Issue 17 Introduction

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© Larry Mayorga

 

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

 

Since its inception, one of the defining traits of MAS Context has been our endeavor to span disciplinary and geographic divides, creating an open platform for thinkers from multiple backgrounds and owning different expertise to discuss — and disagree about — specific topics. In essence, we’re aiming to break the boundaries between designers and non-designers.

Lately, I’ve attended many discussions in the architectural field centered on the idea of continuing to clearly define the borders of the profession and make it impenetrable to the “outsiders.” Those boundaries are consciously built by the way ideas are approached, discussed, and shared. And I just don’t get it. Architects, as in any other profession, are trained to gain expertise and then excel in a certain area. In no case am I advocating for that expertise to be diluted by assuming roles for which we haven’t been trained and are beyond expertise. However, I do not concede that we should continue to isolate ourselves from the “outsiders,” the non-architects. We remove ourselves from larger discussions that would not only benefit from our expertise and point of view, but also enrich, or even change, our approach because of the expertise and point of view of others. I believe that these conclaves and collaborations can only lead to better and more relevant work.

With this issue, we want to discuss the other types of boundaries present around us, how we deal with them, and their resonant implications. The twenty contributors included in this issue address physical, political, economic, social, cultural, temporal and personal boundaries. While some are more visible than others, they all consciously or unconsciously define how we engage with our built environment and, ultimately, with each other.

It is now your turn to decide what boundaries to keep. And which ones to break.

 

Acknowledgements

Boundary has had invaluable help from Lawrence Abrahamson, Paola Aguirre, Alaska, Tobias Armborst, Noël Ashby, Jeremiah Chiu, Andrew Clark, Odile Compagnon, Matthew Coolidge, André Corrêa, Killian Doherty, Renata Graw, Sharon Haar, Nathan Kirkman, Sean Lally, Teaque Lenahan, Meredith Ludwig, Larry Mayorga, Julie Michiels, Dennis Milam, Paul Mougey, Marina Nicollier, Carl Nightingale, Jason Pickleman, Yorgos Rimenidis, Brian Rose, Julia Sedlock, Nora Semel, Aurora Tang, and Mario Vaquerizo.

MAS Context is partially supported by a grant from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.

 

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 recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club.
www.mas-studio.com | @MASContext

Bowled Over

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A poem by Jason Pickleman

 

Bowled Over

The gradation of the sky
from blue to gray
is in severe contrast
with time’s mark’ed divisions—
       those illusive spaces
       between seconds
       that masquerade
       as Pause—
As if time
could be rent
neutered in neutral,
with progress
       paused   &#160and    begun,
       paused   &#160and    begun.
Imagine the earth
turning in kind,
       lurching   &#160and   &#160halting,
       lurching   &#160and   &#160halting.
We’d be thrown to our knees,
       repeatedly, like bowling pins,
       and re-set,
only to be stricken down again,
and maybe spared.

 

Jason Pickleman is a graphic designer and partner at JNL Graphic Design based in Chicago. His clients include the Steppenwolf Theatre, Hyde Park Art Center, The Renaissance Society, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago Transit Authority, and Avec restaurant.
www.jnldesign.com

The Lost Border

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Blankenberg, East/West German Border, 1987 © Brian Rose

 

Photo Essay by photographer Brian Rose

 

In 1985 I began photographing the Iron Curtain landscape, the fences and fortifications that divided East and West, the nuclear trip wire of the Cold War. Berlin lay to the East, divided into sectors, a vestige of World War II. The French, British, and American sectors became the isolated city of West Berlin when the East Germans constructed a wall to staunch the flow of its citizens to the west. The Berlin Wall stood, almost impenetrable, until a stunning series of political events culminated in its surprise opening in November of 1989.

I made many trips to West Berlin between 1985 and 1989. The Wall was at the center of my project, but not necessarily the prime focus as I spent months tracing the borderline across Europe from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic. Several times during the years I crossed over into East Berlin and made photographs with my view camera until a brush with the Stasi, the East German state police, persuaded me to stop.

 

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Berlin Wall © Sansculotte

 

After the Wall opened, I continued to visit Berlin as Germany reunified, and the city began, fitfully, to knit itself together. Potsdamer Platz became the largest construction site in the world, and thousands of tourists flocked to the red InfoBox to see the plans and gaze out upon the forest of cranes. I photographed the former no man’s land of the Wall, the ruins and rebuilding, but began venturing farther afield to take in historical sites that resonated with the rest of the project.

Berlin is now one city, though as always a multi-centered metropolis. Its divisions remain evident, historical fault lines exposed—and the Wall, preserved in a few slabs here and there, remain a powerful artifact of the imagination

 

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Mödlareuth, East/West German Border, 1987 © Brian Rose

 

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Offleben, East/West German Border, 1987 © Brian Rose

 

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Vacha, East/West German Border, 1985 © Brian Rose

 

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The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, 1985 © Brian Rose

 

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Bernauer Strasse, Berlin, 1985 © Brian Rose

 

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Bernauer Strasse, Berlin, 1985 © Brian Rose

 

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Am Zandkrug, Berlin, 1985 © Brian Rose

 

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Ebertstrasse, Berlin, 1989 © Brian Rose

 

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Ebertstrasse, Berlin, 1989 © Brian Rose

 

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Berlin, 1990 © Brian Rose

 

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Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, 1996 © Brian Rose

 

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Potsdamerplatz, Berlin, 2009 © Brian Rose

 

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Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, 2009 © Brian Rose

 

Brian Rose is a New York-based photographer. Since 1980, he has photographed the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall, the Mercatorplein neighborhood with its immigrant population and Amsterdam School architecture, and the rebuilding of the World Trade Center. Rose’s images have been collected by the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
www.brianrose.com

The Segregation Paradoxes

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The Venetian Ghetto instituted in 1516

 

Essay by Carl H. Nightingale

 

Cities, by their very nature, amass people. They bring us close together, cheek by jowl, in teeming crowds; they bless our yearnings for the social. Yet one of the oldest impulses in city design is to drive people apart: to rend the urban fabric into separate and unequal zones, to indulge our just-as- human penchant for distinguishing the ”we” from the “them.” It was not until the 1890s that city-splitters first used the word “segregation” to describe their work, but the impetus to divide cities is as old as cities themselves — in fact, it’s our urban original sin. Just look at Eridu, Mesopotamia’s “urban Eden,” founded seventy centuries ago. The first of all ziggurats came into being there, nothing less than a separate, monumental urban home for the gods, set above and apart from the mortals who thronged the dustier wards below. Eridu’s version of the divine-human boundary likely took thousands of years to solidify as each of the city’s new temples became more foreboding. But the Sumerian ziggurat, and its later analogs the Forbidden City, the teocalli, the royal enclave, the acropolis, the Palatine Hill, cast a shadow upon all cities since. From the outset forward, segregation was a tool of domination and hierarchy, one that as such undercut many of the promises that people have sought in cities: opportunity, equality, commerce, communication, collective action, creativity, safety, and freedom. In the twentieth-century United States (and now many places elsewhere), urban segregation was also intimately linked to the forces of sprawl. The combination threatens what may be the most important urban promise of all. The act of amassing ourselves in the densest, most urbanized slivers of our fragile planet’s surface may be, after all, the only way we will survive as a species.

It’s a long stretch, of course, from Eridu to the endlessness of exurban, Edge City, U.S.A. Only through another of segregation’s paradoxes can we adequately ponder the connection. For, if city-splitting impulses can make any claim at all to universality, it can only be because of their enormous variability. As urban civilizations rose, fell, and rose again across the millennia, so did the basic formulas determining who belonged in the elect districts and who did not. Cities’ outer walls rested up one such genre of segregationism: they divided the urban and the urbane from the rural and the rustic. Local people marked themselves as such by corralling their city’s foreigners into separate compounds. There, out-of-towners became especially useful as scapegoats. Among the many iterations of this nasty trick is the European invention of the Jewish ghetto. Elsewhere, creed, class, caste, clan, craft and even sex could determine urban boundary lines to greater or lesser degrees. Dividing lines were also more penetrable in some places than others. Sometimes, paradoxically again, the porosity of the boundaries was essential to their operation as a tool of domination. How could elites maintain their aloof status, for example, if they did not enroll hundreds of shanty dwellers as domestic servants and provide them quarters in the very heart of the palace?

In all cases, segregationists embraced urban dividing lines because segregation gave them a tool of enhanced power. Divine-right monarchs were the first city-splitters; they were helped by high court intellectuals and priests, and, in other ways, by landowning elites. Divided cities helped such power brokers to establish authoritarian governments, to disseminate official state ideologies, and to hoard wealth. But as a political tool, segregation has always been paradoxical in its own right. No matter how powerful, segregationists also have to expend large quantities of power to put the boundary lines in place. Splitting a city requires huge effort and investment of capital, and it demands specialized tools of its own, designed explicitly for making, unmaking, and remaking urban space. Over the millennia these tools have included monumental architecture (as at Eridu), walls, palisades, battlements, bastions, fences, gates, guard shacks, checkpoints, booms, railroad tracks, highways, tunnels, rivers, inlets, mountainsides and ridges, buffer zones, free-fire zones, demilitarized zones, cordon sanitaires, screens of trees, road blocks, violent mobs, terrorism, the police, armies, curfews, quarantines, pass laws, labor compounds, building clearances, forced removals, restrictive covenants, zoning ordinances, racial steering practices, race-infused economic incentives, segregated private and public housing developments, exclusive residential compounds, gated communities, separate municipal governments and fiscal systems, discriminatory access to land ownership and credit, complementary rural holding zones, influx control laws, and restrictions against overseas immigration. In great part, segregation persisted because segregationists could respond to different times and places by infinitely varying the combinations of these tools.

Signature spaces of this, a new notion of human difference arose: race. By encompassing both scientific universality and political malleability, race gave Western city builders license to do something unprecedented — to stamp a single civilization’s segregationist style on cities spread across every inhabited continent. In a series of wide-reaching historical lurches during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Europeans spread racially divided colonial cities across Asia, the Pacific Rim, Africa, and parts of the Americas. In the process, the signature spaces of the new form of city-splitting proliferated: White Towns, Black Towns, “Asiatic” bazaars, Chinatowns, Native Locations, Black townships, and Black Ghettos. All of the tools used by earlier segregationists were brought to bear, as were new enhanced techniques of class segregation developed in Europe and shipped across oceans and empires to become tools of racial control.

Governments, as in earlier times, were the biggest modern-era racial segregationists. The world-spanning British, French, and American empires account for most of the new urban color lines, though the Belgians, Germans, Italians, and even the Portuguese got in the act as well. Segregation enhanced the prestige and “manifest destiny” of these empires’ “ruling races.” More practical imperial administrators also averred that split cities could minimize headaches involved in disputes between subject peoples with differing legal systems.

A new group of modern-era, globetrotting, semi-independent court-intellectuals also played key roles in the spread of segregation. Race theorists justified Western imperialism as well as the split cities needed to sustain it. Successive generations of peripatetic urban reformers got into the act, too. Public health officials, for example, thought segregation necessary to minimize health threats posed to whites by the inferior races and their poor sanitary habits. Later, housing reformers allowed their slum clearance and public housing schemes to serve segregationist ends. Professionalized urban planners later incorporated segregation into what they called “comprehensive” blueprints for ever more lavish colonial cities.

Another somewhat more anarchic institution also spread through the colonies at the same time: the global capitalist real estate industry. New tools it pioneered, such as London’s land-use covenants in property deeds, could be used to solidify color lines. But the expanded property rights upon which the industry was based could also actually weaken race boundaries in many colonial capitals. There, wealthy Asians or Africans could afford to buy and live in the White Town, and because empires depended on local elite allies, officials sometimes balked at enforcing racial zoning.

 

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The first officially designated White Town and Black Town, British Madras, India. Map commissioned by Governor Thomas Pitt, 1711.

 

Segregation’s variability, backed by the power of empires and their roving experts, nonetheless won out. Urban segregation was central to the first modern empire’s first big undertaking, the British conquest of India. From the first White and Black Town at Madras, to the less successfully divided capital at Calcutta, to the hundred and seventy five segregated “stations” of the British Raj — scattered from Afghanistan to the Malay Peninsula, from the hot military outposts in the plains to the cool “hill stations” in the uplands — racial segregation proved itself in an enormously diverse political, social, economic, religious and geographical terrain. The second surge, associated with the European “opening” of China, brought segregation to places as diverse as Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Yokohama. From there the concept of the Chinatown sprang across the Pacific, adapting for the first time to the rawer racial politics of white settler colonies, such as those headquartered in San Francisco, Vancouver, Melbourne and Honolulu.

 

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Sir Stamford Raffles’s division of Singapore into European, Chinese, Indian (Chulia), and Arab sectors, 1819 (Brenda S.A. Yeoh, Contesting Space: power Relations and the Urban Built Environment in Colonial Singapore [Kuala Lumpur, 1996], p. 42)

 

The year 1894 marked the debut of the word segregation as a global political slogan. The occasion was the global plague pandemic that began in Hong Kong and Bombay. There, panicked public health officials yanked Asian victims wholesale from their homes, often to redeposit them in “segregation camps.” Their actions sparked ‘segregation mania,’ the turn-of the- century frenzy of city-splitting that ensued as the sensational new political catchphrase chased ship-born rats and their plague-infested fleas across the colonial world, eastward to California and westward to the far edge of Africa. In West Africa, the mania also took strength from fervent campaigns targeting urban Africans (especially their children), who were suspected as the prime source of malaria germs carried by the mosquitoes that sent so many white men to their tropical graves.

Professional city planners also entered the business of city-splitting during the period of segregation mania. Backed by lavish imperial investment and power, they resurrected the monumental aspects of city-splitting in their designs for colonial capitals, exemplified above all by Edwin Lutyens’s New Delhi. The plans’ broad avenues, looming palaces, and elaborate racial zoning systems were intended to function as arrogant disquisitions on the contrast between the backward splendor of the East and the cutting-edge progressivism of the West.

 

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The interface between Mughal-era Old Delhi and British New Delhi (aerial photo 1942) (from J. Tyrwhitt, Patrick Geddes in India [London , 1947], p. 32, fig. 2).

 

The worldwide frenzy of racial city-splitting paradoxically coincided with the rise of its most important global adversary. People of color everywhere began joining the giant tide of loosely interconnected anti-colonial, national liberation and civil rights movements that would soon launch an unprecedented revolution against white supremacy and Western empire. While decolonization did not end urban segregation — for class boundaries had grown more acute in cities everywhere, including in former colonies — it did bring to an end the 250-year tradition of separate White Towns and Black Towns.

The story did not end there, though, for the era of segregation mania also gave birth to two much more robust and radical forms of racial city-splitting, in South Africa and the United States. In both locations, the practice actually gained ground amidst the great mid-twentieth century calls for race equality. South Africa and the US were white settler societies where settlers themselves held unusual commanding positions in politics. They were places where the screaming pitch of white supremacy was sharpened by an opposing sense that white power was especially vulnerable to the “rising tide of color” in their midst, whether the perceived threat of the black majority in South Africa or that of the Great Migration of blacks to US cities. Finally, urban whites in South Africa and the US also possessed a permanent stake in local real estate markets, unlike the peripatetic communities of white officials that formed the majority of whites in most colonial white towns. They were thus susceptible to the self-serving myth that black neighbors brought down the value of nearby property.

This myth tied segregation tightly to racially-infused economic incentives that in turn completely transformed the role of the real estate industry in the politics of city-splitting. From a source of irritation for government-led segregationist planning, the business of buying and selling land became a nearly unstoppable force of urban racial division.

Placing the two “arch-segregationist” societies side by side, another seeming paradox emerges. South Africa, the society that most publicly, unrepentantly, and viciously harnessed city-splitting to the power of government, also took the longest to be successful. Then, it mercifully expired the most quickly; apartheid is, after all, no longer with us. The American system, which by contrast was designed to operate as much as possible outside the fray of politics, not only divided cities with almost as much efficiency as apartheid at its height, it remains alive and well to this day.

 

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The rigid racial zoning of Johannesburg and Soweto after forced removals of the apartheid era © Map by Kailee Neuner

 

The reasons for these differences have a paradoxical ring to them. In South Africa, where black-white politics arose from a matrix of imperial conquest and land dispossession, blacks had virtually no civil, political, or property rights, and, white fears notwithstanding, their resistance movements had relatively little leverage during the era of segregation mania. As a result the British Empire and the Union of South Africa were free to put in place the legislated instruments, such as Native Location laws, compound ordinances, pass laws, and rural reserves, that later became the foundation stones of apartheid. In the US, by contrast, black-white politics proceeded from the regional conflict over slavery and emancipation, which gave the Reconstruction-era Republican Party an incentive to give black men a wider range of rights. These rights were fragile, but they gave black activists far more power than their counterparts possessed in contemporary South Africa. In 1917, a team of lawyers from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was able to convince the otherwise largely white supremacist justices of the US Supreme Court to strike down dozens of neighborhood segregation ordinances that had swept through southern and midwestern cities at the height of the mania. In the absence of state power, American whites in many cities turned to their longstanding practice of enforcing neighborhood color lines by street violence. This was in sharp contrast to South Africa, where whites, again, could more plausibly put their faith in government. During World War I and after, violence spiraled out of control in a wave of race riots across the US, capped by a bloody week in Chicago in 1919. An alliance of segregationist urban reformers and real estate agents in that city went back to the drawing board to lay out neighborhood-splitting schemes that operated more quietly.

Starting with racist theories of property values, the Chicago alliance devised an ingenious and many-headed hydra of a segregation system, grafting together restrictive covenants, racial steering, and redlining along with discriminatory implementation of nominally non-racial government instruments such as zoning laws, federal home mortgage guarantees, highway building programs, urban renewal schemes, and public housing projects. These practices did not guarantee fixed color lines in American cities, but they did give whites the option to flee racially changing urban neighborhoods for the wider and more lucrative reaches of the suburbs, thus making the fatal link between segregation and sprawl.

 

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The Black ghettos of Chicago, unlike South African townships, grew from the inner city outward © Map by Kailee Neuner

 

While civil rights activists were able to lop off some of this monster’s heads (restrictive covenants fell in 1948, for example), and though subsequent fair housing laws made much of the beast illegal, segregationists have kept their creation alive, in part by hobbling the federal government’s fair-housing enforcement machinery. As the number of blacks migrating into cities fell off, so did most remaining spurts of white violence. There is no law forbidding white flight, nor one to stop the more recent and smaller, but often equally segregationist, undertow of gentrification. Such racially-inflected dynamics in the private housing market, coupled with ongoing steering, redlining, and devastating bouts of discriminatory predatory lending, continue to quietly guarantee unequal and separate racial spaces in American cities to this day. This beast conduct its work that many Americans are tempted to think of segregation as something “de facto.” It just is; it was never made.

In the world we live in today, segregationists continue to occupy the commanding heights of urban spatial politics. The exact nature of urban dividing lines has been blurred. Race, class, ethnicity, culture, and (most toxically) religion all play interconnected roles, depending on the place. With some notorious exceptions, explicitly segregationist government legislation is no longer the principle coercive force behind the sundering of cities. Instead, most city dividers today use tools that resemble those at work in the many-headed system of the United States. Far from “informal” or “voluntary” (let alone “de facto”), such tools, embedded above all in the real estate and financial industries, pack plenty of coercive institutional force. They also benefit from an aura of plausible deniability that probably even more crucially explains their political longevity.

All that said, there is a final, bittersweet paradox to the global history of urban segregation. As powerful as these forces are, our age is also blessed with more knowledge about the devastating effects of segregation than any in previous human history. We also have more knowledge than ever about ways to create open, egalitarian, and empowering urban spaces and communities: the French “anti-ghetto” laws; the scrappy, anti-segregationist grassroots community organizations of the US; the shanty-and-shack-dwellers associations of the Global South; and the UN Global Forum contain conversations that all city-lovers and city planners should listen to carefully. Only by helping to elaborate such visions can we wean ourselves from our seventy-century-old habit of dividing — and impoverishing — our species’ most promising form of habitat.

 

Carl H. Nightingale is an Associate Professor in the Department of Transnational Studies at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. He has published extensively on the subject of the transnational contexts of American urban poverty and racial segregation. His most recent book is Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities (University of Chicago Press, 2012).
http://transnationalstudies.buffalo.edu/faculty/nightingale.shtml

Within and Without

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© Noël Ashby

 

Short Essay by Noël Ashby

 

When making surface patterns and working with fabrics, boundary becomes a defining factor in the character or personality of the piece. Not only is there a mathematical restraint that requires where something begins and ends, there are also the elements themselves. The edge of each element adds expression to the pattern, acting as the skin, holding in and defining the mass of a thing. Structure and area of activity are both part of this and are contained within this. With selvage on woven fabrics, there can be an added layer, a history applied to the edge that explains what is being kept from unraveling, the origin, and who is responsible for the piece at hand, as well as a distinct boundary. Playing with these edges, bumping them up against other boundaries, is often a starting point for me, and has always driven my art.

A friend recently said that she thinks of a boundary as being neutral. Since I view this as an active thing that is reacted to, I am surprised by this notion and have found great room in it. Perhaps in this lies its neutrality. It can contain, define, enhance, and is typically related to that which is within it.

So, when two merge, as with marriage, what happens to a boundary? Where do they overlap? Must a shared boundary be more responsive or does it take on a stronger stance in its unity? It think it isn’t possible for oneself to not be affected, and therefore the boundary is changed for one and the other, and the commonality and beauty of this change is where the overlap occurs, one area embodying the other. It seems history often reflects on a boundary as something to be traversed, an arbitrary line, a movable border. Yet a boundary is really all that is experienced within.

 

As a Surface Designer, Noël Ashby works with many different companies applying patterns, color, and textures to whatever is available and in need. When these run out, she makes her own things to add surface to, which she oftentimes does while singing loudly, poorly and happily. One of her dogs has an alter ego named “Roy,” and her husband can take her anywhere if it’s couched as an adventure.
www.noelashby.com

The Arsenal of Inclusion and Exclusion

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Detail of The Arsenal of Inclusion and Exclusion map © Interboro Partners

 

Project by Interboro Partners

 

Recent books like Edward Glaeser’s Triumph of the City celebrate the capacity of cities to bring people together to hook up, swap ideas, and influence and inspire each-other, but it’s important to remember that our cities are pretty good at keeping people apart, too. More than forty years have passed since the Fair Housing Act outlawed discrimination in the sale, rental, and marketing of homes, in mortgage lending, and in zoning, and still most Americans live in communities that are racially, economically, generationally, and even politically and religiously segregated.

How can we explain this? What produces segregation? Is racial segregation merely the legacy of policies and practices—like racial zoning or racial and religious covenants—that the Fair Housing Act rendered illegal? Or are there newer, subtler things that continue to produce racially homogeneous communities?

This map — and the forthcoming book that it appears in — is meant to support that latter claim. Hidden in the map are forty commonly-used, contemporary “weapons” in what we call the “Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion,” a collection of policies and practices that are used by architects, planners, policy-makers, developers, real estate brokers, community activists, neighborhood associations, and individuals to wage the ongoing war between integration and segregation, between NIMBY (not in my back yard), and WIMBY (welcome in my back yard).

“The arsenal of exclusion and inclusion” is a preview of the forthcoming book of the same title, to be published by Actar later this year.

 

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WEAPONS OF EXCLUSION & INCLUSION
(Text by Interboro Partners unless otherwise noted)

 

1. Animal Zoning Ordinance
Animals have a right to the city too! But most zoning ordinances prohibit animals of the farm variety, declaring them “inharmonious.” Inspired in part by the urban agriculture movement, new animal-friendly zoning ordinances such as the one passed by the Cleveland City Council in January, 2009 seek to overturn these restrictions. / Theresa Schwarz

 

2. Annexation / Incorporation
While some cities in the southwest still annex territory, most of the American cities of the midwest and northeast have not expanded much further beyond their 1900s limits (New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis haven’t added territory since the nineteenth century). As Kenneth Jackson illustrates in Crabgrass Frontier, a combination of new laws that made incorporation easy and annexation unworkable, improved suburban services, a rising anti-urbanism that came to see the cities like New York as too big, foreign, and ungovernable, and an ensuing desire for home-rule effectively boxed big cities in. Without tax-revenue sharing, small municipalities – who still relied on the big cities for working, shopping, transportation, and entertainment–depleted the cities’ tax bases, and created the city / suburb divide that still plagues cities today.

 

3. Armrest
To deter the homeless from sleeping on park benches, decorative armrests are sometimes installed at the midpoint of the benches, making it impossible (or at least very difficult) to get too comfortable on them.

 

4. Badge
The use of beach tags to restrict access to beaches proliferated in the 1960s and 1970s in suburban municipalities in the densely populated northeastern corridor. Wealthy municipalities along Connecticut’s Gold Coast adopted some of the more extreme measures of exclusion, allocating beach access permits to residents only, installing guarded gates at points of entry, and aggressively patrolling beaches for violators. / Andrew Kahrl

 

5. Blood
After Hurricane Katrina, the Council President of St. Bernard Parish introduced an ordinance mandating that owners of single-family homes that had not been rentals prior to Hurricane Katrina could only rent said single-family homes to blood relatives. As 93 percent of St. Bernard Parish’s housing stock was owned by whites at the time of the storm, the target of the ordinance was pretty clear.

 

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6. CC&Rs
Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) are rules governing land use in private communities. Typically drafted by a Homeowners’ Association, CC&Rs attempt to guard the property value of homes in the community by regulating everything from paint colors to landscape materials to lawn ornaments. CC&Rs are often classist: CC&Rs have restricted aluminum siding, barbecue grills, lawn ornaments, basketball hoops, and even American flags. In his book Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government, Evan McKenzie writes of a family in a private development outside Philadelphia that was forced to remove a swing set because it was made of metal and not, as the CC&Rs stipulated, wood.

 

7. Concierge
The Concierge is essential to the “tourist bubble:” a package of amenities that are designed to lull in and entertain the tourist while steering him or her away from unexpected encounters with poverty, crime, or decay. Tell a concierge in the downtown of an American city that you are new in town and need some sight-seeing recommendations, and they are likely to point you towards the same safe, tourist-friendly, Chamber of Commerce-certified establishments.

 

8. Cul de Sac
A cul de sac is a “closed-end street,” which produces closure and discontinuity. Another name for the cul de sac is “dead end.” Interestingly, in 2009, Virginia became the first state to ban (or at least seriously limit) culs-de-sac from future developments.

 

9. Curfew
Teen curfews are arbitrary and legally-murky. Teen Curfews can be less arbitrary—for example when Baltimore in 2011 announced a teen curfew in response to a rash of teen stabbings—but many teen curfews represent an unlawful imposition of martial law. In early 2010, San Diego overturned its curfew law due to ambiguous language, and Indianapolis recently overturned its curfew laws when it determined that they forcefully undermine adolescents’ first amendment rights. Nonetheless, teen curfews are common in cities and suburbs around the country.

 

10. Eruv
Eruv is a Hebrew term for a symbolic boundary, defined according to Jewish religious property law, which allows Jews to conduct activities on the Sabbath (the traditional day of rest) within a broader urban area that would otherwise be prohibited outside of the home. In the contemporary city this boundary is typically built by stringing wire between the tops of existing utility poles, forming an uninterrupted yet nearly invisible enclosure of “doorframes” (wire between two poles) that allows the “wall” of the eruv to be maintained. The eruv is in the Arsenal of Inclusion because it allows practicing Jews who might otherwise be required to segregate themselves to enjoy the benefits of living within a larger urban area while satisfying the traditional requirements of religious property law. / Michael Kubo

 

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11. Exclusionary Amenity
An exclusionary amenity is a collective good that is paid for by all members of a community because willingness to pay for that good is an effective proxy for other desired membership characteristics. If the community wants to exclude a particular group, and members of that targeted group are systematically unlikely to want to pay for a polarizing and costly amenity, then the exclusionary amenity may function as an effective mechanism for denying access. / Lior Jacob Strahilevitz

Visible in this drawing are seven communities that use exclusionary amenities to create homogeneous, segregated communities:

11a) PGA Village
As Strahilevitz points out in his essay for the forthcoming book The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion, a golf course is another type of “exclusionary amenity.” Strahilevitz writes that during the 1980s and 1990s, as African Americans began moving to the suburbs in growing numbers, the number of “mandatory membership” residential golf communities in the United States grew significantly. At the time, golf was the most racially segregated warm weather, mass-participation sport in America. (In 1997, 93.4 percent of all American golfers were Caucasian while just 3.1 percent were African American.) Might developers have discovered a method for creating racially-homogeneous communities?

11b) Ave Maria
Ave Maria is a master-planned, Catholic-themed town just northeast of Naples, Florida. Developed by Domino’s Pizza founder and Roman Catholic philanthropist Tom Monaghan, Ave Maria puts Catholicism at the center of community life, a fact that is evidenced by the 100 foot tall, neo-Gothic oratory in the main square. Through the Ave Maria Foundation, Monaghan also controls a new Catholic university, Ave Maria University, which has over 600 students and is planned to accommodate up to 5,000.

11c) Snowflake
Snowflake is an “Environmental Isolation” community in Arizona, where a group of people with debilitating sensitivities to certain chemicals live in about thirty homes on large, widely-spaced lots. Snowflake offers isolation and neutrality to individuals who would otherwise suffer from exposure to life-threatening ailments and diseases. Have an aversion to common house paints and solvents? Snowflake’s rigid product guidelines include a provision that banns them. Originally founded by two Mormons (last names: “Snow” and “Flake”), the community offers privacy and isolation for people unable to healthfully exist in other, more chemically saturated, areas.

11d) Rainbow Vision
Rainbow Vision, a GLBT (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender) retirement community near the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Santa Fe, New Mexico, provides a familiar array of resort and retirement community amenities to a demographic underserved by planned communities. (The untapped market has been highly successful as three more branches are soon opening in the Bay Area and Palm Springs, California, and Vancouver, Canada.) Whether providing assisted-living services to the elderly, or offering Wednesday night drag shows in the community center, the development offers an inclusive array of activities and properties for those attracted to a GLBT-centric environment. Even heterosexual homebuyers have been attracted to the spa, dancing, and nightlife that the community offers.

11e) Sky Village
The residents of Arizona’s Sky Village, a planned community at the foot of the Chiricahua Mountains, use their homes to indulge a passion for the night sky. Amateur astronomers, stargazers, and outdoor buffs alike find solace in this low-light, sparsely electrified community of time-share haciendas. Far from any significant city and located in one of America’s darkest regions, denizens of Sky Village enjoy night-time hikes, evenings gazing through their personal telescope, or cocktail parties with fellow astro-geeks.

11f) Jumbolair
That’s not thunder you hear overhead: that’s a 707 Jetliner approaching Jumbolair’s 7,550 foot runway in time for dinner at one of the development’s 29 contiguous estates. While the commute from this Ocala, Florida community might be measured in nautical miles, everything else resembles the private glitz of a gated neighborhood, from the gated entryway to its formal dining hall. Originally a 380 acre horse farm, Jumbolair was first licensed in 1984 as a fly-in community, one of several across the nation, but the only one with private taxi-ways for its jet-lagged residents.

11g) Peace Village
Peace Village, a 265-home suburban subdivision outside Toronto, looks like a typical North American suburb, until one notices that its streets and culs de sac are dedicated to prominent Muslim thinkers. In fact Peace Village was built for members of Ahmadiyya, an Islamic sect that fled Pakistan in the 1970s and 80s to avoid religious persecution. The subdivision has unassumingly given these Muslims refuge, as well as license to live according to their conventions within a modern, Western city. A mosque built into the subdivision dominates the skyline, prayer speakers (mounted on poles in the parking lot) call residents to prayer each morning, and in the homes, dual sitting rooms separate men and women at social gatherings and heavy-duty ventilation equipment attenuates the strong odor of Middle Eastern cooking in each kitchen.

 

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12. Fire Hydrant
Much of Duxbury, MA’s coast is blocked by large private residences. In the eighteenth century, the Town established a series of public landings allowing waterfront access at streets dead-ending at the water. Today, however, fire hydrants are often placed directly in front of the only parking spot available at public landings, excluding anyone who comes from outside the neighborhood and needs to park to visit the waterfront. / Meredith TenHoor and William TenHoor

 

13. Fire Zone
In beach-front communities like New York City’s Rockaway, the streets that dead-end at the beach are sometimes declared “fire zones,” on which parking is prohibited (the houses on these streets all have driveways). In Rockaway, the ubiquity of fire zones–which are found on over twenty streets–suggest a non-safety related motivation, namely, keeping away non-residents who wish to access the beach.

 

14. Gate
The gates that guard gated communities offer one of the more obvious examples of how we keep out “undesirables.” Though statistically there is little evidence that gated communities are safer (or have higher home values) than non-gated communities, the perception that they are has led to more and more Americans living in them each year.

 

15. Hockey Rink
In 1994 the Division of Parks, Public Grounds & Recreation in the borough of Glen Rock, NJ, a wealthy, white, suburb of New York City with a population of 11,232, made a decision to replace two basketball courts in the town’s Wilde Memorial Park with a street hockey rink. Glen Rock—which is 88 percent White Non-Hispanic—borders Paterson, an older, poorer city that is 13 percent White Non-Hispanic. The decision raised eyebrows because the basketball courts were heavily used by African-Americans from Paterson. It is well known that hockey is played primarily by whites and basketball primarily by African-Americans: while 79 percent of NBA players are African-American, only 2 percent of NHL players are. Moreover hockey—like golf—is often criticized for being elitist: the equipment required to play it—skates, sticks, pads, goals—is expensive, and one typically needs a car to transport it.

 

16. Housing Voucher
The large-scale use of housing vouchers began in 1966, when Dorothy Gautreaux and 43,000 other Chicago public housing tenants sued the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for discrimination. This case eventually led to the Gautreaux Demonstration Project, where people were given vouchers to move from inner city public housing to private housing all over the Chicago metropolitan area, city and suburbs. Today, housing vouchers are among the most progressive weapons in the Arsenal of Inclusion, as they give the poor access to low-poverty communities with good access to jobs, education, and health. / Damon Rich

 

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17. Immigrant Recruitment
In a bid to save itself from a shrinking population and economic base after General Electric Co. and other industries left the city, Schenectady, NY actively recruited Guyanese immigrants from Richmond Hill, Queens, a Borough of New York City. Starting with bus tours, the Mayor of Schenectady went to unusual lengths to attract new residents to dilapidated neighborhoods in his town of 62,000. Attracted by the availability of affordable housing, in a few years the Guyanese community in Schenectady swelled to 7,000, contributing to the local economy by opening shops and restaurants and reclaiming much of Schenectady’s housing stock. / Julie Behrens, Kaja Kühl

 

18. Inclusionary Zoning
Inclusionary Zoning or Inclusionary Housing requires developers to make a percentage of housing units in new residential developments available to low and moderate-income households. A major victory for inclusionary zoning took place in 1975 in Mount Laurel, NJ, where the Southern Burlington County N.A.A.C.P. successfully argued that there is a constitutional obligation for municipalities to produce affordable housing. Eventually, this led to the Mount Laurel Doctrine, which continues to encourage the development of affordable housing in New Jersey.

 

19. Lavender-lining
Gays and lesbians have long conveyed queerness through the performance of personal style, but it was only after the birth of the modern gay rights movement that they began to openly delimit queer territory, using sexual orientation as a tool of inclusion to create communities that celebrated queerness, most famously in the Castro in San Francisco and in Northampton, Massachusetts, but also in lesser-known places such as Alapine, a lesbian-only community in rural Alabama. / Gabrielle Esperdy

 

20. Map
In 2007, The Los Angeles Urban Rangers, a Los Angeles-based group that leads creative explorations of everyday habitats, made maps and led safaris that helped people “find, park, walk, picnic, and sunbathe on a Malibu beach legally and safely.” Despite ubiquitous “private property” signs found up and down Malibu beaches, numerous easements and other “loopholes” exist that enable individuals to legally occupy them. The safaris include skills-enhancing activities like a public-private boundary hike, sign watching, a no-kill hunt for accessways, and a public easement potluck.

 

21. Minimum Lot Size
Minimum Lot Size regulations, typically found in municipal zoning codes, define the smallest lot size that a building can be built on. Suburban municipalities sometimes use minimum lot size regulations to exclude affordable housing, public housing, and the poor, for whom building on large lots is not possible. An early exclusionary use of Minimum Lot Size regulations can be found in New Caanan, CT, which in 1932 zoned 4,000 undeveloped acres “two-acre residential.”

 

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22. “No Loitering” Sign
Loiterers have it tough. Consider the following, taken from the website ehow.com: “People who loiter will often do some type of damage to property, such as tagging buildings with graffiti or damaging concrete with skateboards. Loiterers are sometimes associated with the sale of illicit drugs. . . In short, loiterers almost always do some level of damage to your business, and rarely provide anything positive.” How do you keep loiterers away? The scourge of teenagers and homeless people everywhere, the “No Loitering” Sign is the most commonly-used weapon homeowners and businesses use to discourage people from hanging out outside their buildings.

 

23. No-Cruising Zone
Cruising, or driving a motor vehicle past a traffic control point more than twice within a designated period of time (usually about two hours), has been a staple social activity of Americans as long as cars have been symbols of social status. Many small towns have a route, or “strip,” that is an identified cruise zone, and have “cruising nights” when cars drive slowly, bumper-to-bumper through urban boulevards or small town centers. No-cruising zones is a weapon used by municipalities to block recreational driving, and ergo, this conglomeration of supposedly “anti-establishment” youth. In 1999, the ACLU Utah unsuccessfully tried to overturn Salt Lake City’s no-cruising zone, stating that it “seeks to criminalize lawful conduct” and “extends to innocuous behavior far removed from the problem it seeks to remedy.” Alas, Salt Lake City’s no-cruising zone remains in effect.

 

24. NORC SSP
NORC stands for “Naturally Occurring Retirement Community.” On the one hand, a NORC is just a building or neighborhood that wasn’t planned as a retirement facility, but that has a large elderly population. But NORC also refers to Social Service Providers (SSPs) that retroactively service such buildings or neighborhoods with the amenities—home health care, transportation, education, and entertainment—that are found in “purpose-built” retirement facilities. NORC is in the Arsenal of Inclusion because it is a potential foil to the phenomenon of geriatric ghettoization, whereby senior citizens are segregated in isolated, purpose-built retirement communities.

 

25. One-Way Street
Greenmount Avenue between 33rd Street and Cold Spring Lane in Baltimore is an interesting wall. On the east side, 85% of residents are black, 16% have a Bachelor degree, and the median income is $40,000. On the west side, 96% of residents are white, 75% have a Bachelor degree, and the median income is $75,000. Such rapid shifts in demographics are common in Baltimore, but this stretch of Greenmount Avenue is interesting for the physical devices that one side deploys to maintain a disconnect from the other. For example, of the eight streets that intersect Greenmount Avenue between 33rd Street and Cold Spring Lane, only one (39th Street) allows travel from east to west. Six of the streets are one-way pointing east (i.e., out of the wealthy, white side), and one of the streets (34th Street) thwarts westward movement with bollards.

 

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26. Questionnaire
In The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart, Bill Bishop writes about how the developers of the Ladera Ranch, a planned community in Orange County, California, used a questionnaire to steer prospective home buyers into one of its lifestyle-themed developments. Thus for those who “see the Earth as a living system” there is “Terramor,” which features bamboo floors, and photovoltaic cells. Across the way, in a development called “Winners,” houses are more colonial than craftsman.

 

27. Racial Steering
Racial steering refers to the illegal practice whereby real estate brokers guide prospective homebuyers towards or away from certain neighborhoods based on their race. Racial steering is not a thing of the past: in 2006, Corcoran, one of New York City’s biggest real estate brokerage companies, made headlines when a sting operation by the National Fair Housing Alliance revealed that Corcoran brokers were drawing maps of Brooklyn that outlined neighborhoods that were “changing.” The maps—whose source was a Census map showing percent change in numbers of African-Americans—were used to show white families where they should consider living. The map was not shown to black families with similar financial qualifications.

 

28. Regional Contribution Agreement
If, under an inclusionary zoning provision, a developer is required to set aside a percentage of the units for affordable housing, the developer can in some states enter into an agreement with a separate municipality, and effectively pay it to build the units. These agreements are called Regional Contribution Agreements. They are dubious because forcing affordable housing away from wealthier housing discourages a mixture of areas and only serves to reinforce ghettoization. An example of Regional Contribution Agreements are New Jersey’s COAH laws, which were created in response to the state’s Mount Laurel decision (see “Inclusionary Zoning”).

 

29. Residential Parking Permit
Residential parking permits create restricted parking districts and exclude the larger public from specific areas. While Residential Parking Permits make sense in congested, residential areas next to universities, medical institutions, sports complexes or tourist attractions, they are often established and enforced in very low-traffic neighborhoods that have plenty of street parking available, especially wealthy ones that are next to poor ones.

 

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30. School District
The stellar reputation of some public schools can segregate family households from non-family households, especially in urban areas. When a family is in a good district, the money mom and dad save not having to send Ella and Emma to private school is tacked on to the cost of housing. This in turn results in a self-sorting: people who don’t have kids find that it is not worth their while to live in the district, and opt (or are forced) to live somewhere else where rent is cheaper (and where they might find retail amenities less suited to the needs of young parents).

 

31. Sidewalk Management Plan
Portland’s sidewalk management plan, proposes a 6′ – 8′ “pedestrian use zone” in which pedestrians “must move immediately to accommodate the multiple users of the sidewalk.” Importantly, the zone measures out from the property line, ruling out leaning on (or sleeping on) buildings. Such a plan isn’t needed on the sidewalks of midtown Manhattan; what justifies one in relatively serene downtown Portland? Needless to say, this is a barely disguised attempt to rid downtown Portland of homeless people.

 

32. Skywalk
Skywalks are elevated bridges that create interior connections between adjacent buildings. Many cold-weather cities have extensive skywalk systems: Calgary has one that is ten miles long. In Minneapolis, which boasts the largest continuous skywalk system in the United States, skywalks span 8 miles and connect 69 blocks of the city’s downtown. While the appeal of skywalks is obvious to anyone who has visited places like Calgary and Minneapolis in the Winter, the fact that skywalks can be privately owned and controlled appealed to other, less frost-bitten cities, who used them to build a secondary, access-restricted circulation system that avoided confrontation with the elements of the public sidewalk below.

 

33. Ultrasonic Noise
“Is your business suffering from anti social youths driving your customers away? Are you bothered by crowds of teenagers hanging around your street or business and making life unpleasant?” These questions come from the website of “kids be gone,” the exclusive North American importer for the Mosquito Kid Deterrent Device, a small box that emits, as the name suggests, a high frequency sound that only teenagers can hear (persons over 20 typically can’t hear high frequencies in the range of 18 to 20 kHz). The company’s website brags that the Mosquito has been successfully used in railway stations, shops, and, of course, shopping malls.

 

PROJECT TEAM
Tobias Armborst, Daniel D’Oca, Georgeen Theodore, Rebecca Beyer Winik, Lesser Gonzalez (illustrator)

 

Interboro Partners is a New York City-based office of architects, urban designers, and planners led by Tobias Armborst, Daniel D’Oca, and Georgeen Theodore. Interboro has won many awards for its innovative projects, including the MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program, the AIA New York Chapter’s New Practices Award, and the Architectural League’s Emerging Voices and Young Architects Awards.
www.interboropartners.net

Life on the Line at Derby Line, Vermont

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From the west, the international border enters the library’s reading room at the corner bay window. © CLUI

 

Essay by the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI)

 

International borders are places of abrupt transition, where a conceptual cartographic line can manifest itself physically in many ways. Along the US/Canada border, it is often in the form of a low fence or a cut-line through the trees, running along the path of the border. If roads head to the border in a perpendicular fashion, from either side, and do not hit a natural obstacle like a river, they are usually blocked by earthen berms, posts, guardrail, or overgrowth. If the road goes through the border, it usually has an inspection station, one for each country, on either side of the line.

In the case of the town/s of Derby Line, Vermont/Stanstead, Quebec, the border runs right through the community, cutting through the street grid, and even buildings as well, creating an unusual international zone, where behavior is affected in some interesting ways.

In the two-sided town of Derby Line/Stanstead there are two streets that cross the line without any checkpoints. Technically, any time anyone crosses the international line, they are subject to having to report, in person, to a port of entry inspection station for the country they are entering. This makes traffic on the streets that cross the line without a checkpoint, Maple Street/Rue Ball and Pelow Hill/Rue Lee, fairly light, as it is more convenient to cross at Main Street/Rue Dufferin, where checkpoints are often set up for “drive thru” service.

Pedestrians on the sidewalk are also technically required to report as soon as they cross the line. Visiting someone on the other side of the line, even if the building is next door, means walking around to the inspection station first, or risk being an outlaw. Playing catch on Maple Street/Rue Ball would be an international event, and would break no laws presumably, so long as each time the ball was caught, the recipient marched over to customs to declare the ball.

When the international line crosses through a building, a different set of rules applies. Residents of the small apartment building in Derby Line/Stanstead do not need to report if they cross the line inside the building. They only need to report if they leave out the side of the building that opens on to a different country than the one they entered the building from. The building’s interior ends up being an international space, a bubble in the otherwise nearly infinitely thin international line.

The most prominent building on the line is the Haskell Free Library and Opera House. It was built intentionally on the border in 1901, as a gift to the community, and a symbol of international harmony. The entrances, one leading into the library, and the other heading up the stairs to the opera house/theater, however, are in the United States.

 

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The border continues, dividing the World Book in half, depending on how it is shelved and makes an inquiry at the reception desk an international exchange. © CLUI

 

And though there are no restrictions on movement within the building, the placement on the border can lead to complications. The planning of a recent renovation project at the Library/Opera House took three years due to the conflicting construction, fire safety and historic preservation regulations of the two countries. Some of the public bathrooms, for example, sit on the border that runs diagonally through the building, and plumbers from the US and Canada had to be involved to make sure the work met their respective building codes. A fire escape for the theater was located on the Canadian side, but had to be recognized by the Americans, even though it wasn’t in their jurisdiction. If there were a fire in the opera house, then the evacuees would have to head immediately to the immigration station up the road.

The line painted on the floor inside the library and opera house is more than just a novelty. Apparently, it was required in order to show which portions of the structure and furnishings would be covered by the separate Canadian and American insurance policies.

 

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Upstairs, the theater has a line running diagonally across the seating area. The stage is in Canada. © CLUI

 

Note
Part of an Ongoing Investigation into the Borderlands of the USA. Lay of the Land Newsletter, Winter 2006

 

The Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) is a research and education organization interested in understanding the nature and extent of human interaction with the earth’s surface, and in finding new meanings in the intentional and incidental forms that we individually and collectively create.
www.clui.org

Ferry Land

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© Teaque Lenahan

 

Short Essay by Teaque Lenahan

 

The ferry is a floating metaphor. Of what, I’m still trying to absolutely determine. The obvious thing is that it’s a watery separation from my work self and home self, with the one world slipping into the distance as the other grows in clarity. You have the choice, on the boat, of facing either forward or backwards; perhaps it’s telling that I always, always face forward. You can have beers with friends, sit in the same spot or switch it up, and I regularly get to talk with architects, welders, mining engineers, urban traffic designers, startup founders, and the occasional maritime lawyer. There are even regular bald eagle fly-bys and the rare orca sighting.

What I have determined is that it’s a daily moment to myself, a minute to think.

I didn’t expect to feel this way. About the kid, the house, the ear hairs that define a man getting older. Embracing it all feels so… natural and enjoyable. (Maybe not the ear hairs.) But to admit that reality seems so cardboard, like life fitting into some predetermined decade-defined boundary, or god forbid, into some demographic ‘segment’ that someone in marketing owns with Getty stock images of beautiful middle-age people, smiling with matching sweaters. And yet… once the denial settles in, and starts to decay, and finally gives way to the new order of things, after years of saying that I’d never not live in a major city, that I wasn’t a “kid person,” that I didn’t live for work… here I was, absolutely loving my daughter and fatherhood in ways I could never have predicted, commuting by ferry to a medium-sized city that has no bigger ambitions.

If I leave work fifteen minutes before the boat, I can easily make it. Twelve minutes, I have to run. “Hypermiling” is what a colleague calls this charade. Like I’m a Prius owner squeezing out every last MPG. And I have to admit, my left knee hurts from running these steep pacific northwest hills. And my driver’s license reminds me that I am, in fact, now exactly 40.

Is it possible that the decades of a life actually do have personalities, or is that just life imitating marketing? It occurs to me that I’ve never had a more terrifying thought than “life imitating marketing.” As though I see commercials of people buying sensible cars, family vacation packages, and 529 Plans, and think, “yeah, that’s about right.” And though I’ve tried to stay true to my identity, if your identity keeps evolving through the decades, I’m not honestly sure what that would mean. “In our lives, we’re many people,” George Saunders has said, and not only is he right, but I’d add that we’re many people throughout our days, sometimes even before breakfast. So why does it seem so hard to let go of one self and embrace the next?

As I look in the digital mirror, it scares the hell out of me to wonder: am I simply writing the essay that marketing would have predicted I would at age 40? Perhaps fortunately, there’s no time to ponder, just live: I’m down to thirteen minutes, haven’t packed up, and can’t find my knee brace.

 

Teaque Lenahan works in the Conscious Consumer segment and helps design the future at a place called frog. He reads, runs, parents, paints walls, and sleeps on an island off of Seattle, where he’s trying to transition from the violin to the fiddle, but is stuck on that one Civil War song from the Ken Burns documentary.
www.frogdesign.com@frogdesign

Walking the Blue Line

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Lake Michigan © Paola Aguirre and Dennis Milam

 

Project by Paola Aguirre and Dennis Milam

 

What does a mile mean? We asked ourselves this question as we took on this exercise. As of today, for us, it means 1,164 photographs; it means 1,760 steps; it means 120 minutes.

Walking the Blue Line is a systematic recording of the shoreline of Lake Michigan; where the water meets the land (or concrete, as is the case with the first walk).

This recording process has very simple rules:
(1) Take a photograph every 9 feet,
(2) at eye level,
(3) perpendicular to the line followed,
(4) documenting both sides of the edge condition.

Our starting point is Chicago’s lakefront, Madison Street as the north/south. As we question the value of this recording, so far we are concerned with the idea of a system that can be recreated by anyone, anywhere.

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Aerial map of Chicago locating Madison Street © Paola Aguirre and Dennis Milam / Google Earth

As digital media becomes the strongest communication tool of our time, sharing images from any given place has become highly relevant. Everyone wants to know how does it look “being” there. That is the success of the Google Maps phenomena. Nevertheless, Google Maps is only done from the street. Maybe it is time to figure out the next step. How to record systematically relevant spaces that are limited to vehicle access? Or maybe this is jus a new excuse for large-scale collaborative projects, and to engage people to walking this line.

Lake Michigan has a 1,638-mile shoreline. That means 1,906,632 images to collect.

I think we have a project.

 

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Paola Aguirre hold’s a Master of Architecture in Urban Design from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, and currently works at the City Design Studio at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP in Chicago. Paola founded The Borderless Workshop (2011) which focuses on cities within border regions to further the understanding of the border condition.
theborderlessworkshop.tumblr.com | fromtheshore.org

Dennis Milam is a design professional currently working with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP in Chicago, IL. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning and has previously practiced with Coop-Himmelb(l)au and Emergent Architects.
dennismilam.net | fromtheshore.org

Thickening the ‘Unthickable’

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Migrants in front of Makeshift Homes in the port city of Patras, 2011 © Tom Jamieson

 

Essay by Yorgos Rimenidis

 

Thousands of people from the countries of central Asia and Africa, fleeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the terror of the Arab Spring or simply poverty or coercion, cross the borders of Europe in search of a better life. Migration has a long history behind it, alternating between conditions of deafening tension and states of quiescence. In recent years, the escalation of migration has been accompanied by a proportionate rise in the debate around it. Yet, whether migration is seen as an epidemic disease or as a field of common struggles, the debate is always permeated by a sense of urgency. Statistics, numbers, analyses and proofs, originally tools for reading geopolitical strategies, policies, and spatial changes ultimately become regulators of life itself. In this sense, it is worth noting that the figures quoted in the public debate are, in most cases, merely indicative; they may over or underestimate reality depending on the priorities that dictate and reproduce them in each case. [1] On the other hand, proof is meant to decrypt the confirmed or rejected interpretations and claims as to whether, or to what extent, an event has really taken place; in other words, it “comes to determine the correct balance between rights and wrongs, common goods and necessary evils.” [2]

 

1. Territorealities [3]

 

For most of its length, the border between Greece and Turkey coincides with the axis of the Evros River down to its mouth in the Aegean Sea. At the northeastern tip of Greece, the river goes into Turkish land; these 6.5 miles of dry-land border were, until recently, Europe’s largest “back door.” There have been many sea crossings through the Mediterranean, but in the last years this area has been the flashpoint of entry for illegal migration flows towards the “European paradise.” To migrants this was — and perhaps still is — a plausible option: the rough river crossings in flimsy plastic boats frequently led to tragedies in Evros, whereas this was the only route they could follow on foot, crossing Edirne’s bridge over Evros and then scattering among the garlic and asparagus fields.

The crossing of the Greek-Turkish border is inscribed in the migrants’ imagination as the “first step” in their journey’s completion, since Greece is not their final destination. On the contrary, it is used as a stopover and stepping stone for continuing the journey to central and northern Europe. Of course, the procedures they must follow are tangled in a web of bureaucracy, Greek and European, which rarely leads to a legal positive outcome: the newly-arriving sans-papiers, once arrested or when they voluntarily report to the local police or Border Control Stations, are led to Detention Centers. The Centers record their country of origin and enter their fingerprints into the European database to facilitate implementation of the Dublin II Regulation. Those who are to be deported back to their countries are either taken to various Temporary Detention Centers within the Greek territory or — due to the daily influx of migrants and the limited detention facilities — released after a few days and given a document that stipulates they must leave the country within 30 days. With this document they proceed to Athens, where many apply for political asylum, or to the ports of the Ionian Sea where they attempt to cross into northern Europe, reversing the trick of Odysseus [4] and using ship containers instead of a wooden horse or hiding under the trucks’ engine covers.

 

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Map of Greece

 

2. Forensic [5] Infrastructures

 

The mainstream political and communicational discourse that is produced and reproduced to describe the condition of human mobility is taken from military textbooks and goes into media with warfare terminology: military equipment, high-tech surveillance and monitoring devices, patrols and minefields, walls and fences, detention camps. Thus, everything that Europe tried hard to repress and forget from the past seems to be returning with a vengeance, nurturing fear towards the “new enemy.” Moreover, in view of the solemn pledge to end the problem of illegal migration, a series of prohibition and repressive practices pander to the citizens’ cultivated xenophobic reflexes and are favorably received: the installation of border walls and the establishment of migrant detention centers is seen as a natural and reasonable act of self-defense.

In the case of the Evros region, army and war terminology has had a rhizoidal relationship with the territory for decades, anyway. We could easily claim that the tense territorial antagonism between Greece and Turkey belongs in the past, but this tension has left some active remains. Indeed, apart from the obviously strong presence of the army, the land by the banks of the Evros River is strewn with live minefields that have shifted from their original place, due to flooding and the unstable soil, and are thus difficult to locate and deactivate. The recent mutilations of passing migrants and the unusual cemetery of the Mufti of Didymoteicho, where anonymous migrants are buried in mass graves, testify as to how a territory in peacetime may hide an underground that is armed and active in a quasi-state of war.

 

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Guard tower, Evros River in the border region between Greece and Turkey, 2011 © Tom Jamieson

 

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Unmarked graves, unusual Muslim Cemetery for immigrants, 2011 © Tom Jamieson

 

A stepping-up of border protection measures by the Greek police and the “messianic” mission of Frontex did not seem able to check the border-crossing activity in the area. Despite increased patrolling with special vehicles, patrol boats and helicopters, and for all the installation of a surveillance network of thermal cameras, night vision cameras and other monitoring devices, the flow of migrants into the Greek territory continued unabated. The topography around Evros seems to share the passionate desire for attaining the “European dream.”

 

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Frontex video reports © Courtesy of author

 

The Greek authorities’ latest attempt at curbing illegal migrant flows was the partial ‘walling-in’ of the country. The construction of a fence along the land border of Evros was completed on December 16, 2012. This is an artificial boundary, 6.5 miles long and 13-ft high, consisting of two parallel lines of chain-link fence with barbed wire between them, which is deemed impenetrable without mechanical means. Despite reactions by NGOs and warnings by various international organizations that drew attention to the ineffectiveness of similar structures, this fence was added to the list of measures that regard Europe as an expanded gated community, confirming the illusions of modernity that comforted itself with the idea of an open Mediterranean.

 

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Evros fence, 2013 © DPA

 

Intensive security measures at the borders may help concentrate the tide of illegal immigration at specific passages or divert them to other routes — often controlled by networks of goods and people smugglers — but can never reduce inflows or provide a comprehensive and responsible answer to a problem of this kind. It is thus easy to see that such measures are of a representational rather than political nature, and that the infrastructures behind them are mainly of a strong symbolic importance, inscribed in our perception as the new sacred places where we direct our prayers for security and protection against the “metaphysical other”: the foreigner.

 

3. “Snakes and Ladders” game

 

In the absence of a consistent and commonly accepted migration policy, several geopolitical and crucial humanitarian issues remain at stake. Saskia Sassen claims that “economic globalization denationalizes national economies; in contrast, immigration is re-nationalizing politics.” [6] Indeed, while European politics controls its Member States’ national economies and flows of capital and services, at the same time it grandly delegates the sovereign right/obligation to control their borders, as if these borders were strictly theirs and not Europe’s as well.

Moreover, a series of international conventions and bilateral agreements are used as mechanisms for shedding responsibility and allocating tasks rather than policies for the protection of those who move within their territories. In this sense, the implementation of the Dublin II Regulation places the burden of protecting EU external borders on the countries that lie on its periphery, thus taking for granted that illegal migrants are prevented from entering and taking no interest in what happens to those who do find themselves inside its borders. According to Dublin II, when an asylum seeker has irregularly crossed the border into a Member State, that Member State will be responsible for examining the asylum application. On January 21, 2011, a historical ruling of the European Court of Human Rights found against Greece for the inhuman and degrading treatment of an Afghan immigrant, in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Belgium was also ruled against on the basis of the same article for deporting the immigrant to Greece, as per the rules of Dublin II, while being aware of the inhuman conditions in Greek detention centers. Thus, it is easy to understand “the tension caused by the conflicting priorities of protecting human rights and protecting national sovereignty.” [7]

In the same context, migration brings to the forefront various legal issues and questions such fundamental questions as those of identity, citizenship, national sovereignty, or even legality.

 

4. Liminality: Misreading and Interpretations

 

The roads of migration, on which the limits of human desire are inscribed, come against physical boundaries; these are easily crossed, only to be replaced by new ones that are more complex, intangible and hence stronger. Indeed, on their way to Europe, the migrants who cross the Greek borders find themselves trapped in the country, on the strength of the Dublin II Regulation. In this sense, the borders of EU extend throughout the Greek territory, and the same is true of the other countries on Europe’s southern and eastern borders. Thus, we can view southeastern Europe as a liminal space where social exclusion translates into conditions of territorial, religious and economic isolation; in other words, into a series of practices that form part of what Étienne Balibar describes as the “European apartheid.” [8]

 

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Fylakkio Detention Center, 2011 © Tom Jamieson

 

Migrant detention centers, where inhuman living conditions and the blatant violation of basic human rights become the rule, undertake to produce homogeneity out of multiple and diverse elements. This implies the loss of the migrant’s individual identity and the creation of a generic image and a flat, fictitious impression that points at migration as the source of evils, criminal activities and delinquent behaviors. Furthermore, the migrants’ loss of identity leads us to recognize in them the traits of a peculiar liminality betwixt and between the condition they are leaving behind and the one they wish to join. Migrants ‘are no longer’ what they were, but at the same time they ‘are not yet’ what they wish to be.

In recent years, the immigrants’ conditions of transience added up and became permanent. Over this period, the projected image of mess and crisis was inextricably linked to migration. The inadequate handling of the issue had a detrimental effect on the citizens’ democratic and humanitarian reflexes. Amid the harshness of the unfolding crisis, Greek society failed to avail itself of the wealth and the cultural pluralism it could draw from a positive communication with immigrants and their different, revitalizing images, views and behaviors. What was cultivated instead was fear, uncertainty and insecurity, which paved the way not just for xenophobia and racism, but also for an extreme racist violence orchestrated and escalated by extreme right ideologies. Obviously, this last aspect goes beyond humanitarian issues to jeopardize the institutions of democracy and legal order.

At this juncture, since there is no guarantee that forced human mobility will slow down and that no further peak in migrant flows into Europe is expected, the lucid understanding and interpretation of the question of migration and its role in the social field is more necessary and urgent than ever before. All indications are that the “planetary deficit of opportunity and social justice” [9] keeps rising, the result of which is people will continue to migrate in an increasingly mass way.

It is not enough for the structures that will receive the tides of migrating populations to accept the culture of the different; they must create the conditions for its existence.

In an age when the software of nations, i.e. their social makeup, has passed from a state of endemic residency to that of a shifting multitude, [10] it seems both unproductive and ineffective, and yet also inconsistent, that their hardware should be concentration camps, walls and fences. As regards “everyware,” allow me to credit it to Giorgio Agamben: “the river of biopolitics that gave homo sacer his life runs its course in a hidden but continuous fashion.” [11]

 

Endnotes

 

1. For more information on the flexible use of figures, see Olga Lafazani, ‘Games with the Numbers’ <http://enthemata.wordpress.com/2012/12/30/olga-laf/>, accessed Jan 30, 2013.

2. Eyal Weizman, Forensic Architecture: Notes from Fields and Forums (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2012), 14.

3. See Lilia Mitsiou, Territorealities, M.Arch. Thesis at the University of Thessaly, Department of Architecture (Sept. 2012), supervisor: Professor Lois Papadopoulos.

4. On the Trojan Horse, see Homer, “Little Iliad” in Martin L. West (ed.), Greek Epic Fragments; From the Seventh to the Fifth Centuries BC, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003).

5. Eyal Weizman, op.cit.

6. Saskia Sassen, Loosing Control? Sovereignty in an Age of Globalization (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 63.

7. ibid., 65

8. Étienne Balibar, We, the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship, trns. James Swenson (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2004).

9. Mike Davis, ‘Living on the Ice Shelf: Humanity’s Meltdown’ <http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174949>, accessed Jan 30, 2013.

10. Zissis Kotionis, “Multidomes: the Multitude’s Spaces” in Yorgos Tzirtzilakis (ed.), Multidomes: Multitude, Commons and Architecture (Volos: University of Thessaly Press, 2012), 202-213.

11. Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trns. Daniel Heller-Roazen (California: Stanford University Press, 1998), 72.

 

Yorgos Rimenidis studied Infrastructure Design (Technical Institute, Thessaloniki) and Architecture (University of Thessaly, UTh, Volos). His current activity involves any-scale design projects, experimental architectural configuration but also art-book design. In addition, he is teaching assistant at both the Undergraduate and Postgraduate Programs of the Department of Architecture at UTh, where he recently participated in design and anthropology research programs.
yorgosrimenidis.blogspot.com | @yorgosrimenidis

Challenging the physical and disciplinary boundaries

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Sirenuse, 2011 © WEATHERS / Sean Lally LLC

 

Julia Sedlock interviews Sean Lally

 

Sean Lally’s work upholds architecture’s role as both physical and cultural boundary-maker, yet does so by fundamentally questioning and redefining how those boundaries are created and deployed. During our previous interview in MAS Context’s Energy issue, Lally explained that “material energies…have physical boundaries, actual boundary conditions that can organize and distinguish activities.” In this follow-up interview, Lally elaborates upon how he uses material energies to challenge the physical boundaries produced by architecture’s conventional materials. He points out that the design of these boundaries works in conjunction with new understandings and enhancements of human sensory perception, rendering both environment and body open for design. His unique model of practice finds overlaps between architecture, landscape architecture and urban design, and activates them in order to realize connections between ideas and concepts typically outside of architecture.

In the three years since our last interview, Lally has begun a new business and was a recipient of the 2011 Rome Prize. His entrepreneurial efforts produced Climate Design LLC, a company geared towards the development of technologies needed to implement his design objectives. While a fellow at the American Academy in Rome, Lally completed his book, The Air on Other Planets: A Brief History of Things to Come. Lally, with all these recent accomplishments, has refined his ambition to imagine an architecture of the future by engaging, manipulating and building on the potential energies embedded in our contemporary environment.

 

JS: There are many issues raised by your work relating to the concept of boundary—
issues of scale, time, body, imagination—but I’d like to start simply by having you define boundary.

SL: For me, the most fundamental way of thinking about this is that if you can define a boundary with that which you can organize people and activities, regardless of what the material is, that’s a form of architecture. Quite often when people think about energy, whether it’s electromagnetic, thermal, acoustic or chemical, it falls into the categories of effects, atmosphere, and moods, but they don’t create a boundary that all participants have to acknowledge. In architecture, materials help define physical organizations; they dictate movement, how we interact with each other, and they define boundaries. When you fundamentally switch the material property of a boundary, it has huge implications. When you go from brick and mortar to concrete and steel they give you new properties, and new typologies; they give you cantilevers and towers. Architectural boundaries that mediate the environment have always been defined by surfaces and geometries. So now we are going to shift and say a boundary is no longer a line or a geometry, but it’s energy fields, it’s a gradient. The existing energies that course around us daily can be manipulated and amplified, much like the geological resources we use to make our concrete, steel and glass, but instead they create extreme microclimates, which have a new form of boundary. When you have a new form of boundary you get a different aesthetic, you get different connotations of value, and you get different spatial organizations. So many aspects of architecture are going to be rewritten when architectural boundaries shift, from surfaces and walls that mediate our connection to our surroundings to material energies that act as gradients built by amplifying the very materials that already exist around us.

JS: Would it be wrong to say that a gradient is the opposite of a boundary, or even the lack of boundary?

SL: I would say it’s just a different form of boundary. A gradient still has boundaries;
they just operate differently, as intensities. Street lighting is a boundary and it has different intensities. It can be focused. It can be wide. There’s the boundary that you are inside of when you are in the light, the darkness beyond, and a moment of in-between where the two meet. We can focus these energies to be as wide as a room or as small as a beam but they still work as energy, as particles and waves, and they operate as gradients. But they certainly still do operate as a boundary, with all the social and spatial implications that trickle down from its formations (public safety, recreation, and commerce).

JL: Can you elaborate on the architectural implications of gradient boundaries defined by material energies?

SL: When these material energies are seen as building materials, controlling movement, separating activities from one another and not simply as comfort controls, new typologies of space and form will emerge. But not as long as energies are seen as things that fill interiors or bounce off walls as effects. Again, take the example of street lighting: prior to the advent of street lighting, night was night and day was day. Street lighting gave the ability to have light as a constant resource, and that gave you new typologies, everything from little bubbles of light, like pearls on a necklace separated by a distance, to streams, to floods, to outdoor recreation and commerce. It allowed a resource to exist that wasn’t there prior. Imagine starting with an outdoor streetlight and layering on other forms of energy that visible spectrum, other forms of energy that can separate sounds, chemical compositions of the air that shift opacity, electromagnetic fields that affect movement and apertures into that spaces. These spaces will then have their own aesthetic qualities that can be shaped and then clustered to make new possibilities for larger or aggregated spaces. It will also create other forms of interiority and other forms of environment that are entirely new and artificial.

 

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Sirenuse, 2011 © WEATHERS / Sean Lally LLC

 

JS: It also produces an architecture that varies with time. More often than not, architecture is fixed and static in time, and fixed in its relationship to its environment. So how does time become another form of boundary within the work?

SL: Time plays a very specific role with this type of architecture because the materiality is directly linked to a feedback loop to the environment in which it exists. Returning to the streetlight example, if it’s a moon or a full moon, those two different types of ambient light are going to affect the boundary of that streetlight. With an architecture that is formed by energy, the behavior of its boundaries will be altered by changes in the atmospheric properties of its environmental context. One can decide how that boundary reacts to such changes. Does it intensify in order to maintain its aesthetic qualities and physical boundaries, or does it dissipate? An architecture that is formed by a materiality that shares properties with the surrounding context is very different from a surface architecture that really stands in opposition.

JS: Time plays a role not only in terms of environmental changes, but also in terms of changes in the human body and its sensory perception. Your definition of boundary relies more intensively on our body’s relationship to its physical environment and how that environment is perceived. How do you understand the human body as a form of boundary?

SL: The physiology of the human body is a huge part of this. For so long we have thought of the human body in a similar way to how we see architecture, which is about the outer skin, and the proportions and distances from that skin to the wall. Now we are starting to talk about the augmentation of human sensory perception. We are at the point now where we are going to be able to choose whether or not we want our sensory perception to exceed the abilities that we’re born with. These advances in bioengineering coincide perfectly with the application of material energies. Our boundaries are defined by what our body can sense, and if you can increase that perception, then you have a new range of what defines physical boundaries, and those physical boundaries open up new possibilities of organizations. Right now in history, we can visualize and control a range of energy systems like never before, while at the same time the human sensory perception is clearly advancing. This can be seen in work with bioengineering and prosthetics, as well as pharmaceuticals. Outside of architecture, these appear to be two separate threads. As architects, we can see that they are actually directly linked through our capacity to build new environments, so we should see this as an opportunity for architecture to play a significant role in weaving together those different threads.

JS: This relationship between body and environment suggests that your work has implications at multiple scales. In our previous interview, you identified the two primary areas of inquiry: the gizmo-scale installation and the urban scale proposal. How does your definition of boundary change with scale?

SL: What you refer to as gizmos, I would describe as proofs that exist at the scale of outdoor installation, through which I test and play out architectural concepts. Although working out the technologies is an important aspect of them, they are playing themselves out in a small scale design, producing their own outdoor interiors. They are spaces that I am trying to produce and they require a technology in order to make them happen. Testing the proofs allows me to see what typologies of space they produce, how the gradient works, how it interacts with the environment, with the climate of the time of year and day that they are being deployed. From there, a kind of typology and aesthetic condition emerges.

JS: When you talk about these proofs, are you referring to the work of Climate Design, or is that different?

SL: No, that’s different. The proofs still fall very much on the design side. On the other hand, Climate Design is a way to splinter our need for specific technological knowledge and run it through a different approach, a different business model. Not all those little parts can be figured out, and I often can’t go shopping for them. The technology company allows us to figure them out through other avenues, like funding and research. They originated from an architectural desire, need and approach, but then we pluck them out and move them to another venue in order to advance them. Architecture right now just doesn’t have the resources to do this work, there’s no funding for it. The proofs are not a single project, but rather they are testing the energy systems so that they can be understood as a type, and if they could be understood as a type, then they can be reused in multiple ways.

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Gdansk Museum of WWII, Gdansk, Poland, 2010 @ WEATHERS / Sean Lally with OOS AG

 

JS: You have done a lot of competitions where you scale up the energy systems to work in conjunction with a building that depends on more conventional conditions of architecture, in terms of using geometries and mass to organize program, to define conditioned spaces in a more stable or predictable way. So if we take a specific project like the WWII Museum in Poland, can you walk me through how you start to tackle a project like that in terms of balancing your interests and ideal conditions with the competition brief and the requirements of a project?

SL: To be brutally honest, I think in everyone’s career you find that things that don’t work the way you want them to work. During my time in Rome, I realized that trying to do these competitions was actually doing me a disservice because I was interested in an architecture that didn’t fit the brief. In the case of the World War II museum, this interest was expressed in the upper floor. It was a type of new city floor that we put in the roof system. The idea was to take all the energy dumps of the building and to allow all that energy to be dumped into this very thick floor slab that then became a programmed artificial landscape that was new to the city. However, at the end of the day, when you look at that project what you saw in those renderings was the 300,000 square feet of mass that met the predetermined regulations of the project brief, one that I wasn’t willing to jettison at the time, because some part of you wants to win the project. These competitions are no longer the way to go. The energies that were then represented on the roof were seen as some ancillary byproduct, when in truth they were the most important part for me. The proofs that I’m doing now are really about putting the resources into seeing what these various forms of energy can produce as an architecture. Taking a step back helped me to realize that I needed to push the directive through the energy to see what that produces as a form, to see what the shape of energy is so that it can become the discussion, and from there to play out what the organizational and spatial ramifications will be.

JS: Your time in Rome has clearly had a significant impact on your work. Can you describe the working environment there, specifically the multi-disciplinary nature of it and how that changed the way you are thinking about these ideas?

SL: It was a great resource. You have a lot of people that do different things — from archeologists to scholars of 15th century poetry, to digital artists to architects — it’s a huge list, like Noah’s ark with two of everything. The running joke is that you can tell who is new and who’s been there a while because the people who are just showing up want to talk about Dante, and the people who have been there for a while want to talk about a hedgehog they saw in the garden. This is not to say that when you are talking to people at dinner every day about the hedgehog in the garden that you are not opening up the possibilities of your work, it just comes in a very different way. It slips in, all their experiences and knowledge and big ideas just kind of percolate through your work and through your ideas in such ways that you are not even fully conscious of it. It just happens slowly.

One of the real beauties of the program is that once you get there, you are not required to produce anything, and that translates into people working in ways they hadn’t planned on. For me, I had probably worked on this book for three or four years prior to getting there, and then I finished it while I was there, in ways that I never could have otherwise. Our profession doesn’t allow for these kind of air bubbles to exist, which you can slip in to and sit down for eight hours a day, everyday, and just write or design this, that, or the other thing you had been thinking about. For me, it allowed for a kind of momentum to build in which I could actually sit there with the book and the drawings and turn it out more quickly, instead of piecing it together from small chucks of time I had at night back home. Being around people who are looking at 2500 years of history puts things into a bigger perspective. That was a really exciting part; you’re not seeing the myopic window of architecture as it is. It’s always about now, now, now, what are you doing now? And where’s architecture now? But in this other context, you are seeing it through 2500 years and you are seeing a very different arc of history.

JS: This broader perspective relates to a question that I had about the Science Fiction sensibility you invoke in your work. You are laying out a specific relationship between technology and architecture, where the architectural imagination is the driving force behind technological innovation, and where cultural practice promotes the possibility of new future worlds. Even the title of your book, The Air on Other Planets: A Brief History of Things to Come, suggests this relationship. How would you frame your role in that process, because on one hand, you are invoking imagination through your design work, while on the other hand, with the Climate Design company, you are also making the things happen in the world that need to happen in order to make that narrative real. Are you consciously playing a different role as architect?

SL: I’m talking about such large sweeps of history and the future of where architecture can be, because I think it does help you to position your thoughts in a bigger move. There’s an article by Neil Stevenson called “Innovation Starvation,” where he’s talking to scientists and engineers at a conference, lamenting the loss of what was promised to him as a child, specifically the end of the manned space program within our lifetime. He says that we are not dreaming large enough, and Michael Crow, President of Arizona State, responds by saying that it’s not the scientists and the engineers who have failed, but the fiction and science fiction writers who have failed us. These figures once inspired a generation of scientists and engineers to go into a profession and dream big, and now it is their failure to continue to dream big. You realize that fiction and science fiction writers don’t live in a fairy tale land that doesn’t impact a larger realm. There is a relationship between people who are dreaming and laying out these imaginations, and another group of people who are drawing from that, pushing those ideas forward. This kind of back and forth relationship is extremely important.

I think architects’ greatest strength is being able to paint pictures of the future. These images don’t have to be dystopic or utopic; they are just projections of possible futures. It’s not about getting the future right, but rather it’s about getting the ground work going today that will give us the opportunities in the future. The Futurama Pavilion at the 1936 World Fair is an example of this. The oil industry and the car industry did a great job of putting together a pavilion that showed us moving out of the city and into these suburbs, paving the roads and getting us out of the city. Lo and behold, 10 or 15 years later, we were doing exactly that. It helped to paint an image of what the world could be, and the people and the general public coveted it; they wanted it and we produced it. I think right now when it comes to energy, sustainability and efficiency, we paint a pretty bleak picture. It’s all about a kind of moral good and as architects we seem to want to push that. We somehow collectively think as a profession that this is where we should hang our hat, that this will put us back in a position of control and relevancy. Making the building people already say they want, but cheaper and cleaner. That’s important, but if we want to march ahead, if we want to be leaders, we need to get ahead of the crowds. As architects our responsibility isn’t just to make a building more efficient, it is to paint a picture that if you harness and work with energy as a materiality we can create an environment and a place that people would want to have. People won’t make sacrifices as a moral choice, but they’ll do it because they desire it and it piques their imagination. From there we’ll have the resources and attention of people to meet those other needs, as well.

If we want to push the boundaries of what architecture is and what our role can be in society, it’s not going to come from simply solving the problems around us that occur today and now, it’s going to come from imagining and projecting new opportunities in the future that we strive to realize. Sooner or later, tomorrow becomes today.

 

Sean Lally is founder and principal of WEATHERS, an internationally recognized design office operating since 2005. Educated and trained as both an architect and landscape architect, WEATHERS’ work stands out in terms of its synthesis of these multiple disciplines. He is also an Assistant Professor at the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois Chicago.
www.weathers.cc | @Sean_Lally

Julia Sedlock graduated from UIC with an M. Arch and M.A. in Design Criticism. As founding editor of UIC student journal Fresh Meat, her interview credits include Stan Allen, Ben Nicholson, K. Michael Hays and Ron Witte. As founding partner of Cosmo Design Factory, she is currently designing a house in upstate New York, which is due to begin construction in Spring 2013.
www.cosmodesignfactory.com

The Potential of Nothing

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© Lawrence Abrahamson

 

Short Essay by Lawrence Abrahamson

 

When we think of boundaries, we think of lines. But what if we thought instead about space?

‘Ma’ is a Japanese boundary, but it isn’t a line. It is a void, an expanse. The literal translation is “space between,” but rather than a static gap, it is the distance that exists between objects as well as between time. It is the silent pause between musical notes, the shadows between the light streaming through blinds, even the interactions between people, whether they are loved or despised.

Ma turns the room where we gather with family into a home, and the gap on the bookcase into a growing library. It is the white between these letters that convey meaning and not just smudges of black ink.

Researching this cultural notion of space, I had a conversation with a Japanese friend, Izumi, and mentioned the practice of Japanese not liking to share walls with their neighbors. Even with land so scarce in Tokyo and the city so dense, the Japanese still typically keep a small space between houses or buildings. She said how surprised she was when visiting the United States to see the lack of fences in suburban housing divisions. The vast expanse of green grass crossing multiple homes and owners was shocking.

Izumi explained that it wasn’t the loss of demarcation of where one property ended and the other began, but that without fences, the Japanese individual would have a very difficult time knowing when they should stop mowing the lawn. The idea that a homeowner could mow up to their property line and leave a border of cut/uncut grass was unnerving. She mentioned that this would be very difficult for her countrymen, because far too many questions would enter the Japanese mind: Where do I stop? Do I keep going and mow my neighbor’s lawn? Is that line of difference as unsightly as an un-mown lawn? The continuous plane of turf physically tied neighbors together. There was no space, no ma, to allow independent thought or activity, including their expression of lawn care.

In Japanese culture, Ma allows a clear delineation of individual units and multiple states to exist in harmony. When edges touch they have to reconcile their common border. With the presence of a void, space is left to mediate between the two, to mitigate.

In nothingness, Ma enables. The empty boundary provides a place for everyone’s version of reality or imagination to exist. The further my text spreads out the more you wander away from my message and in fill with your own thoughts.

As designers, ma encourages us to create boundaries for nothingness, edges of vacancies where ideas can spout and muses grow. It lets our minds fill silences with our own tones or personalizes an image rising out of distant pencil marks. Ma gives space for us to deviate from the intended message before pulling us back to the next demarcated ledge.

Ma reminds us that what isn’t there provides the ability for everyone’s story to co-exist. It is the boundaries of space that allow us, and all our ideas, to exist side by side.

 

Lawrence Abrahamson is an environments designer at IDEO who explores the boundaries of space, art and experience. He loves to be surprised and delighted by the sheer creativity of the human race and is a staunch advocate for the end-user. His passion for observing different cultures provides him the ability to see the world with new eyes.
www.ideo.com@lawabr@ideo

Territories of Practice
Kimisagara Community Center, Rwanda

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View into Kimisagara valley and the site © Killian Doherty

 

Text, images and drawings by Killian Doherty

 

Rwanda is a country defined by heterogeneity of boundaries, physical and nonphysical. Bordered by Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and the DRC, Rwanda is geographically landlocked with invisible boundaries of ethnic conflict delineating the psycho-geography of the country, following the 1994 Genocide. The authority’s defenses around the capital of Kigali are reconsolidating the public domain with security roadblocks, as NGO’s incestuously huddle in gated enclaves. Public spaces in Kigali are elaborate displays for telecommunication multinationals and not accessible for the common good.

Stark boundaries define the delineation between Rwanda’s neoliberal visions of its master plan1 and its realities; the formally planned vision for the city is for those who can afford it, while those who cannot remain in their informal settlements (83% majority [2]) under threat of expropriation.

How does architectural practice mold to, navigate and mediate between such a multitude of blurred physical and nuanced psychological boundaries in a country scarred by ethnic division, where the profession itself is relatively unrecognized (less than 15 architects are registered in Rwanda)?

This requires a reflexivity of practice in terms of design, but requires a stepping outside of the traditional boundaries of practice itself where a form of ‘activism’ meaningfully articulates and challenges the divisiveness of sociospatial borders, attempting to reconcile them.

The community center in Kimisagara, designed by KD | AP (Killian Doherty | Architectural Practice) and funded by Architecture for Humanity, is an attempt at such a form of practice ‘activism.’ Mediating the implicit ethnic margins between Hutus and Tutsis, the community center engages with conflict resolution through the education of abandoned youth. The center sits on the edges of a boundary between the formal and the informal city.

 

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Sketches © Killian Doherty

 

Space is not neutral. Accordingly neither is the position of the architect or planner; there is no such thing as ‘architecture for architecture’s sake; nor is there any such thing as a ‘neutral’ plan. Every plan is the result of negotiation and power relations and these things are expressed through the plan. [3]

 

As architects, do we or do we not undertake projects relative to our professional self-interests and to the benefits of others? In his essay “The Production of Space,” Henri Lefebvre excoriates architects as bending to the dictates of bourgeois capitalism. [4] Have we not witnessed the collapse of the profession in the western world as a result of avoiding this line of enquiry?

With the economic downturn, the boundaries of architectural opportunity have consequentially shifted into the terrain of development and emergency practice. We are witnessing an ostensible recalibration of practice evident by the number of architects now engaging within post-conflict and post-disaster environments; corporate social responsibility projects, too, are opportunities within this new terrain of humanitarian endeavors.

With this in mind one has to ask, has capitalism simply retailored itself to re-emerge in the field of development in which architectural practice contributes to a new mode of western cultural imperialism? [5] Are we cognizant of the profound hypocrisies of trying to tell people what and how to build in post-colonial, post-conflict countries, such as (in my case) Rwanda?

Working within new terrain requires new dialects or linguistic devices of communication. We architects might be accused of an ease of fluency in NGO rhetoric, something the urbanist Kai Vockler calls ‘Donor Speak’ [6] whereby interventionist work does not emerge from a ‘neutral system of values,’ but ‘whose goal is to align everything with the political aims of the donor’ or the stakeholders.

This is a personal account, a discursive case study if you will, where such a line of enquiry into these new terrains of practice encountered multifarious visible, invisible, wavering boundaries during the course of a project in Rwanda.

 

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Visualization of the center without perimeter walls © Killian Doherty

 

Rwanda is a country of immeasurable complexities and contradictions. Demarcation of class, terrain and power constantly overlap, perilously in flux. Lines of land ownership/tenure are unclear. Administrative boundaries within which the built environment is regulated are only becoming evident to the government; there are no building codes, no planning laws and a widespread lack of professional capacity. High-rise buildings atop hilltops are the visible, physical representations of power and authority. Hillsides and valleys are the less visible living conditions of the subservient majority. Residing in a low-lying valley called Kimisagara is Esperance, a local Rwandan football team that works within the eponymous vibrant low-income community.

Discussing division between Hutus and Tutsis is forbidden in Rwanda. No one talks about it. No one refers to it, and it is off limits to the boundaries of conversation. Esperance uses the social common denominator of football to gather youth as a conduit to topics surrounding conflict and to engage with this difficult subject. In the past, arising from political autocracy of local authorities, Esperance could not conduct their youth programmes independently or effectively. Negotiating a plot of land within the boundaries of the Kimisagara primary school to build their own center, I was asked by Architecture for Humanity to design and build a center for Esperance.

Kimisagara is a large informal settlement. Most of Kigali’s built environment is technically informal, in that it was developed before and outside of the existence of a normative planning process. However, Rwanda has arbitrarily defined what is commonly accepted within the built environment, reinforced by the generic bland aesthetics promoted by the city master plan. Definitions through inherited notions of modernity as a result of post-colonialism, the formal versus informal dichotomy is fundamentally shaping the fabric of the city and in turn the socio-economic boundaries are clearly defined within Kigali.

Kimisagara is the largest informal settlement in Kigali, with 30,000 people, most living on less than a dollar a day. Inadequate sanitation, high unemployment, and street children as young as 4-years old define this area as a major confluence of the disadvantaged. Roofs visibly demarcate dwellings, in the overcrowded valley. Rising, falling, almost cascading down the hillside, they create narrow slices of in-between spaces where overlapping of functions operate between households. Cooking and washing are often shared activities within these spaces while vitally acting as access routes through the valley.

The design for the center emerged from capturing these convivial characteristics of the surrounding area, with a large roof defining communal spaces of varying sizes below, allowing for planned and unplanned activities. The design of the center is as much about notions of context and placemaking as it is an interrogation into the boundaries of what is informal or formal, and legitimizing the space, forms, materials and textures within the community of Kimisagara to shape identity. Sultan Bakarat, a professor of the postwar reconstruction and Development Unit at the University of York, claims that identity is vital for communities in post-conflict, “in an effort to re-establish belonging and to regain control over one’s life.” [7]

 

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Site Location for Community Center – within a degraded wetlands © Killian Doherty

 

The plot for the center lays within a degraded (dried up) wetlands system, bounded on one side by a canal. This canal and its banks operate as a social-infrastructural corridor within the community; people bathe here, sell goods, learn how to ride motorbikes and walk its banks connecting the area to a central transport hub and market several kilometers downstream. However, the land was subject to ambiguous environmental setbacks by the authorities; boundaries emerged late in the design, demanding that the building must move to an arbitrary location several kilometres away. Such decisions regularly inform Rwanda’s environmental policy, causing disruption in which long established settlements are often displaced. [8]

The boundaries between this degraded wetlands and the community have required the siting, orientation and landscaping of the center to engage with and re-activate this pedestrian way along the water course, providing public/play spaces and urban agricultural functions for the community and existing school. This connection allows the new public realm to move in and around the building, gathering the overlapping activities, activating the edges for both planned events and haptic social encounters, in a city with a lack of (and reticence towards) creating usable public space. Lying on the boundary between city and ecosystem, considering this new public space calls to mind Mohsen Mostafavi’s essay “Why Ecological Urbanism? Why Today?” [9] in which he posits that through a “blurring of boundaries between urban and rural a greater connection and complementarity between the various parts of a given territory” is achieved. With this negotiated site planning presented to the authorities, permission to construct the center in Kimisagara was given.

The Kimisagara center brief was to provide a small center (200 square meters) with a small football pitch. The construction budget was fixed and immutable. Adhering simply to the brief and budget would have resulted in the building FIFA paid for; a vessel for Esperance but unresponsive to the socio-economic peculiarities that operate around it. The budget was stretched during the design and construction process, through an ongoing process of value engineering: the structure was scrutinized and simplified; locally clay fired brick opted for instead of those fabricated by a plant co-owned by the ruling political party; finishes were pared back and concrete minimized. What emerged was a larger building with the ability to create sheltered spaces around the building to be designed into the center; spaces which are key to promoting social interactions and informal economies in the community.

 

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URBAN CONTEXT: Kigali’s built environment is defined, and can be read, by it’s topography. The Community center is located at the bottom of the Kimisagara Valley amidst informal housing. The commercial center sits on top of the hill whilst upper-class housing is located to the east. © Killian Doherty

 

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Roof study models © Killian Doherty

 

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Contextual model. Scheme before realignment to degraded wetlands © Killian Doherty

 

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Exploded axonometric showing components © Killian Doherty

 

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Elevations and sections through building © Killian Doherty

 

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Site panoramic. May 2011 © Killian Doherty

 

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Various brick detailing showing windows, ventilation panels and loggia © Killian Doherty

 

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Building construction © Killian Doherty

 

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Approach. Approximately 4,000 children attend the (overcrowded) primary school in the same grounds as the center. © Killian Doherty

 

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Spaces to gather are created around, through, and within the building. Local papyrus weave was incorporated into doors and window frames by artisans. © Killian Doherty

 

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This center mediates between the formality of the school and the informality of its surroundings, purposefully creating through routes for students, and visually opening up towards the valley. With steep hills, the roof is easily seen, giving the center prominence and an identity to Esperance’s social space within the community. © Killian Doherty

 

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View at dusk. The building activates the canal edges gathering the informal activities of trading, providing spaces for both planned events and social encounters. © Killian Doherty

 

Boundaries denote a meeting of differences (physical, political, social, economic, etc.) which infer a mediation and consensus of inherent limits. In undertaking this project, I have had to engage with boundaries of all varieties, often impasses, which have left me deeply disillusioned about Architecture’s role in the field of development. This project in Rwanda emerged out of FIFA’s Corporate Social Responsibility program across Africa; a program which has not been fully questioned in light of the profits made during the 2010 World Cup. [10]

Architects eulogize, almost proselytize, about Architecture’s innate ability to change or improve society. It’s within these boundaries of constructed discourse where we comfortably roam but rarely dare to speak truthfully outside of. I have just given one such account. An unfettered account outside of these narrative confines would be more revealing (and certainly more interesting): the systemic power struggles, bureaucracy, and incompetency between the multiple stakeholders which throttled impact of the project at a local community level; routine and harsh indifference by Rwandan beneficiaries about the project intentions, stemming from a profound misunderstanding of inclusiveness; dishonesty by local contractors and the setting of inhumane wage levels for locally procured unskilled labour; and existential guilt relating to my privileged status of operating within an alien environment shaped by the effects of colonialism and reshaped through foreign humanitarian aid.

It was my hope that through questioning these lines of irony and hypocrisy, in which an interrogation of architectural practice relative to social impact resided, a personal boundary of practice may become clearer. It has not, nor do I imagine it will.

Prior to the opening of this center in October 2012, the local primary school, with the consent of Esperance, erected a perimeter wall with razor wire around itself and the community center’s boundaries.

 

Endnotes

 

1. Kigali conceptual masterplan can be seen here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDpXljDNgMQ

2. Kigali Conceptual Masterplan – page 22

3. Vockler, Kai, ‘Architecture of Peace, Issue #4 (2010), Amsterdam, Netherlands.

4. Lefebvre H, ‘The production of Space’ In Leach, N. et al. eds. (1997) Rethinking Architecture. London: Routeledge.

5. http://www.fastcodesign.com/1661859/is-humanitarian-design-the-new-imperialism

6. Vockler, Kai, ‘Architecture of Peace, Issue #4 (2010), Amsterdam, Netherlands.

7. Archis, Architecture of Peace Conference, NAI Rotterdam, May 2010.

8. http://www.newtimes.co.rw/news/index.php?i=15252&a=63343

9. Mostafavi M, ‘Why Ecological Urbanism? Why Now’ In Mostafavi, M. and Doherty G eds. (2012) Ecological Urbanism. Lars Mueller Publishers. Routeledge.

10. http://www.economist.com/node/16117134

 

Killian Doherty is an RIBA/RIAI qualified Architect with an MA in Advanced Architectural Studies from Kungliga Tekniska Hogskolan (Sweden). He runs his own collaborative practice KD | AP, a Design, Research and Curatory studio focusing on critical community driven issues relating to housing and the city. His research interests lie within the exploration of fragmented sites, settlements and cities at specific thresholds of racial, ethnic or religious conflict.
www.architecturalfieldoffice.org | @ArchitectureFO

The Ready-To-Go Club

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© Meredith Ludwig

 

Short Essay by Meredith Ludwig

 

She was in her nineties the January I went to stay with her. Still living alone at home in Cleveland, Ohio, she needed someone where winters were long, lonely and frigid. I was divorced and in between jobs, and my aunt offered a stipend if I would spend the cold months there. I had stayed with her the summer I turned 16 and she had all kinds of rules like not dating. Two decades later, I wasn’t sure what boundaries my grandmother would set for me.

The evening I arrived, my first task was to fetch the Fleet enema from the medicine cabinet and follow the directions. I had never done this before, but I didn’t flinch. “I need replacements parts for everything,” she said.

She spent a lot of time in bed, resting, but she got dressed every morning and made her own breakfast, usually cooked cereal. She ran the household from her rocking chair in the kitchen and the refrigerator contents were strictly managed. Everything had to be visible, no leftovers lurking in the back. This seemed like a ridiculous demand, but a friend enlightened me, “When it appears you’ve lost control of everything, you will fight for control over something.” Other than breakfast she seemed to exist on homemade egg custard and tomato-pumpkin soup. They slid down easily when not much else did. Swallowing, it turns out, does not come with a guarantee.

My grandmother had outlived all but one school chum and they talked on the phone. Together they formed the “Ready-to-Go Club.” She told me, “Each night we pray that the good Lord will take us in our sleep, but thus far he has paid us no heed.”

We got along fine that winter except for the night I wanted to go dance the polka at a German bar. She forbade me to go. “But Grandma, I’m 37 years old. I should know how to polka.” This line of reasoning went nowhere. In the end I defied her and slipped out of the house after I thought she was asleep. Nothing was ever said about it, but that night I crossed a line and I wasn’t sure the oompah band was worth it.

We would watch the evening news together on the couch, sitting with faces frozen in sorrow as the first Gulf War raged in front of us. Using chair arms and doorframes, she teetered her way back through the house to her bed, explaining as she went, “I’ve already lived through too many wars.”

My grandmother lived another four years and was able to die at home in her own bed. She finely got the good Lord to listen.

 

Meredith Ludwig lives and works near the town of Boonville, Missouri in what her friends refer to as ‘The Sanctuary’. She writes an audio commentary for her community radio station KOPN called The Compost Pile — and as an avid gardener, she composts EVERYTHING. Convinced that the world will be better off if we all break into song on a regular basis, she is at work on her second musical.

Campus and City
An Evolving Boundary

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Cornell University High Tech Campus, New York © Kilograph

 

Essay by Sharon Haar

 

The boundaries define a space of containers and places (the traditional domain of architecture), while the networks establish a space of links and flows. Walls, fences, and skins divide; paths, pipes, and wires connect.
— William J. Mitchell

 

In his early twenty-first century book, Me++, the urban theorist William J. Mitchell described the dissolution of the distinction between information and matter, as well as our bodies and the spaces that contain them, as “the machinery of digital communication continued to erode the primacy of physical boundaries.” [1] Although he briefly touched on the influence of wired and then wireless networks on the creation of continuity in the academic community, “challeng[ing] the regime of control that has long been built into schools, campuses, and medical facilities,” [2] he did not weigh in on how these new networks would inform the actual design of a campus. Nonetheless, as Dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, and involved directly with the expansion of his own institution, his conception of the campus was of an inwardly-focused, if “unstable,” “evolving,” “messy,” and “disputatious” space. [3]

The traditional idea of the American campus as “a place apart” [4] is being modified today through increasing porosity with the surrounding urban environment and the advent of online education. Framing the campus as both container and network allows us to understand how the idea of the campus as a community dedicated to the exchange of ideas and the production of knowledge is being internalized in large-scale urban university buildings at the same time that distance learning and MOOCs (massive open online courses) are breaking down the boundaries that define access to higher education. The history of the relationship of the campus to the city illustrates this changing boundary condition.

 

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Ray and Maria Stata Center by Frank O.Gehry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 2012 © Iker Gil

 

City of Learning

 

Each college or university is an urban unit in itself, a small or large city.
But a green city…. The American university is a world in itself. [5]
— LeCorbusier

 

On the front page of its January 27, 2013 Sunday edition, The New York Times revealed a startling account of philanthropy. Beginning with a five-dollar gift upon graduation and factoring in a recent $350 million donation, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York had given over $1.1 billion to Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University since 1964. The reason for this long-term commitment to his alma mater: “[It] was where he escaped the crushing boredom of Medford High and discovered an urban campus of stately Georgian buildings brimming with new people and ideas.” [6] Crediting his spatialized experience of knowledge and opportunities for independence and leadership—the campus—with his personal transformation, Bloomberg has returned Johns Hopkins’s investment in him, funding financial aid and endowing faculty chairs, new buildings, and campus improvements, including building an underground garage so that the historic quads could be returned to socializing. The Times equated this last move to the Mayor’s “banish[ing] cars from parts of Times Square.”

The traditional American university assumes a mission-specific community living in an internalized urbanity. Paul Venable Turner noted, “The early buildings of Johns Hopkins in Baltimore were simply separate structures on the city streets, with nothing in their overall plan to give the university a special physical character.” [7] But as aspirations to become a “city of learning” rose, so too did the University’s architectural ambitions. Like other institutions of its kind, such as Columbia University in New York, in the early-twentieth century it moved to a site at the edge of the built-up city, conceived in the spirit of the “City Beautiful,” using Beaux Arts planning techniques. What constituted the city of learning was not its urban location, but its all-encompassing form and community, establishing the campus as “a place apart,” with its own built-in urbanity. Indeed, the architects of many universities, anticipating disorderly twentieth-century urban growth, tightened the buildings at the perimeter of the campus to create solid walls facing urban streets, necessitating controlled access points through gates.

 

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Proposed Plan for Johns Hopkins University, 1909 © Popular Science Monthly

 

Mayor Bloomberg’s experience of collegiate life, mainly his engineering classes, fraternity, and leadership opportunities, is what most people think about when they ponder an American campus: the undergraduate experience of the “academical village,” best exemplified by Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia, where professors lived above their classrooms within range of student dorms, and the entire complex focused on the seat of knowledge, the library. Many consider the ideal form of this campus to be “an arrangement of buildings in the open, separate from the structure of a surrounding city.”8 Even today, as students desire more dynamic urban-like experiences, this urbanity is focused internally, with the University of Cincinnati’s “Main Street” a primary example.

 

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University of Cincinnati’s “Main Street,” 2008 © Iker Gil

 

This “internal urbanism” [9] stands in contrast to the McCormick Tribune Campus Center at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, where “[r]ather than stacking activities in a multi-story building, [OMA] opted to arrange each programmatic element of the Campus Center in a dense single plane that would foster an urban condition.” Within IIT’s building, paths “[link] the multiplicity of activities via a network of interior streets, plazas, and urban islands that form neighborhoods: 24-hour, commercial, entertainment, academic, recreation, and other urban elements in microcosm.” [10]

 

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McCormick Tribune Campus Center by OMA, (IIT), 2009 © Iker Gil

 

The re-urbanization of the IIT site is internal, and the experience of students focused inward rather than outward toward the amenity-less streets surrounding the campus. In this respect, McCormick Tribune is the opposite of “Loop U,” just a few miles to its north, where over 50,000 matriculating students belonging to over half a dozen institutions of higher education attend classes, live (in some instances), eat, and socialize within the context of Chicago’s Loop and South Loop neighborhoods. Here, the desire of undergraduates to attend school in a dense urban setting and professional graduate students to co-locate among the law offices, courts, and businesses of their future professions has produced a 24-hour revitalization of the central city, which many urbanists see as a model for university-city real estate development. [11] In Loop U, the campus space and urban space are one and the same. At the IIT Campus Center and the University of Cincinnati’s Main Street, urbanity is simulated within the carefully monitored space of the architecture.

 

Cities of Knowledge

 

Research universities, a scientifically-educated workforce, and collaboration
play an important role in driving metropolitan innovation. [12]
— The Brookings Institution

 

The image of the campus described above focuses almost exclusively on the student experience of learning—the transmission of knowledge—while neglecting the second leg of the purpose of the university, the production of knowledge. The research enterprise of universities has had considerable impact on campus design and the institution’s role in shaping space outside their borders. As the historian Margaret O’Mara has noted, by the middle of the twentieth century, the previously anti-urban campus had been suburbanized, in the form of corporate campuses and research parks, the latter best exemplified by the Stanford University Research Park and the growth of Silicon Valley that it inspired. These new cities of knowledge were engines of scientific production, filled with high-tech industries, homes for scientific workers and their families, with research universities at their heart. They were the birthplaces of great technological innovations that have transformed the way we work and live, homes for entrepreneurship and, at times, astounding wealth. … Magnets for high-skilled workers and highly productive industries, cities of knowledge are, in fact, the ultimate post-industrial city.” [13]

Important to O’Mara’s definition of the city of knowledge is its dependence on federal funding and policies, a location distant from the declining industrial city — the growing suburbs of the mid-twentieth century — and models of architecture, planning, and landscape derived from the campus tradition. Silicon Valley is a prime example, with communities of researchers, co-located geographically, but internally secured by moats of parking lots or garages and controlled access: “campuses” even more bounded than the academic campuses they imitated. A Google Earth view of Silicon Valley reveals islands of corporate research floating in a sea of parking and access roads.

 

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The Googleplex, 2009 © Steve Jurvetsen via Flickr

 

Today, the Googleplex itself is one of these islands. “Googley” culture has quite a bit of the college atmosphere about it:

Though no two Google offices are the same, visitors to any office can expect to find a few common features: murals and decorations expressing local personality; Googlers sharing cubes, yurts and “huddles”; video games, pool tables and pianos; cafes and “microkitchens” stocked with healthy food; and good old-fashioned whiteboards for spur-of-the-moment brainstorming. [14]

In our weekly all-hands (“TGIF”) meetings—not to mention over email or in the café—Googlers ask questions directly to Larry, Sergey and other execs about any number of company issues. Our offices and cafes are designed to encourage interactions between Googlers within and across teams, and to spark conversation about work as well as play. [15]

This serendipity of casual encounter, both physical and virtual, is a hallmark of contemporary start-up culture and what motivates twenty-first century young entrepreneurs to choose cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, and New York over the suburbs they are likely to have grown up in. Creating the next city of knowledge in the context of this new culture of innovation is what drives another of Mayor Bloomberg’s interests in higher education: the production of knowledge, not for solving the world’s issues, but for promoting economic development and continuing global city status within a networked, knowledge economy. The Cornell NYC Tech campus for graduate education in applied science, a joint venture of Cornell University in upstate New York and Technion University in Israel, is one result of this vision. Master planned by Skidmore Owings and Merrill, with its first building by Morphosis Architects, it will be built on underutilized land on Roosevelt Island. Its northern edge will provide needed public amenities to Roosevelt Island’s inhabitants, and its campus greens will be open for public use. The majority of the build-out (the city requires a minimum of 1.8 million square feet by 2037) is “campus-oriented,” but only one-third of these spaces must be for academic purposes. The rest—research space, conference facilities, hotels, retail, and partner R&D facilities—suggest the beginning of a city of knowledge technically located in New York City, but held at a distance from it by dint of the limited access created by the island setting. [16] Although it is too early to tell at this point, its buildings will likely promote the kind of interior urbanism of a Googleplex or the IIT Student Center, rather than the more interactive exchange between interior and exterior suggested by the University of Cincinnati’s “Main Street.”

 

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Cornell University High Tech Campus, New York © Kilograph

 

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A rendering of the atrium of the first academic building, New York © Morphosis Architects

 

Spaces like Cornell NYC Tech embed the teaching of the historical campus with the research of the research park. They increasingly take their design cues from the interactivity promoted by urban incubators for start-ups and innovation spaces within corporate campuses. As The New York Times noted, “Cornell NYC Tech is not just a school, it is an’educational start-up,’ students are ‘deliverables’ and companies seeking access to those students or their professors can choose from a ‘suite of products’ by which to get it.” [17] The most significant boundaries being crossed here are those between academia and business.

Yet, while the boundary of the campus has been shrink-wrapped to the building’s exterior glass walls, its green spaces are a vast improvement over the parking lots of Silicon Valley.

Certainly, universities think they are opening up their borders to the city at large. Marilyn Jordan Taylor has referred to the new Columbia University Manhattanville campus as “Campus and Not Campus.” Writing of SOMs work with the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, she has stated: “Our collaboration… is intended to create a place of transparency, porosity, and urbanity,” where “the energy of the city and academy [flow] together.” [18] By contrast to Columbia’s Beaux Arts Morningside campus, with its perimeter buildings walling off the neighboring context, the design of Manhattanville allows the street grid to run through it, provides outdoor space to the public, and reserves the ground floor for public and commercial uses.

 

Campus in the Cloud

 

“By selectively loosening place-to-place contiguity requirements, wired networks produced fragmentation and recombination of familiar building types and urban patterns… Similarly, by selectively loosening person-to-place contiguity requirements, wireless networks and portable devices have created an additional degree of spatial indeterminacy…” [19]

 

As the research enterprise of America’s large universities grows, where has the “teaching” gone? Increasingly, the site of learning is located in virtual space. As higher education moves online, the idea of the campus as a “bounded” space needs to be reexamined. Higher education is moving into ubiquitous, collaborative spaces, in which faculty and students are no longer co-located. This sector includes for-profit, online institutions such as University of Phoenix, free or close to free MOOCs offered through portals such as Coursera and edX, built of consortia of some of the world’s leading liberal arts and research universities, as well as Udacity, who’s “mission is to bring accessible, affordable, engaging, and highly effective higher education to the world.” Already “…MOOCs are causing higher education to shift from a vertically integrated model to a horizontally integrated one. For centuries, higher education has been a vertical enterprise: Its core functions — knowledge creation, teaching, texting, and credentialing — all have been housed within colleges and universities. MOOCs disrupt this model by decoupling teaching and learning from the campus on a mass scale.” [20]

Ironically, the web pages promoting courses on sites such as edX and Coursera tend to feature the ways in which the campus experience will be brought to you. The preview for Michael Sandel’s “Justice” class at Harvard University, known to draw upwards of 600 students to the in-classroom experience, focuses on the interactive space of the lecture within the hallowed Sanders Theatre in Memorial Hall and the repartee between professor and students both inside the classroom and as they walk across Harvard Yard. More intimate is the Coursera, offering “The Modern and the Postmodern,” by Michael S. Roth, the president of Wesleyan University, with whom we enjoy a face-to-face encounter in his book-filled office.

 


Justice Course Preview, Harvard University

 


The course The Modern and the Postmodern by Michael S. Roth from Wesleyan University will be offered free of charge to everyone on the Coursera platform.

 

Where does that leave us? Returning to William J. Mitchell:

 

“These new civic formations will be embedded in particular physical structures…. They will have geographic shape, and will result from investments in specific places. But they will be spatially discontinuous, overlapping and intersecting, and messily asynchronous in their patterns of daily activity. And they will be defined not by circles of warmth, not by surrounding stone fortifications, nor even by the borders and boundaries draw on today’s political maps, but by the endless hum of electro-magnetic vibrations.” [21]

 

However, even as the physical place of the campus has become “spatially discontinuous” through the migration of teaching to virtual space, the opening up of formerly gated spaces to neighboring communities, and the dispersal of facilities around the urban fabric, old town-gown divisions still exist. Many neighborhoods are pushing back against campus expansion. Witness debates over NYU expansion in Greenwich Village, community activism over the use of eminent domain in Manhattanville, and fears of gentrification at the fringes of the University of Chicago.

While some campus boundaries have disappeared, new ones have emerged. Either way, the image of the campus survives.

 

Endnotes

 

1. William J. Mitchell, Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), 7.

2. ibid., 150

3. William J. Mitchell, Imagining MIT: Designing a Campus for the Twenty-First Century, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007), 5.

4. See for example: Robert A.M. Stern, Pride of Place: Building the American Dream (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986).

5. Quoted in Mitchell, Imagining MIT, 2.

6. Michael Barbaro, “$1.1 Billion in Thanks from Bloomberg to Johns Hopkins,” The New York Times, January 26, 2013.

7. Paul Venable Turner, Campus: An American Planning Tradition (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984), 163.

8. Barbara Hadley Stanton, “Cognitive Standards and the Sense of Campus,” Places 17(Sprint 2005): 38.

9. Raymond Gastil, Glass House On-line Conversation, http://glasshouseconversations.org/is-there-an-emerging-type-of-campus-design-that-can-both-represent-and-embody-an-urbanism-of-opportunity-and-innovation-what-are-the-models-to-encourage-emulate-and-question/ (last accessed February 21, 2013).

10. http://oma.eu/projects/2003/iit-mccormick-tribune-campus-center (last accessed February 18, 2013)

11. See: Sharon Haar, The City as Campus: Urbanism and Higher Education in Chicago (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2011).

12. Jonathan Rothwell, José Lobo, Deborah Strumsky, and Mark Muro, Patenting Prosperity: Invention and Economic Performance in the United States and its Metropolitan Areas (Washington DC: Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, February 2013): 1.

13. Margaret O’Mara, Cities of Knowledge: Cold War Science and the Search for the Next Silicon Valley (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 1.

14. http://www.google.com/about/company/facts/locations/ (last accessed February 19, 2013)

15. http://www.google.com/about/company/facts/culture/ (last accessed February 22, 2013)

16. Draft Scope of Work to Prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the CornellNYC Tech Project, April 18, 2012.

17. Ariel Kaminer, “New Cornell Technology School Tightly Bound to Business, The New York Times, January 21, 2013.

18. Marilyn Jordan Taylor, “Crossing Beyond the Boundaries: Columbia University in West Harlem,” Places 17 (Spring 2005): 51-52

19. Mitchell, Me++, 144.

20. Joseph E. Aoun, “A shakeup of higher education,” The Boston Globe, November 17, 2012.

21. Mitchell, Me++, 211.

 

Sharon Haar is an architect and scholar who teaches studios and courses in urbanism, globalization, and housing at the School of Architecture at UIC. She is also the Associate Dean of the College of Architecture and the Arts at UIC. Her publications include The City as Campus: Urbanism and Higher Education in Chicago (Minnesota Press, 2011), Schools for Cities: Urban Strategies (NEA/Princeton Architectural Press, 2002), and the website “Urban Archaeology Chicago: The Hull-House Settlement and the University of Illinois at Chicago.”
www.arch.uic.edu/faculty/haar.php

Eccentricity

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Carte des Etats Unis, 1899, from Le Magasin d’Éducation et de Récréation by Pierre Jules Hetzel

 

Essay by architect Odile Compagnon

 

It was by accident, one thing leading to the next, that I discovered the Will of an Eccentric. This fascinating novel, written by Jules Verne, was published in installments between January and December 1899 in Le Magasin d’Éducation et de Récréation by Pierre Jules Hetzel and Jean Macé. It tells the story of a rich Chicago tycoon’s decision to leave his immense fortune to the winner of a board game, a reinterpretation of the popular Game of the Goose, which he organized throughout the United States and designed to take place after his death.

While every move by the seven possible winners, each chosen randomly by the tycoon among the whole Chicago population, is entirely subject to chance — it is literally determined by the roll of the dice — the manner in which each one travels through the country to get from one destination to the next is up to the player’s creativity and personal resources. Each of the 63 spaces represents a different state — with Illinois repeated 14 times — and for each one, the deceased tycoon, William J Hypperbone, has left precise instructions leading the players to the exact location where they should receive their next assignment. Following the popular Game of the Goose, some spaces mean trouble and some, repeated every 9 spaces, allow one to move faster across the board, which translates into less travel through the country towards the final destination. It is at space #63, assigned again to Illinois, where the first player to arrive will be the recipient of Hypperbone’s colossal fortune.

 

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Noble Jeu des Etats Unis, 1899, from Le Magasin d’Éducation et de Récréation by Pierre Jules Hetzel

 

Jules Verne takes his readers through the United States, mostly by train, but also on horseback, by foot, boat, bicycle or stagecoach. Using descriptions he found in the recently published Baedeker Guide of the United States, Verne gives us picturesque descriptions of the landscapes and cities the protagonists travel through: Cleveland, Cincinnati, Key West, Salt Lake City, Death Valley, Calais (Maine). The list itself seems rather random, reflecting the arbitrary character of the game and contrasts with the precise representation of the railroad and river network through which Verne explains the natural, political and economic geography of the nation. While the physical description of the country takes the most important part of the book, the author also reveals the cultural and social aspects of the American nation. His characters discuss abolition of slavery, women’s rights, Mormon history, race, Native American culture, industrialization and speculation. The adventures turn out to be epic at times, and intrigues between players start to form, as they more or less accidentally meet during stopovers or as chance makes their pawns fall at the same space on the spiral of the board game.

While reading this little book, which strangely was never published in the United States, I was under the spell of Verne’s fascination for this country and amazed at the accuracy of the caricatural descriptions of each state and its inhabitants. One description in particular translates the procession that follows Hypperbone’s casket from La Salle Street to Oakwood Cemetery, an 8-hour walk through the streets of Chicago and all its parks and boulevards. It is highly unlikely that anyone would have done that on foot, and yet the description of the streets and parks is so compelling that I had to trace the itinerary on a map and plan make to follow it on my bike.

But what captivated me most was the way in which Verne associates the arbitrary and the precisely planned, allowing his characters to use his or her personal skills, means and qualities to chose a mode of transportation over another. Throughout the story, along the spiral of the board game and across the fifty states, it is a clever combination of transportation system, time schedules and individual skills that makes the action develop around the unpredictable fate. And Verne pushes the irony even farther when he describes the speculation that builds up around the players, as bidders hypothesize on the potential of their favorite to win the game, end the race, and inherit the fortune.

There is in this Game of the Goose, at the scale of a continent, a truly amazing rendering of a very modern network system, and I could not help but think how similar the work of today’s architects is to this eccentric game, and how the spaces we design, the programs we write for our clients, continually combine these three intertwined layers, the arbitrary of the circumstances, the strict data and codes, and the individual characters of our clients, partners and consultants.

As a young professional, graduating from architecture school in France in the 80s, my path seemed prescribed, in the same way my studies had been. Having interned in various firms during the summer breaks, I found a job with the one I felt most attracted to and worked there for a couple of years before getting together with my best friends to start our own practice with some jobs handed over by my former employer, Paul Chemetov, and others granted through competitions. These were pretty straightforward, and seemed complicated to us, only because we had everything to learn. But we learned, projects kept coming, we did them well and more came. We were still far from thinking, as Chemetov had said once in front of us, when a brilliant idea had seemed to come to him spontaneously, “la facilité me hante” (ease is with me), but things did seem somewhat simple. Designing consisted in reading the program, visiting the site, putting our heads together and coming up with an interesting design to win the competition. We rarely met the users, and the programs (for schools, housing, institutions) were provided to us by the administrations. Our practice was pretty much the continuation of that of the generations before.

Things have changed dramatically since. Architects have to face a much more complicated set of constraints, and each completed job seems, instead of leading to the next, to head to a new departure, where new data must be read, new schedules understood, new networks tied, new skills learned, and new maps drawn. It is as if the dice had to be rolled again, bringing you, sometimes, to positions from which you can only extract yourself when someone comes and takes your place. Understanding those constraints is becoming more and more complicated. Giving priority to one variable over the other is quite impossible. One needs to be constantly juggling between deliberate answers to quantified effects and improvised responses to fluctuating causes.

Should one wish for an artificial intelligence to give binary reactions to these stimuli, whether data driven or arbitrary, as some of us dream of doing with computer programs which could assimilate all variables and regurgitate them in a wholesome design? Or should one chase, as Verne’s characters do, a more unpredictable outcome, which, for fear of spoiling the ending, I cannot reveal here?

In 1899, the book’s protagonist (and its author) put Chicago at the center of the game. It is in the Auditorium Building where it all starts, at Oakwood Cemetery that it ends. Players also find Illinois spaces spread out through the board game, which could have meant a lot of time in Chicago if those spaces were not the ones playing the role of the geese in the traditional Goose Game. These are the spaces where, if chance makes you land there, you get to double your draw and move on, closer to the goal. Having myself come and gone through Chicago three times in the course of my life, for various durations and at various times, I cannot help but feel an immense sympathy for Jules Verne’s insight, making Chicago not only the center, but also the place where you can double your draw and move one.

I am grateful for this coincidence that has put the Will of an Eccentric onto my path. The enlightenment I found in those fond descriptions of the city that has become my home, written from another century, with the perspective of an ingenious time-and-space-traveler from another continent, made me see the importance of letting chance do some of the work. It is with a different perspective that I will pedal between the parks of Chicago, among the parks of the United States, and continue to draw, with each project, from the opportunities, statistical data, and sympathies that come forth.

 

Bibliography

Verne, Jules. Le Testament d’un Excentrique. Paris: Hetzel, 1899. Print.

 

Odile Compagnon is an independent architect with a practice in Chicago and Paris, France, as well as teaching position at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Her area of specialty is in education and community programs and the integration of the two.
www.odilecompagnon.com

Alaska vs Mario vs John Waters vs Boundary

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John Waters © Nathan Kirkman

 

A conversation between Alaska and Mario Vaquerizo

 

Alaska: What is the boundary in the film work of John Waters?

Mario: Boundaries are needed in the daily life of any human being who has some common sense. It is what I call common sense and not loosing it, and that is what rules your life. In the case of cinema, I consider that it is necessary and welcomed that all types of boundaries are broken. And Waters is unique. He dares to overstep the bounds and become the most politically incorrect person I know. He goes beyond any social, cultural, political and right-minded boundary.

Alaska: Waters pushes you to the limit in each one of his works, not only as filmmaker but also as an artist in an art gallery. Do you remember that sculpture he made of Jackie Kennedy dressed up as Divine and holding a gun? That way of breaking down boundaries, of spinning contemporary icons, not only the individual ones but also the sacred concepts, is like art with capital A. Or denigrated concepts like fame. The Warholian idea is taken to the limit by Waters. Divine in her character in Female Trouble is happy to be an assassin and die in the electric chair, as that moment represents the pinnacle of fame.

Mario: I love that my beloved Waters critiques fiercely the hippies of the 60s in Female Trouble and that the great Divine treated herself to killing her own daughter because she had become a Hare Krishna. The limits beyond the standard family are present in his movies as well. Do you remember Cry Baby, with Iggy Pop as the father and his children as young gang members? And Katherine Turner as a criminal in Serial Mom working between the most beautiful and apparently quite houses of Baltimore? Waters is a genius, so much so that he even dares to portray the law of gravity when actor David Hasselhoff shits in an airplane and the turd lands intact on top of the head of a person thousands of meters below.

Alaska: That’s right, John Waters takes everything to the limit of the most coarse evacuation, but he makes you feel comfortable and happy that it exists. That’s how art should be, always.

 

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John Waters © Nathan Kirkman

 

Alaska is a singer, dj, actress, author, TV host, and guest in several radio and TV programs. In 1980, Alaska appeared as Bom in Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón, the first commercial film by director Pedro Almodovar. Since 1989 she is the singer of Fangoria, a group she formed with musician and longtime collaborator Nacho Canut.
www.fangoria.es | @FangoriaWarner

Mario Vaquerizo is a singer, manager, author and guest in multiple TV programs. He is the lead singer of Nancys Rubias, a band formed in 2004 that has since released four original albums and a greatest hits. Along with his wife Alaska, he stars in the popular MTV Spain reality show “Alaska y Mario.”
www.nancysrubias.com

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