Issue 13 Introduction



Moving Beyond Buyer and Seller. Issue statement by Iker Gil, editor in chief of MAS Context


Can we redefine ownership to adapt it to the current needs of society? Can that redefinition provide new opportunities for our built environment? Those were the questions about ownership that we asked ourselves when approaching this issue. All aspects of our life are more connected than ever, physically and virtually. We access and receive information anywhere anytime. We travel more often and farther. We change what we consume and the way we consume it. The personal and professional aspects of our life create a network that, as time goes by, incorporates more and more layers of complexity. This complexity and overlapping is not unfamiliar to the physical world. Funding, usage, management, rules and rights in public and private, collective and individual spaces, are each time more difficult to determine clearly. Both in the virtual and physical world, the formerly defined relationship between buyer and seller has turned into one in which both become users and both remain active players after the transaction. Surprisingly, in most cases, these new scenarios of blurred boundaries are met with the exact same rules that have been used for decades and centuries and are incapable of successfully addressing the current conditions. This disconnection suggests two options: Can we redefine ownership itself to address the changes? Or, if the answer is negative, what can we do as designers to find the gaps to provide new opportunities?

This issue explores the concept of ownership in two main areas: intellectual and cultural ownership, and legal and physical ownership. The thirteen contributions featured in this issue deal with aspects of tradition, identity, creativity, copyright, occupation, privatization, excess, reconfiguration, legality and consumption. They range from urban analysis, architectural proposals, strategic interventions and personal documentation, to discussions and illustration of the role of ownership in intellectual property and in fostering creativity. They address and provide a possible approach to ownership when they are not redefining the concept in itself.

Ownership is a determining factor in the way we live and understand our society. For that reason, it’s a great moment to look into what it means with optimism and a fresh point of view, understanding its origins, the challenges that we face now, and the opportunities that it can offer for the future.

The contributions by Denise Scott Brown, Martin Adolfsson, Kirby Ferguson, Network Architecture Lab, Eleonor Chapman, Quilian Riano, Killian Doherty, Pedro Hernández, Jeanne Gang, Santiago Cirugeda, XAM, Bill Baker and Richard Tomlinson, and Kate Bingaman Burt provide an excellent foundation on which to continue the discussion about ownership.


Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the School of Architecture at UIC. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club. | @MASContext

Invention and Tradition

Las Vegas Strip, 1965. © Denise Scott Brown


Essay by Denise Scott Brown, architect, planner, urban designer: principal of Venturi Scott Brown and Associates, and theorist, writer and educator


Some paradoxes of colonial cultural landscapes

I once overhead the following conversation on a bus:


First woman: “I can tell from your accent that you’re from Home.”
Second: “Yes, I left Home 30 years ago.”
Third: “I’ve never been Home but one day I hope to go.”


This exchange, in Johannesburg, South Africa, was not an expression of sentimental nostalgia, but the affirmation of an alliance among members of a caste. By tracing their origins directly or at one remove to England, these women reassured each other of their social status in the South Africa of the 1940s. Their jingoism goaded my patriotism for local landscapes and cultures. As a child I wriggled uncomfortably when English visitors likened views of the low veld to “a little piece of Surrey,” and I pondered the incongruity of black children in French West Africa reciting lessons about nos ancêtres les gaulois. As a teenager, I joined an art class where we were exhorted to paint what was around us, to see the landscape of veld and sun and the life of Africans in the city as our most important inspiration if we were to produce vital art, if our art was to be “African.”

I have long since realized that my teacher’s formulation was too simple. After all, we spoke English and the roots of our culture were in Europe. European, and particularly English, culture pervaded our intellectual lives, conditioning our perception and appreciation of our African world. But this orientation toward outside influences limited our ability to use local experience as material for our art and perhaps constrained our creativity.

The South African writer Dan Jacobson defined this colonial artistic condition in his introduction to The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner. [1] He observed that Schreiner’s un-English, African setting, “her snowless, woodless, lawnless Karroo,” seemed implausible, even in South Africa, as a background for fiction because it had never been seen in literature before. Jacobson, when he first read her novel, had to struggle with his own incredulity “that the kopjes, kraals and cactus plants she mentions were of the same kind as those I was familiar with; so little experience had I had of encountering them within the pages of a book.”

“This is not to deny,” he added, ‘that The Story of an African Farm is a very “literary piece of work; the fruit in places more of reading than of life.” Although Jacobson found this literary quality damaging to the novel, it may have played an important part in the unlocking of colonial artistry. Perhaps Schreiner’s conversion of African sources to ‘literature’ was key to making them artistically available. Her tale of the veld was told, not in voortrekker prose, but in the style of the author’s literary contemporaries in England. By making the work comprehensible in London, Schreiner may have rendered the African landscape visible for the first time to her audiences in South Africa and England.If so, then, in an artistic sense, she invented the African landscape.

When, in the late 1960s, Robert Venturi and I tried to do something similar in Las Vegas, it was relatively easy to transfer my African attitude to an American one, suggesting that for the sake of cultural relevance and artistic vitality, American architects look at the landscape around them and learn. In that sense, mine is an African view of Las Vegas. Yet our analyses of the American suburban landscape were based in large part on European modes of scholarly inquiry; we defined the Las Vegas Strip by comparing it with historical European architecture, using categories set up for the study of traditional European urban space.


South Africa Veld, 1957.© Robert and Denise Scott Brown


Nevada Desert, 1965. © Denise Scott Brown


These paradoxes beset societies and cultures whose origins are in another place. As problems, they are different although surely no worse than those of more settled societies, but they persist as tensions between artistic dependence and independence long after political freedom has been won. [2] In America the paradox is fourfold:

– The United States is a diversified nation, differentiated regionally and ethnically, stratified socially, and culturally pluralistic; yet it is also a mass society that shares symbols and systems to such an extent that Americans are accused by outsiders of being a nation of conformists.

– Many if not most Americans left their lands of origin because they were different from those around them. They were poorer, more oppressed, different racially or religiously, more adventurous or maverick. The cultures they took away with them were not the same as those of the people they left behind, and in the ensuing years they diverged even further. America is far more different from Europe than most visiting Europeans realize. This is in part due to the emigrants’ search for a new world, which they defined as the counterform to the unsatisfactory old world. American morality, polity, governance, social structure and culture, and a physical container expressive of American aspirations were all to be invented. This invention was a great experiment and high adventure. Nevertheless, most immigrants brought their old worlds to the new, carrying landscapes and mores in memory and reasserting them, mutatis mutandis, in city or farm. Some Elizabethan English and nineteenth-century Italian customs that were lost in their countries of origin are preserved in Kentucky and South Philadelphia. Landscapes transported from England to New England resettle uncomfortably in Arizona.

-We Americans, like other former colonials, are xenophobes, yet in some areas of life, we clutch the apron strings of our mother cultures. We are proud of our indigenous styles, yet at times we still require European endorsement to validate them in our own eyes.

– The United States is artistically both precursor and follower, and the pendulum swings quite rapidly. But in architecture, discovery by latter-day European “colonizers”–a Reyner Banham for Los Angeles, a Charles Jencks for postmodernism–is still needed to dignify for Americans those artistic forms that originate in America.

Is the American architectural experience a colonial experience? Can it be termed colonial after 1776? Assuredly not in all spheres. Although I use the terms “colonial” and “colonizer” here to discuss attitudes toward artistic sources and artistic identity in American architecture, I have not attempted a general analysis of relations between colonialism and architecture; nor have I investigated the expression of colonial power through architecture–either in colonial America or by America today. Where I describe colonial architecture, it is as the architecture of settlers rather than rulers; and I have seamed settlers and immigrants together, viewing the colonists, architecturally, as early ethnic groups with problems of adjustment not wholly different from the problems of those who came later.


Inventing America and inventing the landscape

What are the effects of immigration on the artist? If the earliest stimuli, the sights and scents experienced when the infant first comes to awareness, are in some way linked to future creativity, what is the artistic prognosis for immigrants or refugees removed, probably forever, from the environment they knew when two feet above the ground? What of the immigrant group and its group artistic culture?

In most group migrations to America the first generation was lost, in an artistic sense and indeed in most senses. They heaved their young above their heads and saw their reward as the success of the second generation. “Culture,” when there was time for it, was internal to the group. It lay in Little Italy or in the Yiddish press and theatre. Subsequent generations turned to “face America.” [3] Yiddish poetry began to read like Walt Whitman, house decorations in Italian neighborhoods included the American eagle. Yet later, immigrant descendants, speaking and writing in English, have shared in the artistic life of the dominant cultures and have added to the vitality of what is called “American.” They play a leading part today in the inventing and reinventing of America. Perhaps their off-centre starting point lends intensity to their art. [4]

How does this generational sequence of adaptation, invention and reinvention tie in with American architecture and the making of place? Only fitfully perhaps, in a literal sense–most architecture is not designed or developed by actual or metaphorical immigrants–but perhaps rather well in the artistic and cultural sense of “inventing.” European colonists took their architecture with them and adapted it to conditions they found in the colonies. Dutch farmhouses in the Cape Colony developed porches and pergolas. To English houses in the United States were added porches and jalousies in the South and clapboard in the North. The two major colonial heritages in the United States were the English and Spanish, with the Anglo predominating and forming the basic matrix of architecture in this country. The English heritage itself was bifurcated, containing on the one hand a rural cottage and romantic landscape tradition and, on the other, a classical tradition derived from English Palladianism.


Cape Dutch farm house, 1957. © Robert and Denise Scott Brown



English thatch cottage in Natal Kwa Zulu, 1957. © Robert and Denise Scott Brown


Mapoch village houses, 1957. © Robert and Denise Scott Brown


High culture grafted other strands to this matrix. [5] Classical influences from antiquity and republican France accompanied the birth of the new republic, symbolizing republican virtue in furniture, architecture and urbanism. A later classical influence from Haussmann’s Paris gave expression to civic pride and served commercial boosterism in the turn-of-the-century American city. European borrowings included nineteenth-century eclecticism, the international style and the art deco moderne. There were also reactions against European influences and toward non-European ones, by Frank Lloyd Wright and others, in the name of Americanism.

Ethnic groups, facing the basically English character of the everyday realm, sought to express identity through a melding of ethnic and dominant group symbols, but ethnic symbolism receded as subsequent generations allied themselves to taste cultures related more to their socioeconomic than to their ethnic status. The social movements of the 1960s and the interest in roots in the 1970s brought renewed expressions of group identity, both ethnic and racial, although usually at the level of home decoration. House styles, whether “French Provincial,” “Cape Cod” or “Contempo,” are assigned greater importance in the American suburban environment than in equivalent European housing areas. Styling represents perhaps one final resting place of American pluralism–although during the Sun Belt migrations of the 1960s and 1970s, a further layer of complexity was added to house styling as new residents (in Houston, for example) sought highly decorated, eclectic townhouse precincts to serve as stage sets and symbols for a new way of life in a new city.

In sum, social and physical movements to and within the United States have been paralleled by a process of architectural invention and reinvention that started with the inception of the nation and continues today. Has this process educed spaces and places that are different from anywhere else?


What’s American about American Place?

Such a question is typical of the colonist’s search for identity. Given the paradoxes, the multiple influences and the newness of the culture, the answer will be found, if at all, in slivers of evidence that lie between borrowings and inventions, as insinuations rather than firm statements.

A literature has grown up around the question. John A Kouwenhoven, in search of “what’s American,” observes that one characteristic landscape is the “interminable and stately prairies,” as Walt Whitman called them, ruled off by roads and fences into a mathematical grid. They have become, as Whitman thought they would become, the home of “America’s distinctive ideas and distinctive realities.” Among a dozen such landscapes that Kouwenhoven lists, the first three are the Manhattan skyline, the gridiron town plan and the skyscraper. Their particularly American quality, for him, is their “fluid and ever changing unity’ and the state of being ‘always complete but never finished.” [6]

Vincent Scully perceives “a kind of uneasiness; a distrust of the place, a restlessness” that emanates from the American experience of “a vast landscape, a more or less scarifying contact with the Indian population, certain racial crimes, colonialism, a sense of distance from centres if high civilization, a feeling at once of liberation and of loss.” [7]

Ronald Lewcock, writing about nineteenth-century colonial architecture, claims that its character derives from limitations of the conditions in which it was built: “amateur designs, semi-skilled or unskilled labour, and restricted building materials transformed the intricacies of fashion into fortuitously subtle and restrained statements… enforcing by simplicity the impact of the lines and forms of the styles.” [8] Scully describes American colonial architecture in the same terms, seeing architecture of both Spanish and English origin as “simplified, clarified and primitivized. These qualities… become positive ones, like the beginning of something which though deriving or degenerating from a more developed style–had worked its way back to first principles, from which a new kind of growth may well be possible.” In America the English or Spanish original was “distilled into a more rigid order, less compromised by variety, less rich in modulation… the virtues sought were now the elemental ones of strong obvious shapes and plain surfaces.” [9] Lewcock adds, “Excessive copying may have produced stereotyping, but it also ensured a familiarity with the true meaning of ‘style’ which is one of the strongest attributes of the best colonial work.”

George L Hersey suggests that there is a particularly American way, different from the European, of borrowing from artistic sources. [10] He defines “replication” as the copying or adaptation of “some principal work of art” in various ways for different places and times. The work of art, for example the Roman Pantheon, becomes an “artistic signal that is picked up by lesser transmitters, which extend and modify the original signal.” Replication was the rule rather than the exception during the nineteenth century. In Europe, Hersey claims, architectural borrowing followed the original with respect to siting, relation between inside and outside and relation between scale and building type. For example, the European pantheons all contain large, “impressively scaled” single spaces that house chapels or civic spaces, and they are sited as in Rome. But in America, a shift accompanied the borrowings; the rules broke down and improper adaptations occurred. Jefferson’s Rotunda is pantheonic on the outside only; a Romanesque style is used by Richardson for other than religious architecture; public buildings have Second Empire outsides and high gothic insides; Eero Saarinen builds village hillside architecture on the flat, urban Yale campus; and whereas the English architects of the new building for Caius College, in following Le Corbusier’s monastery, ‘properly’ relate college idiom to monastic tradition, a Boston firm replicates La Tourette untraditionally as the Boston City Hall. In the same way, type and use collide at the roadside, as in the names “Dog City” or “Frank Palace.”

The “not necessarily undesirable” effects of such free replication are, in Hersey’s words, “jarring stylistic dissonances, the impermanent look of having been transferred from some other site, and weird scale.” This is an illuminating interpretation of an essential yet difficult-to-define difference between American and European architecture. [11] Although Hersey does not mention it directly, shifts in symbolic meaning cause the collisions in several of his examples–an ecclesiastical style is used for commercial architecture; royalty is associated with hot dogs.

I have culled these writings of the late 1950s and the 1960s from a larger body of assessment of American urbanism because they highlight the importance of invention and tradition in the making of place. Across the broader spectrum of urban thought from about the same period, a theme carries through a range of disciplines. The writings of Melvin Webber, J B Jackson and Herbert Gans suggest that what we perceive as chaos in the urban and suburban landscape may be an order that we do not understand; that simple nostrums to complex problems may make the problems worse; and that the concept of “organized complexity” should be understood by architects and planners working in the social and physical realms. During this period, Tom Wolfe responded to the same notions in the arts with an apotheosis of Las Vegas and the pop art movement, and Robert Venturi in Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture called into question some simple nostrums of modern architecture. In delineating the anatomy of complexity in architecture, Venturi grounded his analysis in historic precedent seen in a new light.

Something caused these parallel inquiries by separate individuals to be undertaken and brought to fruition at the same time. In my opinion, the common influence was social change. Shifts in American society spelled a shifting of sensibilities among perceptive scientists and artists. Changing sensibilities induced changing perceptions. These in turn called for a reassessment of tenets and philosophies, particularly in disciplines concerned with urban life. The social turmoil of the 1960s demanded the reinvention of American architecture.


The process of reinvention

In the arts, change in sensibilities signals impending aesthetic change, which is in turn a precondition for innovation and invention. When the time is ripe for aesthetic change, a chance perception–even a sideways glance at the familiar–can set the process in motion. At first sight, the new and meaningful may not appear beautiful; it may appear ugly, but we feel it is important.

That feeling often (perhaps usually) precedes rational reassessment and may lead to it. For example, although my move to the West Coast in 1965 was part of an intellectual migration, and although I had for more than ten years joined in reasoned reassessments of architecture and the environment, nevertheless my first response to the landscape of Las Vegas and Los Angeles was not an analytical appraisal; it was an aesthetic shiver. The shiver was composed of hate and love; the environment was as ugly as it was beautiful. It shrieked of chaos, yet it challenged one to find the whispered order within it–because this order seemed to hint at a new architecture for changed times.

“Towards a new architecture” had been the slogan of an earlier process of architectural reinvention, based on social change. In the first decades of this century, a liberating aesthetic shiver induced by industrial architecture and engineering goaded and guided the development of modern architecture. “Eyes which do not see,” Le Corbusier cried in 1923 against architects who could not perceive the beauty-in-ugliness of grain elevators, steamships and airplanes. [12] Forty years later, when some cities were literally in flames and when a hundred voices railed against architects who could not see, the modern rhetoric of industrial process and the old vision of glass towers seemed irrelevant to the social problems at hand. There was also no shock value left for factory architecture; it could produce no galvanazing aesthetic shiver. What horrified in the 1960s was the ‘urban chaos’: the deteriorated inner city and the signs, strips and tracts of suburban sprawl.


Facing America through Learning from Las Vegas

We selected Las Vegas and Levittown for study because they were archetypes of the landscape of suburban sprawl that surrounds all American cities. Analysis of the extreme forms would be easier than analysis of more typical ones, which were usually overlaid on earlier patterns. However, the intention was to throw light on the everyday. We aimed to document the characteristics of American place that were alluded to by the writers of the 1960s and also to teach ourselves, as artists, to be receptive to the mandates of our time.

Drawing by Robert Miller from “Learning from Levittown” studio, 1970. © Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates


Levittown, PA, 1958 used in “Learning from Levittown” studio. © Denise Scott Brown



Rowhouse. House styles from “Signs of Life” exhibition, Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian, Washington, D.C., 1976. © Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates



Suburban home. House styles from “Signs of Life” exhibition, Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian, Washington, D.C., 1976. © Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates



Country home. House styles from “Signs of Life” exhibition, Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian, Washington, D.C., 1976. © Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates


So we faced the desert Strip of Las Vegas, the winding roads and curving greens of Levittown and, later, the traditional nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American city. The forms we chose for analysis were new and undeniably American. Although scorned by architects as vulgar distortions and malformations of urbanism, they were the quotidian of the landscape; we sensed that they contained important lessons for architecture in the latter part of the twentieth century.

We tried to carefully define the components of strip and sprawl and to consider the factors that caused them to be as they were–primarily the automobile, the geometry induced by its motion and the ability of the human brain to react to communication from the environment while the body is traveling at approximately 35 miles per hour. We described the nature of the communication conveyed and the methods used for conveying it. We compared the constituents of American suburban architecture with those of traditional European urban architecture, matching the vast space of the A&P parking lot with the expanses of Versailles and the pace of movement on the medieval market street with that on the Las Vegas Strip. We evolved a taxonomy of the forms of the everyday landscape and endeavored to set these within a broader taxonomy of the traditional elements of architecture and urbanism.


Communication on The Strip, 1968. © Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates


What did you learn?

In sum, our aim in studying suburban sprawl had been to push the growing body of thought on American urbanism in directions interesting and useful to us as practicing architects and theoreticians. We sought a new open-mindedness that would enable us to act sensitively and receptively on social questions in architecture and lead us to a new aesthetic: a formal language or languages less restrictive than that of late modern architecture and tuned to the social and creative needs of our time.

When asked, “What did you learn from Las Vegas?” we were at first at a loss for an answer. An early reply was, “What did you learn from the Parthenon?” By this we meant that aesthetic ideas that engage the minds of architects are not always, or in their most important aspects, definable in words. Later we suggested that what we learned would show in our subsequent work, and indubitably it has. However, more than ten years away from these studies, it is perhaps possible to discern some areas of learning more clearly than we could at the time.


Physiognomy of a typical casino sign, Learning from Las Vegas, 1968. © Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates


Caesar’s Palace billboard, Las Vegas, 1970s. © Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates


The forgotten symbolism of architectural form

The primary lessons that we learned as architects from Las Vegas and Levittown were about symbolism. We started our study with investigations of the character of the symbols that could best communicate over the vast space of the American strip; we continued with analyses of the buildings behind the signs and what they could communicate symbolically at different scales. Finally, we turned to symbolism at the traditional scale of architecture for pedestrians. Here, ornament and decoration become a major interest.

In the succession from strip to buildings our methods of analysis completed a full circle. In 1968 we suggested that ‘we look backward at history and tradition to go forward’. In 1975 we recommended that “we architects who went to Las Vegas and Levittown to reacquaint ourselves with historical symbolism should now return to Rome; it is time for a new interpretation of our architectural legacy, and particularly for a reassessment of the uses of ornament and symbolism in architecture.” [13] Our initial analyses comparing strip phenomena with historic European architecture–the A&P parking lot with Versailles–we defined as going “from Rome to Las Vegas.” We said we went “from Las Vegas back again to Rome,” when we applied categories learned from the Strip to the study of conventional and traditional buildings–seeing the front of Chartres Cathedral, for example, as a type of billboard. The journey from Las Vegas back to Rome allowed us to learn again from historical architecture through a reappraisal of its symbolism and decoration. Although these had been there in the first place, we had ignored or forgotten them. Under the influence of modern architecture, we had interpreted them as texture and pattern alone, not as symbolic communication.


From Rome to Las Vegas, 1968. © Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates


Las Vegas therefore helped us to reinterpret traditional architecture and by redirecting us to Rome set us to mending the rupture modern architecture had made with its tradition. In so doing we were able, as well, to incorporate portions of the American suburban landscape into the fold of architecture, where they had not been included before.


The oscillation between innovation and tradition in the process of reinvention

Our analyses of the American everyday environment were part of a continuous process of reinvention whereby tradition and innovation, the historical and the new, are matched and re-matched with changing times. We face America and then Europe, struggling to resolve the paradoxes of those whose culture originated in a different place, to become creative artists in the flux of history.

In studying Las Vegas and Levittown our intention was not to promote particular commercial idioms for architecture, nor did we turn to Rome to find good sources for historical borrowing. In my opinion, the lessons learned from Las Vegas by architects to date have been superficial ones. Stylish postmodernism has picked up the image but not the substance of our quest. And the professions of urban design and landscape architecture, although as involved as architecture in the making of place, seem to have been affected even less than it has by changing times and sensibilities. The built results indicate that social and cultural change have brought about little reassessment by design practitioners of either the emerging American landscape or the traditional roles of the professions.

Lacking this reassessment, some efforts of the design professions tend to make environmental chaos worse. If you see an awkward strip, where wirescape overwhelms imagery and the whole purveys neither communication nor order, look again; if the signs are all 12 feet high, you can be sure an aesthetic ordinance is at work, promulgated by the design professions and intended to produce order in the environment. A more successful approach might be to encourage the erection of taller signs that dominate the rest of the clutter. The fact that this would be dismissed by most design review boards in the United States suggests that urban designers still lack the means to describe, define and therefore see the strip landscape; and what they cannot see, they cannot handle aesthetically.

As designers, we have not yet developed a profound sense of history. “A colonial culture,” says Jacobson, “is one which has no memory.” A colonial heritage makes it “extremely difficult for any section of the population to develop a vital, effective belief in the past as a present concern, and in the present as a consequence of the past’s concerns.” Yet absence of memory may not inhibit the perpetuation of prejudice. Indeed, “precisely because the sense of history is so deficient, these enmities tend to be regarded as so many given, unalterable facts of life… as little open to human change or question as the growth of leaves in spring.” [14] Because we designers lack a sturdy grasp on our historical heritage, we lack the confidence to tolerate architectural change. An understanding of the role of invention in historical architecture and of the way the past affects present preferences would help designers and design controllers to conquer their own aesthetic prejudices and therefore to deal more effectively than they do now with the everyday American landscape and the making of American place.




The Strip, 1968. © Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates


Conclusion: work in progress

In this thesis on colonies and mother cultures I have tried to suggest that the colonial paradoxes are as much opportunities as problems and that they add intensity and uniqueness to American architecture. Two ‘colonial’ heritages, one American and the other African, both set in a European mould, have helped define my argument. Its edge probably derives from the marginal nature of my relation to dominant cultures.

The colonial frame of reference is, of course, not the only applicable one. Indeed, American architects are not alone in looking beyond the border. They are part of an international profession whose philosophy has been avowedly and idealistically internationalist and whose practitioners, in most nations, are eager for outside influences.

However, I have chosen to focus on the colonial aspect here because it is rarely considered, and because it opens up a host of questions that should be understood as part of our artistic heritage. This is particularly so as the architectural pendulum swings now toward regionalism, and as America assumes the leadership in architectural ideas. In addition, relating American architecture to a worldwide diaspora of colonial architectures can broaden our understanding of American architecture, and may bring new insights in the future as the field of colonial studies widens in Europe and the Third World. [15]

In discussing our own research on American place, I have emphasized the process of invention rather than the nature of our findings, because such a focus seemed suitable to a symposium opening a Center for the Study of American Architecture. In this inaugural venture, we are at the port of entry to a new territory that is paradoxically familiar but unknown. It must be explored and re-explored, and there is a long distance to be travelled. Artistically, we American architects are cultural immigrants who must face the American hinterland yet make our roads return to Rome.


Las Vegas style and Denise style, 1966. Photo by Robert Venturi. © Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates


Las Vegas style, Bob style and Magritte style, with mannerist plays of scale, 1966. Photo by Denise Scott Brown. © Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates


Originally published in David G De Long, Helen Searing and Robert A M Stern (eds.), American Architecture: Innovation and Tradition (New York: Rizzoli, 1986), 1958-70. Reprinted in D. Scott Brown, Having Words (London: Architectural Association, 2009) and reprinted here courtesy of the author and Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.

All analytic drawings are from Learning from Las Vegas and Learning from Levittown studios.

Photographs are by Robert Scott Brown, Denise Scott Brown, and LLV studio members.

Further sources of information: VSBA Bibliography at and VSBA Archive at the University of Pennsylvania Architectural Archives.



1. Dan Jacobson, introduction to Olive Schreiner, The Story of an American Farm (London: Penguin, 1971), 18-19.

2. The paradox may persist although there is a new colonial power: vide, ‘We do not need the Graves, the Sterns and the Jahns to tell us how to design in Africa. We also do not need to be chauvinistic in our approach’. Bannie Britz, ‘Is a South African Architecture Possible?’ in Ivor Prinsloo (ed.), Towards Appropriate Architecture for Southern Africa: Architecture SA, November / December 1982, 68.

3. Mitn ponem tsu America. The experience was common enough to have given rise to a Yiddish saying. I first heard it in English. I am grateful to Mr Max Rosenfeld of the Sholem Aleichem Club in Philadelphia for clarifying its derivation.

4. Each group plays its part in its own way. The sequence described in this passage refers largely to late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century migrations from Europe. It is not immediately applicable to black groups, owing to the unwilled circumstances of their immigration and to the destruction of their heritage which ensued. However, the black artistic contribution has paralleled that of other groups from the start and, since their second migration, northward, their role in the reinventing of America, north and south, can be discussed in the same terms as those used for other immigrant groups. Hispanic and Asian immigrants today seem to be in the early stages of the same sequence.

5. The terms ‘high culture’ and ‘taste culture’ are borrowed from Herbert J Gans, Popular Culture and High Culture (New York: Basic Books, 1974).

6. John A Kouwenhoven, ‘Preliminary Glance at an American Landscape’ and ‘What’s “American” about America’ in The Beer Can by the Highway: Essays on What’s American About America (New York: Doubleday, 1961), 19, 42, 44, 49.

7. Vincent Scully, American Architecture and Urbanism (New York: Frederick A Praeger, 1969), 12.

8. Ronald Lewcock, Early Nineteenth-Century Architecture in South Africa: A Study of the Interaction of Two Cultures, 1795-1837 (Cape Town: A A Balkema, 1963), 420, 421.

9. Vincent Scully, op. cit., 27, 37.

10. G L Hersey, ‘Replication Replicated, or Notes on American Bastardy’, Perspecta 9/10, 1965, 211-48.

11. This difference is found in other colonial situations where similar encounters ‘between local cultures and international systems of exchange’ produce ‘a population of hybrid architectural languages that are full of promise.’ ‘Hybrid Architecture,’ Lotus International 26 (1980), 3. One such hybrid is the Bengali temple with imitation church towers. George Michell describes the Hindu Temple of Sonarang as ‘genuinely hybrid architecture combining, in a unique manner, elements from different traditions to create completely original forms.’ See his ‘Neo-classical Hindu Temples in Bengal. European Influences in the Bengal Temples’, Lotus 26, 99. They sound like the architecture of the Strip; especially as Mitchell writes, ‘Bewildering to the architectural historian, the genius of Bengali designers is undeniable, though their inventions still await an appropriate terminology by which they might be effectively described’ – and without which, we may add, like the Karroo and Las Vegas, they will not be effectively seen.

12. Le Corbusier, Vers une Architecture (Paris, 1923); trans. Frederick Etchells, Towards a New Architecture (London: 1927).

13. Learning From Las Vegas, 3, and ‘Signs of Life’ (exhibition text).

14. Jacobson, op. cit., 7.

15. For example, Lotus International 26 is devoted to colonial architecture considered as a worldwide phenomenon.


Denise Scott Brown is an architect, planner, urban designer, theorist, writer and educator, whose work and ideas have influenced architects and planners worldwide. Principal at Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, her years of experience in urban planning, urban design, and campus planning have contributed to VSBA’s unusual breadth and depth in architectural design. | @VSBAinc

Suburbia Gone Wild

Millennium Park, Moscow, Russia
© Martin Adolfsson


Text and images by photographer Martin Adolfsson


Photographer Martin Adolfsson’s project “Suburbia gone Wild” provides a fascinating window into one of the greatest structural changes of the 21st-century, the rise of the upper middle class in the developing world. Exploring the search for identity among this new strata of society, Adolfsson takes us where they live: the shiny, newly-developed suburbs surrounding the new economic centers of the world. By focusing on model homes and the suburban landscape, his approach is best described as a combination of positively amusing and awkwardly eerie, as he documents a curious phenomenon that looks more and more like the constructed world of The Truman Show. The work expands across every continent and includes the suburbs of Bangkok, Shanghai, Bangalore, Cairo, Moscow, Johannesburg, Sao Paulo and Mexico City.


Within the past two decades we’ve seen a huge shift in the balance of economic power. Countries that didn’t have a middle class 20 years ago have seen a rapid transformation from an agricultural economy to an industrial-based economy, so much so that a sizable percentage of the population now belongs to the middle class. How does that affect the social groups who have been able to benefit the most from the economic boom? How does that influence one’s identity when the change is so rapid?

I want to explore that search for identity taking place in the suburbs surrounding Shanghai, Bangkok, Bangalore, Cairo, Moscow, Johannesburg, Sao Paolo and Mexico City. By omitting geographical and national traces, I seek to create a strong visual narrative between these disarmingly similar landscapes. The similarities interest me more then the national and cultural differences. My intentions are to create a visual narrative that takes the viewer on the front lines of an emerging global movement.

Martin Adolfsson

St. AndrewsManor, Shanghai, China
© Martin Adolfsson

Katameya Heights, Cairo, Egypt
© Martin Adolfsson

Millennium Park, Moscow, Russia
© Martin Adolfsson

Katameya Heights, Cairo, Egypt
© Martin Adolfsson

Parkway Chalet, Bangkok, Thailand
© Martin Adolfsson

Whitefield, Bangalore, India
© Martin Adolfsson

Florest, Mexico City, Mexico
© Martin Adolfsson

Selective, Sao Paulo, Brazil
© Martin Adolfsson

Cosmo City, Johannesburg, South Africa
© Martin Adolfsson

St. Andrews Manor, Shanghai, China
© Martin Adolfsson

Whitefield, Bangalore, India
© Martin Adolfsson

Millennium Park, Moscow, Russia
© Martin Adolfsson

Jackals Creek, Johannesburg, South Africa
© Martin Adolfsson

St. Andrews Manor, Shanghai, China
© Martin Adolfsson

Katameya Residence, Cairo, Egypt
© Martin Adolfsson

St. Andrews Manor, Shanghai, China
© Martin Adolfsson


Martin Adolfsson is a Swedish photographer based in NYC since 2007. He shoots portraits, travel and architectural work for magazines and advertising agencies around the globe. His personal work focuses on social structures and behaviors. | @MaAd_NYC_photog

Everything is a Remix

Kirby Ferguson at the Gel Conference 2011
© Gene Driskell


Iker Gil interviews Kirby Ferguson, writer, director, editor and author of the Everything is a Remix series


The Song Remains the Same. Remix Inc. The Elements of Creativity. System Failure. These four parts constitute “Everything is a Remix,” a series that explains the presence of copying, transforming and combining in music, film, technology and law. Now that the four-part video series is complete, Iker Gil interviews Kirby Ferguson, creator and producer of the series, to discuss the project, the ingredients of creativity, and the implications of remixing on ownership.


IG: How did you conceive the series “Everything is a Remix” and what is its overall goal?

KF: It started to brew during the first wave of copyright hysteria, around 2007, when wacky and sometimes vicious copyright lawsuits seemed to be a weekly event. I started to think there was some way to illustrate the hypocrisy of that situation by concentrating on creativity itself. After a long while, the major examples — Led Zeppelin, George Lucas and Apple — fell into place and I realized I had good elements with which to build a narrative.

The goal of “Everything is a Remix” is to illustrate that feelings of absolute ownership over a creation are illusory. Of course, the creation is yours to some degree — you made it — but it relies on the work of others to an extent that most of us aren’t aware of because of our biases.

IG: “Everything is a Remix” is divided into four parts, covering music, film, technology and law. Can you explain why you chose those specific topics? I think architecture could be another interesting topic to cover. Do you have any other topics that you would like to develop?

KF: It was just my personal tastes, really. I have knowledge in all those areas, so I chose that path, but it could just as easily have been, say, architecture, fashion and religion. But I don’t know much about those, so I’d have to develop them from the ground up. I don’t plan to cover more areas, but who knows?

IG: Can you talk more about the 4th part, dealing with law, the culture of ownership and what we think is ours?

KF: Part 4 gets into some of the psychological reasons for why we’re sensitive about being copied, but insensitive about copying, and then jumps headlong into the legal realm. It covers the basic history of intellectual property and some of the major twists and turns that have gotten us where we are now.

Screen captureS from Part 4 of “Everything is a Remix”
© Kirby Ferguson

IG: Since you recognize that everything is a remix, how do you feel about ownership? What are the implications of remixing in ownership?

KF: That’s the complicated part, of course. For me, I aspire to stay independent, release everything I do for free and earn money in ways that the media creation complements. What happens to my media after I release it won’t be my concern.

I recognize that for larger ventures it’s much more complicated. Nonetheless, I think we need to clearly distinguish between remixing and piracy. American law, which originated in the 18th century, doesn’t do that. It’s all treated the same way. I think any remixing that is not for profit should be entirely legal. That’s basically where we are right now anyway, it’s not reflected in law.

I also think unauthorized remixing that is transformative should be legal, and I think the term “transformative” should be applied liberally. This is arguably already possible using the American “fair use” exception in copyright law, but it’s rarely exercised due to fear of getting financially obliterated by a lawsuit. I think one of the reasons Girl Talk doesn’t get sued is because he holds the position that his work is transformative and thus fair use. If someone takes him to court and loses, it will be an important precedent and the floodgates will be opened.

IG: Let’s use the case of Girl Talk as an example. He is a musician producing mashup remixes that he distributes under Creative Commons licenses for free and basically makes money from the concerts. Is this example pointing to a new viable model of business?

KF: Sure, that’s one way to do it. I do a variation of that: I give the media away and make money from public speaking, commissions and donations. There’s plenty of ways to make money other than selling your media: crowdfunding, merchandise, sponsorships, ads, affiliate fees, memberships. Popular media has mostly been free or extremely cheap — newspaper, radio, tv, the web — so giving media away is nothing new.

IG: You mention that Copy, Transform and Combine are the key ingredients of creativity. Are there any other ways to be creative?

KF: I personally don’t think so. Those are vast categories and I think they cover everything.

Screen captures from Part 4 of “Everything is a Remix”
© Kirby Ferguson

IG: Which elements (law, cultural, political…) facilitate remixing versus the ones that prevent it? For example, copyright vs Creative Commons.

KF: Creative Commons licenses generally permit remixing, though not all of them do. Even better than Creative Commons is the public domain, older works whose copyright has expired. American works published before 1923 are in the public domain. That doesn’t amount to much in the realms of moving images and music, but old photos, illustrations, paintings and novels can all be sliced and diced to your heart’s content.

IG: What is your next project?

KF: It’s a political series, which will have a similar format to “Everything is a Remix” but a very different style. If you watch “Everything is a Remix Part 4” you can hear more about it at the end of the video.



Kirby Ferguson is a writer, director and producer who has created dozens of comedic short films and gotten over four million views on the web. He is the producer of the series Everything is a Remix. | @remixeverything

Where Do Good Ideas Come From?

Girl Talk performing in 2009 during Austin City Limits Music Festival.
© Ashley Garmon


Essay by Benjamin Brichta, the Network Architecture Lab, an experimental unit at the Columbia University GSAPP directed by Kazys Varnelis


The birthplace of the paperless studio, Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation is in the midst of transforming its digital identity (see: As part of this transformation, the school now requires all students to surrender a digital copy of their full body of work for archiving, packaging, and distribution in order to receive a diploma. And yet, student work frequently treads on the limits of copyright. Student’s renderings and videos have become vessels for the storage of pixelated people, background images, maps, and Grammy-winning soundtracks all freely brought in from Google, Flickr and YouTube. Concerned by the impact of these questions, Kazys Varnelis, Director of the Network Architecture Lab, decided to assemble a panel discussion on the intellectual property implications of opening up students’ work to the cloud in an event held on 5 February 2012 entitled, “How do You Break the Law?”

Lebbeus Woods, the esteemed architect, artist, and theorist was first to present, recounting his experience filing suit against Universal Studios. Lebbeus claimed that the Interrogation Room in Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys was copied directly and without permission from his “Neomechanical Tower (Upper) Chamber”. The suit was settled out of court after the judge issued a preliminary injunction barring distribution of the film. This was a case of David defeating Goliath. To the average consumer of intellectual property, it seems that copyright law benefits corporate interests, like Apple and the RIAA, over smalltime content creators, artists and musicians. It is in this context that Lebbeus places his own copyright battle. Of course he wants his work to be seen, used and shared but in his determination the studio’s use of his work was exploitative. This was not an artist or student appropriating words or images, but business people selling product. Perhaps it is worth noting that for all of Lebbeus’s interest in the architect as creator-genius, geniuses of the past (see Greek Temples and Palladio) tended to rely on appropriation and remix. The language of copyright law protects ownership but cannot determine the moral value of a secondary use. Judges determine that value and decide which cases are won or lost. Again and again, the night’s conversation returned to this moral issue. How is the secondary use judged?

Next up was Sean Dockray, the mastermind behind The Public School ( and the now-shuttered site, AAAARG was at once an online forum, a school, an academic journal, digital archive, and peer-to-peer sharing service. Unlike other file sharing services that were set up to skirt copyright law or battle morally corrupt corporations, AAAARG was simply meant to facilitate the transfer of knowledge. The idea was that people who had access to academic material (like those associated with a university) would share it with those that did not (those outside universities or those in universities with smaller budgets). He began his talk by posing the question, “who has the right to start a library?” In the United States, libraries (the physical ones, with buildings and stacks) have been seen as a universal right, provided to the public with a mixture of public and private funding. As reproductive and communication technologies make possible a library that contains everything, is everywhere, and exists for everyone, the conversation about libraries is shifting away from universal rights to ownership rights and from access to piracy. Facilitated by encoded file-types, the transfer and acquisition of knowledge is not necessarily about the possession of a physical object but about a subscription to a service-based model. This turns libraries into businesses and server farms into bank vaults. So again we are left with a moral question: should access to knowledge be a universal right?

If Sean was coy in his assertion that “fair use” copying is a universal right, Amy Adler, a lawyer and professor at NYU Law, was more direct. Her talk was entitled “In Praise of Copying.” Fair use, she said, is the last bastion of the first amendment before copyright takes over the process of information sharing. Adler is in the midst of a battle of her own. She is representing Richard Prince – an American painter and photographer – in perhaps the art worlds’ most closely watched copyright case. Prince appropriates others’ images in what he calls a “rephotograph,” and was sued for copyright infringement by a documentary photographer; he is now appealing.

The case will come down to the judge’s interpretation of “fair use,” language that provides a small passage into the fortress of intellectual property. Was the secondary use “transformative?” Did the translation from first use to second use add value? If so, Prince was within his legal right to use the work and claim fair use. These, of course, are complicated questions to answer and demand the judge understand not only Prince’s work and his impetus to create it, but the original work and its place in our culture as well. Perversely, Prince is not making it easy on himself; when asked under oath about the meaning of his work, he maintained that it had no meaning and that he derived no meaning from the original images, either. This Warholian response, unfortunately, sank his case and now threatens his appeal. Also claimed as a defendant in the suit was Gagosian Gallery and Lawrence Gagosian, its owner. If someone here has more to lose than the artists, it is the galleries that support them. If galleries and their owners are responsible for the legal and moral implications of the work held in their possession, we could see the art world follow the same path as the music industry; namely, a loss in the value of the work of art and a movement to take the flow of goods underground. Similarly, if galleries are held accountable, universities that host libraries of student work might be as well.

In many ways, Prince’s work and creative process anticipated today’s remix culture. I always begin my creative process with a quick Google image search and it seems there are flashes of understanding on the part of the federal government and those holding intellectual property that stealing is, and indeed has always been intimately intertwined with the creative process. Moreover, there are peculiar breaches in the logic of the system that hint at its flaws. For example, Girl Talk, the DJ who has made a career of mashing other peoples’ music together has yet to be prosecuted. Similarly, the music streaming service Grooveshark does not possess licenses for all of its content, making some question why it hasn’t received the wrath of the Department of Justice.

Geeta Dayal, music critic and journalist, focused on technology’s roll in music creation and piracy. She began her talk at the end of the 19th century with the invention of magnetic tape – its physical properties determining how it was used and edited. She then moved on to the computer, the synthesizer, the studio, the turntable, the digital sampler, the laptop, YouTube, and mobile apps. With each step, technology enabled people’s access and provided more opportunities for creative output. For Geeta, the mp3 is the culmination of this chronology, what she calls, “illegal use in its highest form.” The mp3 has imbedded within it all the intelligence that allows its legal and illegal transference although perhaps it is surpassed by the lossless FLAC file that contains a bit perfect copy of the original. Interestingly, this intelligence has lead to a certain way of talking about its physical properties. The two clearest examples are streaming music and cloud storage. These watery phrases conjure a tap that can be turned on or off at will.

Architects, by and large, are not equipped with the technical or theoretical skills required to manage collaboration (the sharing of ideas) at the scale of complexity needed to build big buildings. How do we acknowledge authorship in an age where appropriation is normal? Design ideas are now produced across industries, time zones, and software platforms. Liability, too, is now split along those lines. But who owns the idea? Where did it come from? Project delivery methods like IPD (Integrated Project Delivery) stress a non-authorial approach to collaboration but it is only suited for certain types of project, in certain places, and with certain assumed profit margins. In the future, architects might need to choose whether they protect knowledge and information or ownership of ideas.

Lebbeus ended the conversation by speculating that we had reached the end of our obsession with re-mix culture. In our post-modern, post-structural, post-everything world, he said people will simply tire of re-using the barrage of images that make up our global culture and seek out novel forms of creative output. The panel disagreed. They all left the table and all but one skeptically signed Columbia’s Speaker Permission Agreement, a document that hopes “to make your presentation widely available and helpful to a broader audience” and requests “your non-exclusive and royalty-free permission.”This revolution, it appears, will not be televised.


Network Architecture Lab, directed by Kazys Varnelis, is an experimental unit at the Columbia University GSAPP that embraces the studio and the seminar as venues for architectural analysis and speculation, exploring new forms of research through architecture, text, new media design, film production and environment design | @columbia_netlab

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Ownership is Dead

Buried sold sign
© Eleanor Chapman


Essay by architect Eleanor Chapman


It’s not fashionable, but I have to own up to a bit of a soft spot for the old model. Yes, I admit it. I quite like owning things. That brief, giddy rush of post-purchase endorphins gets me every time. Of course, it’s on its way out, I know. Ownership – at least in the conventional definition of the term – is dead. OK, so maybe fast forward a few years for the actual ‘death’ part, the burning to the ground and from the ashes rising the phoenix of the new paradigm or whatever your preferred metaphor might be. What we’re seeing right now is maybe just the beginning of the end and perhaps more akin to a death by a thousand cuts than a bang. So just to recap – that’s one inherently negative premise, projected into being at some as-yet-undetermined future date. Still with me? One more thing: the following is not an argument carefully constructed from historical events in the field rolling on to a neat and logical conclusion, but more a series of chaotic mind wanderings loosely drawn together under sub-headings, some in the form of word formulas inspired by the Occupy sign shown below (the significance of which will later be explained). [1]

Buried sold sign
© Eleanor Chapman

Ownership – A rather narrow definition

Once upon a time, ownership concerned a transaction, a purchase. Something (let’s say money) is exchanged for goods (let’s say a cow). Ownership changes hands; “congratulations, you now own a cow.”[2] And so the cycle of production and consumption rolls on. Simple. Australia, particularly Melbourne, the city I call home, continues to hold its inhabitants in thrall to the turning cogs of consumerism. Most things available to do and have cost money, and our lives are very much dominated by this exchange. Of course there are different ways to come to own something (a gift, an inheritance, trawling the local hard rubbish collection), but the story of most goods that come in and out of our lives is part of the conventional cycle, and somewhere along the way that usually means a purchase transaction. Mostly I find it’s an unconscious state of affairs; it’s usually only on returning after being away for a while, particularly after travels in the developing world, where it’s perhaps too easy to romanticize the abundance of informal economies and sense of community that are painfully absent that the local Costco tries, and fails miserably, to recreate, that I’m bewildered at the rediscovery of the amount of junk waiting for me in storage, and the machinery of production and consumption is exposed in all its hollowness. Soon enough, though, I seem to get re-acclimatized, or de-sensitized – and slide right back into the cycle and I suspect it’s something of a guilty relief when that feel-good hit at the counter kicks in again.

Ownership = Empowerment. Or does it?

I’ve never owned a building, or even a piece of land for that matter, but I imagine the purchase endorphins must really get going. Home ownership seems to inspire a fervor of almost religious proportions in my part of the world. The sense of desperation to ‘get in’ to the market calls to mind for me the disembodied voice exhorting the citizens of Blade Runner’s LA to depart for the new world or be left behind forever. In the marginally-less dystopian real world property market, brows furrow and shoulders hunch while feverishly scanning online real estate at inner-city cafes, and mortgage repayments are discussed in hushed tones at suburban barbecues.

Sold sign
© Eleanor Chapman

There’s a good reason for this of course, and it’s not confined to the thirty-something macchiato set. Groups such as The Landless Workers Movement in Brazil challenge the unequal distribution of wealth, acknowledge the marginal existence of those without access to property rights and fight to deliver them such rights. It’s just one among scores of others. Ownership of property has traditionally promised security, stability, comfort, some of it perhaps psychological, but in a real way it provides a foothold on the path to upward mobility – the cornerstone of capitalism. Historically, ownership in a conventional and somewhat narrow sense, i.e., the acquisition of goods, has been equated to empowerment.

More stuff ≠ Progress

Back to that sign. Change is afoot. We live in interesting times indeed. The consumerist drive that has long propelled much of the Western world forward has some cracks appearing in its skin. There are rumblings of support for the notion that exponential growth does not equate to progress, triggered by a groundswell of concern for the impending climatic disaster that looms somewhere not too far down the path of our current production and consumption trajectory, and more recently fueled by the failure of seemingly infallible systems in the wake of the ever-lengthening Global Financial Crisis. Home ownership (with a little help from the bank) has proven not to deliver the promised security after all – a painful lesson learnt in the burst of the housing bubble in the US. And while in Australia the market has not (yet) taken such a drastic plunge, house prices have climbed to levels that are absurdly out of step with earnings, pushing the dream of buying a house ever further out of reach for many. In this climate, the phenomenon of the upwardly mobile individual acquiring ever more material goods is giving way to a different attitude towards consumerism: one where sharing, bartering and renting are gaining ground as valid alternatives to outright ownership. As goes for any pop culture movement worth its salt, some snappy buzzwords are emerging to describe the shift: ‘Collaborative consumption’, ‘The Sharing Economy’, ‘Grassroots Capitalism’. While many of us might be motivated purely by belt-tightening to get on board, the impact is potentially much further reaching. The Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab (VEIL), a Melbourne-based research body with a stated mission ‘to identify and promote emerging technical and social innovations that could form part of future sustainable systems’ [3] (which has coined its own descriptor: ‘Distributed Systems’) notes that ‘the social networks and direct participation that distributed systems foster can create an enabling platform through which people gain new skills, share risks and build social cohesion. Each of these factors will be critical in creating communities that can adapt to impacts from climate change and resource scarcity’. [4] A key premise of VEIL’s research base is that existing centralized infrastructure is ill-equipped to cope with the crisis of imminent resource scarcity. In the distributed system model, instead of the machinery of production operating at a massive scale, smaller localized producers offer goods and services, with initiatives already in operation being as simple as guerrilla gardening (where public and private spaces are claimed to covertly grow food) and small photovoltaic panel systems supplying the mains grid. Interestingly, an alternative form of ownership emerges in this scenario: consumers themselves become participants in production systems rather than passive recipients. It’s ownership, but not as we know it.

Occupation = Empowerment

There’s something a little jarring about Time magazine naming ‘the protester’ as its 2011 person of the year. When counter-culture hits the mainstream, does that automatically make it a spent force? Or is the reverse true: does it in fact legitimize a cause, effectively opening the way for a real cultural shift? In any case, protest in public space was too big to ignore last year, and it played out in significant public arenas throughout the globe: the Arab Spring in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia; Los Indignados in Spain; the Occupy movement pretty much everywhere else in the Western world.

Time magazine
© Eleanor Chapman

While results have been mixed, and in some cases both the long-term consequences and the demands themselves are unclear, one of the most striking messages to emerge is the reclamation of mass public protest as a means of claiming power. The self-proclaimed ‘anti-consumerist’ Adbusters Media Foundation was a big part of the Occupy push. While the group’s hijacking of mass media as a tool for social activism has been attacked for at times becoming complicit in the very system it claims to challenge (imitation being one of the highest forms of flattery), the aim ‘to pioneer a new form of social activism using all the power of the mass media to sell ideas, rather than products’ [5] is a compelling one in the context of re-inventing our relationship with commodities. Adbusters has been around since 1989, and has always seen its practice of ‘culture-jamming,’ where ‘the goal is to interrupt the normal consumerist experience in order to reveal the underlying ideology of an advertisement, media message or consumer artifact…to challenge the large, influential corporations that control mainstream media and the flow of information’ [6] as a form of protest. But it’s the specific recent conditions, namely the combined environmental and economic crises, coupled with the freedom and immediacy of information sharing created by social networking technologies, that have brought this relatively faint voice of protest from the fringe into the mainstream. In the occupied public space, demands are made, voices are heard, and change looks possible.

There’s no room for reactivism in Architecture

Well, maybe there is right now. At least, it’s what most architects are used to doing every day. Much as architects might like to see themselves as innovators, invariably the reality of making architecture, much like the reality of a conventional purchase transaction, is about operating within fairly limited parameters. A client has a series of needs and a budget that becomes a brief, which is interpreted and a response produced. Ultimately, through a process of development and refinement, the concept becomes a reality (maybe) and a new thing is deposited in the built environment. It’s partly the product of an architect’s mind – or more than likely a number of minds and voices – but it’s also predetermined, to an extent, by some pretty non-negotiable factors. How many clients come to an office with intentions of building a shopping mall and end up with a homeless shelter? An architect’s lot is historically to be a re-activist. But in the fledgling economy of ‘collaborative consumption’, is it really viable to be reactionary? Applying this new model directly to the practice of architecture conjures a scenario where the end users of a project actively participate in its design process: just as the line between consumer and producer blurs, so too might that between designer and client, potentially resulting in a project that is a more direct translation of the needs and desires of users. The piece ‘An open manifesto for mass creation’ appeared in an earlier edition of MAS Context, where Lick Fai Erick Ho argues for the reinvention of the architect’s role in this context and posits humbler alternatives: research journalist, brief writer, facilitator, design partner. It’s an attractive notion to me. Personally, I think a sizable stick of humility is needed to take on the mountain of egos this industry has nurtured, but it’s a wobbly one, too. There’s a risk in eroding the agency of the architect – the particular skills that might actually help enable others – by assuming that all parties come to the table at the same level. And it’s a lack of clarity around the distinction between designer and user that is in danger of being annoyingly fuzzy and ultimately useless.

What can architecture take from the protest movement? The reclamation of public spaces as places for loud political expression and action is a reminder that politics and the built environment are stable-mates for better or worse. That should be a no-brainer, yet there are practitioners in the design of our cities and neighborhoods that maintain a steadfastly apolitical attitude. Fear of upsetting depended-on clients and an insistence that design operates somehow on an elevated cultural plane which transcends political engagement may be among the culprits. This seems an outdated (not to mention reactive) attitude and I’m not sure it is one architects can afford to maintain in the current climate. Interpreting a brief is not in itself a political act. The traditional practice of architecture is facing the demise of ownership on a weak footing, and part of the problem is that it is a pursuit premised on response rather than initiation. If architects want to get empowered, activism, not reaction, is called for.

A spade = A spade

Architecture has successfully set up shop inside its ivory tower, with heavy fortifications from both within and without. There’s a protective attitude of ‘specialness’ towards the title ‘architect’ (from within the industry) that I’d suggest is both disabling and ineffective. Disabling because the inherent snobbery that goes along with such defensiveness in the face of threats from inferior ‘building designers’ and worse DIY reality TV home renovators only serves to heighten the fictional opposition between the profession and an ‘ignorant’ public. It’s ineffective, because the term is already borrowed with frequency to describe both IT professionals and warmongers. And just as architectural discourses generally unfold in language not readily accessible to the ‘general public’ (that imaginary beast), similarly, the title ‘architect’ can be seen as guilty of obfuscating unnecessarily: sure, the wrapper is on display – commonly the bespoke beach villa with the infinity pool – but it’s not clear to everyone what’s inside the package. The problem to me is twofold: 1) an anxiety inside the industry about the feared erosion of the title and its associated professional status; and 2) the failure of this role to have established itself in the public eye as delivering a necessary community service. Both combine to distance the architect from the kind of grassroots ‘design activism’ that could be the key to architecture’s role in the new post-ownership (post-capitalism?) paradigm. Architecture is fundamentally a service industry as well as a cultural and aesthetic discipline, yet these services are not viewed in the same vein as lawyers, doctors, or even hairdressers (as Guy Horton wryly points out in his recent Archinect feature ‘The Divisions that Bind Us’). In the current climate, this is a seriously disempowering condition. In Australia at least, it’s too easy to lament the general lack of appreciation for design of the built environment. It’s also charged with an inherent arrogance. But most of all, it’s just not helpful. My mind boggles at the thought of the massive education program that might be imagined in order to get that ‘public’ up to speed on the ins and outs of spatial qualities. As Horton notes, ‘If one has to go through the rigors of architecture school in order to “understand” the importance of architecture, then we are faced with a significant problem’. [7] So how then might the status quo be transformed? The alternative hats for the architect mentioned earlier are all valid. But is it possible the title itself, that some architects might imagine already encompasses these things and more, is essentially getting in the way of doing them? Why not call a spade a spade? Or in the words of Markus Miessen, ‘Not to be seen as an architect is often one of the most successful ways of getting things done’. [8]

Derailment = Empowerment

What I’m proposing finally is essentially a ‘détournement’: an about-face, a subversion, but most interestingly a derailment, although it’s perhaps a willful misinterpretation of the word, to return to the culture-jammers (and their predecessors the Situationists, although I suspect that by doing so I might be perpetuating the problem of the insular architectural discourse and taking a punt that the modern-day Situationists, the culture-jammers, have firmly entrenched themselves in mainstream counter-culture by now). A radical act is called for, rather than a few quirkily devised subversive in-jokes or even a gradual transformation. We are seeing the conventional notion of ownership disintegrating, and that empowerment is being sought and gained through user-participation in systems that have historically positioned active providers and passive receivers in opposition to one another. We’re seeing political engagement in public spaces gaining legitimacy as a means of effecting change. Accepting that the role of the architect needs reinventing too, why not go one step further and derail it? Abandon it entirely? If architects want to trespass over disciplinary boundaries, to indeed be research journalists, facilitators, design partners, they just might be better off doing it by throwing off the shackles of a label that is becoming something of a hindrance. There are surely buzzwords out there waiting to be claimed – socio-tect, anyone? Co-designer? Design collaborator? My advice is to grab your banner and ditch the black-rimmed glasses. Go incognito = get empowered.


1. Alright, you’ve been warned, no responsibility will be accepted for any offence, confusion, or thought of any other kind whatsoever that might be provoked from this point forward.

2. Unless you foolishly squandered your pennies for some magic beans at the market that day, in which case you can expect a hiding from Mother when you get home.

3. Extract from

4. C. Biggs, C. Ryan, J. Wiseman, ‘Localised Solutions: Building capacity and resilience with distributed production systems’, Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab, 2010, p.7

5. Jim Motavalli, April 30, 1996, “Cultural Jammin'”. E – The Environmental Magazine 7 (3): 41

6. Extract from ‘History’,

7. G. Horton, ‘Contours: The Divisions that Bind Us’, Archinect

8. M. Miessen, ‘Spatial Practices in the Margin of Opportunity’, Did Someone Say Participate?, MIT Press, 2006, p. 289


Eleanor Chapman is an architect and president of Architects for Peace, a non-profit organization with an international reach, advocating the pursuit of social justice in the built environment profession and facilitating pro bono design projects.

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On the Question of #whOWNSpace

Privately Owned Public Space (POPS) legal action © #whOWNSpace


Essay by Quilian Riano on behalf of the #whOWNSpace collaborative project


It has happened slowly. Many of us have not even noticed. Little by little, the cities we inhabit — malls, shopping centers, movie theaters, private plazas, parks, and in some unfortunate places even entire streets and neighborhoods — become increasingly privatized. Yet many of us do not often stop and ask ourselves what this means and what we are losing in the process. What happens to democracy when we do not have the spaces to meet, organize, and collectively plan for our future? What happens when our city does not belong to us?

On September 17th, 2011 the Occupy Wall Street movement brought new light to the privatization of the city when a group of activists occupied Zuccotti Park, a Privately Owned Public Space (POPS) in New York City’s Financial District. POPS legislation was developed in 1961 as a way to let developers negotiate building variances, often increasing the square footage of rentable space, in return for plazas and parks that should be open and welcoming to the public for multiple uses. The legislation has led to private entities building 3.5 million square feet of areas that they control but are, in theory, public.

Further, the rules governing the different POPS can be confusing and, at times, contradictory to actual law. After all, what does it mean when the POPS at 60 Wall Street asks people to not use space ‘excessively’? With this and other questions in mind, design collaborative DSGN AGNC organized a group of concerned designers, artists, lawyers, educators and citizens to launch #whOWNSpace. Thus far, groups that have contributed to #whOWNSpace include DSGN AGNC, who provided the initial vision, along with DoTank: Brooklyn, 596 acres, The Public School New York, BRUNO, and Not An Alternative.
At its core, #whOWNSpace arises from questions that the Occupy Wall Street movement brings up about ownership and use of open space in New York City, and cities around the world. The project seeks to reveal and question the often-conflicting rules that govern privatized public space, to advocate for changes when necessary, and to propose alternative policies, uses and designs for public space that encourages democratic vitality.


Observe, Diagram, Intervene © whOWNSpace


The group has already taken on a variety of projects. We have created maps showing all available information about POPS and other public spaces that we distributed broadly, letting people know where there are spaces that are intended to be for public use; this information is crucial since many POPS are managed by building owners in a way that does not communicate their public nature. Other projects have included walking tours in which we seek to democratize design education and, together with community members, gain better understanding of the public realm in different communities.


© whOWNSpace


Along with these design and educational projects, the #whOWNSpace legal team engaged the public in asking for city agency involvement in getting Zuccotti Park’s owners to comply with zoning regulations and remove the barriers that surrounded the park for nearly two months. Through a public education campaign about how POPS actually fit within municipal regulatory structure, over 100 complaints were filed with the Department of Buildings (DOB), the city agency charged with enforcing zoning. The New York Civil Liberties Union, The New York City Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights added their voices to the citizen complaints in a letter to DOB and press release, working in collaboration with the #whOWNSpace team and building on our research. The barricades came down a day after that letter was sent. We are now focusing on the public plaza in front of the One Chase Manhattan Plaza building that has been closed since September 16th, 2011. This Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) plaza is one of the inspirations for POPS legislation; SOM’s form of innovation was to chose to use 2 1/2 acres of valuable downtown real estate for a plaza meant to be open to the public. The plaza has become such an integral part of the fabric of lower Manhattan that it was designated a NYC Landmark in 2009.

Through these projects we have begun to better understand both the state of public space in New York City and the confusing set of rules that governs it. However, many of the rules we have encountered often make one thing explicit: POPS are meant to be used by the public for ‘passive’ uses, like eating lunch. Active uses, including canvassing, holding meetings, organizing communities, are not contemplated. Yet, these activities are needed in a democratic society as they help people become informed and to participate in their political system.

These observations on what privatized public space is doing to democratic involvement have lead #whOWNSpace to propose and begin to work on what we are terming a BLACKBELT in the neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. A BLACKBELT rejects the notion that public space can only be used for passive activities. Instead a BLACKBELT seeks to create a network of public spaces to be used by local groups for community engagement, organization, and action. This ongoing project has garnered the support of local community groups, politicians, and a committed contingent of designers, artists, lawyers, and journalists. The group is diverse and the tactics we use to reach our goal will be varied, taking into account the skills that all the participants bring to the project.

In 1988, public space advocate William H. Whyte wrote that POPS and their (often undemocratic) rules would need “a stiff, clarifying test…” [1] #whOWNSpace postulates that this is the moment for such a test to happen. From New York to Miami to Shanghai to Baghdad, it is time to question public space and the privatization of the city. Are cities today serving all the needs of the public and fostering democratic vitality? The Arab Spring and, specifically, events in Tahrir Square, Egypt, have shown that digital platforms cannot supplant the city and its open spaces as catalysts for political change.



1. Whyte, William H., and Albert LaFarge. The Essential William H. Whyte. New York: Fordham UP, 2000. Page 317.


Quilian Riano is a designer, writer, and educator currently working out of Brooklyn. Co-founder of DSGN AGNC, his current interests and research are focused on the design and implementation of flexible and hybrid designs at a variety of scales to address urban, landscape, architectural, ecological, and social systems. | @quilian

Cape Town: The City Without and Within the White Lines

Overlooking Cape Town, South Africa
© David Southwood


Essay by Killian Doherty, architect and lecturer in Rwanda


The opportunity to immerse myself in human experience at the confluence of urban space, where vastly differing cultural influences meet, and how this shapes a city physically and experientially is what intrigues me as an architect. It also heightened my sense of anticipation as I landed in Cape Town, my first journey to the African continent, to spend time in the host city for seven 2010 World Cup matches.

Two years earlier, prior to coming to South Africa, I had spent time in New Orleans working on reconstruction projects immediately after the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina. Like Cape Town, New Orleans is a port city with a predominantly black population and a history marked by slavery, racism, poverty, and segregation. [1] New Orleans exemplified the confluence of tragedy, corruption, political neglect and a vibrant popular culture created and sustained by tenacious people struggling to cope in the wake of a shocking disaster. But the cultural confluence I observed taking place more or less organically in the public spaces of New Orleans seemed stymied, altered, almost manufactured in the case of Cape Town. As the authors of Cape Town in the Twentieth Century have pointed out, “existing geographical features combined with the ‘modern’ science of town planning and beliefs in ‘racial’ difference to produce the sometimes very different senses of place that exist among its three million citizens today.” [2] Greater Cape Town is divided between the Cape Flats dominated by proletarian African and Coloured townships, and the city bowl (below Table Mountain), the southern and northern suburbs, areas with many prosperous neighborhoods inhabited by white people and an increasingly racially diverse middle class. [3]

Exacerbating the legacy of apartheid and more recent gentrification trends, in 2010 FIFA commandeered the rare and therefore crucial major public spaces in Cape Town, a process that reinforced economic segregation and presented a generic, pallid, and global tourist image. For instance, the Grand Parade in the heart of the central city —where 100,000 people congregated to hear Nelson Mandela’s first speech upon his release from prison in 1990 — was the site of the official Fan Fest during the World Cup. Despite well-meaning attempts by the local authorities to remake urban space in a way that transcend old and new social divisions, the 2010 World Cup in Cape Town inadvertently reproduced patterns of injustice and exclusion.

Like other host cities, Cape Town adopted a new set of World Cup By-Laws contained in the Special Measures Act passed by Parliament in 2006. As per FIFA mandates, certain key public spaces within the city were categorized as “Controlled Access sites” or “Exclusion Zones.” The former definition applied to, among others, stadiums, Fan Fests, hotels used by World Cup teams and FIFA delegates, practice facilities, and public viewing areas. “Exclusion Zones” were designated areas within a one kilometer (0.6 mile) radius from the perimeter of a venue or stadium. Inside these FIFA “sites” and “zones,” special rules regulated advertisements and signage; street trading and vending; beautification and acceptable decorum; and traffic controls and road closures. South African security forces laws rigorously policed these FIFA spaces and the government set up a special court for the duration of the tournament to adjudicate violations and infringements of these and other laws.

Urban beautification initiatives were another revealing aspect of the privatization of public space and Cape Town’s handling of FIFA’s demands. In the build up to the tournament, there was a significant increase in the number of poor people deported to municipal “Temporary Relocation Areas” (TRAs). For instance, at Blikkiesdorp (“Tin can town” in Afrikaans), twenty miles from downtown, 366 people claimed their relocation was due to their close proximity to Athlone stadium, an official World Cup training ground. With 15,000 people living in heavily policed, overcrowded conditions in tents and shacks, the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign and other social movements stated that Blikkiesdorp ‘seemed like a concentration camp’. [4]

© David Kingdon

This grim story stood in stark juxtaposition to the upgrading of “global” Cape Town’s transport infrastructure for the benefit of middle-class residents and World Cup tourists. The main train station, the airport, and the N2 highway were significantly revamped, an example of how the World Cup served as a catalyst for government-funded projects. Empowered by the temporary FIFA By-Laws, these public spaces and transport links were saturated with World Cup advertising, effectively creating an alternate experience for football tourists. This kind of urban development also exposed the primacy of FIFA’s self-interest over the needs and wants of the majority of the city’s population, as well as the South African authorities’ willingness to play along with the Swiss-based organization. This exclusionary, even discriminatory process decisively shaped Cape Town’s World Cup experience and raised troubling questions about the effectiveness of the “Football for Hope” program, FIFA’s principal corporate social responsibility initiative.

Cape Town Train Station refurbished by architect Mokena Makeka.
© David Southwood

Launched in 2007 in partnership with Grassroot Soccer, the Khayelitsha Development Forum, and other NGOs and sponsors, FIFA’s Football For Hope intended to “develop the game, touch the world and build a better future” in poor communities. [5] It aimed to build twenty centers across the African continent and use football for public health education and gender empowerment purposes. The first center opened in the neighborhood of Harare in the heart of Khayelitsha. [6] Nearly atop the sand dunes of the Cape Flats about twenty miles from downtown Cape Town, Khayelitsha is one of South Africa’s largest townships. Developed in 1985 by the apartheid government as a ghetto for black people forcibly removed from neighborhoods and townships closer to town, Khayelitsha today has perhaps as many as 500,000 residents, nearly half of whom are under the age of nineteen. [7]

The FIFA Football for Hope center in Khayelitsha consists of a small community building with changing rooms, office spaces and a caretaker’s flat, which fronts onto a non-regulation size football pitch with an artificial surface. Landscaped surroundings facilitate public spectatorship. Designed by ARG Design, a local architectural firm, and built by Architecture for Humanity, an American NGO, the center does not opt for South African vernacular architecture of barricading itself in; there are no fences surrounding the centre, and the caretaker flat allows for a degree of self-policing. Khayelitsha’s Football for Hope centre stands at one end of an open space, with a residential cul-de-sac on the other. The layout allows a new pedestrian footpath to pick up where the cul-de-sac terminates, linking through to the opposite end of the site where another community building erected by the Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading sits. This formerly abandoned, poorly lit, and dangerous tract of land now physically re-connects spaces in this part of Harare.

Eschewing the typical urban planning and architectural practices of fragmentation, exclusion and fortification familiar to South Africa, this Centre very simply asserted itself as a paradigm for inclusiveness, consolidating severed tracts of the community which could now fully engage with it. “This was more like a crime spot, but now it is more like an activity spot where people come to enjoy themselves,” said Zamayedwa Sogayise, Chairperson of the Khayelitsha Development Forum. [8]

I visited the Centre to take some photographs for Architecture for Humanity. Children ran around the landscaped areas under the watchful eye of their parents sitting in the shade of the pergola, while the scheduled activities carried on. When a football game was played on the artificial pitch, it felt like the entire community congregated as spectators, standing on the sidelines and indicating their support by drumming on the perimeter boards of the pitch. It seemed like a contemporary expression of a long established tradition for the community, too serendipitous to be impromptu, even though I was informed that it was the very first game to be played at the Centre.

Under the World Cup By-Laws, the Football for Hope Center was designated as a “Controlled Access Site” on the day of its official inauguration, coinciding with the festivities surrounding the World Cup draw in December 2009. I attended this opening and was struck by the unusually visible police presence on the streets of Khayelitsha. The convivial, communal atmosphere that I experienced in my earlier visit was noticeably absent. A ten-foot high perimeter fence now enveloped the Centre and private security guards controlled access and checked tickets at the entrance. Temporary tiered seating and white VIP marquees flanked either side of the center, and from a presentation podium, FIFA President Sepp Blatter delivered his “Football for Hope” homily.

These incongruous structural elements blocked out views of both the playing space and the gritty neighborhood surrounding it. Local residents and police officers came together on the edges of the controlled area, finding a spot on the embankments to peer over the perimeter fence. The logos of FIFA’s corporate partners adorned the advertising boards surrounding the pitch. These corporate logos would become a permanent feature of this center and of projected Football for Hope centers in Namibia, Lesotho, Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana, Mali, and other African nations.

The meeting of the FIFA and Khayelitsha worlds at the perimeter fence revealed some of the contradictions of World Cup development. This exclusive FIFA celebration was happening in a tough place whose origins lay in residential segregation and racial oppression. It revealed the deeper motives behind this social responsibility program. On the one hand, this project embraced the tenets of inclusiveness in its urban design, but on the other hand rendered it temporarily exclusive for a public relations exercise. Such processes of inclusion and exclusion at the Football for Hope in Khayelitsha can be compared with those observed at the FIFA Fan Fest at the Grand Parade in the city center during the World Cup.

FIFA Football for Hope center in Khayelitsha.
© Killian Doherty

Center during the official opening.
© Killian Doherty

The Grand Parade was the epicenter for Cape Town’s World Cup celebrations. Surrounded on three sides by City Hall, the Castle of Good Hope, and the Cape Town railway station, extensive refurbishment for the World Cup made it possible for the general public to watch the games on a huge TV screen. During the tournament, I walked by the entrance to the Fan Fest zone on my way to work in the morning as revelers congregated in multicolored regalia with the cacophony of vuvuzelas reverberating in the streets. Men and women of different racial and ethnic backgrounds stood in line at the entrance (the Fan Fest was surrounded by a temporary fence), slowly filing into the open space with tiered seating facing the large screen. The atmosphere at the Grand Parade was lively. The convergence of tourists and Capetonians in joint celebration within this space contrasted starkly with the stymied, exclusive controls experienced at the opening of the Football for Hope centre in Khayelitsha. But FIFA’s usual restrictions on conduct, use, and access shaped people’s experiences at the Fan Fest.

At the Grand Parade and near the Cape Town stadium at Green Point, fans were inundated by FIFA-approved products, including food catered by Headline Leisure, the company contracted to supply FIFA spaces. Gone were Cape Town’s market stalls and their aromatic haze. As a result of such exclusionary policies and procedures, some Cape Town vendors claimed to have lost 20,000 rands ($3,400) during the World Cup. [9] Considering South Africa’s minimum subsistence level is $2,300 per year, the suggested potential loss of personal revenue is significant.

Clearly, the experience within and around FIFA-controlled spaces resembled other standardized, pared down global corporate events. The absence of local historical and cultural content produced a sense of “placelessness,” an artificial feeling of familiarity, a flatness, and a homogeneity that collectively defined FIFA-style globalization. The influence of large corporations and the strength of a country’s economic attributes and resources are factors that place a global city within a global hierarchy. A city is composed of both global and local components and is the synthetic outcome of these two seemingly contradictory forces. As the cultural anthropologist Anna Tsing explains, “Places are made through their connections with each other, not their isolation.”

Seating area at the Fan Fest.
© Mpaskevi

Main viewing screen.
© Mpaskevi

Grand Parade
© David Southwood

Given that FIFA will stage the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, can Cape Town’s experience provide some lessons for future host nations to counter this movement toward increasingly generic urban experiences? A starting point is the creation of a more flexible framework by FIFA that adapts to the local context more suitably without the need for exclusion and marginalization. Berlin is not the same city as Cape Town (or Rio de Janeiro or Moscow), so FIFA’s rules, guidelines, By-Laws, and social responsibility programs should be tailored to suit local needs and conditions, and not the other way around.

FIFA needs to be less parasitic and more altruistic. In the example of South Africa’s informal street traders, they should have been permitted to sell their wares within the FIFA zones. Perhaps a compromise might have forced traders to acquire and sell some FIFA sanctioned stock. While the Football for Hope centre in Khayelitsha addresses some important public health and gender issues in the townships, it was still narrowly focused on football and its long-term sustainability remains to be seen. Considering that more than 40 billion Rand ($6 billion) [10] of public funds went into stadium construction and infrastructure projects and that FIFA earned $3.2 billion tax free from the 2010 World Cup [11], it seems reasonable to expect that in the future national governments can put pressure on FIFA to pay for more of the hosting costs and help attract foreign investment. Since contemporary world cities’ economic strategies and marketing campaigns often rely on hosting major sporting events, it is important to question hosting agreements and by-laws that empower multi-national corporations to appropriate public space. By doing so, host cities and nations can make mega-events more inclusive, equitable, and locally sustainable.


1. See Christopher Saunders, “Cape Town and New Orleans,” Safundi 1:1 (2000): 1-6.

2. Vivian Bickford-Smith, Elizabeth van Heyningen, Nigel Worden, Cape Town in the Twentieth Century: An Illustrated Social History (Claremont: David Philip, 1999), 7.

3. Christoph Haferburgm Theresa Golka and Marie Selter, “Public viewing areas: Urban interventions in the context of mega-events,” in Udesh Pillay, Richard Tomlinson, Orli Bass, eds., Development and Dreams. The Urban Legacy of the 2010 Football World Cup (Pretoria: HSRC Press, 2009), 174-199.

4. For more details, see Ashraf Cassiem, Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, speech at Rhodes University’s teach-in on the 2010 World Cup, Grahamstown, September 2010: (last accessed August 5, 2011).

5. For more information ,see Grassroot Soccer, “Football For Hope Centre Opens Its Doors To Khayelitsha And The World,” (accessed 5 August 2011); Architecture for Humanity, “Khayelitsha Football for Hope Centre,” [not dated] (accessed 5 August 2011); and, “Opening of first Football for Hope Centre heralds a new dawn for Khayelitsha,” 5 December 2009 (last accessed 5 August 2011).

6. Football for Hope centers are planned for Alexandra, in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, as well as in Mokopane in Limpopo.

7. For more information see

8. Quoted in “Football For Hope Centre Opens Its Doors To Khayelitsha And The World.”

9. Source –




Killian Doherty is an architect working and lecturing in Rwanda. A member of General Architecture Collaborative, his research interests lie within the exploration of fragmented sites, settlements & cities at specific thresholds of racial, ethnic or religious conflict. | @ArchitectureFO

The Party is Over

Pedro Hernández


Essay and photographs by architect Pedro Hernández


Mass tourism arrived to Spain in the 1960s, forever changing the Mediterranean coastline. Dramatic population changes, massive building construction, excessive usage of non-renewable resources and other environmental problems have become its consequences. Architect Pedro Hernández explores the artificial territory of Alicante’s coast, defined by the presence of second home apartment buildings that remain empty, waiting for the arrival of the next busy tourism season.


The Party is over.

In recent months, that is the comment most often heard in Spanish mass media. The look and consequence of excessive urbanization appears everywhere. From newspapers to television, reports show the painful effects of the housing crisis and how we’ve been bad with the territory, the city or the landscape. The blindfold fell from our eyes and, although everything was there before, it seems we did not want to see it. The financial crisis exposes to the public the mess of a hangover that we now have to pick up.

The Spanish phenomenon of overdevelopment in residential construction is based on the idea of ‘Take the Money and Run,’ seeking, above all, immediate wealth with a short-term view, lacking any true intention of building a city. Thousands of houses were embedded in the territory, which caused a kind of cancer to spread from the city limits, houses that had to be connected in a network of communications, garbage collection and public services, and which quickly transformed the landscape. The bursting of the bubble caused the process to freeze and concrete skeletons, cranes, half-done streets, houses “for sale” or “for hire” and streetlights lighting up nothing to line the roads. In short, we live with the ruin we generated. The consequences of this situation go beyond the physical landscape, affecting the social one, too. Until the arrival of the crisis, we lived on the basis of a method: doing without thinking, which many people took as the chance to buy a home, either for their own use or as speculation through resale or rental. But now, with the absence of lending by banks, the Spanish dream of home ownership is farther away than ever, for a citizenry already uncertainty about their future.

A paradigmatic example of this situation is the province of Alicante, located on the southern Iberian Peninsula. Alicante, along with Malaga, Canary and the Balearic Islands are nodes in the country’s sun and beach tourism, and where you find the best cases to illustrate the oppositional ways of coastal planning: the management of quality space versus its sale. Benidorm, for instance, the city of entertainment par excellence, has a high concentration and low urban land occupation, a good reference on how to make an urban model associated with the sun and beach [1]. But Benidorm actually represents an exception. Because on the opposite side of the situation, most of Alicante territory continues to be where “what you put on the market is the soil itself,” building large clusters of apartments and villas, “so as to get quick profits relating to property, but once these operations are carried out, structural problems appear” [2] and making this region now have the greatest number of second home ownership across the Spanish territory, with 9% of the total. [3] Tourist areas like Torrevieja (with 60% of homes built being second homes), Santa Pola (54%) or Arenales del Sol (91%) were built up following a dispersed urban model that occupies large areas subject to high seasonal sluggishness, accompanied by passive tourism. When the residents arrive during holiday periods and summer, the urban density increases three and fourfold. With the sedentary logic recurrent in present thinking (at least until the arrival of the crisis), static urban plans run a large number of houses and infrastructure that absorb these human flows, but are mostly underused and empty out the seasonal months.

This deserted picture is especially visible in the Mediterranean coastal areas, where a number of items incumbent upon economic speculation differentiate them from the interior land: the beach, the sea, the abundant sunshine, and the warm temperature, qualities that not only developed an abusive planning supported by the construction boom, but did it in parallel to the sea to get a piece of private property in a privileged, continuously built-up coastline.

Depending on the time of year, the landscape offers completely different perspectives. Every summer, thousands of tourists, domestic or foreign, travel in droves to the beaches in search of a spot where they can place the parasol and enjoy some sunshine, the breeze and the sea for several hours a day. In winter, by contrast, the situation cannot be more different. We meet huge urban voids that, a few months earlier, served as parking lots, windows with their blinds completely down, half-filled pools, closed shops and empty streets.

A walk in these zones extracts the actual behavior of these areas and easily displays the excesses of a decadent model where the asphalt and concrete grow rampantly and cause a break between the desired image of a resort — a relaxation offered by the old postcards — and the real image of the place, a landscape turned into a disaster, which seems to exude melancholy, a sense of loss resulting from a natural change in others, in parking and vacant lots, in abandoned, dirty, toxic, ambiguous, underused and somewhat useless spaces. The uncontrolled construction drowns the beach, reducing precisely those qualities that made it an attractive place for the economy. We are facing a huge graveyard from which we cannot hide and that we will be forced to face it in the future.




1. Benidorm “is nearly 30 years ago the first European destination on visitor numbers and overnight stays”: Benidorm: user’s manual. J.M. Iribas. MVRDV, Costa Ibérica : Upbeat to the Leisure City. Barcelona, ACTAR (2000)

2. INE (Instituto Nacional de Estadística) year 2001.

3. Benidorm: user’s manual. J.M. Iribas. MVRDV, Costa Ibérica : Upbeat to the Leisure City. Barcelona, ACTAR (2000)


Pedro Hernández is an architect and blogger who tries to redefine his interests beyond the traditional labor market. His work focuses on landscape and architecture as political weapons, and how they prioritize certain ways of life. | @laperiferia

Cooperative Dream

“The Garden in the Machine” proposal
© Studio Gang Architects


Iker Gil interviews Jeanne Gang, founder and principal of Studio Gang Architects and 2011 MacArthur Fellow


The Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition “Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream” is the second of five exhibitions in the Issues in Contemporary Architecture series. MoMA asked five multidisciplinary teams (lead by Studio Gang, MOS, Visible Weather, WORKac, and Zago Architecture) to “explore new architectural possibilities for cities and suburbs in the aftermath of the recent foreclosure crisis.” The proposals included in the exhibition have already generated strong reactions for and against them, raising questions about scale, design as spectacle, target audience and even place, but also starting an open debate about alternatives to traditional single-family house developments. Iker Gil interviews Jeanne Gang, founder and principal of Studio Gang, about her team’s proposal, the issues affecting the town of Cicero, Illinois, and a new approach to ownership.


IG: How did your office become involved in this exhibition / workshop?

JG: The museum put out a call for qualifications, a kind of RFQ. They asked for an interdisciplinary team. I put together a team of people I had always wanted to work with, but had never had the opportunity; each of them brought different viewpoints. They included Roberta M. Feldman, an affordable housing advocate and professor of architecture; Theaster Gates, an artist and cultural planner; Greg Lindsay, an urban observer and journalist; Kate Orff, a landscape architect; Rafi Segal, an urban designer and architect; and a number of other experts on varied subjects, from finance to environmental remediation.

IG: What are the main aspects of your proposal?

JG: The base ingredients of it are remediation of former industrial lands and the reuse of former factory materials for new structures, flexible live/work housing called “Recombinant Houses,” a new form of ownership that decouples the land from the house, and revised zoning.

Proposed revisions to Cicero’s zoning code.
© Studio Gang Architects

This collection of mailboxes on a Cicero bungalow provides a clue to the crowded conditions within.
© Studio Gang Architects

IG: What made you look specifically into the town of Cicero, Illinois?

JG: We were interested in the condition of the inner-ring suburb because the stakes are so high in these places. They could move toward transformation and be the site of the next economic recovery, with urbanized blocks, services, and transit options, or they could move toward abandonment and slum conditions as development leapfrogs the inner-ring for greener pastures, sprawling further and further afield.

IG: Besides the architectural aspect, “The Garden in the Machine” proposes revised zoning and a different form of ownership. Can you explain those aspects of your proposal?

JG: We found that many suburbs have restrictive zoning that is putting a stranglehold on entrepreneurship and, frankly, just plain survival. We argue for blending uses, which would allow people to live and work in the same space — “work” extending to making things through cottage industries, not just working on a computer. Many people in Cicero would like to make things or provide services out of their homes or garages, but it’s illegal. We also propose broadening the traditional definition of “family,” which remains a restrictive clause in many suburban zoning codes. Today’s families have many different structures beyond the 20th-century nuclear definition. Suburban housing should be able to accommodate extended families and different family structures, and even unrelated people should be able to live together. I was surprised to find that suburbs — often in favor of less government — pass laws dictating who can live in a house.

Over time, Cicero’s bungalows have been subdivided into smaller units residents can afford. Instead of forcing families to fit into the house, what if the house could be rearranged to fit them?
© Studio Gang Architects

IG: Design-wise, did you approach this proposal in a different way from other projects in the office because of the ownership or policy aspects involved? If so, how is it different from other residential projects you have done?

JG: We were definitely interested in the financial models and that influenced our idea for the Recombinant House. We worked with institutes and individuals who are imagining new models. But at the same time, there is a reciprocal influence. Designing a new kind of home can also help advance thinking about financial models.

The high cost of a private home includes the subsidies of public infrastructure. Shared equity trusts and co-ops collect these subsidies, passing them along as increased affordability and flexibility.
© Studio Gang Architects

Live/work integrates into the alleys of the surrounding neighborhood.
© Studio Gang Architects

Interior courtyard of vertical live/work neighborhood.
© Studio Gang Architects

“The Garden in the Machine” proposal organization and overall view.
© Studio Gang Architects

IG: In the proposal, you specifically address the suburban condition and the reuse of vacant industrial buildings. Could there be a similar approach to the urban context, at least in the ownership strategy? With almost 15,000 vacant lots in Chicago, the model of land trust could potentially be implemented there.

JG: Yes, the Town of Cicero and inner-ring suburbs like it call out for a solution to foreclosed industry as much as to foreclosed homes. But with the vacancy we find in the city, I think there is a great opportunity for implementing the land trust model and an architecture designed specifically for the urban block or vacant plot.

IG:In your article “Designing a Fix for Housing” published in the New York Times [1], you mention that “we must go further than money to address issues that have been at the core of the crisis but have been wholly ignored: design and urban planning.” What is the reason that design has not been involved so far? Can architects and urban planners play a bigger role in this discussion by being proactive?

JG: Affordable housing, formerly known as public housing (the politically incorrect word for it), has long been the realm of not-for-profits and for-profit developers. Design is absent and everyone seems to have accepted the notion that no experimentation is allowed. I think a lot has now been learned about the qualities that communities need, and I believe designers can incorporate these qualities, avoid the mistakes of the past, and come up with new, incredible solutions. I think architects and designers are desperately needed to solve some of the issues of housing.

IG: Design, policy, economy and social aspects — how do we engage all the parties involved in these areas and what would be the proper forum to discuss them?

JG: Like any complex problem, the approach needs to be interdisciplinary. Shaun Donovan, Secretary of HUD, gave the keynote address at the end of the workshop phase at MoMA. He said that the best solutions will be found when not-for-profits, who are responsible for most of affordable housing, get together with design architects. I agree—we could start there.

Proposed ownership model.
© Studio Gang Architects

IG: Other models of ownership, such as cooperatives, have been used in the business world and have proved to be really successful. For example, in Spain, where the current unemployment rate is 23%, Oñati, a town located by the Mondragon Cooperative, has an unemployment rate of 5.4%, being able to avoid the economic crisis. Why hasn’t housing explored other models of ownership before, more flexible, than can address the different ways we live? Is there a model that can go beyond the roles of seller and buyer?

JG: Great point. I think banks found there was a lot to be gained for themselves in the current model. But given the severity of the crisis, I think there is a window of opportunity now to explore other options. We are currently working with others to see how we can take what we learned in Cicero further.

IG:What are the lessons that we can learn from this exhibition at the MoMA?

JG: Barry Bergdoll and Reinhold Martin, who curated and prepared the background for the exhibition, speak about it as a starting point and not the definitive statement on the subject. For me, the number one thing is the importance of architecture reinserting itself into the housing and suburban discussion.




Jeanne Gang is an architect, and the founder and principal of Studio Gang Architects, a Chicago-based collective of architects, designers, and thinkers whose projects confront pressing contemporary issues. In 2011, Jeanne was named a MacArthur Fellow. | @studiogang

Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the School of Architecture at UIC. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club. | @MASContext

Negotiating Legality

Nau de les Arts / ProyectaLab
© Recetas Urbanas


Projects by Santiago Cirugeda, architect and director of Recetas Urbanas


Santiago Cirugeda defines himself as a social architect, a designer whose goal is to address the needs of the citizens. His work covers an ample spectrum, from recycled and repurposed architecture, temporary structures, strategies of urban occupation, to public space appropriation, citizen participation and even cyber activism.

During his years as a student in Seville, he started to do urban actions as a way to understand the way the city truly works. One of his first action, his “Containers” project done in 1997, already shows the interest that Santiago has in exploiting the loopholes and legal voids in the city planning legislation, something that has remained a constant in his works since. For “Containers”, seeing that there were no swings in the neighborhood and that the city was not willing to install them, he applied for a license to place temporary dumpsters that he then reconfigured to become a playground. Despite the interest of the police to fine him for the action, nowhere in the legislation did it state that he could not use the dumpsters for a playground.

Containers, Seville, 1997.
© Santiago Cirugeda

Another of his known actions from that time is “Scaffolding,” a project in which he graffitied a wall and sued himself in order to be able to install temporary scaffolding in the street. It ended up becoming a new room for the adjacent house for several months.

Scaffoldings, Seville, 1998.
© Santiago Cirugeda

Santiago has gone on to build housing units in rooftops, classrooms on roofs of institutions, and civic centers built with repurposed materials that he personally collected from buildings waiting to be demolished. All of his projects have become a staple in the national newspapers, generating an intense debate about their legality but also the necessity to provide services that the administration cannot or does not want to provide.

Insect House, Seville, 2001.
© Santiago Cirugeda

Insect House, Seville, 2001.
© Santiago Cirugeda

Housing units in a rooftop , Madrid, 2007
© Recetas Urbanas

AAABIERTA, Granada, 2005
© Recetas Urbanas

“Chicken” House, Barcelona, 2005.
© Recetas Urbanas

Trench – School of Fine Arts of Malaga, Malaga, 2006.
© Recetas Urbanas

Projects featured and discussed in Spanish national newspapers
© Santiago Cirugeda

From his initial “strategies for subversive occupation” done as a sole practitioner, he later created the office Recetas Urbanas (Urban Prescriptions) and has recently established an extensive network of international collectives that share similar goals. “Trucks, Containers & Collectives” is the latest outcome of this network of collectives.

Trucks, Containers & Collectives
© Recetas Urbanas

The images below show projects built with the 42 containers rescued and reused from the dismantling of 14 housing units in Zaragoza. From top to bottom and from left to right: Initial location in Zaragoza; Straddle3 (Arbucie, Barcelona); Nautarquia (Sant Pere de Torelló, Barcelona); Niú – Bolit (Girona); ALG-A (Valadares): Caldo de Cultivo (Tarragona); Fiesta Consejería de Joventud (Martorell); EspaiDer3* / La Fundició (Esplugues)

Trucks, Containers & Collectives
© Recetas Urbanas

The Nau de les Arts / ProyectaLab is a multidisciplinary space, conceived to host different cultural activities such as courses, workshops, exhibitions and conferences. Its was created with the will of solving the need for a creative and discussion space of Collectives and people who have no resources.

Initiated by Association Proyecta and built by Recetas Urbanas in collaboration with Rehasa Estructuras, Lucas Construcción and the help of numerous Collectives, the space, promoted by the Benicassim´s municipality, starts with the re-utilization of 6 containers provided from Zaragoza and belonging to project Trucks, Containers and Collectives.

The work was based on the rehabilitation and improvement of an old train station warehouse, on which was added a prostheses made of containers, in order to make it able to host new uses. With this process of collective construction, space and material recycling, the facility was fast obtained under a more economic way.

Equipped with different classes, courses, meeting rooms, warehouses and residence for artists, the space with nearly 400m2 hosts, under a shared management model, the activities of Nau de les arts during winter and Asociación Proyecta ones during summer, making posible the multiples uses of the same infrastructure.

Nau de les Arts / ProyectaLab
© Recetas Urbanas


Benicasim Colectivos Constructores
© Recetas Urbanas

Project name: Nau de les Arts / Proyectalab
Architect: Recetas Urbanas – Santiago Cirugeda
Promoter: Benicássim City Council and Asociación Proyecta
Builders: Lucas Construcción, Rehasa Estructuras and collectives (Recetas Urbanas, Asociación Proyecta, Los Catalinos + Aurora, Conceptuarte + Raquel, Straddle3 + David, Los Navarros, Todo por la Praxis and Caldo de Cultivo)
Graffiti artists: New Now Studio
Location: Benicássim, Castellón (Valencia)
Project iniciated in: February 2008
Beginning of construction: September 2010
Inaugurated: March 2011
Surface: 400 m2
Cost: 160.000 € (400 €/m2)


Santiago Cirugeda defines himself as a social architect, taking advantage of the legal voids to benefit the community. Through his interventions, he investigates the legal aspects that define the city, developing protocols to improve urban areas and housing issues. | @santicirugeda

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CSD Dwelling Unit 1.6 in San Francisco


Urban interventions by street artist and designer XAM


With his series of urban birdhouses and feeders, street artist XAM not only provides a proper habitat for birds (grounded on thorough research and extensive observation) but also a strong social and political commentary. His interventions in public spaces contrast the notion of collective ownership with the personal ownership inherent in their ephemeral quality that allows for easy removal and re-appropriation. Reflecting on the current economic and housing crisis, his Non-Dwelling units have “For Sale,” “Price Reduced,” “Foreclosure” and “Bank Owned” signs glued to the main opening, making it inaccessible to birds. Will they ever be able to live in the once vacant homes?


As an uncommissioned artist of the public space, my work is always created with the idea of ownership in mind. I want my work to be experienced and interpreted by the viewers who encounter my art, but due to the fact that it is found in the built environment, illegally placed and purposely removable, I have to take into consideration that the idea of public communal ownership can be short-lived.

I create contemporary modular birdhouses that assemble like a 3-D puzzle and hang from city signs. The focus of my project is not only to give back to nature, but also to give to the surrounding communities where my work is found. The work I create is about opening minds to sustainability and a more conscious way of living.

My art of the street has permanence only if the public and city allows it to stay. Each unit I create is very labor intensive, yet I give it to the community and no longer own what I have created. Since my work is so easily taken down, people have the opportunity to own it themselves, even though I look at my art as something that belongs to everyone. With the way my art functions, I challenge the moralities of the person who removes it.

Located on every architectural object I produce is a small QR Code that is only experienced when my work is taken off the sign it sits upon. When scanned, facts regarding birds and the ways we can benefit from them are revealed. The viewer is then asked a question regarding their reasoning for the removal of the unit and given my email address to contact me about any concerns or comments. I am curious as to why something that I made for the education of the surrounding community and the benefit of an animal that has had to adapt to the urban environment has been removed and taken by one person.



CSD Dwelling Unit 3.0 (“green roof”) + CSD Feeding Unit 1.0 (circa 4/11) in Los Angeles


CSD-S Feeding Unit 1.0 in Los Angeles


CSD-PSH Dwelling Unit 1.0. One year ago on this day (November 14, 2011) I put up my first unit. To commemorate I have placed my newest unit on the same sign. You can see the back tab from the original unit still stuck on the left side of the sign.


CSD-S DWELLING UNIT 1.0.Meat Packing District, Manhattan.


Constructive Street Design – Housing Crisis Non-Dwelling Unit 1.0.


“BANK OWNED” On Skid Row Los Angeles. Nine times scale CSD-HC NON-DWELLING UNIT 1.0.


The following quote from a lady on Skid Row sums up the project: “When a bird can’t even keep its home it shows how f@*ked up our banks are!”


I returned the following night to document my unit some more and to see how the community was reacting to it. When I arrived the piece was gone. I asked some people nearby what had happened and I got a lead from a lady that it had been relocated down the block.Sure enough it had been claimed by a person who owns what seems to be one of the largest sections of Skid Row. The unit now has a new home on 6th and San Julian.

I asked the man how he had moved the 140 pound birdhouse and he basically told me he worked his magic. I asked how he was able to claim it and he told me that he saw the house early the morning after my drop and put his blanket on it, which let the community know that the non-dwelling was his. I asked what he plans to do with the piece and he told me that he wants to use it for storage and later a store, but his friend wants to use it for a brothel.

New owner Tony (white pants) and friend standing in front of reclaimed project.



XAM is a street artist and designer with a strong interest in architecture and design objects. His art represents the architect/designer in the world of street art. XAM’s work seeks to ask questions regarding morality and social acceptance of un-commissioned public art.

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Bridging the Tracks:
Air Rights Development and the Urban Fabric

Broadgate – Exchange House, London © SOM | Alan Williams


Essay by William F. Baker and Richard F. Tomlinson II


Riverside Plaza. The Broadgate Development. Millennium Park. These developments, each built atop a complex network of rail yards, have forever changed the urban landscape of the cities in which they inhabit. While rail yards can often fragment a city, dividing it into unsightly zones that are difficult to cross, air rights developments can re-stitch the urban fabric, adding usable open space and potential amenities. Whether the rail right of way is privately owned (as in the United States) or publicly owned (as in France), these developments create value for owners, developers, government entities, and private citizens.

The disposition of railway tracks and the presence of the railway station have always been key elements of the socio-economic geography of cities. Invariably, railway stations and railway-owned land are at the hub of urban activity, ideally located in terms of public transport, infrastructure and accessibility. While the station has traditionally been celebrated as an arrival point of major urban significance, the presence of the tracks and the noise and pollution generated by moving trains have always interfered with the continuity and quality of urban life. As a response, the development of air rights has been an established practice for many decades. The premise is simple: build in the unused space above and around railway tracks and stations, in order to provide the opportunity for commercial development and enhanced public amenities. While the character of each development is dependent on the particular conditions of the site, air rights developments can be broadly divided into three basic types: 1) over the station terminus building; 2) over station platforms; and, 3) over through-tracks outside stations. While all three promote connectivity from one area of the city to the other, the first two create density around existing high-volume transit locations. From a developer’s perspective, this presents an ideal situation, as access to rail traffic creates real estate value and opportunity. These high traffic areas are easily accessible and appealing to commercial tenants seeking to provide ample commuting arrangements for their employees.

The following case studies prove that commercial development has been successfully completed over rail facilities without major relocation or disruption of operation. In doing so, designers have produced additional benefits for the railway, while providing state-of-the art office and commercial facilities.


Riverside Plaza at Union Station, Chicago

The Riverside Plaza, a series of buildings and public spaces built over the Union Station terminal in Chicago in the 1960s and 1970s, is a pioneering example of air rights development that enhances the public realm with informal riverside seating and landscaped pedestrian routes. Located along the Chicago River at the location of the original Union Station, Riverside Plaza 1, 2, and 3 are built over the Amtrak and Metra Commuter Rail system lines. These buildings bridge the gap between the Loop and near west side, and were successful in shifting the commercial axis of the city westwards, bringing new life to a previously derelict industrial area.

The construction of the first two 850,000 sf buildings at Riverside Plaza was accomplished while maintaining rail traffic handling 85,000 daily commuters and intercity passenger trains at the Chicago Union Station. Both towers are carried on 48 columns and caissons, with long bays spanning the tracks at 18’ x 45’ wide intervals. Their deep “rafts”, the horizontal planes that span the tracks to form a ‘ceiling’ and act as the ‘ground level’ for the new buildings above, allow for exhaust plenums and services distribution for each of the 50,000 ton buildings. Designing over an active terminal provided engineers with a unique advantage: an established set of platforms that could act as the location for building foundations. Because the station’s platforms run in parallel, they provide a regular interval at which to drop columns. Engineering becomes increasingly complicated when the site is located above track configurations outside of the platform area, as is the case with Broadgate Exchange House.


Gateway Center I and II under construction. © SOM

Gateway Center I and II. © SOM | Hedrich Blessing


Broadgate – Exchange House, London

Completed in 1990, Exchange House is an integral part of the overall Broadgate development, creating both a physical and a visual gateway to the Exchange Square plaza and the Liverpool Street Station beyond. The construction of London’s Broadgate Exchange House catalyzed the development of new streetscapes, lawns, bridges, and plazas surrounding the site. It amounted to one of the largest net additions of new infrastructure in one of the world’s most densely developed cities, and exemplified the urban planning principle that virtually all of the world’s cities can generate essential new space by utilizing air rights in tandem with sophisticated engineering techniques.

Broadgate is a building-bridge hybrid; its form and structure are built on an exposed steel bridge spanning a 78-meter-wide group of tracks and switches that bring the trains from the long distant main line tracks to the individual platforms in the station. Because the structure was to reside over a track configuration that did not permit adequate bearing points, the entire width of the tracks needed to be bridged with a spanning structure that would carry much of the building’s floor loads directly to the foundation below. The resulting building arches over the train tracks, enabling the Liverpool Street Station to function normally underneath a 10-story office building.


Broadgate under construction © SOM

Broadgate under completed © SOM | Alan Delaney


Millennium Park, Chicago

In June 2004, the City of Chicago fulfilled a decades-old dream by creating a major 25-acre park above an existing unsightly rail yard and surface parking lots along Michigan Avenue adjacent to Grant Park, while instantaneously creating a significant tourist destination as well as cultural and recreational facilities for the general public. As Chicago’s most ambitious outdoor cultural project since the Columbian Exposition, Millennium Park forever changed the city’s landscape, providing access to the lakefront and shifting public perception of the urban park.

Millennium Park is supported by a massive bridge-like structure constructed with steel and pre-cast concrete spanning up to 120 feet and is the foundation for the more visible parkland areas above. It is built over existing and expanded rail lines, a busway, and two multi-level parking structures that unite in forming a multi-modal transit center. While many of the railway tracks below the park were abandoned, engineers had to design around the active railway tracks of the South Shore Line, whose service extends into Millennium Station. As is often the case with air rights development, particularly complicated development areas yield open space; as such, no buildings were built above the South Shore tracks.


Millennium Park before construction

Millennium Park Master Plan completed © James Steinkamp Steinkamp Photography


With the establishment of high-speed inter-city trains throughout Europe and Asia, the railway station is once again becoming a major entry point for international and regional passengers in many cities. The advent of 21st century rail service will catapult the importance of air rights to an entirely new level. With its “built-in” destination for thousands of passengers and commuters on a daily basis, railway land constitutes a prime development opportunity and extends the traditional catchment area beyond its immediate surrounds to a regional and international level.


Millennium Park Master Plan © SOM | James Steinkamp Steinkamp Photography


William F. Baker is the structural engineering partner at SOM. Throughout his distinguished career, Bill has dedicated himself to structural innovation. His best known contribution has been to develop the “buttressed core” structural system for the Burj Khalifa.

Richard F. Tomlinson II is a managing partner of the SOM Chicago office. Throughout his tenure at SOM, Mr. Tomlinson has managed projects that span industries and continents. He has experience in large scale mixed-use, corporate, residential, hospitality, financial, law, healthcare, and research architecture.

Obsessive Consumption

© Kate Bingaman Burt


Text and illustrations by Kate Bingaman Burt


Kate Bingaman Burt has been drawing everything she has purchased since February 2006. The first three years were compiled into the book Obsessive Consumption: What Did You Buy Today? (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010). Six years into the project, we look back to the origins, featuring what was purchased in that February of 2006.


$25.00 worth of gas. I paid at the pump and bought a coke. Purchased at the Conoco on Hwy 12 in Starkville, MS.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

Chick-filet that I guilted one of my students into leaving class and picking up for me. Diet Coke. Gross chicken sandwich and waffle fries. I need to stop.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

I haven’t eaten pudding in years. I had forgotten the joy of a bowl of banana pudding neatly surrounded by vanilla wafers. I rediscovered that tonight. Excellent.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

I bought six clipboards at the campus bookmart today. They were $1.39 each. I hung them behind my desk in my office. I might spray paint them. I am not sure yet.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

Starkville, Mississippi finally has Brokeback Mountain in the local theater…for a while it was only playing in cities hours away from us. Six word review: good, sad, beautiful, cry, like, baby.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

We ordered a large cheese pizza tonight and watched a Netflix. I ate half. He ate half. Ugh. I feel way too full.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

I used to love these in elementary school. I was thinking about this pen the other day and today I saw one and got it. I used it while I was paying bills today. Red = paid. Green = due date. I haven’t thought of uses for the black or blue ink yet.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

Black sketchbook purchases at the Chalet art supply store in Starkville. I need some place to keep these daily drawings. $10.00.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

Orange Powerade bought at the BP in Starkville for $1.50. I know I should just drink water, but I succumb to the orangy sweet goodness fairly often.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

Part of a three pack. I prefer these to the sticks. And I don’t think the whitening promise really works.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

Well, it was between drawing gummi worms or a flash drive and I felt like I have been drawing too many food items and technology won out over sugary candy that I really didn’t enjoy that much anyway. This is actually going to be used by cliff. It was $50.00.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

$25 ticket for the Addy’s in Tuscaloosa, Alabama tonight. That included two drinks! We want two drinks! (ala pavement two states…sorry, I do that whenever I hear two ANYTHING). Patrick and I won a silver for the school website and Jamie and I won best of show in the print category for our mobilivre promotions.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

I have been all about the 1893 World’s Fair lately. This documentary was good! A couple of the live action shots were cheesy (bad belly dancers and repeated jolly men drinking beer), but the narration (Gene Wilder) and the photographs were great!

© Kate Bingaman Burt

Again making the resolution to NEVER EVER eat fried foods EVER again.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

Tupelo Mississippi in effect! I went to TJ Maxx and bought some tights and these Franco Sarto gold shoes for $11.00.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

Yeah, this stuff is gross, but it freaking works. Picked a four pack at the BP so now I am rocking the red bull, STILL organizing images for my lecture in Boston and, um, listening to America’s Next Top Model…I think it is cycle 1. Oh, and the bull cost $6.99 for four.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

One of my favorite girly indulgences. My brows had to be properly groomed before I stepped in front of an audience at the conference. I KNEW they would all be there to look at my brows and NOT to hear the panel that I was on. DUH.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

I forgot my GREAT headphones at home. These really really sucked. I bought them at one of the airport newsstands in Atlanta for $7.99. Really, really flimsy and BAD sound quality. Gross.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

My official BADGE! My ticket into panels & the book fair. The conference was great, but it might as well have been held in Starkville, because I didn’t get to see any of Boston. I didn’t leave the hotel complex for two days…just conference activities straight through.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

I have had this on my Amazon wish list for quite sometime. I stopped by the great book fair at the conference and grabbed it from the DAP booth for 50% off. If I didn’t have to obey the 50lb per bag weight limit at the airport, I would have bought a lot more books. The last day most of the booths were selling display copies for half off. Woo-hoo!

© Kate Bingaman Burt

Bought this in the Boston Airport (I also bought a Jane, but drawing this seems to make me seem a bit more intelligent). The article on the creator of the Flash Mob is excellent. Deb had a copy of this in the hotel room and was raving about the article. I had to buy it and find out for myself. She was right. It is gooood.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

Yay! Vitamin Water! It is more expensive than my orange Powerade (and not very accessible around Starkville, Mississippi) but I would drink this any day. The design and clever copy do it for me. $2.25.

© Kate Bingaman Burt

Fuji = the best. We bought three at Kroger and I ate one for lunch today.

© Kate Bingaman Burt


Kate Bingaman Burt is an illustrator and educator who has been making work about consumption since 2002, teaching since 2004 and drawing until her hand cramps since 2006. She is the author of the Obsessive Consumption: What Did You Buy Today? (PAP, 2010). | @katebingburt

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