typical sizes: 10,000–800,000 sq. feet [14]
Spatial type: Excretes



Spoil islands in Florida’s Indian River as recorded by the Spoil Island Project: Brevard County (left), Indian River County (center), and St. Lucie County (right).



Fragments of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) nautical chart number 11472 showing the Intracoastal Waterway and the spoil islands spread along its side in the areas of the Indian River south of Indialantic (left), around the Sebastian Inlet (center), and north of Fort Pierce Inlet (right).


Snow Mounds

In large parking lots, like those placed next to shopping malls or transportation hubs, accumulated snow is not plowed all the way to the edge. Due to practical concerns resulting from long plowing distances, in these cases snow is plowed into sizeable mounds located in the middle of the parking lot. In their efforts to open up parking space, these everyday maintenance practices—practices with no artistic or design ambitions and only focused on practical concerns—produce peculiar landscapes, clearly visible in the middle of these highly frequented parking lots. Despite the fact that these large mounds of snow are generally seen as leftover space or something unwanted, these snowed-in parking lots can also be seen as beautiful, unintended, accidental landscapes defined by usually overlooked piles of snow.

Atlas: Sergio Lopez-Pineiro, “White Space” [15]
Typical sizes: 10–8,000 sq. feet [16]
Spatial type: Excretes





Parking lot in Buffalo as recorded by the author in “White Space.” Courtesy of the author.


Crawl Spaces

There are three kinds of building foundations for single-family homes: a slab on grade (shallow foundation), a basement, and a crawl space. Shallow foundations use the ground as formwork for the foundation slab. In these cases, no spacing exists between the ground and the inhabitable space as concrete is poured directly onto the ground—slab on grade. Basements are inhabitable spaces located below grade. Generally, their flooring is also built in direct contact with the ground—no spacing exists between the basement’s floor and the ground. Crawl spaces, however, are a different type of foundation: in this case, the first level of the home is separated from the ground, leaving an uninhabitable space (crawl space) in-between the ground and the floor. These spaces are generally no taller than 18 inches and, while relatively common, they do not have a good reputation: “Many building experts recommend against crawl spaces because they have the water problems of a basement with almost none of the storage space, at much higher cost than a slab.” [17]

In some cases, however, the introduction of this interstice can be necessary and beneficial, as in sites located in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs) above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) as categorized by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). In these cases, the crawl space can protect the inhabitable space and, consequently, it is the elevation of the crawl space in relation to the exterior grade that determines the insurance premiums to be paid by home owners: “Crawlspaces should be constructed so that the floor of the crawlspace is at or above the lowest grade adjacent to the building. Buildings that have below-grade crawlspaces will have higher flood insurance premiums than buildings that have the interior elevation of the crawlspace at or above the lowest adjacent exterior grade.” [18]

Atlas: Morton Newman, Standard Handbook of Structural Details for Building Construction [19]
Typical sizes: 830–1,328 sq. feet [20]
Spatial type: Separators



Several examples of possible building assemblies for the construction of wooden foundations that include a crawl space (with a clearance of 18 inches) as drawn by Morton Newman in Standard Handbook of Structural Details for Building Construction. Newman, Structural Details, 11-67.


Micro Plots

Surveying errors or mistakes in deed descriptions can produce gaps and overlaps between tracts of land. “Overlaps and gaps may be found when surveying or locating defects found in titles. The term hiatus, compound hiatus, confusion, point of confusion, area of confusion, and gore are used to express overlaps, gaps, and indefinite ownership areas between adjoiners.” [21] A hiatus is a gap or unaccounted area, “usually a strip of land between two tracts where the two tracts do not adjoin because of faulty descriptions.” [22] Similar to a hiatus, a gore is “a sliver of land usually of triangular shape between two tracts, resulting from failure of land descriptions to adjoin.” [23] Opposite to a gap, “an overlap is an extension of a written title over and beyond another written title.” [24] Overlaps and gaps (gores and hiatus) usually remain hidden, undiscovered by the inhabitants of the surrounding lots. Only when new survey maps are drawn do these spaces arise.

In 1973, the architect-trained artist Gordon Matta-Clark purchased fifteen lots in New York City. These lots, probably gaps he called microparcels due to their extremely small size, constituted his art piece “Fake Estates,” a commentary on land ownership: “What I basically wanted to do was designate spaces that wouldn’t be seen and certainly not occupied.” He was interested in “something that can be owned but never experienced.” [25]

Some gores, however, can be very large and even be populated by a handful of residents as attested by the few that can be found in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Moxie Gore in Somerset County, for example, is almost 12,000 acres and has seven registered residents. [26]

Atlas: Gordon Matta-Clark, “Fake Estates” [27]
Typical sizes: 2–827 sq. feet [28]
Spatial type: Imprecisions



Drawing to scale of all 15 lots purchased by Gordon Matta-Clark as part of his work “Fake Estates.” Kastner, Najafi, and Richard, Odd Lots, 2.


White Spaces

White space refers to the frequencies of the radio spectrum that have been dedicated to broadcasting services but remain locally unused. White space is necessary for technical reasons—as a safety zone to avoid interferences between different broadcasts—but they also appear due to technical obsolescence—a switch from one broadcasting technology to another one that uses less spectrum causes the emergence of white space. As scrap of radio spectrum, the nature of this newly emerged space is always uncertain and in question: does it need to be recommercialized via auctions or can it become publicly accessible and free to use?

For example, the switch from analog to digital television has enabled the emergence of white space. In the US, in particular, most of the white space emerging from this switchover was located in the 700 MHz range. Following a series of public discussions, political lobbies, and lawsuits regarding the need for public open access to the newly freed airwave space, the 700 MHz band was finally auctioned by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the Auction 73 that took place in 2008 and collected a little over $19 billion.29 Google, who was one of the main advocates arguing for the newly freed airways to gain open access to the public, has continued its efforts to open up other bands and they have recently reported interest in the white space located in the 3.5 GHz range. [30]

Atlas: Google, “Spectrum Database” [31]
Typical sizes: 700–50 MHz (42.9–600 cm wavelength) [32]
Spatial type: Separators, Obsoletes





White space channels available in the areas between Cleveland and Pittsburgh (top), New York and Philadelphia (center), and Las Vegas and Los Angeles (bottom). Map data by Google Spectrum Database.


Disk Fragments

In computer hard drives, disk fragmentation happens over time as files are modified
and deleted. The changes made to a file are often stored in a disk location different than
the original file. Due to continuous use, data fragments end up in positions that are not
immediately adjacent to one another, leaving small slots of unused storage space inbetween
them. From a practical point of view, these slots of storage space are in many
cases also unusable due to their small size. These disk fragments can only be retrieved
by defragmenting the drive with disk defragmenter software and consolidating all empty
fragments into a sizable and usable slot of storage space.

Atlas: Any disk defragmenter software such as, for example, Microsoft Windows Disk Defragmenter, Diskeeper, AVG Disk Defrag, or UltimateDefrag.
Typical sizes: 4 KB–64 MB (0.00006–1.075 sq. millimeters)33
Spatial type: Imprecisions, Obsoletes





Typical layouts of fragmented data in a computer hard drive as recorded by Diskeeper (G1), AVG Disk Defrag (G2), or UltimateDefrag (G3): in all cases the white spaces indicate unused slots of disk space. Figure G1: Courtesy of Diskeeper. Figure G2: Courtesy of AVG Disk Defrag. Figure G3: Courtesy of UltimateDefrag.



1. Several authors have dedicated multiple efforts to this venture. For example, see: Alan Berger, Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006).

2. There are multiple similarities between these spaces and the ones that Lars Lerup calls dross. However, there are also several differences between these two terms (dross and archipelagos of detritus). It would require a lengthier text to properly address them but, in summary, dross seems to exist only at the urban scale and it is a continuous and exclusively physical substance while archipelagos of detritus are disconnected patches of space that exist in any medium and at any scale. See: Lars Lerup, “Stim & Dross: Rethinking the Metropolis,” Assemblage 25 (1994): 82-101.

3. “Flotsam and jetsam are terms that describe two types of marine debris associated with vessels. Flotsam is defined as debris in the water that was not deliberately thrown overboard, often as a result from a shipwreck or accident. Jetsam describes debris that was deliberately thrown overboard by a crew of a ship in distress, most often to lighten the ship’s load.” See: “What are flotsam and jetsam?” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, accessed January 12, 2016,

4. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, s.v. “Excretion,” accessed January 10, 2016,

5. Lerup, “Stim & Dross,” 93.

6. Ibid., 88.

7. Berger, Drosscape, 37.

8. Lerup, “Stim & Dross,” 99.

9. “America’s First Superhighway,” PA Turnpike, accessed January 5, 2016,

10. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, The Pennsylvania Turnpike (December 1940). 16-page booklet printed by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission presumably for public information.

11. Typical sizes for these patches of land vary wildly depending on the type of highway interchange being considered. According to the number of roads connected as well as the layouts used, the Federal Highway Administration classifies interchanges as following: diamond, full cloverleaf, partial cloverleaf, trumpet, three-leg directional, fourleg all-directional, semi-directional, single entrances and/or exits (partial interchange), single point interchange (SPI), and other (i.e.: double crossover diamond, displaced left turn, diverging diamond). See: “Interchange Type,” US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, accessed January 6, 2016,

12. “History,” Spoil Island Project, accessed January 9, 2016,

13. Charlie Hailey, Spoil Island: Reading the Makeshift Archipelago (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2013), 1.

14. Typical sizes have been estimated from the map “Indian River Lagoon Aquatic Preserves Spoil Island Project,” Spoil Island Project, accessed January 8, 2016,

15. Sergio Lopez-Pineiro, “White Space,” Places Journal (November 2009), accessed January 6, 2016,

16. Snow mounds’ footprints were estimated by the author when shooting “White Space.”

17. “Crawl Spaces,” Green Building Advisor, accessed January 13, 2016,

18. “Crawlspace,” FEMA, accessed January 13, 2016,

19. Morton Newman, Standard Handbook of Structural Details for Building Construction (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993).

20. These figures represent the average footprint of all new single-family homes built in the United States during the period 1973–2014. These sizes have been estimated based on the data available from the Census Bureau. “Characteristics of New Single-Family Houses Completed: Square Feet,” United States Census Bureau, accessed January 13, 2016,

21. Walter G. Robillard, Donald A. Wilson, and Curtis M. Brown, Evidence and Procedures for Boundary Location (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 336.

22. American Land Title Association, “Glossary,” accessed January 8, 2016,

23. Ibid.

24. Robillard, Wilson, and Brown, Evidence and Procedures, 337.

25. Pamela M. Lee and Gordon Matta-Clark, Object to Be Destroyed: The Work of Gordon Matta-Clark (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000), 103.

26. Emily A. Schroeder, “Who lives in Misery Gore,” Bangor Daily News, August 23, 2015, accessed January 9, 2016,

27. Gordon Matta-Clark passed away before he could complete his work on “Fake Estates.” To date, the most complete account of this incomplete art piece can be found in Jeffrey Kastner, Sina Najafi, and Frances Richard, eds., Odd Lots: Revisiting Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Fake Estates” (New York: Cabinet Books, in conjunction with the Queens Museum of Art and White Columns, 2005).

28. Based on the information collected in Kastner, Najafi, and Richard, Odd Lots, 2.

29. “Auction 73: 700 MHz Band,” Federal Communications Commission (FCC), accessed January 6, 2016,

30. Drew Fitzgerald, “Google Wants to Make Wireless Airwaves Less Exclusive, Cheaper,” The Wall Street Journal, March 3, 2015, accessed January 6, 2016,

31. “Spectrum Database,” Google, accessed January 6, 2016,

32. These wavelengths are typical unused television frequencies that emerge due to the implementation of new digital television broadcasting technologies. As mentioned, in the US most of the white space emerging from this switchover was located in the 700 MHz range.

33. These sizes have been calculated assuming a typical storage density of 300 Gb/sq. inch for a hard drive run by Microsoft Windows 7 set up with default defragmenting settings.



The initial impetus behind this article was triggered by a lecture on spoil islands delivered by Charlie Hailey, a guest speaker for the course “Theories of Urbanism, Landscape, Ecology” taught by Pierre Bélanger at the Harvard Graduate School of Design during the fall of 2014. During the Q&A period at the end of the lecture, I pointed out that Charlie’s research on spoil islands resonated with other similar catalogues, such as Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Fake States,” and I asked him if he had explored this connection. He responded that he liked the connection between both collections but that he had not explored it. I want to thank Charlie and Pierre for that inspiring event that has ultimately led to this inventory.


Sergio Lopez-Pineiro designs and writes about gaps found in everyday spaces and appearing due to mismatched relationships between social structures and spatial organizations. As the founder of Holes of Matter, he gives form to these gaps in buildings, landscapes, and cities. Lopez-Pineiro is a Lecturer in Landscape Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he held the 2014–2015 Daniel Urban Kiley Fellowship. He has taught widely, primarily at the University at Buffalo, where he was the 2006–2007 Reyner Banham Fellow.

Exposed Urbanity


Rawness – Conceptual collage showing unpredictable futures. © Emily Louise Allen and Leandro Couto de Almeida


Project by Emily Louise Allen and Leandro Couto de Almeida


In the urban context, emptiness is seen as the absence of value. Those with a political or capital stake in urban decisions embrace the articulation of planned, predictable future scenarios. However, because these leftover lands operate outside of the confines of the neoliberal city structure, they harbor social and ecological potential that does not—and cannot—exist elsewhere. This proposal asserts and embraces the hidden value of these spaces and subtracts, scrapes, and excavates from the ground plane as a mechanism for revealing aspects of the site and the violence of urbanization processes.

Urban designs that embraces the potential embedded within abandoned sites must reject the contemporary narrative of “improvement,” relinquish this position of power, and instead aim to establish conditions for a fuller urbanism to reveal itself. [1] Cultivating the growth of these latent social and ecological potentials requires the intentional construction of space without an identity, upon which any multitude of interpretations may be projected. The erasure of excess of design, composition, or representation on the production of cities and landscapes offers an opportunity to a more democratic and honest urbanity, without the concerns of formality and completion of architects and designers. [2]

Urbanism is an inherently violent proposition. [3] The rigidity of highly designed, overly controlled urban spaces inhibit individual desires and social spontaneity, and cannot adapt to the messiness of open-ended systems. This disruption of social and ecological possibilities deprives us of discoveries and surprises and impedes novel futures.

Urban development hides its brutality through a shiny, sophisticated veneer—one so far removed from the reality of development processes that any connection between the two is nearly invisible. Through subtraction, excavation, and scraping, the proposed scheme exposes raw earth—the primary ground condition of urban development. These earthmoving methodologies are strategically intermixed within the proposal’s polished surfaces to highlight the tension between urbanism’s two paradigms.



Spontaneity – Conceptual collage showing the potential for spontaneity on the site. © Emily Louise Allen and Leandro Couto de Almeida


Exploded Systems Axonometric


Site Additions – Axonometric of proposed platform and typical plan buildings. The new design additions will be elevated from the existing surface level to create a higher level of contrast between the superimposed urbanism and the various ground condition treatments.



Existing Site – Axonometric of existing site conditions and infrastructures. Because the spatial relationship between buildings and voids is mediated by a modular system, existing systems can be dismantled or preserved as needed.



Site Excavations – Axonometric showing areas of the site to be excavated. By digging down to the water table, the excavations reveal the hydrological systems lost to reclamation, and create a network of runoff infiltration for the new development.


Detail Sections: Void Ground Treatment Strategies

The three void treatment strategies each reveal different layers of history, unseen value, and new potentials on the site.



Ground Strategy 1: Preservation of Existing – Preserving existing ground conditions acknowledges the value of the current landscape in fostering spontaneous systems.



Ground Strategy 2: Scraping – Scraping the land—clearing and removing only the surface-level systems—exposes the earth to create new possibilities for spontaneous colonization and indeterminate social futures.



Ground Strategy 3: Excavation – Excavation is the counterpoint to historical land reclamation, recreating space for the ecological systems that have been lost to urbanization.


Vignettes / Site Perspectives as a moment in time














Plan 1: Landscape Systems – This plan is an early diagrammatic study that approaches how our urban design methodology might be deployed across the entire 60-acre site.



Plan 2: Site Plan Over Time – Deploying the strategy over a smaller area of the site, this plan explores the temporal relationship between the existing conditions, the planned future, and the construction phase between the two.



Plan 3: Site Plan as a Moment in Time



Vastness – Conceptual collage highlighting the site’s relationship to the greater Boston context through viewshed analysis.



1. James Corner, “Landscraping,” in Stalking Detroit, ed. Georgia Daskalakis, Charles Waldheim, and Jason Young (Barcelona: Actar, 2001), 124.

2. Ibid., 124-125.

3. From the founding of Rome to contemporary redevelopment, cities are both a product and producer of violence. See Niccolò Machiavelli, The Discourses, ed. Bernard Crick, trans. Leslie J. Walker, S.J. (London: Penguin Classics, 2003), 131-134.


Project Background
This proposal was developed for the third semester core landscape architecture studio at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, with the instruction of Sergio Lopez-Pineiro.


Emily Louise Allen explores design agency within both physically and socially constructed landscapes. She is currently a Master in Landscape Architecture I Candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Emily graduated cum laude from New York University Gallatin, where she concentrated in Sustainable Urban Design and Planning. Emily’s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Greenpoint Gazette, Ink!, NYU Alumni Magazine, and on ABC News.

Leandro Couto de Almeida completed a Bachelor of Architecture at Fluminense Federal University, Brazil. His work has been exhibited at the São Paulo International Architecture Biennale, the South American Landscape Seminar, and the Companhia Brasileira de Trens Urbanos. Currently, he is a Master in Landscape Architecture candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Reconciling Infrastructural Artifacts


Reconciling Infrastructural Artifacts © Robert Boettger


Project by Roberto Boettger


Is it possible that redundant operative form is able to define future infrastructure?

The testing grounds are the mutually exclusive operational fields of Smithfield Meat Market (1868) and Farringdon Crossrail Station (2017) in London. The latter is projected to pass twenty-seven meters below the market building. As the operations of the meatpacking shrink because of demand, its obsolete infrastructural elements are revealed through a process of dismantling, cutting, and underpinning. The strategy is to puncture the horizontality of the Market with the verticality of the Crossrail, and to negotiate material and operational aspects into new form by reutilizing what is able to gather and transmit. The reconciliation in question is part Meat Market, part Crossrail, and it immediately calls into question known conventions of both operative forms.




















Roberto Boettger is an architect trained at the Architectural Association and based in Rio de Janeiro and London. He has worked in The Netherlands with OMA and contributes to The Architectural Review, Domus, and AU.

Requiem for the Hidden Track



Essay by John Stirratt


I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get a grasp on Monty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief Side 2, a hand-me-down. I loved the skit “Minister for Overseas Development” in which Terry Jones and Michael Palin are old ladies talking to an adult professional John Cleese like he’s a baby. When I put the needle down on vinyl, it would sometimes be there, but other times there was an entirely different performance. I was probably too young to understand the mechanics behind the idea of the double-grooved record, but that’s what it was, Side 2 mastered with two concentric grooves that played different recordings depending on where you dropped the needle. That it was this irreverent group that joined in what was already a rich culture of vinyl mastering trickery is understandable, but backmasking, run-off grooves, and run-off groove messages reflected the times of the 60s and 70s and the medium. These were ways for artists to create intrigue, to speak to their fans obliquely. Though with backmasking, or backwards recording, it was sometimes accidental; the backwards-playing human voice was easily misread. And it was usually associated with the ominous, beginning with “Paul is Dead” from “Revolution 9,” to the Judas Priest fan suicide trial. Run-off grooves and run-off groove messages were other anomalies of the era, mysterious, recorded snippets appearing at the end of a side, between the end of the groove and the label, sometimes with associated messages etched into that part of the vinyl. The etchings in this “dead wax” zone were often as mysterious. If you looked at every side of The Clash’s double album London Calling, you would get one word per side, telling you to Side 1: Tear Side 2: Down Side 3: The Side 4: Walls. Surely the most chilling message had to be Joy Division’s Still LP, with the words “The Chicken Stops Here,” referring to the final scene in the Werner Herzog film Stroszek, which shows a dancing chicken in an arcade as the protagonist ends his life offscreen—the movie singer Ian Curtis watched just before committing suicide.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise Beatles started this practice, with the ghost track “Can You Take Me Back” on Side 4 of The White Album, to “Her Majesty,” a track omitted from Side 2 of Abbey Road and randomly tacked onto the end of the master by a young assistant. Instead of firing him, the band liked it, included it on the pressing, and the hidden track as we know it was born.

The idea of art within art has been around forever—artists from Michelangelo to Pollack have left messages in their work. Subliminal messages in film have always been a thing, from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 reference in A Clockwork Orange record store scene, to Alfred Hitchcock’s sneaky cameo in Lifeboat. You could say artists use whatever methods inside or outside the medium to create allegory, but more importantly, they’re playful and precocious people who like to have fun with whatever tools they have available.

For bands, it was the introduction of the CD that created whole new set of opportunities for the artist, giving a whole new bag of tricks to use on your more obsessive/attentive audience. The pregap, (or track 0) unearthed a track by pressing the back button immediately after play at the start of a CD. I remember a college DJ conspiratorially showing me this trick on Nine Inch Nails album The Fragile. But it was the conventional, twenty seconds after the end of the record-type track that had its heyday in the 90s. In the late 80s and 90s, it became de rigueur for bands to include these song or songs at different lengths after the initial sequence was over.

There are few examples of a hidden track in this era that might have improved a record. There was the occasional hit, like Cracker’s “Eurotrash Girl” or Lauren Hill’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” that was nominated for a Grammy. My band Wilco’s third album Summerteeth from 1999 was released dead in the storm of the craze—we liked our song “Candy Floss” enough to not let go of it, but it was a bit of an outlier and we couldn’t find a home in the sequence of the record. We hid it twenty seconds after the last song on the sequence, along with a remixed “Shot in the Arm” that was rejected by us for the main body of the record. This was what the hidden track was to many bands—a song that you were attracted to but couldn’t fit in the overall scheme of the album. But many memorable hidden tracks represented departures and anomalies. Beck’s “Diamond Bollocks,” from Mutations was a good example of this; a more rocking piece in what was a more traditional, muted album for him.

The CD format gave the artist extra time at his disposal—74 minutes, and had changed the dynamic from the LP medium immensely. The idea of a fourteen-song, sixty-minute record would have been unfathomable in the fast-moving 60s, where bands recorded three albums a year that would often reflect huge creative change in that time period. Releases were now farther apart and longer, time-wise, adding a more self-conscious and pressure-filled aspect to releases—this idea of your next record as a “statement.” And adding to this slightly bloated format was the opportunity to add MORE tracks to the album. Was it just artists wanting to share more with their audience, to see a different or unguarded angle of the band? Some artists felt it added value to a record for the fans, or to reward the more staunch supporters. Or was it more of a reflection of the post-Nirvana industry boom years, big budgets, more space, more content—a precursor of the Internet era?

Although the practice of hiding tracks still continues with CDs and the vinyl resurgence, streaming and iTunes has rudely exposed hidden songs—demystified them and left them suspended—in files right below their previous tracks, out of context forevermore.


John Stirratt is a bassist, multi-instrumentalist, and producer best known for his work in the acclaimed rock band Wilco, which he co-founded with Jeff Tweedy in 1994. Stirratt lives in Chicago with his wife Crissy and daughter Tallulah. | @Oneanda3

Beyond the Proscenium Wall



Essay by Odile Compagnon


In 1618, the Theatre Farnese in Parma was the first theater to establish a clear separation between the stage and the house. Since then, the proscenium has become a common element in most theaters: the central arch frames the perspective that the set creates while the wall on either side hides the mechanisms and artifacts necessary to provide special effects and dramatic entrances. As a result, while the theater as a whole is by essence an interior space, the area beyond the proscenium can be an interior, an exterior, an imaginary place, with which directors and designers transport actors and spectators into a different space and time altogether.

As a specific type of constructed environment, the stage offers particular ground for the exploration of architectural principles and concepts. When architects have worked as scenographers and understand what the proscenium wall is concealing, they seem to gain a particular realization of how the real and the imaginary can coexist within one harmonious space. They are able to measure the amount of order that is necessary for understanding and fascination to prevail even when chaotic actions take place and random objects appear on stage. The proscenium wall and arch evoke two worlds beyond the space of the stage itself: the imaginary world that the action conjures and the technical world of smoke and mirrors, pulleys and rigging ropes. How do these translate into architectural terms? By looking at a few examples, we can learn how the “real” and the “unreal” worlds collide and/or merge in the theater and be inspired to apply the same ideas outside of the theater, in our cities and buildings. As architects study stage set design, or work for the theater, they deal with the hidden dimension: the representation of specific memories, cultural, and social abstractions. They build philosophical and mathematical mechanisms that allow them to conceive rational spaces. The necessity to create forms that use not only physical materials but also memories and expectations is expressed in the architect’s Aldo Rossi’s analogy of a building to a sea shell:


The sea seemed to me a coalescence capable of constructing a mysterious, geometric form made up of every memory and expectation. Perhaps it was really a verse from Alcaeus that led me to architecture: “O seashell / daughter of stone and the whitening sea / you astonish the minds of children.” The lines go approximately like this, and in them are contained the problem of form, of material, of imagination-that is, of astonishment.
Rossi. (A Scientific Autobiography, 25)


The world of theater is built upon a comparable necessity to give materiality to ideas, poetry, and thoughts and, as far back as the Greek antiquity, architects have certainly concerned themselves with its design. Vitruvius in 70 BC, Alberti in 1450 and Palladio a century later have written rules in their treatises, for the construction of the perfect stage. But the first to address the design of scenery itself was Inigo Jones, in England in the early seventeenth century. The English classical architect, Jones, came back from a two-year tour of Italy in 1614 (his second trip to the country), his sketchbook filled with observations of ancient and classical architecture. He had a particular interest for Palladio’s buildings, whose secrets he received from Palladio’s own pupil, Scamozzi. On January 20, 1615, he wrote that the Italian mannerism inherited from Michelangelo was a detriment to architecture and that buildings, as people, should keep a solid, grave appearance to contrast and highlight the internal extravagance that one’s imagination can set on fire. Before Jones’s trip to Italy, he was famous, essentially, for the sceneries that he designed for the Royal Masques, a sort of entertainment on which he collaborated with poets and bards for the English court. Jones’s sets and costumes had been inspired by an earlier trip he took to Italy, while in his 20s, and bore the influence from Italian Intermezzo, which were magnificent, elaborate, and lavish. The architecture represented was fantastic, sometimes vernacular and always rich and filled with ornaments. Upon returning from his second trip to Italy, Jones, already forty years old, saw his practice expand as he began to apply the principles he learned from Palladio and Scamozzi to actual architecture. Surveyor of the King’s Works, Jones designed and oversaw the construction of important buildings such as the Covent Garden façade and church, Whitehall Banqueting House, The Queen’s Home in Greenwich, and Saint Paul’s Cathedral’s West front and portico. While doing so, Jones continued to design sceneries for the Court’s Masques, working mostly with the poet Ben Jonson, whose writing contained much political subtext and satire. It is through a well-documented quarrel between Jonson and Jones that we can best understand the architect’s position on design and the meaning of the statement he wrote in his “Italian Sketchbook.” As his partnership with Jonson progressed, the two had constant arguments over what constituted the soul and what constituted the skin of the Masque. Jonson insisted that the poetry should reside solely in the text, while Jones argued that his own craft, sceneries, and costumes were just as instrumental in providing spirit to the entertainment. During Jones’s voyage in Italy, he had found in classical architecture and its juxtaposition to mannerist details the arguments to make his point more astute, referring to Palladio and Scamozzi’s architecture to give his own designs more intellectual meaning. The controversy ended in 1631 when the poet and the architect had a final dispute. Jonson’s thinly veiled attack was included in one of his poems, where he compared the architect with a cook, affirming that the recipe was more important than the tools to give the meal its taste. Jones continued to design sceneries for masques that included an intricate layering of architectural details, while he gave his buildings the ordered form that his studies of Palladio had inspired. With its simple shape, and clean Doric order, Saint Paul Church at Covent garden, for example, presents what Jones described as a façade, that “carrieth a gravity in Publicke Places,” allowing the imagination to create its own interior extravagance.

Two and a half centuries later, in Venice, the Italian architect Aldo Rossi used a theatrical scene to describe the chiasm between the shell and the soul. The Teatro del Mondo, which he designed to float in the lagoon for the 1980 Venice Biennial is the expression of his lifelong interest for an architecture that could express meaning and science, philosophy, and craft. The presence of the water surrounding the theater rendered it yet more similar to the seashell from Alcaeus poem: mysterious and made up of every memory. At about the same time, in his Scientific Autobiography, Rossi described two kinds of conditions where disorder could be perceived: one, which he detested and called forgetfulness, resulting from plain indifference for any system, and another one, which he described as a natural state of mind, that results from an honest discomfort with a system. He saw the latter as a sign of humanity that allowed for imagination and fascination to develop, as in the seashell he so admired. Borrowing from the theater experience and from the proscenium’s ability to separate the real from the fantastic, Rossi described that in architecture, as on the stage, the wall, any wall, marks the boundary between order and disorder. The wall is mathematical and contains what Rossi called “small things”: memories, collected objects, everyday actions. Rossi had always been interested in the relationship between those “things and situations” that are about to be stated and the mechanisms by which they are stated. All of his buildings were simple in appearance, they obeyed to a strict geometric rule, just as Jones’s Covent Garden did, to allow for the astonishment to reside inside: within the mind of the visitor as well as within the walls of the building. As an architect, Rossi always oscillated between the strict geometry of the envelope and the “quasi-naturalism of the objects within” and this oscillation resulted in buildings as apparatus, machines for recalling memories. His theater in Venice was one such machine: at the same time a place of science and a place of memory, the place where architecture ends and the world of the imagination—or even the irrational—begins.



Centre Pompidou Mobile, Cambrai © Construire Architects, photography Studio Déclic, February 2012



Centre Pompidou Mobile, Chaumont © Construire Architects, photography Cyrille Weiner, November 2011



Centre Pompidou Mobile, Le Havre © Construire Architects, photography Bertrand Prévost, February 2013


Today, Patrick Bouchain, a French architect, principal of a practice called CONSTRUIRE, has developed alternative ways of producing buildings, involving future users as actors in the construction process and builders as actual users of the construction sites. Bouchain is equally interested as Jones and Rossi, in the discourse between the freedom of objects or people to change and the rigor of the envelope. In 2006, at the Venice Biennial, Bouchain and his team lived inside the French pavilion during the whole duration of the show, to address and illustrate his approach to dwelling and appropriation of space. Bouchain has worked for many years with artists and performers and he speaks about the relationship between an artistic concept and its realization in a public space. This inspired the architectural concept of the non fini, a design method, which establishes a new order, where objects and buildings can be organized while giving the users complete freedom to change, move, alter, and reorganize everything. For Bouchain, architects are not mere overseers, but belong to a de facto type of users: together with all other users of the space, they are actors whose performances are never finished. The realizations are always in progress, and necessitate a kind of nomadic being. Bouchain and his partner Loic Julienne designed a museum for the Centre Pompidou, which was made of three movable tent structures that could be assembled and installed in various manners depending on the sites that they were brought to and the content that they housed. As Aldo Rossi’s floating Teatro del Mondo, which navigated from city to city before being taken apart, Bouchain’s Centre Pompidou Mobile also took on different roles, told various stories. From one place to the next, the form remained the same allowing the content, and the context to trigger the imagination of the visitors.

Jones, Rossi, and Bouchain have included themselves among the users of their own designs. As they shared their own memories and narratives, they have created places that others can “appropriate,” they made buildings that evoked both respect and humanity, bringing together craft and intellectual thinking. All three architects have contributed to the understanding that architecture should reside between art and technology, and be at the intersection between liberal arts and mechanics. They have shown us to use the stage as a precedent for the defiance of canonical rules, the challenge of perspective and gravity, and resistance to given tenets. While doing so, they have succeeded in transporting the audience, and the users into a subtle world that is more than the sum of its part, and plays with familiar, often overlooked realities. The buildings they have given us recreate this world: microcosms flexible enough for the interior to become exterior, the exterior interior, for the shell not only to surround the soul, but to also contain it. Inigo Jones’s Masques are present in his design for Covent Garden; Aldo Rossi’s public spaces evoke entrances and exits of prima donnas and luminaries. Patrick Bouchain plays with buildings as if they were stage properties and we the actors. They all translate into the “real” world some of the trickeries of the “unreal” one. Covent garden, Teatro del Mondo, and Centre Pompidou Mobile are all envelopes whose strict geometries and simple forms allow for spiritual content to develop, apparatus for events to take place, and intrigues to unwind.

The collaboration between the poet and the cook, between the actor and the craftsman has given the buildings their forms: just as the sea, for Aldo Rossi, gave the shell its shape, made of memories and surprise.


Bouchain, Patrick. Construire Autrement: Comment Faire? Arles (Bouches-du-Rhône): Actes Sud, 2006.

Gordon, D.J. “Poet and Architect: The Intellectual Setting of the Quarrel between Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 12 (1949): 52-178.

Peacock, John. “Inigo Jones’s Stage Architecture and Its Sources.” Art Bulletin 64, no. 2 (June 1982): 195-216.

Rossi, Aldo. A Scientific Autobiography. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981.

Summerson, John. Architecture in Britain 1530 to 1830. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963.


Odile Compagnon is an architect with a practice in Chicago and Paris, and a professor at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Her area of expertise is the development of civic spaces serving communities whose needs reside at the intersection of architecture, urbanism, and performance.

Sounding Lines


© Thomson, Sir C. Wyville and John Murray, Report on the Scientific Results of the Voyage of the H.M.S. Challenger During the Years 1873-76, vol. I (London: H.M.S.O. 1885), 60.


Essay by Andrew Ruff


The history of cartography may be understood as a between the known and the unknown; in cartographic terms, between the terra cognita and the terra incognita. The role of the cartographer is to record particular moments of that endless negotiation, inscribing a subjective—and likely fleeting—perception of territory onto the smooth surface of the map. As historical objects, maps present recordings of a translation from wilderness to territory, a translation of spatial knowledge into a stable artifact.

Once land has been found, surveyed, charted, and inhabited, its originally mysterious topographies are ultimately tamed by abstract lines that mark borders, districts, cities, and nations. These artificial armatures transform the character of telluric landscape; the periphery of the map ossifies as once-wild lands succumb to the theodolite and the sextant. In contrast, oceans retain their dynamic nature despite attempts to chart their constantly changing, liquid surfaces. The ephemeral disposition of the sea presented a challenge to traditional cartographic techniques that sought to present stable, permanent images of space rather than accepting the possibility of more fluid geographies.

Unlike terrestrial landscapes, whose vast expanses can be immediately grasped through vision, the sea demands a more tactile engagement with its elusive territories, an engagement that transcends the planimetric terrestrial surface and embraces the sectional condition of its liquid volume. The sounding line, cast into uncharted waters, is a spatial instrument that physically mediates between the hands of the surveyor and the depths of the sea. A constructed line marked with the dimensions of the human body, the sounding creates a connection between an invisible, undersea topography and a position on the map determined through readings of the night sky. The sounding does not merely sink beneath the waves, but marks a solitary point in space, a singular volumetric reading in the text of the hidden unknown. As the ephemeral seam between two worlds, the sounding line both reveals the unknown and creates new knowledge. The sounding is a record of discovery, an instrument of exploration, and an armature for creation.



Antoine Léon Morel-Fatio, “Mesure du fond avec la sonde sur une frigate,” in La Marine: arsenaux, navires, équipages, navigation, atterages, combats, Eugène Pacini, 1844.


An ancient technology mediating between the ship and the sea, the sounding has plumbed the depths of the oceans ever since sailors began to venture beyond the security of shore and into the open sea. [1] As maritime trade developed across increasingly large bodies of water, sailors could no longer rely on familiar knowledge of harbors nor constant visual contact with the coastline. When approaching new ports from the sea, sailors often sounded the depths to determine whether their ship would run aground against the seabed’s hidden topography. The line itself was marked with a coded system of colored fabric, and as the leaded weight sunk beneath the waves the maritime surveyor would record the maximum depth in the ship’s log. [2] These fathom marks dotting the waters surrounding ports created an informal knowledge system—a rhizomatic network of depths aggregated around heavily trafficked harbors—that traced the invisible trajectories of ships across the constantly changing surface of the sea. Despite the rudimentary nature of its cartographic technology and the complex performance required to ascertain the ocean’s depths, this technique allowed early maritime merchants and explorers to enter into uncharted waters with a fleeting, yet critical knowledge of the unseen bathymetry beneath the waves.

Unlike the trigonometric survey, which projected sight lines into uncharted territory as it traced a future trajectory across the landscape, the sounding operated as an archaeology of the unknown, a tedious, blind excavation of space beneath the ship. These projective castings not only revealed the depth of the sea, but the geological condition of the seabed itself. As each sounding returned to the surface, it carried a miniscule core sample of the ocean floor: grains of soil, shells, and sand which adhered to the tallow footing of the sounding weight. [3] Through this multiplication of cartographic information, the sounding was able to serve as an effective instrument of embodied spatial knowledge: as the official hydrographer to the British Navy once proclaimed: “navigating is not by chart and compass, but by the sounding lead!” [4]



Matthew Fontaine Maury, Brooke’s Deep-Sea Sounding Apparatus, 1858, Physical Geography of the Sea (New York: Harper & Brothers,1858), 250..



Thomson, Sir C. Wyville and John Murray, Report on the Scientific Results of the Voyage of the H.M.S. Challenger During the Years 1873-76, vol. I (London: H.M.S.O. 1885), 60.


There is a certain power in embracing the unknown. Just as the sailor and the cartographer constructed images of hidden worlds through weighted lines and vertical sections, the architect, poet, and educator John Hejduk sought to construct worlds through lines of text and assemblages of images. He proposed that architecture and cartography share a similar relationship to terra incognita: they both inhabit the concealed spaces between the world we know and the possible worlds which lie ahead. His 1993 publication Soundings adopted cartographic metaphors to create a tapestry of texts and images enraptured in his imagination. Like the cartographers who mapped the constantly shifting surface of the ocean, Hejduk’s work emerged from the fluid spaces between fiction and reality, territories of the imagination ripe for exploration.

Hejduk, along with his editor Kim Shkapich, presented his figural speculations in stark pen and ink sketches that were accompanied with poetic musings printed in sans-serif font. Exploring this dialectic between image and text was one of Hejduk’s critical projects. Bound within Soundings’ heavy, white cover were 73 architectural projects grouped into seven chapters. Mimicking the size and weight of earlier cartographic tomes, Hejduk’s work formed an atlas of architectural speculations exploring formal possibilities at the periphery of contemporary spatial practices. In each project, Hejduk articulated his architectural position through intertwined pen-drawn lines and carefully composed text. These two lines- the quick, overlaid, and night-black lines of his sketches and the carefully composed, minimal lines of his poetry and notes- constituted the entirety of his architectural syntax. [5] Hejduk did not make any grand claims about his work; he did not step outside of the text to introduce it nor did he attempt to contextualize it. The work was presented as a newly discovered World: 400 pages of fictions, fabulations, and figurations directly from Hejduk’s episodic flânerie through the unknown.

It is only appropriate, then, that the title of this work speaks to the exploratory nature of the projects: architectural figures wandering beyond the cartographic edges of the known world and into the uncharted lands of Hejduk’s dreams. Seen in its entirety, Hejduk’s work rejected permanence in favor of more nomadic explorations. His “soundings” were projective measurements—both calibration and fabrication—translating the horizontal span of terra incognita into inscriptions of unseen vertical depths.



John Hejduk, Soundings: Tomb for Space Shape/Form Light: two perspective views, 1991, ink on paper, mounted on paper, 28 × 21.6 cm. DR1998:0129:067:002, John Hejduk fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d’Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal



John Hejduk, Soundings: Tomb for Space Shape/Form Light: perspective view and plan, 1991, ink on paper, 21.6 × 28 cm. DR1998:0129:067:005, John Hejduk fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d’Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal


In Soundings, Hejduk’s vivid drawings and poetry were introduced by a rigidly set Table of Contents, portraying his work as a precise collection of unique figurative specimens. Unlike an entomological exhibit, though, Hejduk’s work cannot be pinned to the page; each project reverberated with the rest of the volume, forms disappearing only to reappear unexpectedly in projects separated by time, space, scale, and program. In the first chapter, he folds a single line into a set of Platonic solids, comprising “The Architect’s Balance”: a pyramid, cube, sphere, and cross arranged in a series of aggregated compositions, recalling Le Corbusier’s abstracted and idealized sketches of Rome. [6] These Platonic forms later reappeared in projects strewn throughout the volume, in “Home of the Architect,” “Museum for Picasso, Brancusi, Matisse and Giacometti,” “Rooms of/for Justice,” and “Tomb.” Each project created successive evolutions and variations on the original, idealized composition: collectively, these iterations established a syntactical, reciprocal dialogue amongst projects of divergent intentions and histories. This aggregate of figurations existed in a state of continuous in-between; they were not bounded by section titles and page numbers, or by the traditional considerations which delineate architectural typologies, but threaded throughout the book, tracing complex networks and new constellations.

In Soundings, the line is the main instrument through which Hejduk crafted personal fictions and founded imagined worlds. The line was both the armature of discovery and the medium of representation, a product of geometry which produced the universe anew. Expanding the formal implications of Carlo Levi’s axiom that the origin and the terminus of a single line were determined by two one-dimensional points, poet Jorge Luis Borges wrote that the line was “made up of an infinite number of points; the plane of an infinite number of lines; the volume of an infinite number of planes; the hypervolume of an infinite number of volumes.” [7] In this way, Borges suggested how the solitary, single line was interwoven into the fabric of the universe; how the line was an Ariadnian thread connecting us all. Hejduk’s architectural line did not find easy rest between the pages of the book, nor did it remain fixed between the poles of beginning and end. Just as Borges’ line emerged from the plane to construct new worlds, so did Hejduk’s work wander from the paper, flickering with memories of distant pasts and projections of as—yet—unrealized futures.

Although the sounding line provided a theoretical structure to Hejduk’s work, his architectural creations did not ascribe to a linear teleology. Rather than presenting his work as a clear narrative, Hejduk and Shkapich structured Soundings as an experiment in constructing multiple, ambiguous readings. Just as the cube, pyramid, and sphere of “The Architect’s Balance” existed in a continual state of reemergence throughout Soundings, other distinct figures and formal operations echoed in the chambers of this volume. The spiral held within the boundary of “Victims,” bears a striking resemblance for Le Corbusier’s recurring model for a Museum of Unlimited Growth. [8] Hejduk also incorporated the spiral into the sketches for “Sanctuary,” in the plan of the “Museum for Words,” in the figuration of “The Three Serpents,” and in the hierarchical, Dantesque diagram for “Cemetery.” Another formal archetype in “Cemetery,” the spoked wheel, emerged as the primary organizational diagram for both “The Architect’s Wheel,” and “Eight Night Chapels.” This slippage of formal tropes between projects forced a positional reckoning with Hejduk’s conception of the line. Was the line created once, as both a unique performance and object which cannot be repeated? Or was the line an armature which vacillates between many spaces and times simultaneously, following the reader’s eyes from chapter to chapter, page to page? To frame this binary within the language of the map, did Hejduk repetitiously cast a sounding line, slowly charting the unknown through linear strokes? Or was he simultaneously casting an infinite number of soundings at once? Perhaps a means to approach this fundamental question is to consider Hejduk’s work not as a series of discrete architectural projects, but as an architectural text.



John Hejduk, Soundings: Rooms of/for Justice: perspective view,
1991, ink on paper, 21.6 × 28 cm. DR1998:0129:027:003, John Hejduk fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d’Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal



John Hejduk, Soundings: the Architect’s Balance: a sacred support: tangent, point,touch, 1991, ink and coloured pencil on paper, 21.6 × 28 cm. DR1998:0129:005:001, John Hejduk fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d’Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal



John Hejduk, Soundings: Museum for Picasso, Brancusi, Matisse and Giacometti: perspective view, 1991, ink on paper, 28 × 21,6 cm. DR1998:0129:019:005, John Hejduk fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d’Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal


As the only writing which did not find itself directly associated with an architectural project, Hejduk’s introduction framed his work in a larger theoretical perspective: “If one gyrates, rotates ellipses with sufficient energies they become a straight line moving from space to space, from time to time. The original curvature is unseen but nonetheless felt.” [9] Hejduk considered his work as a series of successive figurations, explorations of the line’s potential to migrate and deform, to become simultaneously ephemeral and generative. The geometrical principles underlying Hejduk’s introduction, that the transformation of a curved enclosed into a linear element through stress and force would not entirely remove the genomic identity of its original form, found themselves reminiscent of Nicholas of Cusa’s own mathematical theorems postulated in his theological text De Docta Ignorantia. [10] Cusanus wrote that while the straight line is simply a section of the infinite line, the curved line relates to the infinite through “mediate and remote participation.” [11]

The mediating line offers a potential insight into the relationship between the formal limitations of the signs, symbols, and emblems in Soundings and the infinite concepts which they address: death and preservation, religion and myth, heaven and hell. For Hejduk and Cusanus, the curvature of the line revealed a latent desire to enclose and delineate between interior and exterior, to define finite territories from infinite space. These territorial boundaries became the means by which the finite communicates with the infinite, a malleable and permeable threshold between worlds. In this reading of Soundings, the sketched plans, elevations, and axonometric projections scattered throughout the volume do not present themselves as isolated symbols or discriminate members of an alphabet yet to be deciphered. Instead, the author Wim van den Bergh described these figures as “runes: the signs, so it seems, of a geometric language, a language about space and time,” a language which has been lost to modern man and was never meant to be recovered. [12] Hejduk’s narrative for the consular official in “Berlin Nights” illuminated how he created a figural architectural language which could simultaneously speak to and create the cosmos:


[The Consular Official] thinks about the reality of still/frame images. Things
are flattened out for image/thought transferences and transmissions. The three-dimensional
world is fabricated in order to be two-dimensionally transferred into
an image where its maximum potency is still/stopped. And its most intensive
energy is reflected into nature morte, still life.


Hejduk’s commune with the infinite could not be translated into symbolic communication, but was replicated in a potent, empathetic act of representation. The inaccessible opacity between the finite and the infinite was rendered in the flatness of Hejduk’s architectural figures. Their homogeneously rendered facades implored the reader not to inhabit the forms, but to join the images in their inhabitation of the space of the book. In this text of indecipherable signs, the infinite could not be possessed through knowing all the emblems; only by becoming “an emblem among emblems” could one hope to enter Hejduk’s invented universe. [14]



John Hejduk, Soundings: The Architect’s Wheel: perspective view, 1991, ink on paper, 28 × 21.6 cm. DR1998:0129:004:002, John Hejduk fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d’Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal



John Hejduk, Soundings: The Architect’s Wheel: perspective view, 1991, ink on paper, 28 × 21.6 cm. DR1998:0129:004:001, John Hejduk fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d’Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal


In its sheer density and intensely personal nature, Soundings does not easily lend itself to analysis. Despite the iconographic symbols which illustrate the projects, there was no clear internal language to be translated, no objective truth to be extracted from the pages, no code to be deciphered. As van den Bergh wrote in the preface to the book, “Hejduk’s work ridicules this objective view, as there is no absolute meaning in it, no objective outside.” [15] If Soundings lacked an outside, then perhaps the entire volume was constructed as an exposed interiority, an architecture which had been meticulously unfolded to reveal something of the hidden terra incognita. The notion that Hejduk’s work emerged from a source of discovery may explain van den Bergh’s consideration of Hejduk’s work as “a kind of many-folded space, a labyrinth, or a maze. [16] Soundings does not have an objective outside, only an exposed interiority. Understood in this sense, Hejduk’s architectural atlas, with its opaque figurations and mysterious writings, was stimulated through intentional interactions with its exterior: shelters for his architectural wanderings to condense, to nucleate new spatial possibilities from within the corpus of his first line.

Mediating between the interiority of John Hejduk’s architectural subject and the objective infinite, the book serves as both the cipher and the fabric of the universe. The necessity for bridging between the universal and the singular was reflected in Hejduk’s architectural project, and the tenuous path between the finite and the infinite found its means of articulation in the line. [17] While Hejduk devoted the first page of Soundings to exploring the possibility of compressing the world into a straight line, the final page of the book revealed an alternate reality: a line which became a world. [18] Positioned horizontally across the stark white paper, a single, black line was struck across the middle of the otherwise empty portrait. No longer did the sounding stretch towards the depths of the unknown; instead, Hejduk constructed an artificial horizon, a line adrift in a sea of white, a thin filament momentarily holding the center. Rotated from its vertical orientation, the sounding line became unanchored, tenuous, loosened from space and time. This austere mark concluded the encompassing worlds of Hejduk’s volume, a fitting end to his cantos of symbols and emblems. Unlike the nautical soundings which were the namesake of his text, Hejduk’s projections into the unknown did not strike a hidden surface beneath the black water. His soundings informed an architecture which extended to infinity, never reaching an edge, following the endless curvature of the universe.



1. The Navel Chronicle: Containing a General and Biographical History of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom with a Variety of Original Papers on Nautical Subjects, Volume II (London: Bumney & Gold, 1799), 180-181.

2. Ibid., 364.

3. Francis Lieber, ed, Encyclopaedia Americana: A Popular Dictionary of Arts (Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1849), 496.

4. As quoted in Clifford Conner’s A People’s History of Science: Miners, Midwives, and “Low Mechanicks” (New York: Nation Books, 2005), 236.

5. The architect Andrew Macnair grouped John Hejduk, Raimund Abraham, and Lebbeus Woods together as “the Blacks.” Herbert Muschamp, “John Hejduk, an Architect and Educator, Dies at 71,” New York Times, published July 6, 2000,

6. John Hejduk, Soundings, ed. Kim Shkapich (New York: Rizzoli, 1993), 32-35. See Figure 02

7. Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Sand, trans. Norman Thomas di Giovanni (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1979), 87.

8. Deborah Gans, The Le Corbusier Guide (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006), 213.

9. Hejduk, Soundings, 17.

10. Nicholas of Cusa, On Learned Ignorance, trans. Jasper Hopkin (Minneapolis: Arthur J. Banning Press, 1990), 7., “A finite straight line, insofar as it is straight (minimal curvature is a reduction to that which is straight) participates in the infinite line according to a more simple participation, and a curve [participates in the infinite line] not [according to] a simple and immediate participation but rather [according to] a mediate and remote participation; for [it participates] through the medium of the straightness in which it participates.”

11. Cusanus is a shortened reference for Nicholas of Cusa.

12. Wim van den Bergh, “Seven Memos on the Geometry of Pain,” Soundings, 19.

13. Hejduk, Soundings, 160.

14. Ibid., 22-23.

15. van den Bergh, “Seven Memos on the Geometry of Pain,” 23.

16. Ibid., 22.

17. Ibid., 12.

18. Hejduk, Soundings, 399.


Andrew Ruff is an architect, educator, and writer whose work examines the “unknown” as a spatial construct intimately bound to our understanding of architecture and the natural environment. He is currently a Research Associate with Gray Organschi Architecture and has held teaching positions at Wesleyan University, Yale University, and Georgia Tech.

Seeing Triborough


© courtesy of the Library of Congress


Visual essay by Sam Holleran


This brief visual essay traces the visual identity of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority —the idiosyncratic fiefdom of Robert Moses. The piece pulls apart the heraldry of Triborough’s crest and insignia, and examines the architectural artifacts of its rein (the bridges and tunnels themselves as well as the hidden-away headquarters building on Randall’s Island from which Robert Moses issued orders to mayors and governors). What happens when we examine innocuous logos and bland buildings in comparison to the real human costs of power and dynasty?


For much of the twentieth century quasi-independent public authorities controlled infrastructure development in New York City and state, holding vast tracts of land and commanding massive amounts of capital. The most famous of these is the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority—the idiosyncratic fiefdom of Robert Moses. © Sam Holleran


Before the 1950s there was little cohesive branding. Companies and government agencies did not have style guides, and made use of a variety of logos, stationary, and marks. Triborough was no different; it would often employ New York State’s coat of arms and “Excelsior” motto, while occasionally dismissing it for a more modern, streamlined corporate wordmark. © Sam Holleran


Robert Moses with model of proposed Battery Bridge in 1939. One of the few moments when Triborough Bridge Authority’s hidden powers were publicly called into question. © Courtesy of the Library of Congress


The design of the Triborough Authority’s materials spans the decades when American branding was coming into its own, commercial artists morphed into the graphic designers we know today. The innocuity of logos and the blandness of buildings created for Triborough belies the real human costs inflicted by the Authority’s goliath projects. © Sam Holleran


The Manhattan portal to the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel (now the Hugh Carey Tunnel), built in the solid Stripped Classicism favored by Moses, this windowless ventilation tower has been used by the Men in Black film series as the headquarters of a secret organization where agents and friendly aliens can meet. © Flickr, M. Jeremy Goldman


Nowhere is the power and dynasty of Triborough more clear than in the image of the massive bridge itself. © Sam Holleran


The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority’s (TBTA) crest deployed on a tie bar. The TBTA, now part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), still has nearly 1000 officers in law enforcement and toll collection, who have distinct heraldry, uniforms, and insignia. ©, wikimedia commons


Triborough’s crest features a wise owl and industrious beaver flanking the bridge’s tower. In the postwar era the relative independence of agencies like the Port Authority and the Triborough Authority was seen as a plus point—they were capable of cutting through red tape, bureaucratic dithering, and political corruption. © wikimedia commons


The popularity of authorities was often linked to the perception that they were entirely self-paying. © Sam Holleran


The Triborough Bridge Authority Administration Building on Randall’s Island was built in 1936; it was from this relatively undistinguished three-story office complex that Robert Moses built many of New York City’s largest public works. © Courtesy of the author


By the late 1960s when Robert Moses had finally fallen from power, the Triborough Authority was absorbed into the MTA. A lockup from the early 1970s shows the Authority’s letterhead, flanked on one the right by the old TBTA logo, and on the left by the two-toned “M” logo, designed by the firm Peter Muller-Munk Associates and introduced in the late 1960s in conjunction with Massimo Vignelli’s systemization of MTA signage. © Flickr, AllWaysNY


Without a clear graphic identity, Triborough was often attached to the image of Moses, his imposing figure and “swarthy” smiling face (the good looks, ancestry, and phenotype of the “oliveskinned, big-eyed” Moses are thoroughly inspected in Robert Caro’s Powerbroker) became a proxy—the visible tip of a vast and largely-submerged organization. © Flickr, Eden, Janine and Jim


Sam Holleran is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and educator. He is the Participatory Design Fellow with the Design Trust for Public Space, working with the Queens Museum and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to engage communities surrounding Flushing Meadows Corona Park. He also works with the Center for Architecture and the 92Y, developing art, architecture, and urban design curriculum for public high school students. | @sam_holler

Visualizing Electromagnetic Fields


Visualizing Electromagnetic Fields © Luke Sturgeon and Shamik Ray


Text and project by Luke Sturgeon and Shamik Ray


This project developed from a desire to address a growing concern within design and design research. As designers, scientists, and engineers, we often use and talk about hidden and invisible technologies. [1] Yet how can we be sure that our own mental model of these technologies is accurate and is a mental model shared by others, most importantly our target audience?

In recent years the design industry—those who work primarily in the consumer market, producing products, services, and systems for human use—has actively promoted the use of “seamlessness” in design proposals and creative solutions. Despite relatively limited critical debate surrounding this approach, Matt Ratto’s Ethics of Seamless Infrastructures: Resources and Future Directions raises important questions about the act of deliberately making invisible—or hiding—many of the technologies that make a system or product function in a desired way. As a critical rejection of the “making invisible” of everyday technology, and that which Bruno Latour terms the intentional blackboxing of technology, this project was intended to do more than visualize data. The focus of the project was to enable communication and discussion around hi-tech and emerging technologies within the public domain, and to bridge the gap between design, engineering, and end-user of these “hidden” technologies.

As strong advocates of a learning-by-doing approach to work, it was through playful but deliberate visual experimentation that we developed a method for understanding and discussing the practical and material qualities of electromagnetic fields. [2] Through experimentation we developed an understanding of both the photographic principles and limitations of light painting, and the powerful technologies available to us inside a mobile phone. Using the open-source programming language Processing [3] and the open-source Ketai [4] software library, we developed our own data visualization application by accessing realtime information from a phone’s magnetometer sensor. We described this custom drawing tool as a digital light-painting brush that works on any mobile phone, which only leaves a mark when it’s passing through an electromagnetic field.

The creation of a very simple software tool enabled us to experiment with different visual languages that might help us communicate and visualize the material qualities of the electromagnetic fields that can be detected around everyday objects—to navigate across the unfamiliar and invisible landscape of hertzian space. [5] Shape, size, color, speed, depth, resolution, and time were all parameters that could be adjusted for each image. Through experimentation we arrived at a limited palette that could be successfully and repeatedly used to visualize and compare the electromagnetic field surrounding any everyday technological object.

The final images were published in a public Flickr group titled “The Secret Life of Everyday Objects,” a decision that allowed anyone around the globe to access and contribute to the project, participating in a common discussion around invisible phenomena and hidden technologies. In addition Vimeo was used to host a short video that documents the entire image-making process so that anyone can download the tools we designed and create their own images, contributing by optionally sharing on Flickr. [6]

This open approach to the project caught the attention of the Science Museum, London in late 2014, who approached us to run a participatory workshop. Taking our method of combining technological and photographic techniques, we allowed a small group of participants to explore the museum’s own collection of everyday objects that spans over a century of human innovation and inventions. Participants of the workshop had backgrounds that ranged from photography, design, and art to software engineering, social sciences, and business strategy. They all shared a common interest in both understanding more about this unseen technology, and experimenting with visual ways to communicate the invisible. Participants were paired and each given a camera, tripod, and blacked-out photography station. Through hands-on learning and collaboration they were about to develop thorough understanding of light painting and electromagnetic fields using our custom tool, within a few hours. Collectively producing over three hundred photographs, they were presented by each pair at the end of the day, describing their own methods, hacks, and experimentations alongside the visual output.

In the end, the project has resulted in a better understanding and case-study for the engagement of a wider audience in the conversations around technology, design and science. Through the careful representation of information in an accessible and comprehensible visual vocabulary, open discussions can be achieved across discipline and regardless of technical experience. Provoking conversation and new work, through the collaboration of different disciplines.




















1. We define “invisible” data as “statistical information and phenomenological data that describes the material properties of a phenomena that cannot be seen naturally by the human eye.”

2. “It is only through a process of exploration and revelation that we are able to develop our ‘object-world’ understandings as designers, in order to assemble new perspectives on, and meanings around, emerging technology.” Timo Arnall, “Making Visible: Mediating the Material of Emerging Technology” (PhD diss., Oslo School of Architecture and Design, 2014).

3. “Processing Programming Language,” accessed January 4, 2016,

4. “Ketai Library for Processing,” accessed January 4, 2016,

5. Anthony Dunne, Hertzian Tales (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008).

6. “Visualizing Electromagnetic Fields,” accessed January 4, 2015,


Shamik Ray is an interaction designer who believes that design is a force multiplier to create better lives. Currently he is a Design Lead in the Barclays Global Design Team in London, UK and working on the “Future of Banking” by bringing his Interaction and Service design expertise. He also spends time connecting the startup and corporate world by being an active mentor under the Barclays Accelerator and Rise programs. Having graduated from the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design and Indian Institute of Technology, he believes in designing not only “for” people but also “with” them, putting a lot of emphasis on prototyping from early stages of the design process. His favorite materials are paper and wood and lately code and electronics.

Luke Sturgeon is a London-based designer with extensive experience in the design of interactive experiences, services, and tools. Through artistic exploration, collaboration, teaching, and multidisciplinary research his work finds ways to perceive the invisible world around us with a focus on the digitization of reality, self-perception, and the perceptions of others. He is a visiting lecturer at University of Herts, visiting faculty at CIID, and is currently pursuing an MA in Design Interactions from Royal College of Art.

The Most Modern of Men


© Image by Matthew Hoffman


Short essay by Matthew Hoffman


While my wife and I were traveling through upstate New York late at night this past summer, we pulled off the highway to make a pit stop. We followed directional signs and pulled into the parking lot of Love’s Travel Stop a few minutes later. It looked like it hadn’t been touched since the 80s. It was a low-slung building turned at a 30-degree angle to the road. It was clad in cheap wooden siding and surrounded by yellowing street lamps that cast lazy circles around the parking lot. We worked our way inside, past the Day-Glo tchotchkes, single-serving Tylenol, and rotisserie hot dogs, while news of ISIS played on the TV. In the bathroom was a cologne dispenser that offered the following selection: Polo, Drakkar, Obsession, Eternity, or Polo Sport. Scattered throughout the dining space were truck drivers from all corners of the continent. A few wore wrinkled faces and wiry Duck Dynasty beards, while others looked like they just turned seventeen. Things were generally quiet. There were a few small groups talking, but most were sticking to themselves, reading a book, or watching the TV.

A soft static over the intercom, and then: “Ticket number 113 to shower stall 4.

I watched as a single driver trundled off for his allotted shower time.

I was struck at how incredibly modern it all was. It was perhaps one of the most progressive spaces I had been in. While a majority of America still lives in housing that hasn’t changed significantly in the past few decades, here was a group of individuals that live largely without a stationary home that stop only to refuel, grab food, take a shower, and stretch their legs. Their modernity isn’t one of hoverboards and tweetstorms—it is one of non-ownership and transience. The truck stop fulfills all of their needs in one compact building.

My wife and I sat at a table far from the entrance of the stop and ate a snack that we picked up from the counter. I was overwhelmed with a bittersweet emotion. It was equivalent to entering an alternative reality, and knowing that you’ll never be back. That truck stop had its own culture and logic and value systems. It was lightly based on my own reality, but made its own rules to serve its own needs. The individuals inside had their own lives, and they were far different than my own.

That truck stop was the perfect social condenser. It was an extension of the 60s counterculture. It embodied the dream of the Situationists. It was the ultimate Metabolist structure. And it will remain hidden from most of us.


As Madeline Gins once defined him, Matthew Hoffman is an architectural “coordinologist.” Matthew founded Blank Space, an online platform for architecture, in 2013 with Francesca Giuliani. Through competitions and publications, Blank Space uncovers the true power of architecture by creating new opportunities for design to engage the public. Matthew has collaborated with C-LAB, HWKN, Polar Inertia, and Bruce Mau Design. | @BlankSpaceNYC




Words by Naomi Evans. Illustrations by Julio Brenes


Our cities are the playgrounds in which people and places collide. A walk through its streets might reveal any number of sparkling moments in shops, offices and restaurants. Windows and doorways hint at activity beyond…people together, and people on their own. Stairways and elevators beckon us to discoveries on rooftops above, and in basements below. There is so much to see if we are aware enough to notice! And yet, how easy it is to miss the details of life when we are preoccupied in our own space; lost in our thoughts…faces glued to our phones…headphones on and music blaring.

Yes, we are a part of our glistening cities. But so often we’re oblivious to the lives being lived around us because we are absorbed, distracted, or disinterested. In a preoccupied daze, moments of public life may go unnoticed…and become effectively ‘hidden’.

It is with this in mind that we present Preoccupied, a series of urban vignettes in rhyming stanza that illustrate missed moments in public life. Each verse features a different character, and collectively they form a familiar portrait of contemporary society. The characters represented may be well intentioned, but they fail, nevertheless, to see beauty or opportunity around them, and behind a veil of distraction the city is hidden.



But as it happened, he wasn’t even aware
that he knocked over her bucket as he raced down the stairs.


High above the footpath in a city skyscraper
sat a man at his desk, he was a software creator.
He had a wife and three kids who he couldn’t wait to see
At the end of each day, before bath time and tea.
When 5:30 came he was determined to beat
the peak hour rush that crowded the streets.
Had he not been in a hurry as he flew out the door,
he might have noticed the cleaner (she was mopping the floor).
But as it happened, he wasn’t even aware
that he knocked over her bucket as he raced down the stairs.



But as it happened, she did not see…
mother duck waddle by with her family.


Daisy Delaney was an average school girl,
Facebook and Snapchat and Insta were her world.
When she went out with friends, and when she was alone
she was always fiddling with her iPhone.
One morning she sat as she waited for the bus
when a duck and her ducklings decided to pass.
If her eyes had not been glued to the screen,
Daisy would have cooed at the sweet little scene.
But as it happened, she did not see
mother duck waddle by with her family.



But as it happened, he did not see
the crowd giving voice to what they believe.


A man with a mortgage left work very cross,
because he’d misplaced receipts, and had a row with his boss.
He threw open the door and stormed out to the street,
his hands in his pockets, his eyes at his feet.
Lost in his thoughts he did not notice
a passing parade, a political protest.
Had he not been engrossed in his own bitter thoughts
he might have joined in the rally to support a good cause.
But as it happened, he did not see
the crowd giving voice to what they believe.



But as it happened, he did not see
the girl cry quietly in her misery.


On the 9:15 train young Timothy sat
next to a girl with a long golden plait.
He scrolled through his playlist and eventually chose
“Around the World” by Natalie La Rose.
With his headphones on he did not hear
a gentle sniffle as the girl shed a tear.
Had the volume been lower, or the tempo been light,
he might have heard her and asked if she were alright.
But as it happened, he did not see
the girl cry quietly in her misery.



But as it happened, she did not see
the pinks, golds, and reds spread over the city.


Lily Lamont was dressed very fine;
in a suit made of silk she looked simply divine.
Because she was famous she was accustomed to hide
behind glasses and a hat with a brim very wide.
As she left the hotel with her entourage
she was carefully concealed in her camouflage.
Had she lowered her glasses and lifted her eyes
she would have noticed the sunset as it colored the sky.
But as it happened, she did not see
the pinks, golds, and reds spread over the city.




If you work in the city, or if it’s where you reside,
its streets are the playground where people collide.
Busy and bustling, it’s a great place to be,
down laneways, up lamp posts…there’s so much to see!
But if you’re distracted, or when you’re absorbed,
or feeling a little tired or grumpy or bored,
A moment may pass that you won’t see again…
A smile from a stranger as you wait for the train.
So lift up your eyes and open your mind,
it may well delight you, the things that you find!


Julio Brenes is a Melbourne-based illustrator and architect. He has practiced in both his native Costa Rica and Australia. Julio has taught at the Canberra University Design School and participated in Urban Art interventions. The declining practice of freehand drawing within the architectural industry led Julio to facilitate regular outdoor sketching groups for architectural professionals in Melbourne. His drawings and writings are published on his blog. |

Naomi Evans is a Melbourne-based architect and writer. A graduate of both the University of Melbourne and RMIT University, Naomi has since worked on a number of significant public architecture projects in Australia and abroad. She has written for publications in the UK and Australia and writes for her blog | @Melburnienne



Cover by Leo Burnett’s Dept. of Design © MAS Context



Issue statement by Iker Gil, editor in chief of MAS Context


After having been founded in 1885 as an architectural sketch club, the Chicago Architectural Club was reconstituted in 1979 and, with it came the legendary debates spearheaded by the then-president Stanley Tigerman. During the monthly meetings, two members would present and debate their work, with the audience casting their votes and deciding on the winner. Debates were fierce and personal, and both the winner and the loser received a diploma, which we assume the earlier displayed more proudly than the later.

The Chicago Architectural Club was composed of a limited number of members who paid high dues, bringing together (and reinforcing) the elite group of architects already practicing in the city. After Tigerman left, those debates started to disappear. Over three decades later, neither the architecture nor the city itself remains the same. The format of the debate is still relevant, but we wonder if we can expand these debates (in size and/or number) to be more inclusive in terms of participants, audience, and topics.

Chicago has missed (i.e. intentionally avoided) several opportunities to debate the fate of existing and proposed buildings, but the first Chicago Architecture Biennial is a step in the right direction. The public setting, the diversity of points of view and mediums of the projects exhibited, and the number and range of free public events offered express an interest in engaging in this city-wide conversation about the role of architecture in our cities.

We hope that initiatives like the Chicago Architecture Biennial, as well as many others that do not receive the same resources and media attention but are equally important in shaping a constructive conversation, can help to convince citizens, public officials, and private interests that having these debates can only produce better work and, in turn, generate a better city.

With this issue, we hope to include all of you in this conversation, bringing the attention to ongoing debates and creating new (sometimes fictitious) ones. We also want to learn from those who have led them in the past, and to provide a platform for those willing to take their role in the future. You will not agree with all of the positions presented, but we hope you continue to add your voice and be part of the debates.



Debate has had invaluable help from Paola Antonelli, Jessica Barrett Sattell, Michelle Benoit, Christen Carter, Joel Carter, Andrew Clark, Justine Clark, André Corrêa, Peggy Deamer, Neil Donnelly, Michelle Millar Fisher, Nathan Friedman, Fabrizio Gallanti, Temple Grandin, Chris Grimley, Alexander Hayashi, Jessica Helfand, Katherine Herzog, Hannah Kim, Benjamin Koditschek, Michael Kubo, Max Kuo, Jessie LaFree, Ann Lui, Dennis Maher, Julie Michiels, Marina Otero Verzier, Mark Pasnik, Jason Pickleman, Quilian Riano, Zoë Ryan, Denise Scott Brown, Javairia Shahid, Adrian Shaughnessy, Christina Shivers, Craig Shparago, Manuel Shvartzberg, Stanley Tigerman, Sam Vinz, Thomas Weaver, and Mimi Zeiger.

Special thanks to Alisa Wolfson, Peter Ty, and Eavan Wallner from the Leo Burnett Chicago’s Department
of Design for their patience and excellent work designing this issue.


Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is the editor in chief of MAS Context. He is the editor of the book Shanghai Transforming (ACTAR, 2008) and has curated several exhibitions, most recently “BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago” as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club and has been recognized as one of “Fifty Under Fifty: Innovators of the 21st Century” by a jury composed by Stanley Tigerman, Jeanne Gang, Qingyun Ma, and Marion Weiss. | @MASContext

Identifying the Designer as Worker


Protest during the AIA National Convention Chicago 2014 © The Architecture Lobby


Essay by Peggy Deamer, Quilian Riano, and Manuel Shvartzberg on behalf of The Architecture Lobby






1. Enforce labor laws that prohibit unpaid internships, unpaid overtime; refuse unpaid competitions.


2. Reject fees based on percentage of construction or hourly fees and instead calculate value based on the money we save our clients or gain them.


3. Stop peddling a product—buildings—and focus on the unique value architects help realize through spatial services.


4. Enforce wage transparency across the discipline.


5. Establish a union for architects, designers, academics, and interns in architecture and design.


6. Demystify the architect as solo creative genius; no honors for architects who don’t acknowledge their staff.


7. Licensure upon completion of degree.


8. Change professional architecture organizations to advocate for the living conditions of architects.


9. Support research about labor rights in architecture.


10. Implement democratic alternatives to the free market system of development.




As professionalized Architecture eradicates discourse of design as labor, it does so in capitalism’s favor, not to the advantage of the profession. The discourse of the lone genius with individual authorship, creativity, and talent leads to the rationalization of our long, unpaid hours as the intangible sacrifice we make for society. The resulting system prevents us from identifying as workers and, as a consequence, we remain ignorant of our exploitation by others who aren’t so uninformed and can profit from the value of our work.

The Architecture Lobby is an organization that argues for the value of architecture to society at large, beginning by identifying ourselves as workers and our contributions as “work”—work that is aesthetic, technical, social, organizational, environmental, administrative, fiduciary, but in all cases, work. The goal is to build on this fundamental awareness and understanding of value to become perceptive operators in our contemporary political economy, and ultimately, to change it from the vantage point of our profession.

It was not always the case that architecture ignored labor. Nineteenth-century architects developed their designs with particular regard to the skills, knowledge, and creativity that the various trades—skilled and unskilled—would bring to their projects; they saw their immaterial work as part and parcel to the subsequent material labor. [1] In the US, members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in the 1930s called for the organization to become a union. When this did not come to pass, the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists, and Technicians (FAECT)—formed in 1933, merged with the Union of Office and Professional Workers in 1946, and terminated in 1948 when the latter was purged from the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) with which it had joined—took up the need for architectural labor advocacy. In other words, it is neither God-given nor “natural” to think that architecture isn’t part of a labor discourse. Our task today is to rediscover the lost legacy of labor activism for our profession.

Still, it has taken a number of convergent events to make it clear to the members of The Architecture Lobby how illogical this work aphasia is, particularly in the twenty-first century. One is the advances in technology that make the design ingenuity of developers, fabricators, environmentalists, engineers, and contractors able to be shared up front, early on, and in an integrated fashion. It is not just that CAD-CAM and BIM allow the transfer of knowledge to be seamless and coordinated, but it has made us architects aware that these players don’t just execute design; they initiate and direct it as well. Perhaps most importantly, this realization also helps to problematize the traditional division of labor in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry, including its stark inequalities as governed by capitalist imperatives. The vertical structure with the architect or, increasingly, the real estate visionary at the top and contractors and subs below is rapidly disappearing, as is the idea that they do “work” and we do “design.”

Another is the realization that other professions approach their work habits, fees, and their hiring practices in a more enlightened manner. In the hall of the Yale Law School one can find a sign that lists “The Top 10 Family-Friendly Law Firms.” The signal that such a list sends is clear: this matters; graduating students have a choice of where they work and this information can help them make it. The second is that it was collected by Yale Law School students—that is, that the school endorsed this data collection as a matter of institutional concern. The third is that law firms are scrambling, lobbying, and striving to be on this list because they are anxious to attract the best and brightest graduates, itself interesting but indicative as well that the students must think of themselves as the best and the brightest; they are being wooed, not the other way around. These actions bring up the question if the way a profession cares and values about its workers turns into value and respect of the profession by the larger culture. Regardless, creating such a list, and the values it embodies, seems oddly anathema to our current schools of architecture, graduates, and firms.

Third, is the outcry over construction labor conditions in the Emirates, particularly the protest by Gulf Labor over the construction of the new Guggenheim and New York University (NYU) campus in Abu Dhabi. The protests struck a cord on two levels. First, architects were asked directly by Gulf Labor, the Human Rights Watch, and the architecture activist group Who Builds Your Architecture to take a stand on the illegal practices of indentured servitude for construction workers. The initial inability to get any architect building in the Emirates to show up, make a comment, or change their project choices was (and still is) shocking. Yes, it is the case that architects don’t have official, legal contracts with responsibilities for contractors—the owners do. But where are our politics? What about our ethics? And isn’t one advantage of starchitects that they have significant power to persuade, either via cultural or, as with the “Bilbao effect,” economic caché? [2] Do we have so little faith in our ability to set visions larger than objects themselves that we can’t take a stand on a clear problem with the industry? The dismay at our architectural response was made more palpable for its contrast with the art community’s, which agreed to a boycott by not displaying their work at the Guggenheim and held protests in their New York museum. If architects failed to identify with the construction workers, presumably because we are “artists” and they laborers, how come the artists themselves didn’t see it that way and saw the construction workers as brothers?

These observations made many of us think about our lack of a broad worker identity and our lack of an adequate practical, historical, and theoretical vocabulary with which to address these issues beyond the usual and tired positions of cynical acquiescence or self-righteous moralization. It became clear that our inability to meaningfully identify as and with workers came, in the first instance, from ignorance of or shame about our own labor conditions. Our graduates suffer many unacceptable conditions—cramped group living; enormous debts that bind us to jobs we would otherwise not take; itinerant work ungoverned by any laws of hiring, firing, or health standards; virtually no say about the amount or distribution of hours one is expected to work. When we don’t recognize this as shameful in our own house, why would we be able to diagnose and empathize with it elsewhere?

The Lobby recognizes that the organization of work has moved on from the time when the economy was driven by manufacturing and labor unions that were the preferred vehicle to assure job security and proper compensation. We have vigorous internal debates about whether the decline of unions is a result of the economy’s move from manufacturing to service to knowledge production or whether it is merely ideology’s good work to make unions seem, well, unseemly and old-fashioned. Likewise, we have lively discussions about whether the move towards a gig economy fueled by technological platforms is good or bad for society, good or bad for architecture. On the one hand, “production” is back in the picture and with it, the emphasis on those who produce it—knowledge workers, which architects surely are. Innovation and innovators, designers in studios and labs—these are the models of contemporary knowledge production and we architects surely are—or should be—included.

Non-hierarchical work, collaboration, open-sourcing, ad hoc alliances, just-in-time delivery—these are things that architects are edging toward and that society deeply embraces—if not in all their consequences, then at least in principle as signs of a more liberated and fluid working life. A convergence of a changing economy and a changing profession has the potential to be almost utopian. On the other hand, entrepreneurialism and freelance work, equally central to this new economy, might be another word for precarity, hyper-individualism, competition, and the inability to identify as a class in need of common security. In short, the current push towards an entrepreneurial economy might just be neo-liberalism’s dream child.

What we do know is that architects need new platforms to regroup and reorganize in order to have open conversations about these issues and realize their true worth in society. If we could persuade the AIA to be our proper advocates instead of selling contracts that prevent new practices and giving out self-congratulating prizes, that would be great. But that isn’t likely to happen. What a contemporary union for design workers looks like—one that understands that the work force is no longer made up of the manager/labor dichotomy; that doesn’t see a singular big “other” to be attacked but rather adjustments in the network of power; that doesn’t distinguish between blue and white collar but between the 1% and the rest of us—we are not sure. But we do know it needs to be supportive of the struggling firm owners who have not figured out how to argue their value to their clients; of their employees who have spent as many years getting a professional degree as lawyers but make two-thirds the money and are laden with debt; of the public that deserves more than our ample but insufficient aesthetic intelligence.

We want architects to be better paid—yes. But we want the better pay to come with a realization of our status and value as workers so that we respect ourselves and the value of our work better and in turn are better respected by society. And this because we want to be at the seat of power when a developer considers the pros and cons of building a fifty- or eighty-story building in a transitional neighborhood; when a mayor makes judgments about public housing; when a governor makes a decision about public access to waterfronts; when a president allocates money for sea-level rise. We deserve to be at these tables.










Statistics taken from a recent Architecture Lobby survey taken by 236 architectural professionals.



1. See Edward R. Ford, The Details of Modern Architecture, vol. 1 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990), 9.

2. Frank Gehry has, since the first push of these organizations, indicated his stance against these practices. See Anna Fixsen, “What Is Frank Gehry Doing About Labor Conditions in Abu Dhabi?” Architectural Record 25 (September 2014).


The Architecture Lobby is an organization of architectural workers advocating for the value of architecture in the general public and for architectural work within the discipline. | @arch_lobby | @quilian

Room at the Top?
Sexism and the Star System in Architecture


Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi © George Pohl, courtesy of VSBA


Essay by Denise Scott Brown


Most professional women can recount horror stories about discrimination they have suffered during their careers. Mine include social trivia as well as grand trauma. But some less common forms of discrimination came my way when, in mid-career, I married a colleague and we joined our professional lives just as fame (though not fortune) hit him. I watched as he was manufactured into an architectural guru before my eyes and, to some extent, on the basis of our joint work and the work of our firm.

When Bob and I married, in 1967, I was an associate professor. I had taught at the universities of Pennsylvania and Berkeley, and had initiated the first program in the new school of architecture at UCLA. I had tenure. My publication record was respectable; my students, enthusiastic. My colleagues, mostly older than me, accorded me the same respect they showed each other, and I had walked the same corridors of power they had (or thought I had).

The first indication of my new status came when an architect whose work I had reviewed said, “We at the office think it was Bob writing, using your name.” By the time we wrote Learning from Las Vegas, our growing experience with incorrect attributions prompted Bob to include a note at the beginning of the book asking that the work and ideas not be attributed to him alone and describing the nature of our collaboration and the roles played by individuals in our firm. His request was almost totally ignored. A body of theory and design in architecture apparently must be associated by architecture critics with an individual; the more emotional their criticism, the stronger is its focus on one person.

To avoid misattributions, our office provides an information sheet describing our preferred forms of attribution—the work to our firm, the writing to the person who signed the article or the nook. The result is that some critics now make a pro forma attribution in an inconspicuous place; then, in the body of the text, the design of the work and the ideas in the writing are attributed to Robert Venturi.

In the Japanese journal Architecture and Urbanism, for example, Hideki Shimizu wrote:


A review of his plan for the Crosstown Community suggests that Venturi is not so much affording his theory new development as giving the source of his architectural approach clear form in a fundamental attitude toward city planning …

Venturi’s position in relation to city planning is the thing that enables him to develop his basic posture in relation to architecture. The Crosstown Community reveals a profound mood of affectionate emotion. [1]


This would be fine except that the Crosstown Community was my work and was attributed as such in our book; I doubt whether, over a period of two years, Bob spent two afternoons on it.

When Praeger published a series of interviews with architects, my name was omitted from the dust jacket. [2] We complained and Praeger added my name, although objecting that this would spoil the cover design. On the inside flap, however, “eight architects” and “the men behind” modern architecture were mentioned. As nine were listed in the front, I gather I am still left out. [3]



Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown © Matt Wargo, courtesy of VSBA


There have been exceptions. Ada Louise Huxtable has never put a foot wrong with me. She also works hard at reporting our ideas correctly. A few critics have changed their methods of attribution in response to our requests, but at least one, in 1971, was on the warpath in the opposite direction, out to prove that Great Art can only be made by one man, and that Robert Venturi (read Howard Roark) is led astray when “he joins his wife Denise Scott Brown in praising certain suburban practices.” And the consort and collaborator of a famous architect wrote to me that, although she sees herself in his work, the work owes its quality to his individual talents and not to her collaboration. When real architects collaborate, she claimed, their separate identities remain; she gave as an example the lieder of Schubert and Goethe. We countered with the Beatles.

The social trivia (what Africans call petty apartheid) continue too: “wives’ dinners” (“we’ll just let the architects meet together, my dear”); job interviews where the presence of “the architect’s wife” distressed the board; dinners I must not attend because an influential member of the client group wants “the architect” as her date; Italian journalists who ignore Bob’s request that they address me because I understand more Italian than he does; the tunnel vision of students toward Bob; the “so you’re the architect!” to Bob, and the well-meant “so you’re an architect too?” to me. The head of a New York architecture school once reached me on the telephone because Bob was unavailable: “Denise, I’m embarrassed to be speaking to you because we’re giving a party for QP and we’re asking Bob but not you. You see, you are a friend of QP and you are an architect, but you’re also a wife, and we’re not asking wives.”



© Courtesy of VSBA


These experiences have caused me to fight, suffer doubt and confusion, and expend too much energy. “I would be pleased if my work were attributed to my husband,” says the designer wife of an architect. And a colleague asks, “Why do you worry about these things? We know you’re good. You know your real role in the office and in teaching. Isn’t that enough?” I doubt whether it would be enough for my male colleagues. What would Peter Eisenman do if his latest article were attributed to his co-editor, Kenneth Frampton? Or Vincent Scully, if the book on Newport houses were attributed to his co-author, Antoinette Downing—with perhaps a parenthesis to the effect that this was not intended to slight the contribution of others?

So I complain to the editor who refers to “Venturi’s ducks,” informing him that I invented the “duck.” (He prints my letter under the title “Less is a Bore,” a quotation from my husband). But my complaints make critics angry, and some have formed lasting hostilities against both of us on this score. Architects cannot afford hostile critics. And anyway I begin to dislike my own hostile persona.

That is when self-doubt and confusion arise. “My husband is a better designer than I am. And I’m a pretty dull thinker.” The first is true, the second probably not. I try to counter with further questions: “How come, then, we work so well together capping each other’s ideas in both design and theory? If my ideas are no good, why are they praised by the critics (even though attributed to Bob)?

We ourselves cannot tease our contributions apart. Since 1960 we have collaborated in the development of ideas and since 1967 we have collaborated in architectural practice. As chief designer, Bob takes final design responsibility. On some projects, I am closely involved and see many of my ideas in the final design; on others, hardly at all. In a few, the basic idea (what Louis Khan called the what) was mine. All of our firm’s urban planning work, and the urban design related to it, is my responsibility; Bob is virtually not involved with it, although other architects in the firm are. [4]

As in all firms, our ideas are translated and added by our co-workers, particularly our long-standing associates. Principals and assistants may alternate in the roles of creator and critic. The star system, which sees the firm as a pyramid with a designer on top, has little to do with today’s complex relations in architecture and construction. But, as sexism defines me as a scribe, typist, and photographer to my husband, so the star system defines our associates as “second bananas” and our staff as pencils.

Short of sitting under our drawing board, there is no way for the critics to separate us out. Those who do hurt me in particular but also others in the firm, and by ignoring as unimportant those aspects of our work where Bob has interfaced with others, they narrow his span to meet the limits of their perception.



© Courtesy of VSBA


Although I had been convinced with my role as a woman years before the rebirth of the movement, it was my experience as an architect’s wife that finally compelled me to act. In 1973 I gave a talk on sexism and the star system to the Alliance of Women in Architecture in New York City. I requested that the meeting be open to women only, probably incorrectly, but for the same emotional reasons (including hurt pride) that make national movements initially stress separatism. Nevertheless, about six men came. They hid in the back and sides of the audience. The hundred or so women identified strongly with my experience; “Me too!” “My God, you too?” echoed everywhere. We were soon high on our shared woe and on the support we felt for and from each other. Later, it struck me that the males had grown glummer as we grew more enthusiastic. They seemed unable to understand what was exercising us.

Since then I have spoken at several conferences on women in architecture. I now receive inquiries of interest for deanships and department chairs several times a year. I find myself on committees where I am the only woman and there is one black man. We two tokens greet each other wryly. I am frequently invited to lecture at architecture schools, “to be a role model for our girls.” I am happy to do this for their young women but I would rather be asked purely because my work
is interesting.

Finally, I essayed my own interpretation of sexism and the star system in architecture. Budd Schulberg defines “Star Quality” as a “mysterious amalgam of self-love, vivacity, style, and sexual promise.” [5] Though this definition catches the spirit of architectural stardom, it omits the fact that stardom is something done to a star by others. Stars cannot create themselves. Why do architects need to create stars? Because, I think, architecture deals with unmeasurables. Although architecture is both science and art, architects stand or fall in their own estimation and in that of their peers by whether they are “good designers,” and the criteria for this are ill-defined and undefinable.

Faced with unmeasurables, people steer their way by magic. Before the invention of navigational instruments, a beautiful lady was carved on the prow of the boat to help sailors cross the ocean; and architects, grappling with the intangibles of design, select a guru whose work gives them personal help in areas where there are few rules to follow. The guru, as architectural father-figure, is subject to intense hate and love; either way, the relationship is personal, and necessarily one-to-one. This accounts for the intensely ad hominem stance of some of “Venturi’s” critics. If the attribution were correct the tone would be more even, as one cannot easily wax emotional over several people. I suspect, too, that for male architects the guru must be male. There can be no mom and pop gurus in architecture. The architectural prima donnas are all male.

Next, a colleague having her own difficulties in an American Studies program brought the work of Lionel Tiger to my attention. In Men in Groups, he writes that men run in male packs and ambitious women must understand this. [6] I recalled, as well, the exclamation of the French architect Ionel Schein, writing in Le Carré Bleu in the 1950s: “The so-called studio spirit is merely the spirit of a caste.” This brings to mind the upper-class origins of the American architecture profession, the differences between upper-class and middle-class attitudes to women, and the strong similarities that still exist today between the architecture profession and a men’s club.

American architectural education was modeled on the turn-of-the-century École des Beaux-Arts. It was a rip-roaring place and loads of fun, but its organization was strongly authoritarian, especially in its system for judging student work. The authoritarian personalities and the we-happy-few culture engendered by the Beaux-Arts stayed on in modern architecture long after the Beaux-Arts architectural philosophy had been abandoned; the architecture club still excludes women.

The heroically original modern architectural revolutionary with his avant-garde technology, out to save the masses through mass production, is a macho image if ever there was one. It sits strangely on the middle-aged reactionaries who bear its mantle today. A more conserving and nurturing (female?) outlook is being recommended to the profession by urban planners and ecologists, in the name of social justice and to save the planet. Women may yet ride in on this trend.

The critic in architecture is often the scribe, historian, and kingmaker for a particular group. These activities entitle him to join the “few,” even though he pokes them a little. His other satisfaction comes from making history in his and their image. The kingmaker-critic is, of course, male; though he may write of the group as a group, he would be a poor fool in his eyes and theirs if he tried to crown the whole group king. There is even less psychic reward in crowning a female king.

In these deductions, my thinking parallels that of Cynthia F. Epstein, who writes that elevation within the professions is denied to women for reasons that include “the colleague system,” which she describes as a men’s club, and “the sponsor-protégé relationship, which determines access to the highest levels of most professions.” Epstein suggests that the high-level sponsor would, like the king-maker-critic, look foolish if he sponsored a female and, in any case, his wife would object. [7]

You would think that the last element of Schulberg’s definition of a star, “sexual promise,” would have nothing to do with architecture. But I wondered why there was a familiar ring to the tone—hostile, lugubriously self-righteous, yet somehow envious—of letters to the editor that follow anything our firm publishes, until I recognized it as the tone middle America employs in letters to the editor on pornography. Architects who write angry letters about our work apparently feel we are architectural panderers, or at least we permit ourselves liberties they would not take, but possibly envy. Here is one, by an English architecture instructor: “Venturi has a niche, all right, but it’s down there with the flagellant, the rubber-fetishist, and the Blagdon Nude Amateur Rapist.” These are written by men, and they are written to or of Bob alone.



© Courtesy of VSBA


I have suggested that the star system, which is unfair to many architects, is doubly hard on women in a sexist environment, and that, at the upper levels of the profession, the female architect who works with her husband will be submerged in his reputation. My interpretations are speculative. We have no sociology of architecture. Architects are unaccustomed to social analysis and mistrust it; sociologists have fatter fish to fry. But I do get support for my thesis from women architects, from some members of my firm and from my husband.

Should there be a star system? It is unavoidable, I think, owing to the prestige we give design in architecture. But the schools can and should reduce the importance of the star system by broadening the student’s view of the profession to show value in its other aspects. Heaven knows, skills other than design are important to the survival of architecture firms. The schools should also combat the student’s sense of inadequacy about design, rather than, as now, augmenting it through wrongly authoritarian and judgmental educational techniques. With these changes, architects would feel less need for gurus, and those they would need would be different—more responsible and humane than gurus are asked to be today.

To the extent that gurus are unavoidable and sexism is rampant in the architecture profession, my personal problem of submersion through the star system is insoluble. I could improve my chances for recognition as an individual if I retuned to teaching or abandoned collaboration with my husband. The latter has happened to some extent as our office has grown and our individual responsibilities within it take more of our time. We certainly spend less time at the drawing board together and, in general, less time writing. But this is a pity, as or joint work feeds us both.

On the larger scene, all is not lost. Not all architects belong to the men’s club; more architects than before are women; some critics are learning; the American Institute of Architects (AIA) actively wants to help; and most architects, in theory at least, would rather not practice discrimination if someone will prove to them that they have been and will show them how to stop.



Denise Scott Brown © Jeremy Tenenbaum, courtesy of VSBA


The foregoing is an abridgement of an article I wrote in 1975. I decided not to publish it at the time, because I judged that strong sentiments on feminism in the world of architecture would ensure my ideas a hostile reception, which could hurt my career and the prospects of my firm. However, I did share the manuscript with friends and, in samizdat, it achieved a following of sorts. Over the years I have received letters asking for copies.

In 1975, I recounted my first experience of the new surge of women in architecture. The ratio of men to women is now 1:1 in many schools. The talent and enthusiasm of these young women has burst creatively into the profession. At conferences today I find many women participants; some have ten years or more in the field.

Architecture, too, has changed since I first wrote this essay. However, my hope that architects would heed the social planners’ dicta did not pan out, and women did not ride in on that trend. Postmodernism did change the views of architects but not in the way I had hoped. Instead, the cult of personality increased. Architects lost their social concern and the architect as macho revolutionary was succeeded by the architect as dernier cri of the art world. This made things worse for women because, in architecture, the dernier cri is as male as the prima donna.



© Jim Venturi, courtesy of VSBA


The rise in female admissions and the move to the right in architecture appear to be trends in opposite directions, but they are, in fact, unrelated because they occur at either end of the seniority spectrum. The women entrants are young; the cult of personality occurs at the top. The two trends have yet to meet. When they do, it will be fascinating to see what happens. Meanwhile, affirmative action programs have helped small female-owned firms get started but may have hindered the absorption of women into the mainstream of the profession, because women who integrate large existing practices gain no affirmative action standing unless they own 51 percent of the firm.

During the 1980s there has been a gradual increase of women architects in academe (I suspect that the growth has been slower than in other professions). I now receive fewer offers of deanships, probably because there are more female candidates than before and because word is out that I am too busy to accept. I have little time to lecture. As our office has grown, Bob and I have found more, rather than less, opportunity to work together, since some of our responsibilities have been delegated to the senior associates and project directors who form the core of our firm.

During this period we have ceased to be regarded as young turks and have seen a greater acceptance of our ideas than we would have dreamed possible. Ironically, a citation honoring Bob for his “discovery of the everyday American environment” was written in 1979 by the same critic who, in 1971, judged Bob lacking for sharing my interest in everyday landscape.



Denise Scott Brown © Ingrid von Kruse, courtesy of VSBA


For me, things are much the same at the top as they were. The discrimination continues at the rate of about one incident a day. Journalists who approach our firm seem to feel that they will not be worth their salt if they do not “deliver Venturi.” The battle for turf and the race for status among critics still require the beating-off of women. In the last twenty years, I can not recall one major article by a high-priest critic about a woman architect. Young women critics, as they enter the fray, become as macho as the men and for the same reasons—to survive and win in the competitive world of critics.

For a few years, writers on architecture were interested in sexism and the feminist movement and they wanted to discuss them with me. In a joint interview, they would ask Bob about work and question me about my “woman’s problem.” “Write about my work!” I would plead, but they seldom did.

Some young women in architecture question the need for the feminist movement, claiming to have experienced no discrimination. My concern is that, although school is not free of discrimination, it is probably the least discriminatory environment they will encounter in their careers. By the same token, the early years in practice bring little differentiation between men and women. It is as they advance that difficulties arise, when firms and clients shy away from entrusting high-level responsibility to women. On seeing their male colleagues draw out in front of them, women who lack a feminist awareness are likely to feel that their failure to achieve is their own fault.

Over the years, it has slowly dawned on me that the people who cause my painful experiences are ignorant and crude. They are the critics who have not read enough and the clients who do not know why they have come to us. I have been helped to realize this by noticing that the scholars whose work we most respect, the clients whose projects intrigue us, and the patrons whose friendship inspires us, have no problem understanding my role. They are the sophisticates. Partly through them I gain heart and realize that, over the last twenty years, I have managed to do my work and, despite some sliding, to achieve my own self-respect.



Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi © Courtesy of VSBA



1. Hideki Shizumi, “Criticism,” A+U 47 (November 1974): 3.

2. John W Cook and Heinrich Klotz, Conversations with Architects (New York: Prager, 1973).

3. The architects originally listed were Philip Johnson, Kevin Roche, Paul Rudolph, Bertrand Goldberg, Morris Lapidus, Louis Kahn, Charles Moore, and Robert Venturi. Also omitted from the dust jacket was the architect Alan Lapidus, interviewed with his father, Morris. Alan did not complain; at least he’s up there with those men behind the architecture.

4. Bob’s intellectual focus comes mainly from the arts and from the history of architecture. He is more of a specialist than I am. My artistic and intellectual concerns were formed before I met Bob (and indeed before I came to America), but they were the base of our friendship as academic colleagues. As a planner, my professional span includes the social sciences and other planning-related disciplines that I have tried to meld into our critique and theory of architecture. As an architect, my interests range widely but I am probably most useful at the initial stages of a design as we work to develop the parti.

5. Budd Sculberg, “What Price Glory?” New Republic 168 (January 6 and 13, 1973): 27–31.

6. Lionel Tiger, Men in Groups (New York: Random House, 1969).

7. Cynthia F. Epstein, “Encountering the Male Establishment: Sex-Status Limits on Women’s Careers in the Professions,” American Journal of Sociology 75 (May 1970): 965–82.



Essay republished with permission from the Architectural Association from Denise Scott Brown’s AA Words Four: Having Words (London: Architectural Association Publications, 2009), 79–89. Originally published as “Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture,” in Architecture: A Place for Women, ed. Ellen Perry Berkeley and Matilda McQuaid (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), 237–46.


Denise Scott Brown is an architect, planner, urban designer, theorist, writer, and educator whose projects and ideas have influenced designers and thinkers worldwide. Working in collaboration with Robert Venturi over the last half century, she has guided the course of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates by serving on the broad range of the firm’s projects in architecture and as Principal-in-Charge of urban planning, urban design, and campus planning. Her experience in interdisciplinary work, teaching, and research has contributed to VSBA’s breadth and depth in architectural design. | @VSBAllc

Sexism Is Still With Us


Essay by Justine Clark


I first read Denise Scott Brown’s “Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture” as an undergraduate at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, not long after the essay was published. Although far removed from the scene of the discussion, we had been well educated in the conjunctions of feminism and architecture and in dismantling the canon. We were excited and invigorated. Feminist theory was “cool.” It informed our student work and opened up new ways of seeing the world and imaging the parts we might play in it. [1]

So, my colleagues and I were a receptive audience for the essay. And yet, with the bravura of youth, the world described also seemed far away—and not just in terms of geography and status. Surely this wouldn’t happen to us? Surely people like Scott Brown, and less famous women closer to home, had fought these battles well? Surely we would be the beneficiaries? Surely our road would be less difficult? (And this despite the fact that Scott Brown draws the essay to a close with a clear description of how difficulties increase as women’s careers advance.)

A quarter of a century on, I speak frequently to students about our recent research into women in architecture. I show them statistics that chart the disappearance of women from the profession. I quote women and men on the frustrations and challenges that greet them in the workplace, and as they progress through it. I urge them to understand the structural issues and to be strategic about navigating them. I quote Scott Brown herself from a 2012 interview, “I say to young women today, don’t cast out your feminist awareness: when the glass ceiling hits you, you will think it is your fault, unless you know a bit about feminism, and it will destroy you.” [2]

These students are also interested and engaged, and yet many feel the way I did all those years ago—that “women in architecture” is a cause mostly pursued by slightly batty older women. “I am smart and talented and I work hard,” they think, “It won’t happen to me.” This is one of the ongoing challenges. How do we equip clever, enthusiastic young women and men with the skills and insight they need both to navigate the profession, and to change it? As Scott Brown so eloquently articulates, the system is deeply entrenched. We are playing a long game here—one that stretches back far into the past, and one which will be active well after we have handed the baton on.

Of course a lot has also changed since 1975, when Scott Brown penned the first part of the essay, and 1989 when she published it accompanied by further reflections. There are many more women in the profession and we have all benefitted greatly from the campaigning of Scott Brown and her colleagues all over the world. And yet, here we are in the midst of another international wave of interest in women in architecture. A wave driven, in part, by my generation’s realization that, regardless of our youthful enthusiasm, all did not workout so easily. Despite women graduating in almost equal proportions for over two decades, there are still very few women at the top. [3] And, as Karen Burns so astutely observes, the feminist theory, design work, and experimentation that inspired us in the late 80s and early 90s is now being sidelined as the theory anthologies are compiled and histories rewritten. [4] (A process that echoes Scott Brown’s own experiences in the hands of the kingmaker-critics.)

Sexism is still with us. [5] The international star system,is still with us, still bizarrely beholden to the idea of the singular genius (despite the dismantling of the idea of the “author” half a century ago, despite Christine Battersby’s Gender and Genius, also published in 1989, despite Scott Brown). The architectural prima donnas are (mostly) still all male. The star system is still, as Scott Brown points out, based in class as well as gender and other distinctions. This is fed by an endless stream of underpaid or unpaid labour; young architects who are spat out the other end, exhausted but carrying the prize of having worked for a “star”—and some will manage to use this to underwrite their own career rise. [6] This is exclusionary in multiple ways—only those who can afford to work for nothing can access this rather slippery route to the top. The profession is narrowing at a time when it needs to be opening to change and possibility.

One of the most striking things about rereading Scott’s Browns account is the familiarity of the themes—the desire to be known for the quality of one’s work, rather than the fact of one’s gender; the misattribution of work and the inability of some to recognize collaboration as a core part of architecture; the “social trivia”; the self doubt that creeps up in the wake of sexism; the discomfort of being the person always calling out the problems; the hostility of those challenged; the camaraderie and optimism for the future that comes from talking about these matters in “safe” environments. These correspond to issues raised in survey of women (and men) we conducted in Australia in 2012, and the events we have run as part of the project.

Another intensely familiar aspect is the sheer relentlessness of it all. Scott Brown writes:


“For me, things are much the same at the top as they were. The discrimination continues at the rate of about one instance per day.” This ongoing accumulation of indignities, large and small, is a widely shared experience. It is a significant part of the story of many women’s careers and impacts on their progression—as psychologist Virginia Valian points out, “success is largely the accumulation of advantage, the parlaying of small gains into larger ones.” [7]


This is also one of the reasons many women leave, or consider leaving, the profession. Regardless of their commitment and the pleasures of architecture, for many there comes a time when it simply isn’t worth it any more.

This reminds us that the star system doesn’t only affect those at the top. It reflects embedded attitudes and structures that impact on everyone in the profession to some extent.

So, what of the women of the middle? Recent research has shifted emphasis to investigating architectural workplaces and work cultures (as well as representation and public culture)—this means we now know more about these women. In 1989 Scott Brown observed, “We have no sociology of architecture.” This is slowly changing. A couple of years later, in 1991, Dana Cuff published Architecture: The Story of Practice. [8] Our own research project includes a similar “ethnographic” approach—Gill Matthewson has spent time “embedded” in three large Sydney practices, observing and interviewing the women and men who worked there. Her PhD, recently awarded, contains a wealth of material.



Compilation and analysis of statistics led by Gill Matthewson. © Illustration by Leo Burnett Department of Design


Click here for larger view of illustration


This focus is important because it allow us to explore the gap between training and opportunity (to use Karen Burns’ phrase), and the mechanisms through which both advantage and disadvantage accrue. It also allows us to deploy insights from broader studies of the workplace. One of the most important is the idea of “unconscious bias.” This is based in the work of Valian who shows that we all (men and women) tend to underestimate the abilities of women and overestimate those of men. Gill explains the impact of this in the architectural workplace: “Because of gender bias, it is more difficult for women to demonstrate competence in a workplace, particularly when they are few in number. Women tend to be judged on their accomplishments, men on their potential.” The effects of this are often hidden—Gill points out that gender “most often interacts with the complicated economic, political, and social imperatives that control much of the work of the architecture profession. As such, bias due to gender is able to be obscured, and then dismissed as not existing.” [9]

There is also a now well-established “business case” for gender equity, which goes something like this—a more diverse workforce, especially at senior levels, delivers better outcomes for multiple reasons. Diverse voices lead to more creative approaches to problem solving, more robust overall decisions, and better economic performance. A diverse, inclusive culture helps avoid “groupthink,” and brings significant gains in retaining staff and reducing “churn.” [10] These findings are relevant to architecture—creative problem solving and better overall decisions are obvious assets in architectural practice—but they are also relevant to the wider profession. The attrition of highly educated and skilled architects who happen to be women diminishes architecture’s potential for change and renewal. If the profession is to adapt effectively to new environments we need more people who think in diverse ways, not fewer. As British architect Sarah Wigglesworth comments, “Architecture is too important to
be left to men alone.” [11]

So where does this leave us? One of the many outcomes of our research project are the Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice, which provide practical, productive strategies to help the profession move towards more equitable work practices, and thereby a more robust and inclusive profession. [12] There are eleven guides. Each outlines a particular issue, why it matters and what “we” might do about it. This last section is addressed to multiple audiences—individual employee architects, employer practices, and institutional and professional bodies. The guides recognize that different parts of the profession have different types of agency—and propose that we all have a part to play in facilitating change. Many of the recommendations are about putting transparent procedures in place to ensure that systems and processes are equitable and recognize ability and effort rather being based in perception and bias, unconscious or otherwise.



Parlour guides © Courtesy of the author


The guides are part of a broader advocacy project, run through the online platform Parlour: women, equity, architecture. [13] In setting up Parlour we became activists and advocates as well as researchers and scholars. We realized that to seed change in the profession we needed to mobilize the community and create a demand for action. The site has generated remarkable interest and now has many participants from all over world. It has benefitted particularly from the online environment, which brings heightened opportunities to build “communities of interest” that cross generations and geographic boundaries.

This brings me to Scott Brown’s own essay ending. She conveys enormous dignity in the face of relentless sexism—a dignity maintained over many years. But, importantly, she also reminds us that there is more than one system—we all also have colleagues, clients, and friends who are respectful and respected. These are alternative networks and they are flourishing in the world of online and social media. We must cultivate these old and new allegiances and alliances so that together we can build the profession we want and need.



1. Equity and Diversity in the Australian Architectural Profession: Women, work and leadership (2011–2014). This Australian-Research-Council-funded project was led by Dr. Naomi Stead of the University of Queensland and involved both academics and industry. Researchers active on the project included myself, Dr. Karen Burns, Gill Matthewson, Dr. Amanda Roan, Professor Gillian Whitehouse, and Professor Julie Willis. The project sought to map women’s participation in the profession and to understand why women are under-represented at senior management level. It sought to identify actual and perceived barriers to women architects’ promotion and progression and to identify and promote strategies for change.

2. Denise Scott Brown, Architects Journal, 2013. These words are very similar to the close of the penultimate paragraph of Room at the Top: “ On seeing their male colleagues draw out in front of them, women who lack a feminist awareness are likely to feel that it is their own fault.”

3. Gill Matthewson has compiled a detailed statistical map of women’s participation in Australian architecture. This shows that, whatever measure used, women continue to disappear from the profession. See Gill Matthewson, “Who Counts,” Architecture Australia 103, no. 5 (September/October 2014), and available online at Parlour,

4. Karen Burns, “A Girl’s Own Adventure,” Journal of Architectural Education 65, no. 2 (March 2012): 125–134. An earlier version of this paper is published on Parlour,

5. Karen Burns, “The Elephant in our Parlour: Everyday Sexism in Architecture,” Parlour,

6. Bryan Boyer, “Brute Force Architecture and its Discontents – etc,” Of This We Are Sure,

7. Virginia Valian, “Sex, Schemas, and Success: what’s keeping women back?” Academe 84, no. 5 (Sept/Oct 1998): 50–55. Quoted in Karen Burns, “Women in Architecture,” Architecture Australia 100, no. 4 (July 2011). Also available online at

8. Dana Cuff, Architecture: The Story of Practice (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1991).

9. Gill Matthewson, “Dimensions of Gender: Women’s Careers in the Australian Architecture Profession” (PhD thesis, University of Queensland, 2015).

10. Justine Clark, “Architecture, Gender, Economics,” published in Architecture Australia as “Engendering Architecture” (May 2012) and available online,

11. Sarah Wigglesworth, quoted in Jeremy Till, “Architecture is Too Important to be Left to Men Alone,”

12. The Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice can be downloaded from Parlour:

13. Parlour has recently shifted from a media platform to an organization, and is now an incorporated association in Australia.


You can read Denise Scott Brown’s “Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture” from our DEBATE issue.



As this issue went to press, the Board of Directors of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) voted to award the 2016 AIA Gold Medal to Denise Scott Brown, Hon. FAIA, and Robert Venturi, FAIA. Congratulations to both of them on a much-deserved recognition of the lasting impact of their work in the field of Architecture.


Justine Clark is an architectural editor, writer, and researcher based in Melbourne, Australia. She is cofounder and editor of Parlour: women, equity, architecture and is an honorary senior fellow at the University of Melbourne. Justine was editor of Architecture Australia, the journal of record of Australian Architecture for ten years and co-author (with Paul Walker) of Looking for the Local: Architecture and the New Zealand Modern (Wellington: VUW Press, 2000).

Credit Check


© MAS Context


Essay by Adrian Shaughnessy


One of the first hurdles encountered by the design historian, or for that matter anyone who writes about design, is the question of authorship. Not the elevated kind that has been so heatedly debated over recent decades—the auteurist notion of the graphic designer as author—but the more prosaic question of who did what, and its emotive corollary, who gets the credit for what.

It’s a question not confined to graphic design—it extends to all aspects of creative endeavor. Famous artists have assistants: Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst have armies of helpers. Do we know who they are? Do their employers publicly acknowledge their contributions? Does it even matter?

Over the past few years I’ve written three graphic design monographs. In each the question of personal attribution was a recurring theme. Work that was widely and formally credited to one of my subjects was found, on closer inspection, to have been done by others, invariably studio personnel. Or if not done entirely by others, it was work that was at least contributed to by others, often to a substantial degree. Yet these same works appear in books and magazines credited to a single designer.

The problem of correct—and equitable—attribution is a perennial consideration when assessing any designer’s work. In truth, it is really a question of what is authorship in the context of graphic design itself. And since graphic design, at least at its more advanced levels, is a collaborative process, the notion of individual authorship is increasingly slippery. However, this doesn’t stop designers craving credit for work they have made, or feeling denigrated when they are either not credited for their efforts, or worse still, see the credit go to someone else.

Yet it’s unrealistic to think of today’s complex graphic design outcomes emerging from a single pair of hands attached to a single brain. Even a designer working on his or her own is likely to use typefaces designed by others. And just as progressive social historians encourage a view of history that is not exclusively focused on the activities of monarchs or the machinations of the powerful, but rather one that acknowledges that history is also made by ordinary people, so we should be wary of viewing design as the work of single figures.

The problem of attribution is somewhat alleviated by the use of a studio name. The logo that bears the name of a studio, or studio-owning designer, might in truth be the work of an employee—a junior even. Yet how realistic is it to expect a junior designer to be credited as the author? The commercial argument in favor of only citing the studio—or studio head—as the “author” is persuasive.

How else do clients know whom to contact with offers of work?

But this argument ignores the ethical requirement of acknowledging the contributions of others, and more importantly, it flies in the face of one of the fundamental reasons why people choose to become graphic designers in the first place: the allure of authorship. No author in any field—high or low—likes to go unacknowledged for his or her work; anonymity is the enemy of creative endeavor.

When I owned a studio, I allowed designers (wherever possible) to have personal design credits. This worked well for the individuals concerned, and as their names were always combined with the studio name, there was no barrier to anyone who wanted to get in touch with us.

The weakness of the system was that it failed to include the contributions of others such as production people and junior assistants. The designers who got their names into print were undoubtedly the principal authors, but they were rarely if ever the sole authors. It’s a practice I wouldn’t implement today.

Paradoxically, the subjects of my three monographs stand out as exemplars of fairness and generosity in the matter of equitable attribution. All three men (Herb Lubalin, FHK Henrion, and Ken Garland) were generous in acknowledging the effort of others. Only in Lubalin’s case did I find a residual bitterness among some of his collaborators—grossly unjustified in my opinion. Ken Garland, the only living member of the trio, is vigorous in his desire to acknowledge the contribution of his associates. And in the Henrion archives I found numerous examples of public recognition of his collaborators.

Authorship will always be a contentious issue wherever creative work is produced. The new era of co-design, user-generated design, human centric design, and sharing economies, means that we must all learn to deal with anonymity. I was going to post this text anonymously. But I decided against it.


This essay was first published on Design Observer.


Adrian Shaughnessy is a graphic designer, writer, publisher, art and culture zealot based in London. He is also a senior tutor in Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art and a founding partner in Unit Editions, a publishing company producing books on design and visual culture. Scratching the Surface, a collection of his journalism, has recently been published. | @uniteditions | @AJWShaughnessy

Design and Violence
Zoë Ryan interviews Paola Antonelli


Defense Distributed (USA, est. 2012). The Liberator. 2013. CAD files; ABSplus thermoplastic pistol and aluminum nail, 2½ x 8½ (6.4 x 21.6cm). © Lorenza Baroncelli


Zoë Ryan interviews Paola Antonelli


Although designers aim to work toward the betterment of society, it is and has been easy for them to overstep, indulge in temptation, succumb to the dark side of a moral dilemma, or simply err.
Excerpt from Design and Violence at MoMA


Design and Violence is an online curatorial project and book co-organized by Paola Antonelli, senior curator at the Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA, and Jamer Hunt, director of the graduate program in Transdisciplinary Design at Parsons. Launched in the fall of 2013, the project is a platform that aims to raise our awareness of the violence of design in the world through a series of design objects, projects, and concepts that, as the curators describe them, “have an ambiguous relationship with violence, either masking it while at the same time enabling it.” These objects become the prompt to spark debates between invited critical thinkers from different disciplines and readers across the world. Controversial and sometimes heated, these debates become important forums to discuss and challenge our understanding of the complex relationship between design, violence, and life after 2011.

Paola Antonelli talks to Zoë Ryan, John H. Bryan Chair and Curator of Architecture and Design at the Department of Architecture and Design at the Art Institute of Chicago, about the ambitions of the project, the debates it has generated, the possibilities of each curatorial medium, and defining the role of museums within society.



Partial components of The Liberator (clockwise from top left): ABSplus thermoplastic frame, barrel, hammer body, frame pins, springs, grip; aluminum nail (center). © Lorenza Baroncelli


ZR: I think that Design and Violence was quite ground-breaking in a museum context. How did the project come about?

PA: I’m not going to be falsely modest but I believe that many groundbreaking things happen without any intention to make them groundbreaking. In this particular case, there was really no dream of grandeur of any kind. Things simply happened. I remember reading the announcement about the 3D-printed gun, and my reaction was one of surprise. I was stunned at first, and shortly thereafter stunned about the naiveté of my first reaction. I started thinking I really had to revise completely the way I approached design. Because, you know very well, I have been preaching for years that designers take a Hippocratic Oath, that designers always work for the betterment of society and the world. Then and there, I thought, “Wait a second. It’s not true.” Number one, whether they are complicit or not, the things they design can also be used for malicious purposes. Number two, the shades between good and evil are so many, there’s no way that I could be so drastic and ideological and Pollyanna-ish about design. I started thinking about it that way. Then I heard about a new book by Steven Pinker called The Better Angels of Our Nature. In that book Pinker argues that our society is becoming less violent. When you think about it, however, it doesn’t really feel like our society is becoming less violent. Of course, fewer people, at least in the Western world, are likely to take a lupara or a machete and open your head. Nonetheless, it doesn’t feel like it’s all so much better. I thought that maybe it’s the idea of violence that has changed. So I started thinking of an exhibition that looked at the manifestations of violence in contemporary society using design objects that have an ambiguous relationship with violence as a lens.

I always like to work with other colleagues and I especially love working with Jamer Hunt, because we complement each other really well. As usual, I gathered many objects apparently completely at random, bookmarked fifteen hundred ones on Evernote, in Safari, on Pinterest… they were all there, in a gigantic cloud. In ten minutes, Jamer had made a diagram. He formed four quadrants, separated by two axis ranging from “individual” to “mass,” and from “fictional” to “real,” and he organized the objects in them. All of a sudden, it was just amazingly clear. So that’s why it’s so great to work with somebody like Jamer.

We presented the show to the exhibitions committee of MoMA and it was rejected as a show. That happens often, you get rejections and sometimes you just shelve the idea. In a few years, maybe somebody else in another museum has the same idea and you don’t pick it up anymore. Other times, it’s not so easy. That was the case of Design and Violence, it really felt that it was an urgent idea. Jamer and I just said, “Okay, no MoMA exhibition—so let’s see what we can do.” We decided to make it happen without asking anybody’s permission and without any money. We just started a WordPress site. We asked Kate [Carmody, curatorial assistant at the museum], “would you mind working on this together with us after hours, even if it’s not officially part of your MoMA duties?” She accepted. Then we hired a research assistant from Parsons that Jamer could pay. We organized a schedule, and we started out calling in favors.

The idea—the website for Design and Violence—was to publish every week a different object. Write a little curatorial introduction, with museum-style label information and a factual description of the object. That would be followed by a short essay by a person that had an expertise or knowledge or involvement in this object and/or in the idea and type of violence it represented. At the end of the essay, we would ask a question and let the readers answer and comment. I was against the commenting part. That was really Jamer’s push, but then it was very successful and it really became one of the ways to distinguish this project from any exhibition. In an exhibition, we would have never been able to have that feedback from the audience.

The questions were provocative in some cases, and they really started full-fledged big debates. This was particularly the case with two objects. One is a speculative, critical design project by Michiko Nitta and Michael Burton, The Republic of Salivation. The second project was the redesign of the slaughterhouse, the Serpentine Ramp by Temple Grandin. The project by Temple Grandin generated a hundred plus comments, and in the case of The Republic of Salivation it informed actual symposia about critical design.

At some point Kate left the museum and Michelle Fisher became part of the program. MoMA saw that it was good so they embraced it within the MoMA website, and then published the book.



Crowd pen with revolving gates and built with poured in place concrete fence. Large slaughter plant serpentine single file chute. © Temple Grandin (American, b. 1947). Grandin Livestock Handling Systems, Inc. (est. 1980). Serpentine Ram for a Slaughterhouse. First designed in 1974, design modifications ongoing.



Dimensions and materials variable. Dual single file chute design. This photo was taken before the painting was completed. It is important that the facility is painted all the same color. © Temple Grandin (American, b. 1947). Grandin Livestock Handling Systems, Inc. (est. 1980). Serpentine Ram for a Slaughterhouse. First designed in 1974, design modifications ongoing.


ZR: When you started the project, what did you hope to achieve?

PA: I did not have a precise goal. It used to be that exhibitions had a hypothesis and a thesis, and you tried to prove the thesis. In this particular case, the goal was to increase my own and the public’s awareness of the violence of design in the world. Also too, it was to stimulate the public’s understanding of design as a way to better understand our own predicament as citizens and as parts of society. It was open-ended. As usual, my big problem with these shows that we call groundbreaking is that there are no pre-established metrics for success. It’s not how many readers but rather what kind of readers, what kind of comments, what it stirs, and what it makes happen.

What we knew is that we wanted this website to be a platform. A platform for discussion and also maybe a platform for exhibitions. It’s interesting because I told you that there were a few symposia that happened because of that post about The Republic of Salivation. We were not involved in them. We also organized live, Oxford-style debates. We had four exceptionally good debates. They are on the website if you want to see them. The last one was with Larry Lessig and Gabriella Coleman and it was about the tools to keep the Internet truly open and free.

Moreover, the Science Gallery in Dublin is going to do an exhibition next year based on the project. We’re going to collaborate by supervising it, but I trust them completely because they’re very good. It’s the ideal collaboration. I’m just hoping that it will be something that will percolate discussions and new projects.

ZR: Can you explain how those debates framed the conversation, how you went from debates offline to online?

PA: The format of the Oxford-style debate is great, and I didn’t know it before I met Yana Peel. She’s the CEO of Intelligence Squared. Of course, I knew that debates existed and I knew that there’s a whole tradition of teaching debate in schools, but I’ve never really considered the format for public programs about design. We tried it, and the first one was so good because we realized that it’s important to have really good and engaged speakers. We always had an object as a prompt and, in that case, it was the 3D-printed gun.

The motion—it’s important to have a well-designed motion—was not about gun control but rather about open source. The motion was, “We cannot limit open source design, even when we do not support the consequences.” Arguing for the motion was Cody Wilson, the designer of the 3D-printed gun, and arguing against the motion was Rob Walker. It was wonderful because the two speakers were really amazing. Cody can create a wall of words, of philosophical and ideological statements and, unless you’re skeptical and strong, you’re going to be fogged out. Rob was incredible because he was so subtle that Cody was not confronted with a real rival but rather with somebody that was about to insert himself like a virus into his system. It was fantastic.

The audience votes at the beginning and at the end of the debate. And the winner is not the one that has more hand votes but rather the one that’s been able to sway the opinion the most. In that case, it was Rob who changed people’s minds. The last debate was similarly excellent. It was Gabriella Coleman vs. Larry Lessig. Gabriella Coleman and Larry Lessig are both for a free Internet. The difference is that Gabriella—the foremost expert on Anonymous—thinks that the only way to get to a really free Internet is civil disobedience and hacking. Larry Lessig, on the other hand, thinks that we have a government, however weak and defective, and the first thing that we have to do is to legislate in the right direction.

It was fantastic because the debate focused on the tools not on the goals. The motion was “Internet freedom and digital privacy will come about only through the design of better tools for civil disobedience and direct action.” That’s the secret. What I have discovered with Design and Violence is that ambivalence and ambiguity are more instructive than excessively clear-cut positions. Granted, there are some objects that are benign, and can never be turned malignant, but very few. There’s many ways to frame and contextualize design.



Bahia Shehab. Thousand No Wall. 2012



Bahia Shehab (Lebanese and Egyptian, born 1977). Blue Bra Graffiti (No to Stripping). 2012. Stencil, spray-paint, 17 ¹¹⁄₁₆ x 7 ⁷⁄₈” (45 x 20 cm)


ZR: What surprised you? Was there anything that became controversial or spurred dialogue or discussion in a way that you could never have expected?

PA: We talked about really, really serious matters. We talked about euthanasia. We talked about torture. The last post was about the death penalty. What surprised us was that there were many more comments when we tackled the killing of animals than when we discussed killing human beings.

It was interesting to see what sparked the conversation and what didn’t. It was not necessarily what you would expect. I was surprised by the level of the conversation, and how good it was, and how well the project was received, and by how generous the writers were. Because we had big, busy people. A few well-respected and well-known people said yes at the beginning—for instance William Gibson, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Steven Pinker, Arianna Huffintgon—and they created this safe ground for other people to accept and write.

I was also surprised by the diversity of people that we were able to attract. For the female genital mutilation post— prompted by a series of posters for Amnesty International—we had Angélique Kidjo, a famous singer and activist from Benin. For the post on the AK-47 we had China Keitetsi,a former child soldier from Uganda and the founder of The African Child Soldiers and War Victims Charity. They were just amazing testimonials. For the Flexicuffs—the plastic handcuffs—we had Judge Shira Scheindlin, who is the judge that declared Stop and Frisk unconstitutional in New York two years ago.

The project really made us proud. Sometimes people would say, “Are we talking about design? This is not design.” Of course it is. The prompt was always a design object.



Unknown Designer. Plastic Handcuffs (also known as Plasticuffs or Flexicuffs). Initial design first patented by Peter J. Gregory (American, b. 1934) in 1978. Injection molded nylon, 34 2/3 x 3/4 x 1/2″ (87.95 x 1.9 x 1.27 cm). Photograph by Jamer Hunt


ZR: The topics are very challenging and often not the sort of conversations discussed head-on in museums. How did MoMA react? Was the project monitored by the institution or were you able to keep the conversations as open as possible?

PA: The institution would have never intervened. In my twenty-one years at the MoMA I’ve never had an episode of censorship or control during the process. There was only one instance—in 2004, when I was installing the exhibition SAFE: Design Takes On Risk—that the director of MoMA asked me to think twice about showing a poster that featured the images of dozens of different recreational disco drugs. He said, “I wouldn’t want people to think that we’re endorsing drugs.” I said, “No. Actually, this is for kids to be able to recognize what people are giving them and know what the effects will be, so they don’t drop down dehydrated because of ecstasy, for instance.” He said, “Oh okay. I understand,” and I showed the poster. That was the only time I got a question. Of course then there are exhibitions that get rejected all together, but that happens for very different reasons.

I think we moderated out maybe one comment during the whole process. I think that, when you present people with a serious project that shows deep thought and good intentions, people respect it. Unless it is something that is polarizing, that gets into a political arena, and that is already heated. The most heated debate was around the Serpentine Ramp because the writer was Ingrid Newkirk, who’s the president of PETA. She argued that it was a good thing, so the vegans went berserk. The question at the end was, “Can we redesign a violent act to be more humane?” In my opinion, it was the most heated topic. Because it was almost like talking about abortion, having all sides of the barricade present. It really became an ideology, an idealism, and a religious issue.

ZR: You’ve created websites for other exhibitions such as Design and the Elastic Mind, and SAFE and thought about the type of information people can access online versus offline in the physical space of the gallery. You don’t really refer to Design and Violence as an online exhibition. How do you describe the project in terms of fostering the same dialog and debate?

PA: I always call it an online curatorial project or curatorial experiment. At the beginning, we were saying experiment. Now it seems a little cute to keep on saying “experiment,” so we say project.

I’ve been trying to have online presence for exhibitions since the beginning, but I also realize how much that presence has changed. For instance, in the first website for Mutant Materials in Contemporary Design, in 1995, my ambition was to put the checklist online because I always saw the Internet as more permanent and more open that any catalog. I wanted the exhibition to have a life and afterlife.

Then came the site exhibition about Dutch design in 1996, Castiglioni in 1997, Ingo Maurer and the Campana brothers in 1998, and so on. With every show, there was a checklist and a documentation for the future. The first changes probably happened with Workspheres in 2001, and SAFE in 2003. I started thinking about the website as one more means of expression of the exhibition, a universe where there were different laws of space.

I always thought of three different locations for each exhibition. The physical space of the gallery is subjected to circulation and the force of gravity—people can only move this way or the other. You can change walls around, but you’re constricted by the space. The book, the second location, is even more constricting because it’s sequential. I always felt that the website was the opportunity to add another dimension. I always saw it as one more means of expression. Often I featured more objects on the websites than I had in the physical exhibition, and that culminated with Design and Elastic Mind, which was a full-fledged work of design by a great designer, Yugo Nakamura. It was a completely different experience that took as much advantage as possible of the medium.

I changed my approach again after that. Once upon a time you would go to a homepage, and you would enter a website as if it were a palace, through the main gate. Lately instead we tend to be linked to individual pages and individual pictures, through social media. It’s not a palace anymore. Now it’s almost as if you are entering many rooms directly from the street. It’s changed again. For the Talk to Me show in 2011, we published a blog leading up to the exhibition. We started a year and half before, and we documented everything that we were looking at. We would let people know what we chose for the exhibition and what we were thinking about for the installation design. We also started publishing little bios of all the people involved in the exhibition. We wanted people to know what a conservator does and so on and so forth. It was more of a chronicle.

In the case of Design and Violence, it was none of the above. If previous websites were places, this was a platform. We talk more and more about platforms online. That was really the idea, but I don’t like it when people say online exhibition. Because it presumes being tethered to the old physical world, and there are possibilities in the digital space that are sometimes better, sometimes worse, but no matter what, different. I think we should really inhabit a different space instead of trying to mimic the old one.

ZR: Why did you decide to produce a catalog in the end? It almost seems an antithesis to this open-ended, ongoing platform, to then become sealed in a volume.

PA: I can’t remember anymore why. Maybe we wanted a real commitment from MoMA. It was almost like saying, “All right, put a ring on it.” I just know that we started thinking that it would be great, maybe because it was one more means of communication. There are ways a book still drives the point better for some people. I would say that it was more of a commitment and statement.

ZR: Many museums are currently trying to broaden their audiences and are trying to encourage a more diversified range of visitors to their projects in the galleries and online. Do you think that this project has engaged a different audience or broader audience? How do you think it has helped you in terms of your mission with encouraging a further understanding of the important role that design plays in the world?

PA: Just in quantitative terms, there were more visitors to this website than there would be to an exhibition, and that is great. I’m sure that many of them were from far away. Websites help people from all over the world get to know the museum, a very particular part of the museum. I’m sure that most politicians and citizens don’t necessarily think of museums and art in this way, and with this project they got acquainted with a different aspect of a museum. I don’t even know if this audience was diversified enough, though. I’m still afraid that it’s going to be the usual museum visitors. For sure more people from the non-Western world, but I’m still not sure that it’s diversified enough.

For museums to really change the way they’re perceived within society and for them to really reach outside of their normal audience, this is just one small brick. It takes a whole construction crew. It’s a brick in the right direction for sure, but I don’t think it has resolved the situation.

ZR: Do you think you would do it again? Do you have plans for any other online projects?

PA: Why not? It all depends on the project itself. There are projects that lend themselves to different types of narratives. There are some projects that are meant to be for a gallery. Others could be books. Others, documentaries. This was great to have on a website because it’s almost like a novel, by episodes, by chapters, and I like that. I’m not really good at doing a big thing all at once and instead I like this evolution. The next exhibition will definitely have an online component
leading up to it, but I don’t know yet what it will be.


Paola Antonelli joined The Museum of Modern Art in 1994 and is a Senior Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design, as well as MoMA’s Director of Research
and Development. She has curated many memorable exhibitions at MoMA, including Workspheres (2001), Humble Masterpieces (2004), SAFE: Design Takes On Risk (2005-2006), Design and the Elastic Mind (2008), and Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects (2011).

Zoë Ryan is the John H. Bryan Chair and Curator of Architecture and Design at the Art Institute of Chicago. Since joining the museum in 2006, she has taken an interdisciplinary approach to her work, curating exhibitions of graphic design, furniture, fashion, and architecture. Her most recent exhibition is Making Place: The Architecture of David Adjaye (2015). She is a Lecturer in the Art History Department at the School of the Art Institute and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In 2014, she was the curator of the second Istanbul Design Biennial.

#platform project


#platform project, Chatter: Architecture Talks Back, The Art Institute of Chicago, 2015 © David Schalliol


Project by Mimi Zeiger and Neil Donnelly


#platform is both a means of production and a place to take a stand.

#platform project is a collaborative publication and act of collective criticism.

#platform’s physical documents navigate back into the city, lingering as messages.


For the past four years, participants in the School of Visual Arts Summer Design Writing and Research Intensive in New York have used Twitter to document, research, and critique the city. The social media platform acts as a productive constraint, distilling individual observations and narratives into
a public, digital text.

The central concerns of #platform project are collectivity and criticism. Or, what is the future of criticism in an era when critique can be reduced to 140 characters a tweet? Participants answer the question over two weeks each summer. Every tweet is an act of collective criticism, a critical mode that uses leverages the social web for discussion of architecture, urbanism, and design. Collective criticism operates on, across, and between social platforms. It is made up of individuals, but takes its power from responsive dialogue, not autonomous authorship. Collective criticism opens up the possibility of many criticisms, rather than a singular dominant discourse.

Participants produced hundreds and hundreds of tweets, which were collectively edited into a single publication designed by Neil Donnelly—a handbill, a web-based billboard-sized projection, a broadsheet, and wall labels—to be redistributed back onto the urban realm. By physicalizing the tweets #platform reinforces criticism’s immediacy and impact.



@nicoleokay 6:48 PM – 25 Jun 2012
What happens outside this second story window in Bushwick is 100 times more interesting than the internet #platform


Participants spent two weeks tweeting design criticism and observations on the urban environment. After choosing selections of this writing, each tweet took the form of a small flyer, ready to be dispersed back into the city. The design of these flyers was determined by factors such as structure (paper color), theme (typeface), and time of day (black type or background), allowing a limited set of variables to recombine. The flyers could also be bound in any order with a stapler at the Intensive’s closing party, letting participants build another narrative of the Intensive.












@bklyndad 9:26 AM – 7 Jun 2013
It’s the kind of neighborhood that reinforces the things people want to believe about themselves, whether or not they are true.


The 2013 edition of #platform was conceived as an alternative digital platform to power a display seen from the street. A website pulls participants’ tweets randomly from an edited set, changing colors depending on the content. Projecting the site onto the windows of the D-Crit studio at night allows passers-by to read comments on design and the city, subtitling a journey across 21st Street.












@joshua_bradwell 4:37 PM – 6 Jun 2014
the voice of these streets is changing. a rich, captivating melody has become a mournful, heavy-hearted tune #domino #platform


Participants spent two weeks writing criticism (and publishing via Twitter) about four contested sites in New York: MoMA/Folk Art Museum, Penn Station/Madison Square Garden, the Domino Sugar Factory, and the New York State Pavilion. The assignment culminated in an edited collection of tweets, returned to the physical world in the form of newsprint posters and a call-and-response performance.










@LizeleElejalde 1:09 PM – 7 Jun 2015
When the story told by the exterior doesn’t match, is a wrong place or a wrong content? #platform @smithsonian


In response to the theme of how museums and galleries engage with the public, this year’s #platform took the form of wall labels. In contrast to the label’s typical function of being subservient to the art it describes, the label itself was the only content of this mini-exhibition, along with stickers designating the themes used to organize the edited set of tweets. Sets of labels were also distributed at the closing party, implicitly suggesting that they be released into the wilds of NYC, and perhaps the art spaces that prompted the commentary in the first place.









@DCrit – Design Criticism
@loudpaper – Mimi Zeiger
Neil Donnelly


@adrianmadlener – Adrian Madlener
@AliBrownHejazi – Alexandria Brown-Hejazi
@bgibbsriley – Brandy Gibbs-Riley
@carolinetiger – Caroline Tiger
@chasetimes – Chase Stone
@danielraycole – Daniel Cole
@EmmadeCrespigny – Emma de Crespigny
@lRENECHlN – Irene Chin
@JenJoyRoybal – JenJoy Roybal
@kathievonankum – Kathie Von Ankum
@kellissima – Kelly Murdoch-Kitt
@laureneleonboym – Laurene Leon Boym
@line_ulrika – Line Ulrika Christiansen
@megan_marin – Megan Marin
@merritt_susan – Susan Merritt
@murryebernard – Murrye Bernard
@nicoleokay – Nicole Lavelle
@petite_crevette – Lauren Palmer
@WideOpenAir – Garreth Blackwell


@amerycal – Amery Calvelli
@AnneMiltenburg – Anne Miltenburg
@blaahs – Shantel Blakely
@bklyndad – John Payne
@Bonnie_Cristine or @Double_Days – Bonnie Abbott
@CarlAlviani – Carl Alviani
@delhep – Del Hepler
@Ejoii – Erica Lester
@guthrie_liz – Liz Guthrie
@lniy – Yin Loh
@katecarmody – Kate Carmody
@KathyK8wheeler – Kathy Wheeler
@katyniner9 – Katy Niner
@LeannePrain – Leanne Prain
@merxaus – Mercedes Kraus
@mawirtz – Michael Wirtz
@powpunch – Dana El Ahdab
@samanthafodor – Samantha Fodor
@sarahkpeck – Sarah Peck
@Templetonpa – Patrick Templeton
@timbelonax – Tim Belonax
@tornaben – Zack Tornaben
@vmatranga – Vicki Matranga


@bsnaith1 – Brenda Snaith
@cbbsays – Charlotte Bik Bandlien
@clarameliande – Clara Meliande
@cocabags – Gunes Kocabag
@darylmarch – Daryl McCurdy
@gabrieleor – Gabriele Oropallo
@jantjevoogd – Jan Voogd
@joshua_bradwell – Joshua Bradwell
@karabermejo – Kara Bermejo
@kingery_kingery – Josephine Kingery
@lawolke – Leslie Wolke
@LereticoTj – TJ O’Donnell
@lisamaione – Lisa Maione
@mgnellis – Megan Ellis
@mjwconway – Michael Conway
@nnarasimhan – Naresh Narasimhan
@nuglybird – Andrew Seetoh
@pat_amorim – Patricia Amorim
@reginapuma – Regina Pozo
@SMassarsk – Sara Massarsky
@squintdotcom – Renée Olson


@amishachowbey – Amisha Chowbey
@corinnegisel – Corrine Gisel
@eemaxx – Elizabeth Essner
@fimakeswork – Fi Scott
@LaubeIeva – Ieva Laube
@thejackamo – Jack Curry
@jenlaaa – Jennifer Wong
@joanngreco – JoAnn Greco
@uncommonobjet – Karen Brunel-Lafargue
@LizbethElejalde – Lizbeth Elejalde
@ManasiPophale – Manasi Pophale
@melindasekela – Melinda Sekela
@VieraNatalia – Natalia Viera
@NatePyper – Nate Pyper
@nicholasvenezia – Nicholas Venezia
@lundberg_scott – Scott Lundberg
@gShrutig – Shruti Gupta
@sparkreykjavik – Sigridur Sigurjonsdottir
@muscolino – Simone Muscolino
@tbettinardi – Tereza Bettinardi


With special thanks to Alice Twemlow


Neil Donnelly is a graphic designer who often works with clients in architecture and art, including the Guggenheim, Yale University, Columbia University, The New York Times, Princeton Architectural Press, Petzel Gallery, Hatje Cantz, Verso, Domus, Storefront for Art and Architecture, and the Center for Urban Pedagogy. His work has been included in the Brno Biennial of Graphic Design and exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Gwangju Design Biennale, the New Museum, the Museum of Arts and Design, and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. He holds an MFA in graphic design from Yale, and he lives and works in Brooklyn.

Mimi Zeiger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and critic. She is the West Coast Editor of the Architects Newspaper and has covered art, architecture, urbanism, and design for a number of publications including The New York Times, Domus, Dezeen, and Architect. She is adjunct faculty in the Media Design Practices MFA program at Art Center and co-president of the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design.

It’s Not What You Say, It’s What You Do


Stanley Tigerman © Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects


Iker Gil and Ann Lui interview Stanley Tigerman


At one point in this interview, Stanley Tigerman asked us: “You know the character you need to be an architect? You need to be brave. You need to be strong. You have to have a very strong backbone. You have to have very thick skin because you’re going to get beat to shit by others, without question. You have to have that quality in you to take the criticism that will come your way no matter what.”

At the core of this advice is the central belief that vigorous debate—including harsh criticism, strong positions, and the prioritization of powerful new ideas even at the cost of one’s own comfort—is essential to the forward movement of architecture.

This position resonates across Stanley’s many roles in architectural discourse as practitioner, curator, and teacher. No encounters seem to escape his dedication, often ferocious, to the construction of an articulate battle over the future of design. (He even noted, at the beginning of our interview, his frustration with how others had censored his salty language in publication. His firm stance against the watering down of his positions, against the backdrop of increasingly edited and PR-worthy statements by designers, was refreshing fearless.) In the 1970s, Stanley curated seminal exhibitions that brought to the fore Chicago architects against rising stars in New York and Los Angeles. In parallel, he also staged discursive events, such as The State of the Art of Architecture (1977), from which this year’s Biennial draws its name, and a series of rough-and-tumble, informal debates at the newly revived Chicago Architectural Club. As an educator, Stanley hosted The Chicago Tapes (1986) conference, a symposium that took after The Charlottesville Tapes conference three years before; at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), he was also responsible for initiating a series of publications. These practices set the stage for decades of service as a moderator, ringmaster, and electric goad to architects in the city: calling upon us to both be self-critical and also engage others in conversation over our practices and beliefs.

To this day, Stanley Tigerman serves as the backbone of Chicago’s rich conversation on architecture and the city, including his warm nurturing of a new generation of architects. Stanley’s dedication to fostering debate—which always includes the demand that architects bring their work to the table and stand firm behind their ideas—has not diminished through the years. His gift to Chicago is his continued fight for the value of potent, put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is, discourse.



From left to right: Helmut Jahn, Tom Beeby, Stanley Tigerman, and Stuart Cohen, Chicago Seven Townhouse Competition, c. 1978 © Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects


AL: During your interview for the Chicago Architects Oral History Project you discussed the tough critiques at Yale in the late 50s and early 60s. You mentioned one critic that was especially tough on Louis Skidmore Jr.

ST: Yeah. Who, by the way, is an asshole.

AL: I was wondering how this harsh criticism shaped you as a teacher and as a pedagogue. It seems that Archeworks, the school you co-founded in 1994 with Eva Maddox, goes in another direction and focuses on fostering communication between disciplines. Did these tough critiques inform your thinking when you started Archeworks?

ST: Well, that’s a very complex question. When I was at Yale, Paul Rudolph was the Chair, and Paul was a very tough guy. In the 1959-60 academic year, I was in the Bachelor’s thesis class. The class started in September with thirty students. By the time we graduated, do you know how many graduated on time? Fifteen. Some flunked, some were asked to come back for the summer, some for a semester, some for a year, some for more than a year, some never. When I was there several of the kids ended up on shrink’s couches. One kid committed suicide. Is this a justification for that level of harshness? No, but it was what it was. This is a different time in architectural education. You don’t flunk people because this is a litigious society. The kid’s mommy comes after you and sues your ass.

But that was a very rough time. In my second year in my masters program, I worked for Paul at night. In those years, the architecture school at Yale closed at two in the morning. At two in the morning, the Yale radio station, which was on in the drafting room, played the alma mater “Bright College Years.” We all got up and sang it, and they all went to get drunk, except me. At two in the morning, I went to Paul Rudolph’s office and worked until five in the morning, five nights a week. But I had to be back in the studio by nine, because he showed up at nine. So I had basically four hours of sleep at night. It was a killer. There was a point when I got my masters and Paul offered me a full time job. I said, “Paul, do you see that old, beat-up station wagon belching gasoline at the curb? If I don’t go back to Chicago this minute I’m going to get physically ill. I’m going to vomit, probably all over you.” And I left. It was the hardest two years of my life. It made being in the United States Navy a piece of cake. Those of us who survived it, bonded: Bob Stern, Charlie Gwathmey, Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, Jack Robertson, Tom Beeby, blah, blah, blah. Irrespective of our differences stylistically, formalistically, whatever, we survived this trial by fire. Paul Rudolph did invent me, what you see is the product of my having been there. If he hadn’t come across me and molded me to his satisfaction I wouldn’t be sitting here. Period.

Paul was very demanding, and he was that demanding of himself. His problem was that, holistically speaking, he never was a whole human being. I remember coming back from Bangladesh one time and on the way back we stopped in Paris. I said, “Paul, do you want to go to L’Opéra, or l’Opéra Comique?” No, he just wanted to sit on the Champs-Élysées sipping drinks. I thought, “Where is your cultural IQ, Paul?” He walked, spoke, ate, shat, and practiced architecture. It’s what he did. He was a supreme, supremo architect, and he was totally single-minded. But that doesn’t cut it, even then. So Paul was flawed, but I loved him. I loved, and I understood the treatment because I had been in the Navy.

So did that infect the way that I then treated others? Yes and no. Archeworks was late in my life. Earlier, when I was at UIC, I burned a kid’s drawings. Burned it right in his presence. It was a shit drawing. As a result, they hung me in effigy, outside the building. I have a checkered career and persona. I didn’t do things the way traditional architects do them. I don’t mean stylistically, but the tradition of architects’ behavior. It’s one of the reasons that my office stayed small, which was done consciously. I didn’t want a big office so I could say no to people, I could actually fire a client, which I have done on three occasions.

I am a perfectionist. I used to believe in absolute values, not relative values. I’ve changed my mind. Times change. I’m thinking more of relative things now. So I’ve changed. But, did my experience at Yale impact my behavior later as a teacher? Yes. At Archeworks, not so much. I don’t think we ever got rid of a student because it was so god-damned small we needed every student. So I had to curb my innate behavior to some degree.

IG: During the 1970s and 80s, you organized a series of symposia such as the 1977 The State of the Art of Architecture at the Graham Foundation. The event is once again in the news as this year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial has borrowed the name for its inaugural edition. What was the format and what were the goals of the 1977 symposium?

ST: It began with the New York Five, which was Eisenman, Meier, Gwathmey, Hejduk, and Graves. Only Eisenman and Meier are alive. And they’re cousins [they are second cousins by marriage]. Did you know that?

IG: No.

ST: It’s a great story about them. They’re first cousins. Eisenman’s mother is the poor one. Jewish family. Meier’s mother is the rich one. So Meier’s mother used to call Peter’s mother all the time and say, “What has Peter done? Richard just won the Gold Medal.” Typical Jewish mother bullshit, right? She would say. “Richard just won the Pritzker Prize. What did Peter ever win?” So Peter is filled with anxieties because then his mother would call and say, “Well you say you are so famous, but you didn’t do this, you didn’t do that. Because Richard’s mother just told me about blah, blah, blah.”

The New York Five was an elitist operation. It was architecture for architecture’s sake. Like art for art’s sake, which is as it should have been. It was not inclusivist. The first reaction to that was Bob Stern, Aldo Giurgola [plus Allan Greenberg, Charles Moore, and Jaquelin Robertson] forming The Greys. Then, the Los Angeles guys did The Silvers. If you can imagine: speed, extrusions, that kind of architecture. And then the Chicago Seven. Why the Chicago Seven? The Chicago Seven was a total bullshit operation. We didn’t then, and we still do not, even like each other. We had nothing in common. Do I ever see any of these people? Absolutely not ever.

I wanted to get them together. I have a history, which began at Yale. When I was at Yale, I brought students from Harvard and Penn to Yale and New Haven, to talk about the state of the art. I have done that a bazillion times. I see architecture as a performing art. I do well working alone, but I do well in groups. I like bringing people together.

You could ask the question, “What did you gain? What happened at that thing in ‘77? I could ask the same thing. You could ask the question, “What happened between Harvard and Princeton; Harvard, Penn, and Yale?” Or what happened at the Passing The Baton event at Archeworks in 2008 when I had Sarah Herda, Bob Somol, Zoë Ryan, Zurich Esposito, and so on? [1] What was accomplished that night? What was accomplished was that they got to know each other and, from that point forward, they could engage. That happened in New Haven and that happened in ‘77. For me, the result in ‘77 was great, because all those guys became my friends. I don’t have any friends in Chicago because we’re competitors. That’s the other side of architecture: I love competition. I see architecture as a competition. I see we’re all climbing a mountain. And it’s getting smaller. And there’s less and less oxygen. And they’re dropping off. I love it. I love it.

IG: You’re not mellowing out with age.

ST: I’m not mellowing out. No. I’m getting meaner and tougher. Straightaway. Always. It’s my persona.



From left to right: Robert Stern, Richard Meier, Jim Nagle, Peter Eisenman, Stanley Tigerman, Bill Turnbull, Jim Stirling, and Ben Weese, The State of the Art of Architecture panel, Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, 1977 © Courtesy of the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts



Sketch by Stanley Tigerman about The State of the Art of Architecture symposium, 1994 © Courtesy of Volume Gallery


IG: With The State of the Art of Architecture, The Chicago Tapes, and the other events then the idea was to bring people together, which led you to establish their friendship, but there was something about Chicago too.

ST: The other reason for forming the Chicago Seven, in counter distinction to the Miesian descendants, was because we wanted a place at the table. Make no mistake. It was straight about ego. We met all the time, we had dinners together, but we were not close. We knew that, but we wanted a place at the table.

IG: It was a self-interested relationship.

ST: There was self-interest involved, because without self-interest you got nothing.

IG: In your interview for the Chicago Architects Oral History Project, you made it clear that there was a desire to make sure you all had a place at the table, but also in rewriting the established architectural history of Chicago.

ST: Yes. It was revisionist history. Everybody needs to make a place. During the Passing the Baton event at Archeworks, there were eight or nine people onstage. The moderator was Ned Cramer, so he called me up to convene the proceedings. I came up with my little suitcase and I said, “This is about passing the baton to the next generation, because you need to help the next generation. There are three different kinds of batons. There is the conductor’s baton. There is the baton that relay racers use. Then there is this baton.” I reached in the case and pulled out, I swear to Christ, a ten-inch hunting knife. I said, “Your job is to kill me.” I tried to hand it to Ned Kramer, but Ned Kramer’s balls never dropped, and he never took it. Therefore, the next generation was weak. Your job, to become an adult, it’s straightaway, it’s about Oedipus. You need to kill your father to take his place. Period. But they didn’t want to take the knife. I mean I literally… a big fucking knife.

IG: I don’t know if anybody would have taken it.

ST: Well, symbolically that was their job. The job is to displace the father, to take the place. That’s why I resented the fucking Miesians, because they never got rid of Mies. They copied it. They never advanced his agenda, and I resented them for that. Dirk Lohan is a shit architect, the grandson of Mies, who uses being the grandson to make money. I mean, ridiculous.

IG: I guess it’s a marketing tool and I know how much you “love” marketing.

ST: I hate it. There is something I hate even more. It’s called branding. I fucking hate branding. You know what branding is? I can draw it. This is branding. It’s called the golden arches. You want to burn that into the brain of customers, not clients even, but customers, so they’ll buy your product. It’s all about money, which diminishes architecture. Guys that diminish architecture are by nature my born enemy, and I treat them that way. People that diminish architecture by using phrases like “value engineering”…ugh, Christ! Those are all the things why I identify with your generation, because they’re all the things that fuck up architecture. And I hate them, like you do. No question about it.



From left to right: Richard Meier, Nan Swid, Andrée Putman, Arata Isozaki, Robert Siegel, Stanley Tigerman, Addie Powell, Robert Stern, Charles Gwathmey, Frank Gehry, and James Polshek, c. 1984 © Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects


IG: You started two publications, almost at the same time, during your time as Director at UIC as well as when you were the president of the Chicago Architecture Club.

ST: Threshold and the Chicago Architectural Club Journal.

IG: Was the idea for those publications to document what was happening in Chicago, to promote Chicago, or to begin to spark some type of conversation or debate between people?

ST: All of the above. In the same way the Chicago Seven wanted a place at the table, I was up to here [points above his head] with the publishing world being New York-centric. I still am. Log, have you ever tried to read that shit? They feed on each other until ultimately they only have an audience of each other. So the circulation is five, because only five people understand that crap.

While I was the Director at UIC, I went to Monacelli, who was then at Rizzoli, who was my publisher, and I said, “Gianfranco, please publish the Chicago Architecture Club Journal. It’s in the context of history. They did the Chicago Architectural Sketch Club founded way back when. And, for the University of Illinois at Chicago, let’s do a magazine. We’ll call it Threshold.” I wanted Chicago on the map, not just New York thinking it’s the center, because it ain’t.

It was a place for dialogue to engage, and now it’s been fulfilled. Look at all the people that are now in Chicago. That includes you [Iker], it includes Sean Lally, [Thomas] Kelley, Andy Moddrell, and the young people teaching at UIC. It’s sort of becoming a hot-shit place.

IG: It’s surprising that those two publications no longer exist and that neither UIC nor the Chicago Architecture Club published that much after those initial efforts.

ST: It needs continuous prodding. I got five issues out of each. But ultimately, in the biblical terms, in Ecclesiastes, there’s a time for everything and I just can’t be there continuously doing that. I loved when Jimenez Lai did Treatise, the fourteen books and the exhibition at the Graham Foundation. It was obviously self-serving for Jimenez, but it also put together a bunch of really good people. And he did it from Chicago, so I really miss him now that he’s in L.A.

IG: Now people like Ann, who has been doing very interesting work in Boston, are coming to Chicago to continue her practice and to teach. So some people are leaving for different reasons but others are coming too, and they see Chicago as a viable place for them.

ST: It’s a work in progress. Chicago, that is.

IG: It’s always going to be.

ST: Yes, it always is going to be, but I got to tell you, it wasn’t always the case. When I came back from Yale in ‘61, the big firm that was worth something outside of Mies was Skidmore [Skidmore, Owings & Merrill]. There were only two small firms that were really good architects. One was Harry Weese, and the other was Ed Dart, Edward Dupaquier Dart. He was a very good architect. That’s what I came to. So it wasn’t always like it is now. Now you can say with confidence that it’s a work in progress. It will always change.



From left to right: Helmut Jahn, Robert Stern, and Stanley Tigerman, c. 1982 © Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects


AL: When the Chicago Architecture Club was reestablished in 1979, it was fairly exclusive: it had limited members [40] and you had to pay high dues to be part of it. However, it seems to me that the most grueling barrier to entry was to be able to hold your own at the debates and the critiques that took place at the Club.

ST: At every meeting, which used to be at the Graham Foundation, there would be two guys, more or less comparable, who would debate each other and show their work, because work is a vehicle for ideas. At the end there was a vote, and there was a winner and a loser. The winner got a certificate with a “W,” and the loser got one with a “L.” I loved that. In other words, I loved documenting what transpired. And that people lose. You don’t just win. If you play major league baseball, if you want to get your contract renewed, you have to hit at least .300. .300 means that seven out of ten times you’re out. You have to understand losing.

IG: I am assuming that some of these debates were fierce and very personal.

ST: Entirely personal. When [John] Syvertsen became president of the club, he put [Tom] Beeby up against me, and Beeby won. I have my certificate with the “L” on it proudly displayed at home. Everything you do counts. Don’t bullshit yourself, and say you can get away with it, because you can’t. Some asshole down the line will engage you in revisionist history and catch you up for lying. You see it all the time in the papers about politics, and movie stars. They think they can get away with something and they engage in something called hubris, which is the problem. You have to be truthful. You have to say what really happened, that you won this and that you lost that.

IG: Do you think those debates made people tougher and helped them create better work?

ST: Yes. Absolutely. They didn’t create better friends, but it did create better work. I realize that not all the work in Chicago was great, but Chicago has a lot of very good architects.

IG: Clearly you’d rather have better work than better friends.

ST: Abso-goddamn-lutley. In Chicago, I’d much rather have better work than better friends. No question about it. And who are my friends not in Chicago? Very good architects. Frank Gehry, Richard Meier, Charlie Gwathmey before he died, Peter Eisenman, etc. Jeanne Gang was the greatest supporter of me because I’m very supportive of her. I told her, “Jeanne, it’s simple, when you start doing shitty work, you’ll see that I’m not such a good friend. Because I will call you out for it publicly.” I’m interested in good work, period. Good architecture, good dialogue, good ideas require critical mass. If you live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, you don’t expect good architecture, because there aren’t enough guys out there practicing good architecture to have an impact on each other. That’s why Chicago is great. Because it’s tough. I’ve been trying to do that my whole life.

AL: At the end of your text from Emmanuel Petit’s recent book Schlepping Through Ambivalence, you wrote, “It seems as if precious little changes, including the fact that I still miss you.” [2] It seems to me that a long debate can be very productive or collaborative when it is built on mutual admiration between you and Mies. Who would be a worthy candidate today to do battle with, as Ada Louise Huxtable described your conversation with Mies? [3]

ST: Mies had a huge impact on me. After a year at MIT, I flunked out. I got a job working for George Fred Keck, who was a wonderful architect. Keck was trying to do what turned out to be sort of a shitty building for the Chicago Housing Authority. He wanted to engage Mies to persuade the head of the Chicago Housing Authority to hire him. I was nineteen and an absolute apprentice, bottom, zero in this office. Mies came to the office, and I was blown away. To meet Mies, for me, was like meeting God. It was like meeting Moses. Mies was incredible. I can tell you endless stories about him. He was a wonderful person.

On the other hand, he was shit toward women, as was Corbu, as was Frank Lloyd Wright. We are all people. We have good sides, but we’re flawed. Mies wasn’t perfect. But Mies, architecturally, philosophically, and theologically, was perfect. Humanistically? Not perfect. But I admired him, and I liked him. He had a big impact on me and he obviously had a giant impact on Chicago.

When Saarinen designed the TWA terminal at Kennedy Airport, I used to fly TWA when I went to New York because I loved the building. It was a great building. One time I came into the building, I was going to get a cab going through the concourse, and I saw a poster on the wall. The poster is a picture of the Seagram Building. A great poster. A beautiful elevation of the end of Seagram looking up. And the only words were, “This is the only building by Mies van der Rohe in New York. Isn’t it a shame?” It knocked me out. Why did it knock me out? Because there are forty-five fucking buildings by Mies van der Rohe in Chicago. And there are an additional thirty by Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s incredible. So I have a chip on my shoulder.

I am antagonistic to the East. I would never have stayed for work for Paul Rudolph anyway. Between us. There’s no way I was going to be related to New York. No way. Even when I came back, when Cesar Pelli was Dean of the architecture school at Yale, he invited me back for my first big-name professorship. And I was thrilled. I was going home. When I got to New Haven, by the time I got to the architecture building I was in tears. I’m telling you, I was totally undone because I had come home. I was thrilled. I wasn’t even there ten fucking minutes when I wanted to go back to Chicago. I loved going back to New Haven, but every time I’ve gone for Peter’s juries, I can’t stand it. I can’t wait to get out of there. I hate it. Because they’re all so snotty… and think that their shit doesn’t stink, individually and collectively. I have a hard time with those attitudes.

IG: That’s one of the things I like about Chicago. You don’t find that attitude very often. If people say something, they do it.

ST: My conversations with Peter Eisenman always begin the following way: Peter says, “I’m totally out of it. I’m not in the mainstream. I’m more out of it than you are.” I say, “No, Peter, I’m more out of it than you are.” Outsider. I wrote about it in my own book. Emmanuel Petit wrote about it in his book. When I was a little kid, I grew up in my grandparents’ boarding house because they were very poor. My grandfather was a Hasidic, Jewish, Talmudic scholar. If he had lived I would have become a rabbi. I know that. Without question. However hard it was, that’s what I would have become. But he didn’t. I’ve always been the poor, Jewish, outsider kid. Period. Being an outsider is great.

AL: And Mies too.

ST: Mies too was an outsider. Chicago worked for him because he wasn’t an intellect in the conventional sense. He was as well-read, more well-read than anyone I ever knew. Do you know the story about how Mies came to America? When he came in ‘37 after the closing of the Bauhaus in ‘33, he tried for years to become Hitler’s official architect. Mies was trying actively to displace Albert Speer. When he came to the realization through his thick German skull that Hitler wasn’t having any, he stole his brother Ewald’s passport, and that’s how he came.

So he was an outsider, even in Berlin, and he knew it. He came here where he was for sure an outsider because he was too old to learn English. He thought, wrote, and spoke in German. Believe me, English was a distant second language. He couldn’t make jokes in English but he was a very funny guy, actually. So for him being an outsider was real.

When he finally emigrated, to become head of the architecture school at the Armour Institute of Technology [now Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT)], the SS allowed him to take thirty books. He had a library of three thousand books but he was allowed to take thirty. Those thirty books, after Mies was fired from IIT in ‘58, are at the rare books library at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

IG: So you both had something in common. You were both fired from a university.

ST: Yeah, absolutely. My being fired was great. If I had been the Dean at that time I’d have fired me too, because I was absolutely a troublemaker. When I was the director at UIC, there was a long axis and faculty had to come down all the way to see me sitting in my office. On my round table there was nothing, except a piece of paper facing them with all the retirement dates of everybody on the faculty. There’s a guy named Louis Rocah, one of the major assholes of our time. When I became the Director, I said, “Louis, I consider you a really shitty teacher.” And I said, “Louis, do you know what the penalty box is in ice hockey? If you stick a guy too high, you get two minutes and you go to the penalty box. Louis, do you see this desk here? This is the penalty box for you. While I’m the director, I’m going to sacrifice your salary. We will pay you, because we can’t fire you. You have tenure. But you will sit here and never teach during my time. Ever. And you will be here every fucking day at nine o’clock.”

Yes, I was a tough character. For sure. I still am. I’m the same guy. I’ll never change. Where the phrase “mellowing out” comes from, I have no idea because it never pertained to me. I did things like that, and both Mies and I, among other things, had in common that we were both fired. When Mies was fired, there was a dinner that was called for by Myron Goldsmith and conducted by the Miesians. All the partners at Skidmore had gone to IIT. Among the people at the dinner, there was Alfred Caldwell. When Mies was fired, he was fired as campus architect, not just as a director of the architecture school, and Skidmore replaced him as the campus architect. Some of the IIT faculty were saying, “Where is this loyalty to Mies when you accept replacing him?” Only one faculty member, putting your action where your mouth is, quit: Alfred Caldwell. The rest of them stayed, the weak guys. And Myron Goldsmith became the darling of them. But he had stabbed Mies in the back. That’s why revisionist history comes about. Because it takes digging to find that stuff.

IG: You’ve always been very interested in morality and ethics.

ST: It’s how you behave. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. A very good friend of mine, a Hasidic Rabbi now in Jerusalem, used to give a course at the Spertus Institute here once a year on the Zohar, the Kabbalah. I always used to go hear his lectures and they were great. We became friends and one night we had a drink after a talk and he said, “the reason I like architects is because they actually make something. They don’t just speak it.” He said, “I know the Jews are renowned as being people of the book, but in actual fact it’s what you do that will have an impact on God. Not what you say.” Of course that’s true, all the way through. So I loved Caldwell ever since doing what he did, get out and resign. When it counted, he stood up for what he believed, and he left. So being fired, no problem. I’ve been fired. I’ve fired clients.

IG: It’s just a game.

ST: No, it’s not a game. It’s what you believe in. When you’re a zealot, which I confess I am, and people go against that, you have to act out. You have to act to show your displeasure with them. When I was director at UIC, I curated an exhibition, which changed everything. It was called, 10 Untenured Faculty. It included ten young people who would become the next generation of stars: Catherine Ingraham, Bob Somol… Bob Bruegmann resented the exhibition and said bad things about me behind my back. So I went up to Bob and said, “Bob, if you’re going to say bad things about me, do it to my face, because if you don’t you’re a fucking coward.” And with that he walked off. Because he is a fucking coward. Obviously there are very few subjects that I don’t have a very strong opinion for.







Cluster Container Housing for the Disabled, BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago, Chicago Architecture Biennial, 2015 © Tigerman McCurry Architects



Cluster Container Housing for the Disabled (model), BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago, Chicago Architecture Biennial, 2015 © David Schalliol


IG: Let’s talk about the Chicago Architecture Biennial where, apart from using the title from your ’77 symposium, you are part of the advisory committee. What do you want to see come out of the event?

ST: I happen to have personally great faith in Sarah. I do know Sarah very well. And she knows, that I know, that her ass is on the line. If it’s a failure, she’s a failure, and she won’t allow that to happen. I’m certain of it. What I expect out of the Biennial, which will happen, is the youngest generation coming into their prime, like Spike [Erin Besler]. They will change the course of architecture, there is no question about it. And not just in design ways. They will change in other ways because your generation does not believe in doing things the same way. For example, your generation is not joining the AIA, is not becoming registered. So things won’t be done the same way. You’ll find your own way to make a building and to gather together.

I think there’ll be a lot of terrific work at the Biennial. I don’t think there’s going to be a shit Biennial, like Rem [Koolhaas] did. I think it’s going to be extraordinary, despite that not everything is going to be great. Not everything that was at the Graham Foundation Treatise show was great, but much of it was. Thomas Kelley’s stuff at that exhibition was fabulous. Because he’s a really good architect.

IG: I think it would be unrealistic to expect that all the projects in the Biennial are great.

ST: With a hundred participants, is it all going to be great? I don’t think so. But I think that Tom Kelley will be great. I think Andy [Moddrell] will be great. The problem is not Andy Moddrell. The problem is that asshole Blair Kamin. Margaret and I saw him at a Harvard Club event and he came up to us and asked, “What do you think of the Biennial?” I said, “It’s really great.” He said, “Well, give me an example.” I said, “Andy Moddrell’s project [The Big Shift] is going to be there.” I could barely get the words out of my mouth. He said, “That’s total bullshit. It’s a stupid idea. It ain’t going to happen.” I said, “Blair, the only asshole in the room is you. Because the fact is, it will happen. And you know why it will happen? Because it’s money. Because it produces tax dollars up the wazoo for the city. How do you like that Blair? It’s going to happen and you’re wrong. And if I live long enough I’m going to point that out to you.” He’s wrong. He has the vision of a goddamned cockroach. He’s not visionary. You can’t be a critic or a teacher, and not be a visionary. You have to have visions. You must be forward looking. And, in any case, you’d be a fool to deny that project by Andy Moddrell. I only wish I had that idea. It is a brilliant idea, utterly brilliant, and deserves support. If an 85-year-old man can recognize it, why can’t this asshole, who considers himself the architectural critic of the city, understand it? There’s something very wrong with this picture.

IG: I think there are a lot of young talented people who have very interesting proposals and ideas. The question is how to have the opportunity to make them happen, or at least take them into consideration when the decisions are debated. I think the Biennial provides the podium to present your ideas.

ST: But it begins with the drawings and ideas. Yours is a generation that, maybe not all, but many have ideas. So I anticipate, and I would demand that this be acknowledged, that it will produce a lot of good stuff. Not all, because you can’t lump these things together. There’s going to be crap. There always is.

IG: The Biennial will have a series of public programs but besides them, there are other people and institutions organizing parallel events. Richard Driehaus has organized a kind of counter program during the opening days of the Biennial focusing on tradition, more akin to his architectural taste. I find it interesting that he is building from and reacting to the official event.

ST: The September/October issue of Chicago Architect is dedicated entirely to the Biennial. Zurich Esposito has asked me to write a piece at the beginning of the magazine. So I wrote a good 250-word piece and, among other things, I said of course there are those that haven’t been invited to be in the tent. And then I noted them. I said one is Driehaus who’s spending his money again to bring forth this reactionary crowd, to the point that Sarah, among other talks, invited the Chicago Seven to give a talk. Beeby said no. I will note that at the talk. If you were doing a symposium on the Whites, the New York Five, would you do it even though three of them were dead? Sure. So Beeby is dead. Then I said there are also “former” star architects like Rem, Peter Eisenman, that are having an event here as well. Don’t you love it that I refer to Eisenman and Rem as “former” stars? That’s great. It’s a great game.

IG: It’s great to see that you still enjoy being part of the game.

ST: I love it. I love the game. I abso-goddamned-love it. I have no problem with them convening an escape route. Julie Hacker, Stewart Cohen’s wife and partner, is putting together a symposium at the Merchandise Mart during the time of the Biennial. She has invited traditional architects, and she invited Margaret [McCurry]. I said, “Margaret, this is your chance. Do this, but show these projects in this way.” The big house in Lincoln Park, which after all is based on a Palladian parti, but is an incredibly modern, glass, and zinc-coated steel house. So I said, “From the inside, you can cut their balls off.” So she’s doing it. I like the fact that things will happen outside the tent as it were.



Front row, from left to right: Frank Gehry, Charles Moore, Philip Johnson, Stanley Tigerman, and Robert A.M. Stern. Back row, from left to right: Michael Graves, Cesar Pelli, Charles Gwathmey, and Peter Eisenman. Philip Johnson’s AIA Gold Medal acceptance, pictured with his “kids,” Dallas, Texas, 1978 © Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects


IG: Let’s talk about the Obama Presidential Library for a moment. It ended up landing
at the University of Chicago despite not having released publicly any information about their proposal. UIC had to share those plans because it’s a public school and they have to make the proposal public. In my opinion, there was a lack of debate about the actual ideas and proposals submitted. There’s something completely wrong about the process.

ST: Absolutely. It’s an unfortunate tradition in Chicago. They hold things too tightly to themselves.

IG: Despite using public land, you award a project that hasn’t been discussed at all, having been decided behind-the-scenes.

ST: Well, there’s an unfortunate tradition of behind-the-scenes. When Bruce Graham from Skidmore was alive, a number of us were helping him with the 100th anniversary of the Columbian Exposition in 1993. It never happened. You know why? I know why. In 1893, how many public meetings did Daniel Burnham conduct to persuade the population to do it? Would you guess?

IG: 20?

ST: Try 2,000. You know how many Bruce Graham conducted? Zero. So I said, “Bruce, how do you expect to get the support of the city? The politics, the city, the establishment, rich people etc. didn’t want to make waves. That’s one. Now let’s go to 2000-something when we attempted to get the Olympics for Chicago. When Mayor Daley went to Barcelona, how many public meetings were held before that? Zero. How do you expect to get the public behind you if you do zero? So I said to Sarah and Joe Grima, “Listen guys, you have to come out with this. If you hold it to yourself you’re going to get nothing but antagonism.” And they had done it to some degree, more lately than early. You understand the problem? It goes for schools, it goes for your practice, etc. I’m not worried that anyone’s going to rip me off. I show everything what I’m working on, what my thoughts are, to anybody that’s interested that’ll listen to it.

AL: In a 2003 interview you said, “Architects tend to be responders. Painters and artists tend to be initiators.” [4] Maybe that conflicts some with some of what you just said about the people you most admire in this Biennial. I want to know, do you still think that’s the case?

ST: It’s not the case now. There was only one architect of my generation who actively was an initiator, not a responder. What was his name? It’s a quiz.

AL: I don’t know.

ST: John Hejduk. He didn’t need a client. He kept putting things out there. In actual fact, the first drawings for his Wall House are actually better than the one built in Groningen. The one built in Groningen is great. But his original concept is earth shattering. It’s a brilliant concept. It’s surrealism about the future and the past, and the present is the wall. I think that your generation has more of that, of initiating. Let me go back to Spike [Erin Besler]. Her riff on Peter Eisenman’s stuff is fucking amazing. I loved that she screwed around with the robot, and that caused the robot to make inaccurate drawings, as opposed to perfect, cutting through foam-core with a hot wire. I love her misusing a tool to achieve something. That’s a first, as far as I’m concerned. She’s not the only one. Andy Moddrell is another example. Turning Grant Park into Central Park, for the purpose of high-rent districts all the way around.

IG: It’s an interesting project that understands the history of the city and its rules. If you can’t build east of Lakeshore Drive, then move Lakeshore Drive. The city has expanded its lakefront and added acres of land for a century.

ST: Exactly. All the best things come out that way. That’s how Utzon won the goddamned competition for the Sydney Opera House. He broke all the rules of the competition. That’s how Maya Lin won the Vietnam memorial competition. She broke all the rules of the actual competition. They had dismissed her project, and actually Harry Weese brought it back. “You guys are wrong. This is brilliant.”

IG: Going back to architects as initiators, people have to be willing to put themselves and their ideas out there in the public, to be open to debate and be challenged.

ST: So you know the character you need to be an architect? You need to be brave. You need to be strong. You have to have a very strong backbone. You have to have very thick skin because you’re going to get beat to shit by others, without question. You have to have that quality in you to take the criticism that will come your way no matter what. Guaranteed. Put it in the bank. I think there’s a moral to the story that you, the youngest person sitting here, should understand entirely. You know what the name of the game is? Health. You have to stay healthy. Because if you live a very long time, good shit will happen to you. But you have to be here. So all those people like Doug Garofalo, who died prematurely, that’s tragic. Or Eero Saarinen who died when he was 51. Great tragedy. Or Fazlur Khan, who was a great friend of mine. He was 51 years old. Come on. That’s the tragedy. But old guys who are 85 years old, no tragedy. I love seeing all the shit that’s going down right now. I love it, because it’s a wishful form of prophecy. I’m thrilled to be around for so long that I can see that things are going well. The latest generation, your generation, is doing it.



1. Stanley Tigerman, ed., Passing the Baton: The Next Generation of Design Leadership in Chicago (2008),

2. Stanley Tigerman, “P.P.S. to Mies,” in Schlepping Through Ambivalence: Essays on an American Architectural Condition, ed. Emmanuel J. Petit (New Haven Conn.: Yale University Press, 2011), 154.

3. “Oral History of Stanley Tigerman,” interview by Betty J. Blum, 2003 (Chicago Architects Oral History Project, Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago), 140.

4. Mara Tapp, “Can Stanley Tigerman Play Nice?” Chicago Reader, November 20, 2003,



Stanley Tigerman lecturing, c 2011 © Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects


Stanley Tigerman is a principal in the Chicago architectural and design firm of Tigerman McCurry Architects and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects as well as the Society of Architectural Historians. Of the nearly 500 projects defining his career, 200-plus built works embrace virtually every building type. He has delivered over 1,100 lectures worldwide, he was the resident architect at the American Academy in Rome in 1980, and he was Director of the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago for eight years. In 1994, in association with Eva Maddox, he co-founded ARCHEWORKS, a socially oriented design laboratory and school, where he remained as Director until 2008 when they were awarded Civic Ventures’ Purpose Prize Fellows.

Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is the editor in chief of MAS Context. He is the editor of the book Shanghai Transforming (ACTAR, 2008) and has curated several exhibitions, most recently “BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago” as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club and has been recognized as one of “Fifty Under Fifty: Innovators of the 21st Century” by a jury composed by Stanley Tigerman, Jeanne Gang, Qingyun Ma, and Marion Weiss. | @MASContext

Ann Lui is a Visiting Artist at the School of the Art Institute Chicago. She is a co-founder of Future Firm, a Bridgeport office interested in the intersection of landscape territories and architectural spectacle. She is also a co-founder of Circus for Construction, a mobile art and design gallery on the back of a truck. | @FutureFirm@paperarchitect

Debate by Jason Pickleman


Illustrations by Jason Pickleman
















Jason Pickleman, Dan Marsden, and Leslie Bodenstein run the JNL graphic design in Chicago. Since 1992 the studio has produced design that looks like art, and art that looks like design. Boundaries don’t interest them. Ambiguity does. Appropriateness, however, never hurts.

Designer As Degenerate


“Degenerate Design Advice.” Poster series, 2015. Available freely for download at


Jessica Barrett Sattell interviews Dgenerator


In 2015, graphic designers Benjamin Koditschek and Alexander Hayashi founded Dgenerator, a provisional Chicago-based studio, based on their shared belief that the conversations currently occurring within design communities insufficiently address broader social, cultural, political, and economic contexts and instead uncritically celebrate individual entrepreneurship and technological advancement. Their projects seek out a new set of aspirations and reject tried-and-true “design advice” in order to provoke the classic debate of creative labor: what should (or could) we surrender—as designers, as writers, as artists—in exchange for pursuing our work?

The studio’s public-facing side is its Confrontations reading group, which began in July 2015 and meets monthly at the Chicago Design Museum. Each session addresses a different topic in contemporary graphic design practice, such as manifestos, freelance politics, personal branding, and TED Talk-ificiation in order to encourage productive debates regarding the limitations, responsibilities, and possibilities of designers who practice within the precarious space at the intersections of laborer, messenger, and content creator.

Journalist Jessica Barrett Sattell spoke with Koditschek and Hayashi about how they provoke the boundaries that design inherently places upon itself as a commercial art, why designers are inherently hypocritical, and how criticism can be a productive force.



“Degenerate Design Advice.” Poster series, 2015. Available freely for download at


JBS: You two met through the conversations you shared at the Chicago Design Book Club, which went on hiatus only to re-emerge as Confrontations. When did you decide to start to collaborate together?

AH: We met about a year and a half ago, and we weren’t aware of each other’s work at all before then. I think Dgenerator was mainly Ben’s idea to begin with.

BK: The studio is an outgrowth of a smaller project that we did this past spring, which was a series of “design advice” posters. I was invited to give a talk to design students at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), but I really didn’t want mine to be the standard model. I’ve gone to a number of conferences, and especially at student conferences, people end up saying the same types of things, and the same advice is reproduced over and over again.

AH: That advice that doesn’t go anywhere. The kind that’s nice to hear and vaguely encouraging, but has no real application and doesn’t particularly engage any realities of actually working as a designer in anything other than a school vacuum. You’re told, “you can do anything! But…” But everyone always avoids talking about the “but.”

JBS: But what’s the “but”?

BK: Well, that kind of advice does engage the reality of working as a designer, but it’s a popular fiction.

AH: It’s the Neoliberal fantasy of “everything’s going to be OK and we can solve it by doing what we love and working hard.”

JBS: Which is the basis of things like Creative Mornings talks, where speakers get audiences pumped up about the gloss of inspirational or aspirational work, but they rarely address the systems that designers are working within and the politics of production.

AH: Very few people give, especially to students, advice that applies to living one’s life as a designer. I think the talk at UIC would have gotten a totally different reaction if it were presented at somewhere like Creative Mornings.

I’d be interested to see how it would go over in the context of a design conference, where people are very committed to defending their perspectives, especially when they view something
as attacking their own value systems around design.

JBS: But you’re not trying to attack anyone head-on. It’s subtler, more like calling out the system rather than the participants within it—although you seem to hold them accountable, too. Where does your advice fit into this?

BK: Around the same time that I was doing that talk at UIC, I read an article about Johnny Ive that mentioned that he had one of the Good Fucking Design Advice posters hanging in the Apple Design Studio. I thought that poster would be a great object to center my argument around.

Alex and I had this vague idea of making a response to Good Fucking Design Advice with a design advice talk. So, we started working on a poster series called “Degenerate Design Advice.”



“Degenerate Design Advice.” Poster series, 2015. Available freely for download at


JBS: What is it about the medium of the poster? And, why do you make them all available for free online as PDF downloads?

AH: The poster is the typical graphic design fallback, and I think it’s also a direct response to what Good Fucking Design Advice was doing. They want you to see and admire their posters online, but then you have to buy them.

Posters, too, are objects that are often imbued with transferring knowledge. We make all of ours freely available, because, first, we don’t have the money to be producing these posters and handing them out everywhere, and second, we don’t want to sell them. Had we done that whole project and then say, “buy the poster!” then it would be totally self-defeating! You have to take the approach and critique full circle.

“Degenerate Design Advice” was a key project for us because is allowed us to start thinking about how we wanted to help people to start questioning norms within the design community. We wanted them to look at their practices and realize that they have choices beyond being told that they could subscribe to any number of labels: product designers, socially engaged designers, or other roles that are already allotted as tools for young designers to help them develop identities in the design world.

BK: Or even just as people—as citizens, as informed participants in the public sphere.

JBS: Why work from the platform of a provisional studio to encourage people to question their own practices?

BK: It’s our way of trying to take our ideas beyond the first project’s poster form and start to engage the broader design community.

AH: The idea for doing a provisional graphic design studio sprung out of a conversation we had with one of my professors at UIC, Jack Henrie Fisher, about where we could go next with “Degenerate Design Advice.” He suggested that we make a studio because it would allow us to be producing with our own goals in mind. We could take on client work but still have control over the greater intent of our own work.

We’re using the word “studio” here as more of a form of working, rather than a small corporation. It’s a kind of working relationship, rather than a structure with the end goal of making money.

BK: A framework for creating design projects.

AH: The influence that we want Dgenerator to have isn’t particularly in terms of aesthetics. It’s more about in terms of a criticality of the design industry at large, and in terms of peoples’ individual practices. It’s not our intent to find and discover some new, radical aesthetic.

BK: Our goal with the studio, even though we have to formally express ourselves through design, is to look at the meta-level of design, what it means to be a designer, and what it means to be “designer as worker.”

JBS: From poster series to studio, and now to a reading group. How did the idea for Confrontations come about?

AH: There are a lot of leftist reading groups, but there aren’t a lot of design reading groups, let alone those that combine leftist ideas with design. At least to our knowledge, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to discuss how the boundaries of design interact with political, economic, and social theory.

I used to help Emily Haasch run the Chicago Design Book club, but she moved to San Francisco and then that structure started to dissolve. We didn’t want that to happen, and at first we had planned to keep running it the same way. But Ben and I began to think about how we could make the discussions more pointed and directed. Before, a sort of both positive and negative aspect of the Book Club was that it was very open-ended. That was good because it provided for a variety of discussions to happen and to engage a lot of different kinds of designers, but there was also very little imperative for people to come. It was hard to retain participation, and even if there would be a really deep conversation over the course of a two-hour meeting, there was no link to the next one. Oftentimes, those seemingly open-ended discussions ended up turning into ones on politics and economics.

BK: That is, if one of us were there!

AH: [laughs] I don’t know if people dreaded being around us because we would turn the discussions into this dysphoric dismemberment of contemporary design practice, saying that it was unable to do anything to change anything in any meaningful way.

JBS: That hits on the argument, though, that so much discussion about contemporary graphic design, either in writing or thinking, tends to be so self-affirming and uncritical beyond a formal surface examination. Maybe the fact that people were getting uncomfortable with what you were bringing up in terms of how design interacts with political issues hits on something that needs to be said.

BK: I do think that people got uncomfortable. Even though the Design Book Club was more heady than a lot of other conversations happening about design going on in Chicago at that time, there seemed to be an urge to keep things positive. I think that tendency, this aversion to criticism of any sorts, especially self-criticism or self-questioning, is very common in design communities.

Alex and I wanted to push that further; still have it be open and not have a specific agenda to shove down people’s throats, but try to push more towards the critical, potentially darker sides of design.

AH: There’s a multitude of reasons that conversations with people in groups of designers tend to be pretty positive. Part of it is that we work in an industry that puts us in a position that’s at the blunt end of a lot of critique from a lot of different people. You’re dealing with a lot of criticisms, and while it’s ideal to be able to separate yourself from your work, it’s not always possible to fully do so. You’re going to be upset, sooner or later. So you need a support system to work through that, and to foster positivity around your work.

The trend toward that positivity has a lot to do with the general societal trend towards not being critical, because being critical isn’t fun. You don’t want to be the only one being negative.

BK: You don’t want to be the hater.

AH: That makes people overly cautious. There’s this assumption that if you’re not totally for something, you’re totally against it. You can be very polite and respectful but still be against something.

BK: And you can acknowledge nuance, that there can be “love” and “hate” at the same time.



“Degenerate Design Advice.” Poster series, 2015. Available freely for download at


JBS: To be a designer is to adhere to an unstable kind of label that never quite fits the nature of the work. Why do designers so often feel that they need to look outside of design to justify their practices?

AH: Something that came out of “Degenerate Design Advice” was this idea that has been prolific for the past five or ten years: “Designer as fill-in-the-blank.” “Designer as entrepreneur.” “Designer as writer.” “Designer as activist.” “Designer as academic.” “Designer as printmaker.” Which is great, because it’s important to think about how one’s discipline relates to others, or to one’s other passions.

It was funny to me to look at these kinds of “Designer as…” lists because I began to think of my own practice as “Designer as hypocrite.” That is, working as a graphic designer, but also being interested in issues involved with morality and politics, made me realize that my value system does not align with contemporary graphic design practice.

I always feel like a hypocrite. I think part of that is owning it, and being up-front about it, and acknowledging that it’s normal to make decisions that don’t totally sit comfortably.

BK: One of the ideas we talked about in the first session of Confrontations is the “First Things First” manifestos. There’s a reason why designers end up looking hypocritical, and it’s not a moral failing—that they’re unethical and unable to “do good.” It’s that the social and economic context that we’re working within is contradictory. Everyone is a hypocrite; that’s just the world we live in. We’re trying to acknowledge and understand this underlying issue more in-depth, which means looking outside of design.

AH: Every conversation about design and designers, if it’s productive, applies to society as a whole. We’re not operating in a vacuum. That’s the case with the examination of any so-called “creative” group: the outsider-looking-in perspective is that we’re starving artists who get to do whatever we want. There’s this valorization of not making a lot of money doing something you love. But isn’t that a problem? The system is very much set up to make everyone seem like a bad person.

JBS: As artists or writers or designers, or anyone who is doing any kind of “creative” work, we make that choice to do so as a means to support ourselves, and when we do so, we’re ultimately giving something up, be it agency or accountability or security. That seems to be where that oft-quoted but problematic advice to “do what you love” comes in.

AH: The “do what you love” mind-set is incredibly seductive. But it’s not that simple. The trap is that you see people supposedly living lives where they’re being paid copious amounts of money to do what they love. But in reality, the majority of them can do so because they came from wealthy families and were able to get the best educations in aesthetics and conceptual art. They’ve been provided for. When people are unable to actualize a “do what you love” life right out of school or training, they feel like failures because they’re unaware of the level of privilege that comes from.

Another issue is that “do what you love” never asks you to be critical of the things you love, or want to do. It perpetuates this commonplace lack and fear of criticality, and criticality in terms of the greater good of society. It placates people and makes them feel comfortable. It’s a carrot-on-the-string mentality: it’s out there, but it’s always just out of reach.

JBS: It’s back to that false binary of love versus criticism, and as criticism as something negative when it’s really just the act of thinking critically.

BK: Love and criticism aren’t separate things. I think everyone should be able to do what they love. It’s a tragedy that they’re not able to, and the rhetoric of “do what you love” prevents
it from becoming a reality for everyone.

JBS: Who do you want to be a part of the discussions you’re holding, and how are they getting involved? And, how will the conversations taking place carry on beyond the structure of the meetings?

AH: We want as diverse an array of people as possible to attend, since there will be no truly constructive discussion without a mixture of opinions, perspectives, and privilege. Right now, we’re relying on our social networks to spread the word, in addition to individually inviting particular people who we think would act as great catalysts for discussion. While we’d prefer if people were to come to each meeting, the conversations also each stand alone, allowing for an accessible, drop-in model.

Right now, there is no intended outcome of this other than the discussions themselves. But, we’re looking to start recording them in order to create a set of source materials, which could be utilized as audio files, or as content for use in a design project like a publication or poster series.

BK: Each discussion is focused on a small selection of opposing or complementary texts that target a related set of issues. Broadly, it’s based on the idea of trying to get at the boundaries of design discourse, the kinds of things that are unacceptable, for various reasons, to talk about in the workplace, at parties, or even in most classroom settings. We’re interested in issues that are common to the creative industry as a whole, not just specific workplaces.

The first discussion questioned whether designers and advertisers are able to act ethically through their work: what is the relationship between the design for business and the design for good? Might aspirations for design to act as a social force be self-undermining? The next discussion will build off of that conver-sation and take a look back to early modernism to consider how history repeats similar patterns, and takes stock of how the grand aspirations of modernist design have played out. The third discussion shifts gears a bit to interrogate the relationship between corporate identity, corporate personhood, and the obligation to brand oneself as an enterprise of one. Future discussions will address the way TED talks have transformed the ways ideas are expected to be presented, further explore the charged politics of the “do what you love” rhetoric, and dive into the pros and cons of contract freelance labor.

JBS: What are you hoping will arise from Confrontations, as it continues? How are you defining the success of the debates you’re trying to engender?

AH: A successful series would be one that allows people to openly discuss their ideas and ideals in a space that invites productive creativity, and that these discussions help people better understand their individual practices more deeply on both personal and structural levels. There are topics that each session will approach, but really, all I want to happen out of it is that there’s spirited discussion in general. That is incredibly important. I would really like a lot of the people who disagree with the things that Ben and I have to say to show up. Because of all of the nuances of these issues, and because everyone has a different experience, it’s going to be exciting just to be in a place where criticality is understood as a productive asset and not as a hateful force.


Dgenerator is a provisional graphic design studio based in Chicago and formed by Benjamin Koditschek and Alexander Hayashi. Benjamin Koditschek is a graphic artist and writer. He holds a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is currently studying humanities at the University of Chicago. Alexander Hayashi is a designer and dancer engaging in problem solving through earnest critical experimentation. He holds a BDes in Graphic Design from the University of Illinois at Chicago. | | @beamko | @ajyhayashi

Jessica Barrett Sattell is a design and technology writer, editor, and critic. She received her MA in Journalism with an emphasis in Art and Technology from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and was a research and development fellow at the Chicago Design Museum. | @culturalcatgirl

A Heroic Debate


© MAS Context


A Heroic Debate by Chris Grimley, Michael Kubo, and Mark Pasnik





Alison and Peter Smithson
architects, London:
Brutalism tries to face up to a mass-production society, and drag a rough poetry out of the confused and powerful forces which are at work. Up to now Brutalism has been discussed stylistically, whereas its essence is ethical.

Le Corbusier
architect, Paris:
Béton brut was born at the Unité d’Habitation at Marseilles where there were 80 contractors and such a massacre of concrete that one simply could not dream of making useful transitions by means of grouting. I decided: let us leave all that brute. I called it “béton brut.” The English immediately jumped on the piece and treated me (Ronchamp and the Monastery of La Tourette) as “Brutal”—béton brutal—all things considered, the brute is Corbu. They called that “the new brutality.” My friends and admirers take me for the brute of the brutal concrete!

Araldo Cossutta
architect, New York and Paris:
The term “brut” means something completely different in the French language, whereas the word “brutal” gives the impression of buildings created by wild people. I resent the word Brutalism being attached to my work in any way.

Reyner Banham
critic, United Kingdom:
Adopted as something between a slogan and a brick-bat flung in the public’s face, The New Brutalism ceased to be a label descriptive of a tendency common to most modern architecture, and became instead a program, a banner, while retaining some—rather restricted—sense as a descriptive label. It is because it is both kinds of -ism at once that The New Brutalism eludes precise description.





Things need to be ordinary and heroic at the same time.

Frederick A. “Tad” Stahl
architect, Boston:
I hoped this work might contribute to the development of a vocabulary—or even a vernacular—of modest but authoritative architecture.

Mary Otis Stevens
architect, Boston:
I think your term Heroic is entirely misplaced… To call it Heroic just feeds the critique by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and others. As a title, Heroic is just too loaded.

Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown
architects, Philadelphia:
This is not the time and ours is not the environment for heroic communication through pure architecture.

anon (not verified):
Replace “Heroic” with “arrogant” and they are right. At the time architects and their BRA [Boston Redevelopment Authority] enablers thought nothing of being uncaring and disdainful of the public with mass land takings and demolition for anti-human superblocks.

The heroic struggle of the first period of Modern Architecture . . . gave a sense of moral responsibility to invent for ourselves forms appropriate to the postwar period; forms equal in power—but of a different order of strength… responding to the more complicated, even confused, needs of our time.

I would apply the word Heroic to today’s McMansions and other mega-showoffs, whereas our work was anti-monumental… Heroic to me means being grandiose.

N. Michael McKinnell
architect, Boston:
The making of architecture is imbued with hubris, because we challenge our own mortality. That is perhaps why you use such words as heroic and noble. I think that those are terms in which all architects—whatever they say—secretly think of their work.





Concrete was in the air. People were interested in the material. I think there were many reasons for its use. As Peter Collins—the biographer of Auguste Perret who taught me at Manchester University—said, “Concrete is the stone of our time.”

Henry N. Cobb
architect, New York City:
Architectural concrete is a very rare material today. There is a lost heroic aspect to cast-in-place concrete. The problem is that the people who really knew about concrete—those who did the research, built the mockups, did the tests—are mostly gone now.

Architectural concrete was an art form that more or less went out with the modern movement and its insistence on exposing the rawness of the real. After the slaughter of two successive World Wars, you tell it as it is—with none of this phony cover-up. We believed in the link between architectural and moral integrity.

People in general do not appreciate concrete. It is still considered a cheap material. They get confused at a place like the [Christian Science Center] church because concrete certainly does not look cheap there. It’s really the economics. Don’t forget that most contractors still know how to pour concrete. It’s just that they no longer know how to produce beautiful architectural concrete.

The characteristic of concrete that we enjoyed most was that one material could do so much, and could be seen to do so much. It could be the structure. It could be the cladding. It could be the floors, it could be the walls. There’s a kind of all-through-ness about it. I think if we could have done it, we would have used concrete to make the light switches.

You could give concrete any form you wanted. It was a material that freed the designer’s imagination.

Reinforced concrete attracted me in part because it is an innately architectural medium, one that is a complete building system unto itself. I had become convinced that architecture should necessitate and compellingly demonstrate an internal logical consistency based on universal principles.

Being monolithic meant eliminating applied surfaces, hung ceilings, sheetrock—eliminating everything except concrete. In that sense, authenticity is a good word. We strove to eliminate the kind of layering that was becoming very characteristic in commercial buildings at that time.





What happened in Boston was a kind of conjunction of the historic city with modernism.

Ada Louise Huxtable
critic, New York City:
While other cities made the same mistakes, and are still making them, Boston paused for shocked reappraisal of what “renewal” had wrought, brought in Edward J. Logue from New Haven to head the Boston Redevelopment Authority and set up an expert planning and architectural staff. Just as significantly, it began to plan directly with the communities involved.

Peter Chermayeff
architect, Boston:
A lot of credit should be given to Ed Logue… [he] was a sophisticated guy with a civic vision, who also believed in the importance of good design. He became the means to recover from the huge mistake made in destroying Boston’s West End in the name of urban renewal. It was on everybody’s mind—what a disaster. Logue came in to make sure that it could never happen again.

I thought he was like a missionary, one who had a singular vision in mind: making cities commercially viable. New Haven, Boston, New York—this is what he did. Mayor [John F.] Collins was easily influenced by Ed Logue, especially if it got him good reviews. I was all for urban renewal and the BRA at the time, although tearing down the West End set a terrible precedent. That strategy destroyed rather than revived residential life in Boston and other American cities.

Jane Jacobs
urbanist and author, New York City:
The trouble with paternalists is that they want to make impossibly profound changes, and they choose impossibly superficial means for doing so.

Edward J. Logue
director, Boston Redevelopment Authority:
Ms. Jacobs is the first one to propose that we use street life as the model for city life everywhere. It is in the image of the Village that she would recast our slum-stricken cities. No more federal renewal aids; let the cities fend for themselves. Not surprisingly, this approach has won her many new friends, particularly among comfortable suburbanites. They like to be told that neither their tax dollars nor their own time need be spent on the cities they leave behind them at the close of each work day.

We expect too much of new buildings, and too little of ourselves.

Our cities are in deep trouble, and large-scale federal financial aid is essential. There is no other effective, constitutional way to get rid of harmful urban land use on the scale required. Urban renewal is the most useful tool yet devised to help cities help themselves.

Dull, inert cities, it is true, do contain the seeds of their own destruction and little else. But lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves.

Rehabilitation is the wave of the future. The days of the bulldozer redevelopment program will soon be over. Rehabilitation may be harder to start but it is easier to wholesale, and it makes much more sense to city dwellers.

William J. Foley
member, Boston City Council:
I’d rather have visitors to Boston look at things they see in Miami and New York—bright, shiny, tax-producing buildings—rather than some ugly building where William Lloyd Garrison once published the Liberator or some old pizza stand (the Old Brattle Tavern) which he [Logue] plans to tear down brick by brick and rebuild elsewhere.

Right on! They shouldn’t have stopped with Scollay Square and the West End, the South End was a total shxthole back then and they should have wiped it all out and replaced it with terrific, inviting buildings like Center Plaza and Longfellow Place! Then we wouldn’t have the ugly, unliveable South End and all the disgusting old rehabbed brownstone buildings and walkable blocks that blight that whole stretch of the city!! Charlestown, Back Bay, Jamaica Plain—how those God-awful neighborhoods didn’t “bring down the economy of the entire city,” I will never understand.

Money is shipped in by the bunches and carloads from Washington [and] there is no shortage of wise guys to control it…. One of the leading wolves in that pack of wise guys is Ed Logue.

anon (not verified):
All of Government Center looks like something an egomaniacal dictator would design. It perhaps might make sense to someone with a social deficit like autism, but not to neuro-typical people.

Katherine Craven
member, Boston City Council:
…the resemblances between Logue and Hitler are striking.

Louise Day Hicks
chair, Boston School Committee:
You know where I stand.

George Foley
chair, Boston City Council Urban Renewal Committee:
If you don’t want urban renewal, you won’t have to have it… show some respect for the people who came here honestly to learn something.

You bald-headed son-of-a-bitch, I’ll poke you in the nose!

To my Boston friends here… I want to say I am happy with my new job. It is calm and peaceful, and I can’t really say that I miss Louise Day Hicks, Mrs. Craven… and I was happy to learn that Bill Foley has been retired to private life.

Just think, if there had been a Twitter in the late ‘60s we might not have had to spend the subsequent half a century looking at the waste of concrete and brick that is Boston’s City Hall.

After we won the City Hall competition, we were walking along Madison Avenue, and we spied [Philip] Johnson coming toward us, waving his arms in typical Johnsonian fashion. “Ah! I’m so happy for you two young boys who have won this competition. Absolutely marvelous … I think it’s wonderful… and it’s so ugly!”





Two principal developments created the strong trend away from concrete to steel throughout the 1970s. First, the oil embargo of the mid-seventies and the ensuing recession in the building industry were far more serious than many have imagined… Concrete construction was dealt a fatal blow, with construction companies, precasters, and concrete specialists suffering or closing entirely.

Second, the major emphasis in the building industry was on the reduction of risk. The advent of construction management in the process of building made the more risky, complex, and demanding execution of concrete construction far less attractive than the singular responsibilities of steel subcontractors. Most general contractors learned to outsource their risk through more extensive subcontracting. In doing so, they often abandoned the concrete work they once had mastered.

There was a political aspect to it as well. While in the early sixties we witnessed a euphoria—President Kennedy was a heroic figure—later in that decade people turned against heroism in the political world. The young people in ’68 were staunchly opposed to anything that smacked of authority. And it was also true in architecture. Bob Venturi and Denise Scott Brown became immensely influential by pursuing what they believed to be an authentic version of populist architecture.

There are fashions in building. Behind the fashions lie economic and technological reasons, and these fashions exclude all but a few genuinely different possibilities in city dwelling construction at any one time.

Postmodern ideas were beginning to take hold earlier than most people imagine, especially with the liberty to draw on historical and contextual sources. The ideological straightjacket of modernism had been put back in the closet.

Tician Papachristou
architect, New York City:
Yes, postmodern, although it would have more aptly been called “pre-modern.” That movement caught fire for some time and other architects began to come into the picture, while we kept moving along with the concrete burden on our backs. Until the early 1970s when things changed, the late 1960s was a heady time filled with idealism. You felt it—and it was an inseparable part of the buildings conceived in that era.

Prior to that era, I was disillusioned, I felt the country was moving in a direction I did not want it to. Then the 1960s gave me hope. In architectural terms, I don’t think one can just start there, you need to understand the origins of the ideas earlier.

It was wonderful. We had a hell of a time.

UHub fan (not verified):
The problem was these ideas were so intellectual and abstract that it’s nearly impossible for an average human being to sense any of them when physically in or around the actual building itself. This was a time of cold people with big ideas, and they were incapable of understanding how disconnected they were to the very people they were attempting acknowledge.

It was a moment when you had all these creative fires going together. Of course some burned each other out or they burned out on their own. The collegiality eventually shifted because architecture became less of a communal effort, and instead gravitated to today’s pervasive star-culture that puts people at poles against one another. But for a while during the postwar era, there was openness, collegiality—and so much became possible.



What does “Brutalism” mean?
AS+PS “The New Brutalism,” Architectural Design (April 1957): 113.
LC letter to Josep Lluís Sert, May 12, 1962, reprinted in Eduard F. Sekler and William Curtis, Le Corbusier at Work: The Genesis of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 302. The translation is Curtis’s, 166.
AC “Integral Architecture,” interview with Araldo Cossutta, in Mark Pasnik, Michael Kubo, and Chris Grimley, Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston (New York: The Monacelli Press 2015), 300.
RB “The New Brutalism,” Architectural Review (December 1955): 356.

What about “Heroic?”
AS+PS Without Rhetoric: An Architectural Aesthetic 1955–1972 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1974), 92.
FS “Modernism in Search of Authenticity: Comments by Frederick A. ‘Tad’ Stahl,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 319.
MOS “The Anti-Hero,” interview with Mary Otis Stevens, in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 326.
RV+DSB Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, Learning From Las Vegas (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1972), 87.
anon Comment on adamg “Architects: Boston City Hall isn’t brutalist—it’s heroic,” Universal Hub, June 27, 2015,
AS+PS The Charged Void: Architecture (New York: The Monacelli Press, 2001), 38.
MOS “The Anti-Hero,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 326.
MM “Concrete is Patient,” interview with N. Michael McKinnell, in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 311.

Why concrete?
MM “Concrete is Patient,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 309.
HC “A Shared Ethos,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 297.
MOS “The Anti-Hero,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 325.
AC “Integral Architecture,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 300.
MM “Concrete is Patient,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 309.
AC “Integral Architecture,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 300.
FS “Modernism in Search of Authenticity,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 318.
HC “A Shared Ethos,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 292.

What happened in Boston?
HC “A Shared Ethos,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 296.
ALH “Renewal in Boston: Good and Bad,” New York Times, April 19, 1964, 24.
PC “Experiential Thinking,” interview with Peter Chermayeff, in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 288–289.
MOS “The Anti-Hero,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston: 324.
JJ The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Random House, 1961), 271.
EL “The ‘View From the Village’—By Edward J. Logue,” in “American Cities: Dead or Alive?—Two Views,” Architectural Forum (March 1962): 89.
JJ The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 334.
EL “The ‘View From the Village,’” 90.
JJ The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 448.
EL “The ‘View From the Village,’” 90.
WF “Foley Blasts Logue Plan for Historical Site,” The Boston Globe, July 25, 1961, 3.
HubMan Comment on Chris Grimley, “Urban renewal has shaped Boston for the better,” The Boston Globe, June 15, 2015,
WF Quoted in “Renewal Foes Protest JP Plan,” 5.
anon Comment on adamg, “Architects: Boston City Hall isn’t brutalist—it’s heroic,” Universal Hub, June 27,
KC Quoted in “Bold Boston Gladiator—Ed Logue,” LIFE, December 24, 1965, 127.
LDH campaign slogan for Boston mayoral election, 1967.
GF “Renewal Foes Protest JP Plan,” The Boston Globe, August 28, 1965, 5.
KC Quoted in Anthony Yudis, “Charlestown Hearing Explodes: Wildest Renewal Battle Rocks Council Chamber,” The Boston Globe (April 28, 1965): 1.
EL “Ed Logue remembers his ‘friends’… echoes of LBJ and the press… A.D.A. pleased,” The Boston Globe, November 30, 1969, A23.
SOXINPA Comment on John Powers, “Olympics chief, Walsh trade barbs over failed bid,” The Boston Globe, July 29, 2015,
MM “Concrete is Patient,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 309.

What changed?
FS “Modernism in Search of Authenticity,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 319.
MM “Concrete is Patient,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 311.
JJ The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 216.
MM “Concrete is Patient,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 310.
TP “The Burden of Concrete,” interview with Tician Papachristou, in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 317.
MOS “The Anti-Hero,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 322.
PC “Experiential Thinking,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 289.
UHub Comment on adamg, “Architects: Boston City Hall isn’t brutalist—it’s heroic,” Universal Hub, June 27, 2015,
MOS “The Anti-Hero,” in Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, 325.


Chris Grimley is a principal of over,under in Boston, Massachusetts. With expertise in architecture, urban design, graphic identity, and publications, the firm’s portfolio ranges in scale from books to cities. Chris is co-director of the pinkcomma gallery and has designed books for Rockport Publications and Rizzoli Press. He is the co-author of Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston (Monacelli Press, 2015). | @ou_grimley

Michael Kubo is an architect, author, and PhD Candidate in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture at MIT. In 2014 Kubo was Associate Curator for OfficeUS, the US Pavilion at the International Architecture Biennale in Venice. He is co-editor of OfficeUS Atlas (Lars Müller, 2015), the second volume of the OfficeUS book series. Kubo is a founding partner of the design practice Collective–LOK, co-director of pinkcomma gallery in Boston, and a collaborator in over,under, an interdisciplinary practice with expertise in architecture, urban design, graphic identity, and publications. He is the co-author of Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston (Monacelli Press, 2015). | | @microkubo

Mark Pasnik is a principal of over,under in Boston, Massachusetts. The firm’s portfolio
includes buildings, exhibitions, urban designs, publications, and graphic projects for clients in the Middle East, Central America, and the United States. Mark is co-director of the pinkcomma gallery and an associate professor of architecture at Wentworth Institute of Technology. He is the co-author of Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston (Monacelli Press, 2015).

The Personal Debate of Juan O’Gorman


Juan O’Gorman © Image by Leo Burnett Department of Design


Essay by Fabrizio Gallanti


Certain adjectives accompanying the word “debate” imply the existence of an intense dialogue between multiple subjects within a specific discipline. In that phrasal construction the word “debate” equates the concept of “discourse,” although it suggests a wider polyphony of voices. The words associated with “debate” are characteristic of the cultural world: the literary debate, the artistic debate, the architectural debate, etc.

In Latin languages the pairing tends to indicate the majority of the positions, proposals, points of views, and juxtaposed opinions around a practice: it defines a field and an atmosphere, what we could call an intellectual context that surrounds and informs a particular aesthetic activity. Dibattito architettonico or debate arquitectonico are not related to specific issues but rather indicate the dominant themes and tendencies around architecture, identified in time and space (and in fact an infinite quantity of thesis or academic research are dedicated to the status of such debates in defined historical periods and locations).

Historians and critics tend therefore to employ dialectic methodologies of analysis, identifying the differences between multiple authors, who often act inside currents and groups. Sometimes the debate actually occurred, with opposed and occasionally virulent opinions, struggling for affirmation and hegemony, using a vast array of media (publications, exhibitions, public presentations).One example could be the struggle in Soviet Russia between Constructivist artists gathered around Naum Gabo and Productivist artists, designers, and architects, for the determination of the role of the arts in the post-revolutionary society.

In other circumstances the differences are reconstructed ex-post with the intention to generate a more accurate portrayal of an era, recognizing nuances and differentiations that were not always perceived in the historical moment. In any case, a sensation of a certain width accompanies this notion as numerous subjects appear on a very populated scene, whether it is the Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes in seventeenth-century France around the sources of inspiration for literature or the current discussion around net neutrality.

Considering architecture and because it is completely different than the aforementioned generalization, where many voices are involved, it is fascinating to observe the trajectory of one intellectual, the Mexican architect and artist Juan O’Gorman (1905–1982).

It can be said that a conspicuous part of the “architectural debate” in Mexico, between the ‘20s and ‘50s just happened within one person: him. Through his designed and built work, numerous public presentations, academic teaching, and writings, O’Gorman first strongly advocated for the affirmation of functionalist architecture in Mexico and then violently repudiated it. Both his positions were based not just on questions within the boundaries of architectural thinking, but on a wider moral and political conscience about the role of the architect in a country that emerged from the violence and turmoil of the revolution that lasted between 1910 and 1917.

In his autobiography, published in 1973, O’Gorman dedicates numerous pages about the period of the civil war and the strategies of adaptation and survival vis-à-vis the different warring factions put in place by his father, Cecil Crawford O’Gorman, a mining engineer of Irish origin. Unable to attend school, and blocked at home, O’Gorman observed the cunning actions—a mix of bravery and piety—of his father to protect his family and friends. [1]

The direct experience of the political violence of the ‘10s exerted a durable impression on him: on one hand stimulating questions about the same notion of Mexico and its identity but also revealing a society segmented along extremely profound lines of class division and inequality. Throughout his career the ethical question of the role of the architect with respect to inequality recurred, determining major consequences in O’Gorman’s life.

In 1921 he started to attend the school of architecture of the Universidad Nacional de México, while working as a draftsman for the cement company Eureka between 7 and 10 in the morning in order to pay for his studies. The school was still under the influence of the Beaux-Arts movement, lazily promoted by aging architects, who almost never appeared to teach. Together with other students, O’Gorman approached the subsecretary of education of the period, who then forced the professors to return to class. Due to his talents in drawing, O’Gorman often collaborated with the offices of architects who incarnated the new emerging tendencies of modern architecture: Carlos Tarditi, José Villagrán García, and Carlos Obregón. He attributed his inclination for the functionalist language of his early projects to the teaching of the architect Guillermo Zárraga and the engineer José Antonio Cuevas. In 1924, O’Gorman received a copy of Vers une architecture of Le Corbusier, a turning point in his trajectory. In 1929, investing the money from his design for a small bank at the Obregón office, he purchased two tennis courts in the San Angel district, where he built a small house that incarnated his ideological position as architect. The project was extreme in its stripped austerity, a small wonder of industrial materials and solutions left visible, surpassing for its radicalism the examples of Le Corbusier that O’Gorman studied carefully. [2] In his autobiography he stated that he wanted to create à Corbusieran machine à habiter and so he did. Shortly after, on the adjacent site, artists Diego de Rivera and Frida Kahlo commissioned him to design their studios, finished in 1931, and that became recognizable icons of the new Mexican functionalist architecture.



House-Studio of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, 1929-1931, Mexico City © CNOVIO. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license



House-Studio of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, 1929-1931, Mexico City © Claudia Beatriz Aguilar. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0
Unported license


Throughout the ‘30s O’Gorman multiplied his public appearances, through conferences and articles, vehemently supporting the cause of functionalist architecture, considered as the unique way to deliver the necessary quantities of housing and services for the working class. In the same period he was working for the Secretary of Education, designing over twenty-five functionalist schools. He contributed to the foundation of a new architecture school, the Escuela Superior de Ingenieria y Arquitectura Instituto Politecnico Nacional, while still formally a student of the Universidad Nacional (in fact, he was he was threatened with expulsion but then managed to graduate in 1936).

His positions were confronted with those of traditionalist architects, seeking to defend an idea of “humanist” architecture. The promotion of functionalism in architecture was clearly articulated in the lecture that he gave at the Sociedad de Arquitectos Mexicanos in 1933. The debate was organized around the nature of Mexican architecture: eleven traditionalist architects, many of them prominent members of the cultural elite of the country, attacked the only three modernists invited to the seminar, O’Gorman himself, Álvaro Aburto, and Juan Legarreta. The juxtaposition was centered on the notion that architecture could support the transmission of spiritual values, through formalism. The modernists rejected any notion of symbolic value of architecture, defending the goal of efficiency, economy, and the urgency to satisfy basic needs. In fact, the divergence around the issue of spiritual values was primarily political, between reactionary and progressive forces: O’ Gorman wanted to act on the structural level of society, while issues of form, taste, and style were perceived as bourgeois super structural additions. [3]

In his lecture, O’Gorman proposes to adopt the concept of “technical architecture,” rather than modern, international, or functionalist to strengthen the idea of architecture as a useful practice at the service of the majority of citizens. Through the presentation the figure of the engineer as a model emerged often, analogously to the position of Le Corbusier in Vers une architecture. To mock his pompous opponents he evoked the wisdom of Mies van der Rohe, when accused of just designing boxes: “What’s wrong with boxes?” [4]

In the light of his extreme and consistent ideological position in the ‘30s, the later rejection of functionalist architecture by O’Gorman represents a fascinating historiographical enigma. Disillusioned by the appropriation of the technical language in architecture by what he considered to be profit seeking developers and investors, after 1935 O’Gorman gradually retrieved from the architectural profession, to dedicate himself to painting, especially public commissioned large murals. [5]

In his own residence, a cavernous folly built in 1955 in the Pedregal suburb, it is possible to read a novel interest in organic architecture, combined with decorative motifs from pre-Colombian Mexican sources, similar to the mosaics that he was realizing for the new library building of the UNAM campus (1956). In two lectures of the same period, O’Gorman advocated for the approach of Frank Lloyd Wright, while criticizing the lack of humanity of modernist architecture. It is particularly striking how while he attacked numerous architects, whom he earlier admired, O’Gorman included a very harsh self critical analysis of his own trajectory, recognizing to have failed to understand the relevance of Wright: he wrote that because of his “lack of talent” he used Le Corbusier as a reference instead. The negative appraisal of functionalism was rooted in a political reading of the post war condition: the International Style became the language of the new world power, the United States, and thus was being imported in Mexico by the ruling capitalist elites, without acknowledging the legacy of the work developed there in the ‘30s. In a surprising volte-face, traditional Mexican architecture and art appear to be the sole possible incarnation and expression of the oppressed, for whom O’Gorman still wanted to operate: in order to save his ideological position, he had to sacrifice aesthetics. [6]



Central Library, Ciudad Universitaria Campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City © Carlos Cortés. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license


O’Gorman said: “the knowledge of traditional forms of art, gives to the artist, and especially to the architect, a material from which to proceed… to create an expressive modern work alive in its own time,” a surprising position that incorporated many of the opinions of his opponents of twenty years earlier. [7]

Located in the archives of American architecture historian Esther McCoy and studied by Keith Eggener, the unpublished manuscript “The Degeneration of Architecture in Mexico Today” is perhaps the epitome of the controversial inner debate that agitated O’Gorman through his life, combining numerous themes explored in his Mexican conferences. [8]

As stated by Eggener, the forty-eight pages of typed text submitted to the journal are a paper battlefield, charged with hand written annotations and corrections, a legible proof of the O’Gorman’s tortuous inner struggles (harsh style, perhaps, being one of the reasons for the journal not to publish it). The text includes scathing comments on many modernist “masters”: Gropius is criticized for not understanding organic architecture, Le Corbusier is described as a Swiss Puritan with fascist inclinations, and the work of Mies van der Rohe is dismissed for its abstraction.

“In synthesis, functionalism in architecture is mechanically reasonable and humanly illogical because man is not a machine” is the summary of the distance that O’Gorman feels with his own past. The architectural production in Mexico during the ‘50s is considered as a decorative iteration of functionalist motifs, without being functional. The feeling of loss of an ethic and political position is central in O’Gorman thinking, which is influenced by the popular rejection of the modernist language (“people calls them square boxes with square windows”). This dichotomy between morality and design is similar to the increasing critique of a normative modernism expressed within the CIAM in the ‘50s accompanied by and quest for a return to the progressive origins of modern architecture. [9]

What is fascinating in the essay is the historical overview of modern architecture, produced from a peripheral platform, Mexico, in that case. The final diagnosis is correct, not only about the discipline (modernism is on the wane), but more in general about the relations between developed and underdeveloped countries, about the class composition of the Mexican society, and the allegiances of the dominant elite to a cosmopolitan jet-set, and about the political struggles ahead.

There is another coherence and continuity to be found in O’Gorman’s thinking, which is about the role of design as a motor of collective progress, where the personal debate between international functionalism and national tradition is just the superficial crust. Not many could engage in such a deep critique. O’Gorman had to do it alone, until his end.



1. Antonio Luna Arroyo, Juan O’Gorman: autobiografía, antología, juicios críticos y documentación exhaustiva sobre su obra (Mexico: Cuadernos Populares de Pintura Mexicana Moderna, 1973).

2. A detailed account of O’Gorman trajectory is included in Valerie Fraser, Building the New World: Studies in the Modern Architecture of Latin America, 1930–1960 (London: Verso, 2000).

3. See Patrice Elizabeth Olsen, Artifacts of Revolution: Architecture, Society and Politics in Mexico City, 1920–1940 (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009).

4. Mies van der Rohe (Lecture at the Society of Mexican Architects), Mexico D. F., October 18, 1955) in Arroyo, Juan O’Gorman.

5. In his autobiography the decision to close his studio in 1938 is described as a pragmatic choice, related to costs, very much in line with his materialist attitude. O’Gorman continued though to teach architectural design at the school that he founded.

6. The same idea of Mexicanidad is also a permanent cultural construction, initially promoted by the ruling party, the PRI, artificially blending multiple historical sources. The adoption of stronger nationalist positions from O’Gorman is similar to the ideological changes of the Soviet Union under Stalin, which were very important within the political and cultural debate
in Mexico.

7. “Más allá del funcionalismo (I). La arquitectura moderna y su relaciones (¿Su aceptación popular?),” (Lecture at the Society of Mexican Architects), Mexico D. F., October 18, 1955), in Ida Rodríguez Prampolini, Juan O’ Gorman, arquitecto y pintor (Mexico: UNAM, 1982).

8. Keith Eggener, “Juan O’Gorman versus the International Style: An Unpublished Submission to the JSAH,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 68, no. 3 (September 2009).

9. See for instance “The Heroic Period of Modern Architecture,” ed. Alison and Peter Smithson, special issue, Architectural Design (December 1965).


Fabrizio Gallanti holds a PhD in architectural design from the Politecnico di Torino (Turin, Italy 2001) and an MArch from the University of Genova (1995). In 1998 he was among the founding members of gruppo A12. In 2003 he founded with Francisca Insulza Fig-Projects. Between 2007 and 2011 he was the architecture editor at Abitare magazine and chief editor of the Abitare website. Between 2011 and 2014 he was the Associate Director Programs at the Canadian Centre of Architecture in Montréal, Canada. He has taught at universities in Chile, Italy, and United Kingdom. He is currently the first Mellon Senior Fellow within the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities.

Political Props
Territorial Performance and the Chamizal Dispute


U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and Mexican President Adolfo López Mateos dedicate a new chrome border monument to crowds from El Paso and Juarez, September 25, 1964. (Detail) © Courtesy the El Paso Times


Essay by Nathan Friedman


The Gila does not always run in the same bed; whenever it changes the boundary must change, and no survey nor anything else can keep it from changing…

It forms of itself a more apparent and enduring monument of the boundary than any that can be made by art. [1]


A 1964 El Paso Times press photograph depicts Mexican President Adolfo López Mateos and US President Lyndon B. Johnson, each standing on the domestic soil of their respective countries, stepping towards one another with open palms (fig. 1). It is the moment directly before a handshake atop the survey line dividing Mexico and the United States, an act choreographed as the symbolic end to the Chamizal land dispute in debate for over a century. Behind them stands a chrome obelisk monument on the international seam, highly polished and proudly new. It reflects the political gesture in high definition. Surrounding crowds from El Paso and Juárez, documented in the tens of thousands, saw the event doubled: four hands reaching out in mutual, amplified greeting. [2] A map serving as backdrop to the scene calls out the course of the Rio Grande River with dotted lines and labels land as “To Mexico” and “To United States,” signifying, with the abstract clarity of diagram, the latest division of international limits. On September 25, 1964 the United States federal government publicized a grand gesture of return, an act reported by Mexico City’s Excélsior as “the greatest diplomatic triumph in Mexico’s history.” [3]



U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and Mexican President Adolfo López Mateos dedicate a new chrome border monument to crowds from El Paso and Juarez, September 25, 1964. © Courtesy the El Paso Times


The land in question, and the borderline that divided El Paso from Juárez, was disputed soon after the Treaty of 1848 specified the Rio Grande as an international boundary. [4] The natural element that preexisted the region’s inhabitation and motivated its settlement, chosen as a stable marker of sovereign limits, proved indifferent to politics. Between consecutive surveys in 1852 and 1873 a series of natural shifts pushed the river south, redistributing approximately 600 acres of land from Mexico to the United States. [5] Both countries claimed ownership of the territory. Mexico believed the original survey line should be honored, while the United States claimed the boundary shift was gradual and, in accordance with international law, the territory was theirs. [6] To complicate matters further, a small parcel of land nicknamed Cordova Island was recognized as a Mexican enclave north of the Rio Grande, created after a man-made channel streamlined the river in an effort to control flooding and additional erosion.

The Chamizal ceremony celebrated the signing of the Chamizal Treaty, an international agreement that honored the 1852 survey line and launched a major landscape-engineering project to redirect the Rio Grande back to its historic course. The location of this ceremony, specifically the handshake of Presidents Johnson and Mateos, is of central importance. It is a sense of location, rather than the location itself, that supports the occurrence of the event on many fronts. The public audience is lead to believe, through the inclusion of a new border monument, that the handshake was situated directly atop the international seam, the successful negotiation of which serving as ceremonial impetus. However, this reading is complicated by the fact that first, the international border between El Paso and Juárez would ultimately be defined not by a material monument on dry land but by a concrete channel for the Rio Grande. Second, the ceremony took place at a high school in El Paso that was near the border but not actually on the border. Perhaps this anxiety of location produced the necessity for a diagrammatic backdrop to underline context. Map, monument, and handshake act in unison to institutionally project a geographically specific location, an image that would be quickly disseminated across both countries by national media. [7]

The following analysis frames compositional fragments of the El Paso Times photograph as political props, defined as material elements that support the border as a project performed and in turn allow for the reconstitution of national limits to occur. By tracing the role and history of territory, monument, and federal agents central to the Chamazal ceremony one is able to understand the relevance of things represented and, more importantly, assert the absence of both landscape-engineering and urbanism—elements that played a vital role in the definition of the United States-Mexico border during the mid-twentieth century yet were denied visual representation.




The El Paso Times photograph can be read on two levels. The first reading is one of fact, or truthful representation of an event. It acts as evidence and alibi for time, place, and circumstance, elements that are not in dispute or open to interpretation. [8] The fixed nature of the image and its distribution by national media promotes the action as a binding legal contract. [9] Yet far from mutually exclusive, facts are open to interpretation. Each singular fact or description is complicated by a series of alternate realities framed by varying contexts, compositions, and vantage points, all, as sociologist Kim Lane Scheppele explains, “equally true but differently organized.” [10] Further, such projected narratives are constructed with motive and intention; they are anything but neutral. It is only through a close reading that one is able to extract and navigate elements unseen. Through consideration of alternative realities, a second reading of the photograph as social fiction emerges. The institutionally framed image operates on the gap between truthful description and public mass communication. [11]

Photographs, especially those that emanate from news media, are public artifacts to be interpreted. Often serving as secondary visual support alongside descriptive text, these images contain their own agency that expands far beyond the individual caption. Even when the image is directed by a single figure and carefully composed, ownership or authority of meaning does not exist. [12] While it is possible, even necessary, to consider photographs as an assemblage of components, each with their own history and relevance, an overall reading of the artifact cannot be reduced to a single element. The El Paso Times photograph can thus be framed as an assemblage of actors—including territory, monument, politicians, press, and audience. Once traced, individual threads can be reconstructed to offer new meaning.

The relationship of territorial limits to riverbed is the first thread to examine, depicted as unified—and static—vectors at the Chamizal ceremony. Such representation ignores a history of disjunction between natural barrier and theoretical boundary line that was well documented on the United States-Mexico border. Confronted with the unruly course of the Gila River, a regional waterway that designated an early portion of the international boundary, nineteenth-century commissioners William H. Emory and José Salazar reconciled the futility of their efforts with poetic reflection. The river was better suited as a monument to the evolving forces acting on the border, they would write, than as a fixed limit of sovereign territory. Any attempt at survey was inconsequential. Shifting natural boundaries were given explicit representation four decades later when a fifteen-mile stretch of the Colorado River was surveyed in 1893 by the United States and then again by Mexico one year later. “Official map No. 19” shows their efforts superimposed, revealing a tangled network of tributaries and islands formed through time, or perhaps simply by subjective viewpoints (fig. 2). All 1,255 miles of the Rio Grande could thus be conceived as a dynamic path with an internal logic of its own, redistributing national territory at will. Yet, as unsettling as the concept was to governing bodies, such acts of natural deviance were only of consequence in settled locations where built structures and populations could be quantified along with acreage lost or gained.



Linea Divisoria Entre Mexico Y Los Estados Unidos, No. 19. Brown indicates the Colorado River as surveyed by the United States commission in March 1893. Black indicates the Colorado River as surveyed by the Mexican commission in February and March 1894. © Public domain


The boundary shifts that accumulated between El Paso and Juárez by the beginning of the twentieth century produced a thick liminal zone of contestation. An early 1909 meeting between Presidents Taft and Porfirio Díaz to negotiate the land was disrupted by a violent riot that led in headlines. “Diaz-Taft Meeting marred by Tragedy; Boys Duel Over Flags,” ran the banner of the Atlanta Constitution. The event overshadowed Taft’s visit to Juárez, reported as the first time in history a United States president traveled outside of national limits. [13] A year later, an arbitration proposal (mediated by an “impartial Canadian jurist”) that split disputed land equally between nations was deemed a failure. [14] Both the United States and Mexico rejected the compromise, concluding in a final report: “The present decision terminates nothing; settles nothing. It is simply an invitation for international litigation. It breathes the spirit of unconscious but nevertheless unauthorized compromise rather than of judicial determination.” [15] Not only was territory in question, which included a residential population and small industrial center of factories and warehouses, but also the fundamental relationship of sovereign limits to historic boundary markers. Cordova Island, a Mexican enclave north of the river in otherwise United States territory, exacerbated this tension. Occupying a geographic position outside the normative national bounds, the land mass became a troubled grey zone for federal jurisdiction. Nicknamed el barrio del Diablo (or “neighborhood of the devil”) it was a site noted for drug smuggling and illegal immigration.

Due to sparse historical records, largely based on personal accounts, the sole geographic reference for the Rio Grande agreed upon by both nations was the original survey conducted in 1852. [16] This survey line held authority for over one hundred and twelve years, cited in ongoing international negotiations and ultimately serving as the primary reference for the reconstruction of the river in the 1960s. Amidst encroaching Soviet influence on Mexico and Latin America, John F. Kennedy reopened the Chamizal case in 1962. The threat of communist infiltration through the nation’s southern edge motivated resolution with then Mexican President Adolfo López Mateos citing the dispute as the “number one problem in US-Mexican relations.” [17] The land was negotiated within a larger international program, the Alliance for Progress, which provided United States government aid to Latin America—publicized as support to “complete the revolution of the Americas” and ward off Soviet control. [18] Along with funding in support of democratic governments, education, and social housing the United States officially recognized the original survey line between El Paso and Juárez, effectively “giving back” 600 acres of land to Mexico.

A map from the city of El Paso titled “Land Affected by the Chamizal Settlement” shows the land in question as well as the location of the Chamizal ceremony (fig. 3). Grey poché fills the disputed territory, bound by the Rio Grande in the south and its future (or nineteenth-century past) course in the north. A thick dotted line labeled “relocated river channel” snakes through the center, representing the 1852 survey superimposed on an urbanism that had since grown to a half million in population. A new “border highway” is offset north of the channel, signifying dual lateral infrastructures of water and transportation that would give uninterrupted material presence to the borderline. While boundaries, acreage, and infrastructure are presented with diagrammatic clarity, the displaced residents of the Chamizal, estimated at 5,600 at the time the land was rezoned, are denied visual presence. [19] A speckled hatch over the contested land obscures any reading of residential side streets or human occupation.



Map of the city of El Paso entitled, “Land affected by the Chamizal Settlement.” The central dotted line indicates the position of the relocated river channel. Bowie Senior High School, the site of the main ceremony on September 25, 1964, is labeled with the number one. © Public domain


The location of the ceremony is labeled with a number one, taking place in United States territory on a sports field at Bowie Senior High School. While ample space was a requirement for the large public gathering, it should be noted the distance the event took place from the downtown districts of El Paso and Juárez. These adjacent urban zones, connected by three international bridges linking the urban communities and labeled as “new ports of entry,” are in close proximity and linked with a continuous commercial strip. In comparison to Bowie Senior High School and the simulation of context that was constructed there, a distinctive site existed less than two miles away, operating in reality as an international joint between the two nations. When given the choice between real site and abstracted reproduction, federal administrators chose the latter.

Perhaps a generic symbol of binational cooperation was the point intended, a site that could stand in for a range of geographies on the US federal agenda. The Chamizal was just one of many locations mentioned by Lyndon B. Johnson in his dedication speech that afternoon. Johnson linked to broader territory with the phrase, “We have found peaceful roads to the solution of differences from Chamizal to Panama,” and then spiraled to address a host of global others: Africa, the Middle East, Israel, China, Japan, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Moscow, Cyprus, Vietnam, Congo, Cuba, Greece, Turkey, and Lebanon. [20] The local history of Mexico and the United States at the Chamizal was subsumed by the larger concern of Cold War politics. [21] For Johnson, the event was a symbol “to all the world that the most troublesome of problems can yield to the tools of peace,” but more importantly to the Soviet Union that Mexico (and the larger frontier of Latin America) was in cooperation with the United States in the midst of the Cold War. [22] This promotion of the Chamizal, as a singular location symbolically expanded ad infinitum, leads to a reading of multiplicity by means of the various territories, borders, events, and monuments it was institutionally
framed to represent.

For Adolfo López Mateos the ceremony symbolized far more than the correction of a historic injustice; it was tied to the ongoing urban development of Mexico’s northern border, spearheaded through the federal program Programa Nacional Fronterizo or PRONAF. [23] In the year of 1965 alone, head architect Mario Pani designed “regulatory” master plan developments and architectural projects for eight of twelve Mexican border cities including Juárez. The full urban ambition for Juárez was published in the journal Arquitectura/México and featured an economic free zone, the “Zona PRONAF,” to promote United States tourism through new shopping centers and a museum in close proximity to the border (fig. 4,5). [24] The development plans depict El Paso and Juárez as a single urban development, connected by a network of infrastructure spanning both sides of the international boundary.





Postcards from the Centro Pronaf in Juarez, Mexico, 1960s. The Museo de Arte e Historia (pictured) was designed by Mexican modernist Pedro Ramírez Vázquez and constructed in 1964. © Collection of author


Despite a contemporary conception of the border as a geopolitical, urban zone, the Chamizal ceremony employed an anachronistic object—the border monument—to symbolize binational agreement. Historically, border monuments were positioned to correspond with a precise coordinate on the international survey line. Commissioned, inscribed and placed by both the United States and Mexico, they were unique bilateral objects operating across and reflecting on separate territories and philosophies of nationhood. The original monuments were designed in heavy cast-iron as material markers, sequentially numbered and intervisible from one lateral view to next along the entire length of the US-Mexico border west of the Rio Grande. [25] These artifacts of visual reference operated as a set of standardized, engineered points, placed with geographic precision and objective finality. [26] Their placement was inextricably linked to the constitution of sovereign limits, with the international seam bound to their exact location.

The form and operative position of the Chamizal Monument can be traced to the late nineteenth century. Measuring six-feet nine-inches tall and one-foot wide at the base, it was the same scale and proportion as border monuments deployed in a joint 1891 international survey but was of a different material and construction type. In comparison to the original material of rough cast-iron, the Chamizal Monument was one-of-a-kind and produced in gleaming chromium-plated steel. It reflected actions immediately adjacent in sharp clarity and the surrounding atmosphere with rippled distortion. One could imagine that without the context of political fanfare the monument would simply reflect its natural surroundings and effectually disappear, an anti-monument of sorts. It simultaneously represented and denied a geographically specific location. Though the artifact had binational inscriptions, it was not numbered in relation to existing monuments. It sat in obscured isolation, a single self-referential point that had no visual connection to a larger context. Further, rather than constructed or placed the monument was revealed to an awaiting audience, exposed from under a white sheet by the combined effort of Johnson and Mateos (fig. 6). At a moment when a conception of the bilateral had expanded far beyond the production of theoretical maps and monuments, the international boundary line as pure construct of the nation-state was asserted through simulacra and choreographed performance.



Unmarked images from the El Paso Times media archive © Courtesy the El Paso Times




A series of unmarked images from the Chamizal ceremony, stored in the El Paso Times media archive, depict alternative views from that of the main press photograph. [27] Offering a range of focal depths and taken at oblique angles and moments throughout the day, they provide valuable information as to the federal scenic design and broader context of the event. The archival El Paso Times images, unedited and without organization, sit between the constructs of government and press to offer a distinct perspective. “Unmarked image No. 179” reveals the backdrop map to be a thin plane, reminiscent of a grounded billboard positioned within an expansive crowd (fig. 7). It is just large enough to fill the frame of a frontal photograph and block the background of buses, trees, and onlookers. An expanded view of the crowd in relation to both presidents and First Ladies Claudia Johnson and Eva Mateos is provided in another unmarked series image. Taken from above the heads of an applauding public, the composition is centered on Lyndon Johnson holding the hand of Adolfo López Mateos in the air (fig. 8). The obelisk monument that served the proud focus of the main press photograph barely registers, mirroring adjacent figures at the base only to stand out above the crowd. The alternate images make clear a construction of place that could only be represented as total environment through an equally constructed photographic image, framed by a privileged and unobstructed frontal viewpoint.





Unmarked images from the El Paso Times media archive © Courtesy the El Paso Times


After the ceremony the Chamizal Monument was removed to make way for the reconstruction of the Rio Grande. The international boundary between El Paso and Juárez was constituted in reality not by a symbolic object but through an urban-scale landscape-engineering project. The concrete channel that redirected the river back to its historic course was 4.5-miles long, 116-feet wide, and required 78 million dollars to construct. [28] An aerial image from 1966 midway through construction shows the full scale of the project (fig. 9). The view looks east, laterally down the borderline with El Paso labeled on the left and Ciudad Juárez on the right. The freeform course of the Rio Grande zigzags vertically down the image, in close proximity to Mexican urban development. The nascent path of the new channel reaches to the sports fields of Bowie Senior High School, captured in this one moment as if terminating directly on the past site of the Chamizal ceremony. A comparable view from 1968 pictures the project complete (fig. 10). The straight-edged lines and tight curves of the concrete channel, rendered as an engineered super-highway, boldly upstage the last remnants of the natural riverbed. Sitting side-by-side, the new channel is a streamlined sign of the old. The formerly disputed Chamizal territory sits between, vacant and restricted from development after being designated a national park and historic site in 1966. [29]



Rio Grande channel under construction, 1965. © National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.



Rio Grande channel completed, 1969. © National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.


If the El Paso Times photographs represent a social fiction of place and placing, then the aerial images of the Rio Grande channel provide evidence of the realized alternative. It was precisely the acts of engineering that governed the reconstitution of international limits—in relation to geographic survey and channel construction—that were denied visual presence at the Chamizal ceremony. Whereas the Chamizal Monument functioned as a symbol of binational agreement, a political prop that organized the main press image, the channel was an instrument of binational division that gave uninterrupted material presence to the boundary. Thus, as an alternative to the projected act of “giving back,” the negotiation of the Chamizal can be read as a means to assert territorial limits and spatial distance at the height of the Cold War. Abstract survey lines and the soft, shifting edge of the Rio Grande riverbed were replaced by formalized concrete infrastructure.



On December 13, 1968, four years after the Chamizal ceremony, Lyndon Johnson and Gustavo Diaz Ordaz traveled to the border of El Paso and Juárez to celebrate the completion of the Rio Grande channel. They met at the center of the newly built Santa Fe International Bridge, where the Chamizal Monument had been stripped from its base and relocated. In a repeat performance of the 1964 ceremony with modified actors, location, and marker, the two presidents clasped hands in front of the chrome obelisk and symbolically atop the survey line. Again, the ritual was documented as binding social contract and disseminated by international press. [30] After shaking hands, Johnson and Ordaz approached a platform with a raised red button. Their final act was orchestrated as a display of federal control over nature and the riverbed: a simultaneous compression by both presidents was rigged to detonate an earth dam a half-mile away, allowing the river behind to surge through its new course. However, the performance of wilderness tamed ended in anticlimax. An insufficient blast of dynamite resulted in a “trickle” of water to emerge instead of a mighty current.31 In a final moment of failed rupture, the federal act of engineering that reshaped sovereign limits was not even allowed presence through the choreographed act of simulation. Instead, fittingly, it was represented solely by the malfunction of a single button.




1. Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey, made under the direction of the secretary of the interior, by William H. Emory. Major First Cavalry and United States Commissioner (Washington: A.O.P. Nicholson, printer, 1857), Ex. Doc No. 108, 34th Congress, 1st Session, 21.

2. Richard L. Lyons, “Peace Nears For World, LBJ Says: He Meets Mexican Chief, Dedicates Chamizal Shaft,” Washington Post, Times Herald, September 26, 1964, A1.

3. See: Excélsior, September 21, 1964, 8.

4. The earliest documented complaint is dated 1856 and described as an “anxious inquiry” to Hon. Caleb Cushin from a landowner in the Valley of El Paso, Reports of International Arbitral Awards, The Chamizal Case (Mexico, United States) June 15, 1911, Volume XI, United Nations (2006), 329.

5. Mexican surveyors stated “the destruction of the right side [of the Rio Grande or Bravo del Norte] almost wholly took place during the great swell years 1864, 1868, 1874.” Chamizal arbitration: “The countercase of the United States of American before the International boundary commission,” United States of Mexico, Hon. Eugene Latleur presiding under the provisions of the convention between the United States of American and the United States of Mexico, concluded June 24, 1910, with appendix and portfolio of maps (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1911), 6.

6. Though the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo specified the Rio Grande as an international boundary in 1848, the course of the river was not surveyed and documented until 1852. See Map No. 29 of the Boundary Commission, Messrs. José Salazar Ylarregui and General W.H. Emory.

7. For starters, see “Johnson, Lopez Mateos Meet at El Paso Today,” Los Angeles Times, September 25, 1964, 4, and “Johnson Says US Won’t Spark War: In El Paso He Vows Not to Frighten Other Nations—Meets Mexican Chief,” New York Times, September 26, 1964, 1. In Mexico, see “Eso es la Devolución de El Chamizal: Resultado de negociaciones tan honrosas como cordiales entre ambos países,” El Informador, September 26, 1964, 6-A.

8. Art historian Ariella Azoulay has theorized the medium of photography as a social contract, one that is used to both disclose and promote the negotiations of involved parties. “The invention of photography offered the gaze an absolute plane of visual immobility,” she writes, “a plane on which all movement is frozen, transformed into a still picture that can be contemplated without disturbance.” See Ariella Azoulay, The Civil Contact of Photography (New York: Zone Books, 2008), 93.

9. This concept was relayed literally by the Los Angeles Times. A statement, perhaps written tongue-in-cheek, read “A handshake Friday between President Johnson and his Mexican counterpart, Adolfo Lopez Mateos, will reduce the size of the United States by 437 acres.” “437 Acres of El Paso to Go to Mexico Friday: Nations to Seal Chamizal Treaty, Settling Long Dispute Caused by Rio Grande Shift,” Los Angeles Times, September 20, 1964, L5.

10. Kim Lane Scheppele, “Facing Facts in Legal Interpretation,” in “Law and the Order of Culture,” special issue, Representations (University of California Press) 30 (Spring 1990), 49.

11. This understanding is adapted from Kim Lane Scheppele’s analysis of the term “legal fiction” in her text “Facing Facts in Legal Interpretation.” It should be noted that the relationship of audience to fictional construct differs in the case of courtroom dynamics. In judicial proceedings fictions are well understood as a legal device, marked by linguistic qualifiers to alert the audience and avoid misinterpretation.

12. Outlined in The Civil Contract of Photography, Ariella Azoulay proposes a theory for reading the medium based on an “ontological-political understanding.” She details a comprehensive and inclusive approach that “takes into account all the participants in photographic acts—camera, photographer, photographed subject, and spectator—approaching the photograph (and its meaning) as an unintentional effect of the encounter between all of the these.” Azoulay, The Civil Contract of Photography, 23, 86.

13. “Diaz-Taft Meeting marred by Tragedy; Boys Duel Over Flags,” The Atlanta Constitution, October 17, 1909, C1.

14. “To Be Arbitrated: Canadian to Decide Whether Mexico or the United States owns Chamizal Tract,” Boston Daily Globe, June 20, 1910, 3.

15. Reports of International Arbitral Awards, 342.

16. It should be noted that even the original survey line was a fictional construct, a contractual negotiation between national survey teams who ran and marked the international boundary separately. In a journal entry dated September 21, 1857, boundary commissioners Emory and Salazar addressed the differences in national reports stating: “The Commissioners think it proper to state that in many details along the Rio Bravo, in Topography, and in Latitude and Longitude, there are small differences, the legitimate result of scientific operations performed under difficult circumstances.” Chamizal arbitration, 19.

17. William E. Blundell, “Chamizal Struggle: US Hopes for a Cold War Gain From Giving in to Mexico in Old Border Dispute,” Wall Street Journal, February 28, 1963, 16.

18. John F. Kennedy, “Preliminary Formulations on the Alliance for Progress,” Address by President Kennedy at a White House Reception for Latin American Diplomats and Members of Congress, March 13, 1961.

19. Charles Mohr, “Johnson Says US Won’t Spark War: In El Paso, He Vows Not to Frighten Other Nations—Meets Mexican Chief,” New York Times, September 26, 1964, 1.

20. Lyndon B. Johnson, “Remarks in El Paso at a Ceremony Marking the Settlement of the Chamizal Dispute. September 25, 1964,” 1118–1119.

21. The speech of Adolfo López Mateos also privileged Cold War rhetoric over the local territorial implications of the Chamizal, focusing on the international relationship with the United States following WWII. See “Discurso del presidente López Mateos en la ceremonia de la entrega de Chamizal,” 195.

22. The Wall Street Journal reported on the Chamizal in relation to Cold War politics in 1963 stating, “Mainly with a push from the Communists, the Chamizal issue has been put forth in Latin countries as concrete evidence of ‘Gringo imperialism.’ For example, Cuban emissaries have used it to inflame feelings against the US in Venezuela, where President Betancourt’s pro-US regime is being pounded severely by leftists.” William E. Blundell, “Chamizal Struggle: US Hopes for a Cold War Gain From Giving in to Mexico in Old Border Dispute,” Wall Street Journal, February 28, 1963, 16.

23. English translation: National Border Program. For further reading see: Marisol Rodriguez and Hector Rivero, “ProNaF, Ciudad Juarez: Planning and urban transformation,” ITU 8, no. 1, 2011, 196–207.

24. Detailed urban redevelopment plans for Ciudad Juárez can be found in “Plano regulador de Ciudad Juárez,” Arquitectura/México, 1965, 62-75.

25. For additional information see International Boundary Commission, Report of the Boundary Commission upon the survey and re-marking of the boundary between the United States and Mexico west of the Rio Grande, 1891-1896, 3 vols (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1898). A comparable Mexican report is titled: International Boundary Commission, United States and Mexico (1882–1896), Memoria de la Sección Mexicana de la Comisión Internacional de Límites entre México y los Estados Unidos que restableció los monumentos de El Paso al Pacifico; bajo la dirección de México del ingeniero Jacobo Blanco, jefe de la Comisión Mexicana (New York: Impr. De J. Polhemus y Compania, 1901).

26. “Our Southern Boundary: Report of Col. Barlow of the International Commission,” Los Angeles Times, November 29, 1896, 11.

27. The photographic archive of the El Paso Times contains 240 images of the event, a selection of which can be found online. The complete series was first published in 2013 after unmarked photographic negatives of the event were found. T. Long, “Archive photos: Previously unpublished 1964 Chamizal treaty settlement,” El Paso Times Media Center, September 25, 2013, accessed October 3, 2014.

28. Neil Sheehan, “Johnson and Diaz Ordaz Shift Rio Grande Into a Concrete-Lined Channel,” New York Times, December 14, 1968, 18.

29. Texas Historical Commission, “Chamizal National Memorial,” Texas Historic Sites Atlas, February 2, 1974.

30. See Sheehan, “Johnson and Diaz Ordaz Shift Rio Grande Into a Concrete-Lined Channel,” 18.

31. Ibid.


Nathan Friedman is an architect and former editor of MIT’s Thresholds, with recent research on the American frontier and history of federal construction at the United States-Mexico border. He has worked at Eisenman Architects in New York, SMAQ Berlin, and most recently the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam, focusing on a new contemporary art museum in the heart of Moscow’s Gorky Park. Friedman holds a Master of Science in History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art from MIT and Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University.

Circulating Borders
The BMW Guggenheim Lab


BMW Guggenheim Lab Mumbai (manipulated: background removed), January 2013 © Marina Otero


Essay by Marina Otero Verzier


It is a beautiful sequence of images. Breaking trough raising arms and placards, a young woman reaches the police barrier. Opens her jacket, lean backwards, and reveals a message on a self made white T-shirt: “We don’t need New York to teach us how to talk.”

In 2011, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation inaugurated—together with car-maker BMW—The BMW Guggenheim Lab. Rather than taking the form of a museum, the Lab was, instead, a “combination of think tank, public forum, and community center,” intended to bring programming out of the institutional space and to a wider audience. [2] To this end, it was designed not only as a temporary and mobile structure, but also as a “Major New Global Initiative” stretching out over New York, Berlin, and Mumbai from 2011 to 2013. [3]

Whereas museums in previous decades brought a new sense of relevance to architecture concerning its role in intervening in urban space to produce financial and cultural growth—what has been called the “Bilbao Effect”—in the Lab the aim was no longer to transform the space, but rather the subject. “We felt the need for a project that was more about people, about experiences, and about new ideas on how to make city life better in a variety of contexts,” co-curator David van der Leer explained. Thus, following a series of experiments on social engagement developed by museums in recent years, the Lab encouraged citizens “to acquire the skills to live in cities comfortably and responsibly.”4 Some of them, however, asked: “Why do we need a Lab to conduct such discussions?” [5]

The architecture of the Lab did not have doors, windows or walls, protection against natural forces, or climate control systems. It voluntarily renounced those features that generally define a traditional architectural interior space. The ambition of the Lab was to become a piece of stage machinery capable of magically transforming an urban void into a gathering space. Its architects, Atelier Bow-Wow, following the concept of behaviorology, designed the Lab as an infrastructure that can be used and transformed, “giving back a sense of autonomy of spatial practice to citizens.” [6] It aimed to foster accessibility, and to construct an institution in constant flux that would be able to span across three continents and democratic systems—something that its “naked, unassuming aesthetic” was meant to facilitate. [7] Paradoxically, inside its interior-without-walls, the practices of architecture were confined within political boundaries; enclosures of an unstable and yet material condition that erect an institutional space.



BMW Guggenheim Lab Mumbai, metal control checkpoint (manipulated: background removed), January 2013 © Marina Otero


In that moment, it was the police barrier what seemed to be the last threshold leading to a complex of galleries, bars, and artist studios in the Pfefferberg complex at the Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg, where the Lab had just landed. Inside, workshops, conferences, and even meditation classes, were free and open for all those wishing to participate. Images of people performing in outdoor events, doing fitness, cycling, making prototypes, robots, or solar coffee-bean roasters were suddenly confronted by scenes of political disagreement. “Protests are a symptom of a healthy and equitable society,” argued Atelier Bow-Wow Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, after being asked about the demonstrations. [8] Intended to create a platform for active participation and to produce a spectator with a more complex engagement, the Lab succeeded in involuntarily conceiving a place in which protests by uninvited critical voices, threats of violence, and vigorous debate took place. When, in front of the police barrier, the protesters started to congregate, the institutional territory and its bounded spaces—the architecture and the conversations that take place within and around it—suddenly materialized.

It was not the first time the Lab had encountered opposition. Residents and activist groups prevented its previous installment in Kreuzberg, where it was seen a subterfuge to speed-up gentrification processes. Alleging the existence of threats against the project, The Guggenheim Foundation decided to withdraw, prompting Berlin mayor, Klaus Woweriet, to publicly promise the development of a “protection plan.” “Criticism and demonstrations are part of our democracy,” claimed Police President Margarete Koppers in Berlin’s Parliament when announcing that police would protect the Lab in its next site as much as the demonstrators protesting it; “Berlin hada reputation as a city of diversity and freedom that must be protected,” she continued. [9] Two months before her intervention in the Parliament, and this time at the Brandenburg Gate, Koppers would accept a symbolic key from a BMW Plant Manager Hermann Bohre in front of twenty BMW R900RT “Authority” motorcycles—a model especially designed for authority use—given as a present to the Berlin Police by the company. [10] The friction between the scene in the Parliament and that in the street enacts the circulating borders of contemporary institutions as they extend beyond the limits of the architectural objects to the sponsored structures and mechanisms of social order governing the space.

From cultural complexes, urban laboratories, and Parliament houses, to social media or media campaigns, the architectures designed for debate normalize the space of agreement and disagreement, consensus and dispute. As the high walls of cultural institutions seem to further loosen up with yet another initiative for public participation and citizen empowerment, other spatial arrangements emerge for the appropriation of the political and the public character of the urban space; other forms of control and consumption appear on the public sphere, which, in turn, define the spaces and possibilities of debate. Meanwhile, the bodies of the uninvited carry a message: “We don’t need you to teach us how to talk.”



Police van at Pfefferberg’s complex entrance, where the BMW Guggenheim Berlin was installed (manipulated: background removed), June 2012 © Marina Otero



1. This text is based on Marina Otero Verzier’s Master thesis developed within the framework of the CCCP program at GSAPP (Columbia University) and advised by Professor Felicity D. Scott. Fragments of this thesis have been previously published in CIRCO 180. Aterrizajes (CIRCO M.R.T. Cooperativa de ideas: Madrid, 2012)

2. Guggenheim, “BMW Guggenheim Lab Opens Aug 3 in New York, Launching Six-Year Worldwide Tour,” press release, August 2, 2011,

3. As David van der Leer, curator of the project, stated, “It is more and more essential for museums to bring their architecture and design programming out of the confines of the gallery’s white box and into the realities of everyday urban life.” Guggenheim, “Guggenheim Foundation and BMW Group Announce a Major New Global Initiative. BMW Guggenheim Lab,” press release, October 1, 2010,

4. BMW Guggenheim Lab website, accessed September 21, 2012, Also see BMW Guggenheim Lab website, accessed September 21, 2012,

5. Hannah Pilarczyk, “BMW Guggenheim Lab eröffnet: Viel Ärger um eine Bastelecke,” Spiegel online, accessed July 27, 2015,

6. “Yoshiharu Tsukamoto,” BMW Guggenheim Lab website, accessed July 22, 2015,

7. McLaren, “Less Talking, more making as the Lab takes its next step,” BMW Guggenheim Lab Blog, November 14, 2011,

8. Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, in an interview conducted by the author in New York on April 18, 2012.

9. Alexander Forbes, “Further Police Protection for Guggenheim Lab,” Blouin Artinfo, March 28, 2012, accessed September 3, 2012,

10. ”BMW Gives 20 R900RT Motorcycles to Berlin Police,” BMW Motorcycle Magazine, March 29, 2012, accessed January 20, 2013,


Marina Otero Verzier is an architect based in Rotterdam. She is Chief Curator of the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2016 with the After Belonging Agency, and Head of Research and Development at Het Nieuwe Instituut. Previously, she was director of Global Network Programming at Studio-X, and adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University’s GSAPP. Otero has edited Promiscuous Encounters (GSAPP Books, 2014), curated exhibitions at The 2013 Shenzhen Bi-city Biennale and the Istanbul Design Biennial 2014, and since 2012, she has been developing a project titled “Architectures of the Raid on Osama Bin Laden Compound in Abbottabad.” Her current research is concerned with how changing notions of privacy and safety, and their articulation with global circulatory regimes, have an effect on our contemporary spaces of residence.

Dialogue Concerning a House’s World System
(After Galileo)