Posts tagged with "activism":

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Traveling exhibition covers 50 years of activism in architecture and asks, ‘Now What?!’

A pop-up exhibition showcasing the little-known history of civil rights movements within architecture is on view at the Pratt Institute through Friday. Now What?! Advocacy, Activism and Alliances in American Architecture since 1968 shines a light on the work of the architects and organizations who have advocated for equality and social justice in the profession over the last 50 years. Organized by ArchiteXX, a nonprofit that promotes gender equity in the architectural profession, the exhibit covers groups that have sought racial, gender, and LGBTQ equality. ArchiteXX’s primary initiatives revolve around highlighting the roles women play in the field, but for Now What?!, the group wanted to take on a broader series of issues including gay marriage, Black Lives Matter, and feminism in modern America. The show moves in chronological order, starting with civil rights leader Whitney Young Jr.’s influential speech at the 1968 AIA National Convention in Portland, Oregon. Angry at the scant attention the nearly all-white, male-dominated profession was paying to the civil rights movement, his powerful words challenged the attending architects to speak up and serve as leaders within the heated political climate. The exhibition connects that exhortation to the present day. While the industry has made great strides toward the inclusion of people of different races, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds, it still remains less diverse than the general population. Sarah Rafson, an architectural editor and curator who serves on the board of ArchiteXX, says the exhibit was inspired by Susana Torre’s 1977 exhibition for The Architectural League, Women in Architecture: A Historic and Contemporary Perspective. “That was the first comprehensive history of women’s achievements in the built environment,” said Rafson. “It radically opened up the topic of how feminism could impact architecture and design. For this exhibit, we thought, how can we replicate it in 2017? So we decided to include many marginalized groups, not just women, and show that their struggles in architecture have been quite common.”   The exhibition includes never-before-seen content that is rarely taught in architectural education. One of ArchiteXX’s core goals is to bridge the gap between the study and practice of architecture, and the group looks at the exhibit as part of an expanded curriculum that engages both students and practitioners with historical and contemporary activism.    “We saw an opportunity to create a program that forces the discipline to acknowledge these different groups that have had incredible impact within architecture and design,” said Rafson. “It’s also become a chance for us to collaborate with other organizations and groups who are working towards solving social justice issues,” said ArchiteXX founder Lori Brown, “and it’s becoming a really important venue to build solidarity across many different areas of architecture.” Now What?! can be seen at Pratt’s Robert H. Siegel Gallery through Friday and is scheduled to appear in at least four more cities across the U.S. and Canada. New content will be added as it stops in each city to reflect the local people and events within those architectural communities. Its first stop is at Woodbury University in Los Angeles.
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Yale students design for political protest as part of seminar

As part of a four-month-long seminar organized by New York architect and Assistant Dean of the Yale School of Architecture Mark Foster Gage, students investigated new forms of political activism through the design of objects.

The course synopsis began with this quote from Leonardo Da Vinci:

It had long since to come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.

By way of some background, in 2014, the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London produced an exhibition titled Disobedient Objects, curated by Catherine Flood. Here, the constraint of urgency amplified the political power of designers' work. Examples included a mask (made from a plastic water bottle) that protects protesters from tear gas and an arrangement of poles that people can climb and avoid being removed from an area by police.

Speaking to The Architect's Newspaper (AN), Gage discussed how the October symposium he organized at Yale, titled Aesthetic Activism, explored how architecture’s critical-theory basis for socially engaged design is increasingly ineffectual, as it "merely calls for the revealing of a given social inequality or problem—not a requirement to act to remedy it." "Seeing a problem rarely actually prompts action to solve it," reads the synopsis of his class—an idea that echoes the work of philosopher Jacques Rancière, on whose work the seminar was significantly based.

After guiding students through works by philosophers such as Rancière (who explores the politicization of aesthetics), Elaine Scarry (who wrote Thinking in an Emergency), and Graham Harman and Timothy Morton (significant philosophers in the burgeoning Object Oriented Ontology movement), as well as the more household names from aesthetics including Kant, Fiedler, Burke and Hickey, Gage saw his students produce a series of increasingly politicized design projects that emerged, increasingly, in reaction to the recent election and presidency of Donald Trump.

These included:

  • A 3-D printed monument of Donald Trump (an ostentatious and vulgar creation laden with authoritarian imagery) and model depicting Rancière's "Distribution of the Sensible" philosophical framework (whereby political perceptions are altered; note Trump's back is turned); both by Robert Smith Waters.
  • A ballot box in which only one shape can be placed inside (note the shape of a heart does not fit).
  • A protective face mask that offers guidance on what do if arrested on one side and an eye-less smiley face on the other, by Casey Furman.
  • Roller-blades that can only go in perpendicular directions, by Claire Haugh.
  • A hammock to aid those who climb corporate towers as an act of protest, by Steven McNamara (see AN's coverage of the man who climbed Trump Tower in New York last year).

The Yale School of Architecture has a history of political protests dating back to the 1960’s. This year, numerous large banners of "We won't build your wall" covered the Paul Rudolph–designed structure. Previously, a large banner had read: "United Against Hate." Students also issued a statement in wake of the AIA's initial stance on Trump, saying: “Our profession been plagued by a history of racial and gender inequity. The AIA’s immediate and unquestioning pandering to the Trump administration threatens a continuation of our troubled past and demonstrates a willingness to pursue financial gain at the expense of our values.”

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Munich Residents Demand Affordable Housing Replace Parking Spaces

With major cities running short on affordable housing, local residents have adopted unique measures to air their grievances. In New York, the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network (BAN) held a sign outside a real estate summit in Brooklyn last year, asking car-driving attendees to honk if the rent was "too high." Earlier this year, students at the University of Cape Town in South Africa erected an iron shack on campus to decry the lack of housing available to poor students around the city. For people living in Munich, the solution was simple but proactive. Leerstand089, a citizen group in the city, listed all vacant parking spaces to shame the authorities into building more affordable housing for residents. The plan worked, with a 120-unit apartment complex now slated to replace a parking lot once used at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The area is surrounded by large gardens with trees, a modest soccer field, and a swimming pool. To prevent the rent prices from rising, the apartments will be economically built to keep them within Germany's rent stabilization threshold. Leerstand089, which stands for vacancy and Munich's area code, has notched up several other successes with a number of buildings being earmarked as housing sites. The most recent is a 5,700-square-foot building now designated as a public housing cooperative that will contain 11 rental apartments. The group's basic action plan encourages everyday citizens to call out neglected buildings. If the building is being left unattended, they will report it to the city so it can be put to better use.
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Crowdsourced Infrastructure: Dutch Architects ZUS Complete A Self-Initiated Footbridge

Have you ever wanted to go to the park but had a highway or rail yard in your way? Ever feel like the best parts of your city are disconnected? Do what Rotterdam- and New York–based designers Zones Urbaines Sensibles (ZUS) did. They wanted to connect parts of Rotterdam, so they took matters into their own hands and put together a crowdfunding initiative to connect a series of three districts through public infrastructure. Luchtsingel, a 1300-foot-long bridge received support from some 5,000 people and finally opened last week. The saga started in 2011 when the city cancelled the development of an office building in Rotterdam Central District. ZUS took over what is known as the Schieblock, and turned it into a city laboratory. The space acts as an incubator for young entrepreneurs and includes a ground-floor store, bar, culinary workshop, information center, and the Dakakker, Europe’s first urban farming roof. When the Delftsehof nightlife area and two parks opened, Pompenburg Park, and the Hofplein Station Roof Park, the districts needed to be connected. As part of the 2012 Architecture Biënnale Rotterdam (IABR), co-curated by ZUS, the area was named “Test Site Rotterdam,” and included 18 interventions connected by the Luchtsingel. The crowd-funding project “I Make Rotterdam” sold over 8,000 boards inscribed with the names of those who donated, for just €25 each. Not all 18 proposals were but the Luchtsingel has now happened. The project is a unifying factor in the resurgence of Rotterdam as a sustainable and pedestrian-friendly urban area, and uses “the city's evolutionary character and existing forms as a starting point. Therefore, we have developed new instruments for design, financing, and planning" to make "a new three-dimensional cityscape," according to ZUS founders Elma van Boxel and Kristian Koreman.