Emerging Voices 2011: Interboro

Lent Space, New York
Courtesy Interboro


New York

The urban design and planning firm Interboro operates across many channels. Run by three Harvard GSD-graduates—urban designers Georgeen Theodore and Tobias Armborst, and planner Dan D’Oca—the Brooklyn-based firm straddles the worlds of architecture, planning, landscape, sociology, and urban theory, proudly flouting disciplinary boundaries. “We try to harness various disciplines and approaches to garner desirable outcomes,” Theodore said.

While their most visible project to date, a temporary park on Canal Street called Lent Space, is built, the practice currently focuses largely on community-based studies, teaching, exhibitions, and books. They recently completed a neighborhood development plan in Newark, the first in decades. Aware of the limits of traditional community meetings—which tend to attract those who are already involved in civic matters—the firm created a tabletop game to interact with people on the street. “We wanted the process to be truly participatory,” Theodore said. They also distributed leaflets and postcards advertizing the neighborhood, its assets, and an accessible description of the planning process. Their efforts resulted in a number of recommended zoning changes as well as design proposals to facilitate development for specific sites.

West Market Redevelopment Plan, Newark, New Jersey (top) and Graphic for Community, The American Way Exhibition, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

At Lent Space, they also thought about how the temporary park could live on even after being dismantled. Built on a half-acre development site at Canal and Varick streets, which the developer decided to mothball during the economic downturn, the park includes trees planted in movable planters and a moveable fence with benches. Developed for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Lent Space also incorporates temporary art installations to activate the space, which was built with materials typically associated with construction sites, such as plywood and chain link fencing. Development plans for the site were announced recently, so the trees will be carted off and placed elsewhere to spruce up the Hudson Square business improvement district.

Lent Space, New York
[Click to enlarge.]

Their recent studies for books and exhibitions examine the way space is made or controlled. The Arsenal of Inclusion/Exclusion, an exhibition and forthcoming book, is a dictionary of 101 “weapons” that developers, real estate agents, architects, and planners use to control access to spaces and communities. These weapons range from physical objects, like highways, to zoning codes and racial covenants. For the study “The Dream of a Lifestyle: Marketing Master Planned Communities in America,” the firm requested marketing materials from every master planned community built or planned between 2006 and 2008. The hundreds of brochures and other materials offer a compelling survey of current exclusionary practices that the firm suspects have been disrupted by the ever-widening foreclosure crisis. “We have a very broad definition of what architecture is,” D’Oca commented.

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