Posts tagged with "AKOAKI":

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Akoaki is blending design disciplines in Detroit

Upon their arrival to Detroit, partners Anya Sirota and Jean Louis Farges took four years to understand the complex landscapes and narratives that co-exist within the city. At the time, Detroit was fully entrenched in “ruin porn” and the design interest of the city followed a fascination with degradation or a re-imagination to building new. Cultural assets (like the industrial design of cars and jazz music) once thrived in the city and continue to have national and international range. Often though, the direct impact upon the residents is nonexistent. Akoaki [pronounced ak-o-ak-i] is compelled to research fields of architecture and art and their relationships to equitable redevelopment. By embracing the power of aesthetics and form-making, the couple peels away normative tropes of social practice. Beginning with aspirations to include aesthetics, beauty, and pomp creates pieces that do not comply with age. Often feeling burdened by good taste, Akoaki’s aesthetic quality tries to be bigger and badder. Imaging Detroit Supported by a Research on the City grant from the University of Michigan's Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning, Imaging Detroit is, in a nutshell, an international film festival and pop-up agora. The project investigates the many ways Detroit has been portrayed over the last decade, be it film or publications. Sirota and Farges, along with a suite of collaborators, researched the way people construct narratives around the city and responses to those narratives. A major challenge of the project was how to stage an event in this context without contributing to a proliferation of ruin porn and social degradation. The goal was to create true conversation and a positive impact while staging a public debate and open speculation. The 36-hour event transformed Perrien Park into a civic space with screenings, conversations, exhibitions, food, and leisure—a true ephemeral urbanization. Detroit Cultivator In collaboration with the six-acre Oakland Avenue Urban Farm (OAUF), Akoaki is designing a master plan that combines agriculture, culture, business, and ecology to envision a landscape that is both economically and ecologically sustainable. The project required navigating through major issues regarding land ownership, pressure from developers, and water access. After working with the University of Michigan Law School and a team of “moral investors” to secure the land, a business plan was created with volunteers from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. The plan prioritizes the farm’s productivity to create a source of income and a flexible space for neighborhood entrepreneurs. As a result, the master plan features existing structures that will eventually become public amenity spaces; for example, a shoe-shine parlor will reopen as a multi-tenant commercial space and performance venue. Rather than keeping the farm purely agricultural, Sirota and Farges sought to activate other existing uses through building and site interventions. The project is an experimental urban prototype, though Akoaki is working to ensure the farm can become a permanent fixture in the neighborhood. Jackson, Mississippi Sirota and Farges’s experience working on Detroit Cultivator has set them up to discover a similar food-related project, this time in Mississippi. Supported by a $1 million public art grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, “Fertile Ground: Inspiring Dialogue about Food Access” brings together architects and artists with chefs, gardeners, food policy experts, and local institutions to facilitate a year of community-engaged interventions. Ultimately, the project aims to establish a nonprofit research lab on food access that will operate on a permanent basis to sustain the momentum that is created. While Mississippi is known for its agriculture, a majority of the food grown in the state leaves, and Jackson is full of “food swamps”—a plethora of fast food options as opposed to fresh food. Rather than return to the “idyllic” past of farming (an image that is not necessarily representationally positive to everyone), Akoaki has formulated a “neo-rural” environment that deserves an aesthetic value and brings together aspirations of the city. Midtown Cultural Center Detroit’s Midtown Cultural Connections organized a year-long competition in an effort to connect Detroit’s most significant cultural institutions. The winning entry includes Akoaki and their assembled team of landscape architects, urban planners, and technology-experts. The announcement of the winning proposal displays how Detroit’s participating institutions and stakeholders carry a willingness in allowing an open-ended framework a chance to succeed. The plan that Akoaki and team are working on will take issues of mobility, environmental sustainability, and stormwater stewardship into consideration. Overall, the project requires a sensitivity to placemaking in order to avoid displaced cultural queues and gentrification. When finished, the project will create a unified, dynamic, and inclusive space that facilitates connections between the Cultural Center and the Midtown neighborhood.
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Detroit picks team to shape Midtown cultural center

An effort to connect Detroit’s cluster of some of its most significant institutions, including its iconic Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), announced today that an international team of urban designers, landscape architects, and technology experts had been selected to create a cultural center in the booming Midtown district. In a year-long process, the Midtown Cultural Connections competition selected a team led by Paris-based Agence Ter, Detroit-based architecture and design studio akoaki, Ann Arbor–based hybrid design firm rootoftwo, and University of Michigan assistant professor and urban planner Harley Etienne, along with other partners. The initial design phase, which will bring all parties together to create a formal plan, will take about 18 months, officials said. The Agence Ter team suggested creating a sort of frame around the ten blocks containing a group of cultural institutions, including the DIA, Wayne State University, the Detroit Historical Society, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the College For Creative Studies, the Michigan Science Center, and the Scarab Club. Within that “Detroit Square,” the project will bring the inside out through “common ground” or communal backyards running between the buildings and their landscapes, to be activated with outdoor cafes, performance spaces, a mobile DJ booth, green spaces, public art, as well as live performance spaces for events. Woodward Avenue, which runs through this district, also may see its massive size reduced. The selection not only inspires pride among the winning team, said akoaki’s Anya Sirota, but it shows how Detroit’s participating institutions and judges are willing to give “an open-ended framework” a chance to succeed. For Sirota, that means the design will continue to evolve as the team works with local stakeholders, residents, and other parties to make the cultural center truly the heart of Midtown Detroit, one of the city’s most revitalized and vibrant neighborhoods. “We took a risk to create a memorable design that was also suggestable,” Sirota said. “We felt strongly that we would need additional feedback on these ideas [and] we’re excited that the jury went with something that allowed for more conversation with stakeholders.” The size and scope of the project are grand, Sirota added, and previous projects involving this area and around Detroit have gone forward without deep feedback, conversation, and consideration of the long-term effect on the city or its residents. This project seeks to “tread lightly” and be sensitive to placemaking within a city that is more than 300 years old and has concerns about issues like gentrification. Sirota also said she is pleased that the plan the winning team is working on will take issues of mobility, environmental sustainability, and stormwater stewardship into consideration. Having a team made up of experts in physical technology, landscaping, urban planning, and design with a Detroit-centic base should provide many new ideas for the cultural center, she noted. Midtown Detroit Inc. and DIA launched the design competition in 2017 to find a team that could unite twelve cultural and educational institutions with a kind of “town square” feel. The goal was to develop a “unified, dynamic, and inclusive space that facilitates connections throughout the Cultural Center,” DIA director Salvador Salort-Pons has said. The Midtown Cultural Connections project had 44 initial submissions from more than 10 countries and 22 cities. Those were winnowed down to eight firms and then three finalists. The other finalists included TEN x TEN of Minneapolis and Mikyoung Kim Design of Boston.
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In Jackson, Mississippi, architects are taking on a citywide hunger problem

By more than one measure, Jackson, Mississippi, is one of the nation’s unhealthiest cities. In 2017, it was named the fattest city in America based on 17 indicators, including obesity rates, levels of physically active adults, and access to fresh produce. In fact, nearly one-fifth of city residents are considered food insecure. The state of Mississippi does not fare much better—for the last eight years, it was reported as the most food insecure state in the country, even though agriculture is the state’s top industry. 

It’s not just that Jackson has only 17 grocery stores for a population of nearly 170,000—that’s one per nearly 10,000 people. But the food that is available is disproportionately tipped toward fast food and gas station items. As one scholar of Jackson’s food culture told the Clarion Ledger, “Hunger happens in between bags of chips.” 

All of this is compounded by the city’s lack of viable public transit options. Jackson is designed around the car, but many residents, whose wallets are already stretched thin on federal food assistance dollars, don’t own one. Even those with groceries or farmers’ markets in walking distance are discouraged by the lack of sidewalks or crosswalks. These conditions are undergirded by decades of generational poverty and disinvestment due to white flight, unfavorable tax policies, and the state’s aggressive efforts to cut resources for Medicaid and limit food stamps.

But Jackson also has a long history of civil rights activism, and its residents in 2013 and again in 2017 elected mayors who promised nothing less than wholesale social and economic transformation. For Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, addressing Jackson’s food access challenge is part of his promise to make it “the most radical city in the world.” But rather than enlisting conventional strategies, the city has mobilized its long-range planning division to lead a new design-based initiative. Bolstered by a $1 million public art grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, “Fertile Ground: Inspiring Dialogue about Food Access” brings together architects and artists alongside chefs, gardeners, food policy experts, and local institutions to facilitate a year of community-engaged interventions at three sites in the city. The project will culminate in a citywide exhibition in the spring of 2020, but ultimately it aims to establish a nonprofit research lab on food access that will operate on a permanent basis to sustain the momentum that is created.

The city invited an intriguing roster of architects and designers from around the country to participate in the multidisciplinary initiative: Kathy Velikov and Geoffrey Thün, directors of RVTR; Anya Sirota and Jean Louis Farges of Akoaki; Walter Hood of Hood Design Studio, and Jonathan Tate, who runs his namesake practice, Office of Jonathan Tate. Architects are central to the project, said Travis Crabtree, a senior urban planner with the city and one of the project’s coordinators. “When we first got the grant, people asked, Why are we spending $1 million dollars on an art project when we could feed people for a million?” he said.

Looking more closely at what these designers bring to the table may illustrate what can be gained from this approach. The question of access is at the heart of practices like the Toronto and Ann Arbor, Michigan–based RVTR, led by Velikov and Thün, who are both associate professors at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. In their ongoing project, Protean Prototypes, they conceive of public transit systems as platforms to address access to mobility, food, education, and health. They do this by mapping the social and spatial opportunities for access, connecting underserved areas with local actors who can bridge access gaps and by proposing lightweight spatial prototypes that overlay onto public transit infrastructure, such as bus stops and metro stations. The prototypes might include emerging tech like mobile produce vending systems and bike-cart shares alongside other programs with a small footprint like exercise equipment and book lending programs. Applying this method to Chicago, San Francisco, and Detroit, this complex systems approach brings together architectural and urban scale in new assemblages that amplify the resources already on the ground and take advantage of the larger urban context to channel them where they are needed most.

In Jackson, Velikov and Thün will focus their efforts at the Ecoshed, a 15,000-square-foot, open-air building on a 2-acre industrial site that borders two very different neighborhoods—the rapidly gentrifying Fondren and Virden Addition, one of the poorest in the city. For Fertile Ground, the Ecoshed will demonstrate a self-sustaining closed-loop food system and host the food lab, and eventually host the Fertile Ground nonprofit.

Anya Sirota and Jean Louis Farges of Detroit-based Akoaki will also focus their efforts at the Ecoshed. Their practice has engaged with the problem of food access through four years of work with an urban farm in Detroit, the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm. Sirota is also an associate professor of architecture at Taubman. Detroit provides a uniquely fertile landscape for thinking about urban food access. According to Sirota, Detroit has 1,300 urban farms, but none of them are sustainable. At the 6-acre Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, sustainability for Sirota and Farges has meant strategizing beyond economics alone. To them, urban farms are hubs for urban regeneration, and they realized that multiple layers of activity and programming were needed to realize that potential. Like Velikov and Thün, they see architecture as a way of “amplifying the activity that’s already happening on the ground, to stitch together new and productive alliances.”

Detroit may be 1,000 miles from Jackson, but the connection between the two cities runs deep. Like Jackson, Detroit is a majority African American city, with many residents who have ties to Mississippi and other southern states. Thus, the Oakland Avenue farm grows many heritage products from Mississippi. Likewise, the association to agriculture is similarly fraught in both cities; as Sirota noted, “We are highly attuned to the idea that going back to the land isn’t necessarily representationally positive to everyone.” Rather than framing urban farming as a return to an idyllic past (and glossing over the history of slavery and policies that led to the dispossession or denial of land to freed slaves), Akoaki’s urban farm work is firmly sited in the urban. “We’ve become astutely aware that the neo-rural is not rural; it’s something that deserves an aesthetic that hybridizes all the aspirations of the city and combines them with the necessity to produce picturesque landscape and food.” Thus the practice’s design of pop-up performance spaces next to the farm’s kale fields for the Detroit African Funkestra is based on the colors and shapes of shuttered music venues across Detroit.

Another participating architect, Oakland-based landscape architect Walter Hood, has extensive experience designing cultural and urban landscapes. Hood, who is also a professor at University of California, Berkeley's  will focus his efforts at Galloway Elementary in Jackson. The 4.3-acre, publicly owned lot is currently a playfield for a local elementary school. According to the city’s planning department, this site is located in a lower-income residential neighborhood with little public space and bordered by a major street dominated by fast food establishments. The theme here will be on food and community.

This is a good fit for Hood. His projects in Charleston, South Carolina; Macon, Georgia; Detroit, and Philadelphia, among other cities, demonstrate a steady thread of incorporating community feedback, local culture, and collective memory into landscape and urban design. In his Water Table installation at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, Hood tapped into the ecology and history of rice production by mounting thousands of Carolina Gold rice plants in circular planters on a platform in a school courtyard, essentially recreating a rice paddy in downtown Charleston. The project resurfaced the link between rice production and the history of the slave labor that made Carolina’s rice industry possible. Afterwards, the project was dissembled and distributed, planter by planter, across schools and institutions in the area, and lived on to continue the conversation. This archaeological approach also surfaces in many other projects by Hood Studio, including its master plan for Detroit’s Rosa Parks neighborhood. Hood's work has long engaged with the idea of “being a protagonist in design," and, in reflecting on the future work in Jackson, asked, “How do we make a landscape powerful, so that once you do it, it has a resonance?”

Finally, at Congress Street, the third Fertile Ground site, New Orleans–based architect Jonathan Tate will bring his experience with food culture and exhibition design to a downtown storefront space. The Congress Street site is close to the heart of government and is intended to amplify the project to public officials and policymakers who work nearby.

For Tate, who designed the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, the task includes not only the adaptive reuse of an existing building but also the design of an outdoor parklet that invites the public in through greenscape and seating. The challenge will be to bring it all together—the art, the history, the contributions of numerous partners, and of course, engage critical feedback, in a downtown that goes quiet at 5 p.m. on weekdays. "Instead of a veneer you're walking through, it's about bringing the space of the building out into the street," he explained.

The architects, along with other Fertile Ground team members, began site visits in April, and will develop their proposals until the citywide expo in 2020.

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Akoaki designs a new future for Detroit's Oakland Avenue Urban Farm

Detroit Cultivator, a six-acre urban plan developed between design firm Akoaki and the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm (OAUF), uses architecture and community organizing to help formalize a legacy urban farm in Detroit’s North End neighborhood.  The OAUF started with a single plot back in 2000, but over time has grown to encompass over 30 lots and 8 structures. Today, the farm administers mentorship programs, hosts classes, and offers community and art spaces alongside its agricultural activities. As Detroit has recovered from financial calamity following the Great Recession, development interests have taken to surrounding areas, threatening the farm’s future. That’s where Detroit-based Akoaki saw an opportunity to apply its design expertise and institutional connections in innovative ways. The firm is helmed by Anya Sirota, associate professor of architecture at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and her partner, designer Jean Louis Farges. Together with neighborhood residents, several university-based teams, and outside “impact investors” like The Kresge Foundation and ArtPlace America, Akoaki has helped design a way to ensure that the farm can become a permanent neighborhood fixture by setting out a long-term growth plan and designing site-based interventions that will promote economic and environmental sustainability. Sirota said, “As architects, we became interested in the challenge of what architecture could do systemically to create a more sustainable operating system for the farm.” The designers sought to discover how the farm could become an “autonomous cultural actor in a complicated urban scenario” that included unclear land ownership, development pressures from land speculators, and water access issues, among other concerns. Because some the farm’s components were located on blighted plots of land that the farm did not own outright, the first step for the project was to secure a path toward formalizing land ownership over these parcels to ensure that developers could not wipe away the farm’s gains. The designers worked with the University of Michigan Law School and a team of “moral investors” to flip the script on land speculators by studying and imitating the tactics they use to exploit Detroit’s land bank. The plan secured land ownership for little-to-no cost via a community land trust ownership model that will keep the land out of the hands of speculators. Once the existential issue of land ownership had been laid to rest, the team worked with volunteers from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business to craft a business plan for the farm. The plan focuses the team’s efforts on two complementary goals: First, by prioritizing the farm’s productivity to create a stable source of income to fund operations and second, by designing the farm’s individual components to create a flexible one-stop-shop for nascent neighborhood entrepreneurs. As a result, the farm is peppered with existing structures that will each eventually become activated as public amenities: A vacant big-box grocery store will be converted into a community gathering space containing a commercial kitchen with the help of a for-profit social venture, Fellow Citizen; an existing shoe shine parlor and former speakeasy will reopen as a multi-tenant commercial space and performance venue; several of the existing homes on the property will eventually house an herbarium, studio, and a design-focused library. New elements created for the site will include a commercial market hall as well as water-harvesting and power stations.  In creating their plan, the designers realized that they could not keep the farm purely agricultural, and they instead sought to formalize other existing uses through building and site interventions. The design embraces both the “urban” and “farming” aspects of OAUF, which, according to the architects, is what the community wants and needs most.  The project, according to Sirota, represents an “attempt to marry form-making with productive landscapes,” to sustain the social and economic impact of land that was once considered marginal in value.  Next, the designers are working on developing and prototyping water harvesting, solar generation, and insulation techniques to help feed into the long-term sustainability plan for the farm while fundraising efforts get underway. 
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Architectural League Prize winners bring site-specific installations to New York exhibit

The six winners of this year’s Architectural League prize will display installations in Objective at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons School of Design, opening June 21. As visitors approach the entrance of the gallery, they’ll be greeted by an installation stretched across the window by Kwong Von Glinow partners Lap Chi Kwong and Alison Von Glinow. The pair is reproducing a scale, plywood model of their Table Top Apartments, a conceptual project of four-story modular apartments designed to address housing in New York City. Along with a survey of past projects, Bryony Roberts of Bryony Roberts Studio will display a site-specific installation—a patterned wall vinyl that creeps from the wall onto the floor, continuing the work of her Marbles project which featured geometries inspired by the patterned stones of central Italy, such as medieval Cosmati floors. Dan Spiegel of SAW // Spiegel Aihara Workshop and Coryn Kempster of Julia Jamrozik and Coryn Kempster will each present new installations, while Anya Sirota of Akoaki and Cadaster partners Gabriel Cuéllar and Anthar Mufreh will present various models and studies from their respective projects. The Architectural League Prize has been recognizing young architects since 1981. This year, entrants were tasked with considering the contemporary state of objectivity in a post-truth world. Objective Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons School of Design 66 5th Ave, New York, NY 10011 Through August 4.