Highlighting America's rich history of architectural experimentation and the original ways architects today are working collaboratively to invigorate community activism and environmental policy
The exhibition Into the Open highlights America's rich history of architectural experimentation and explores the original ways architects today are working collaboratively to invigorate community activism and environmental policy.
In the absence of large-scale public infrastructure projects in the United States, local initiatives are becoming laboratories for generating new forms of sociability and civic engagement. These new community-minded architects are questioning traditional definitions of practice by conducting unique research into the socio-economic challenges and environmental rifts that define our times. They are going beyond building-- defining architecture not just as a physical infrastructure, but also as a social relationship.
Into the Open debuted as the official United States representation at the 2008 Venice Biennale, where it offered international audiences insight into the ways America's architects are reinventing public space. Critics noted the exhibition's unusually sober assessment of the challenges America faces, as well as the inspired attempts by grassroots architects to mitigate these conflicts. In presenting the architects featured in this exhibition in Venice, New York, and finally Philadelphia, where the American experiment began, we underscore the power that intellectual entrepreneurs can have in enacting positive change.
The sixteen practitioners in the exhibition include: The Center for Land Use Interpretation, the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), Design Corps, Detroit Collaborative Design Center, Gans Studio, The Heidelberg Project, International Center for Urban Ecology, Jonathan Kirschenfeld Associates, Project Row Houses, Rebar, Rural Studio, Spatial Information Design Lab/Laura Kurgan, Studio 804, Smith and Others, The Edible Schoolyard/Yale Sustainable Food Project, and Estudio Teddy Cruz.
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The sixteen practitioners, all of whom actively engage communities in their work, demonstrate multifaceted responses to social and environmental issues.
Estudio Teddy Cruz, based in San Diego, California, is engaged in an ongoing exploration of the dynamics of urban conflict engendered by conditions on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border, from the affluence north of San Diego to homelessness and neglect in Tijuana. Stretching across the entire 89 foot faade and courtyard of the U.S. Pavilion, Teddy Cruz's border fence became both a metaphorical and actual passageway for visitors to the exhibition. A photographic reproduction of the fence that spans the U.S. border with Mexico at San Diego, Mr. Cruz's "porous" border, together with its photographic montage illustrating the 60 miles north and south of the fence, is a graphic representation of the conditions and conflicts that have become a political and economic flashpoint.
The noted chef and restaurateur, Alice Waters, based in Berkeley, California, responded to the lack of nutritious food served in many public schools by developing the Edible Schoolyard, a project begun in a San Francisco Middle School, through which young students plant and tend a garden and use its produce to prepare their lunches and snacks. Through the project students learn about the origins of the foods they consume, principles of ecology and a healthy respect for living systems. Working in cooperation with the Yale Sustainable Food Project, both the U.S. Pavilion and Parsons the New School for Design have developed a model garden based upon principles of the Edible Schoolyard, complete with instructions and signage made by these young California students.
The architect Deborah Gans, whose practice is in New York City, has responded to the need for temporary housing and the myriad circumstances-whether products of political upheaval, natural or man-made disasters or more-that produce these needs, by developing the Roll Out House. The Roll Out House, manufactured of lightweight, flexible materials, provides a physical and social infrastructure and a humane solution to the challenge of being uprooted from one's home. The Roll Out houses in the exhibition have been newly developed for portable applications on Native American reservations such as those in South Dakota.
The Heidelberg Project, in Detroit, responds to urban decay and abandonment by turning a derelict Detroit neighborhood into a work of art. Through the efforts of the artist Tyree Guyton, and teams of volunteers, the vacant buildings and houses of Heidelberg Street have become the canvasses for a massive public art project. The Heidelberg Project is a nonprofit organization, and to raise money to continue its activities, the project has a store that sells t-shirts, jewelry, posters and books.
The Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC), and Project Row Houses, each confront issues of gentrification and urban decay through inventive social practice and community involvement. Project Row Houses demonstrates the proactive tenacity of Rick Lowe and his team of residents in the 3rd Ward neighborhood of Houston, Texas, as they fend off commercial development to save houses for adaptation into community cultural facilities.
Laura Kurgan's Spatial Information Design Lab uses complex mapping and animation to illustrate the relationship between demographics and the penal system. Ms. Kurgan's project is a spatial analysis of the money spent on incarceration versus the investment in housing and neighborhood infrastructure in parts of New York City. Videos by the Center for Land Use Interpretation explore the path of waste in Los Angeles from curbside to landfill, and a double screen video program from the International Center for Urban Ecology follows the designer Kyong Park's journey along "The New Silk Road."
The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), New York, deconstructs and diagrams the complex financial underpinnings and strategies of compromise that determine the construction of housing. A user-friendly interactive model illustrates the diversity of housing subsidies, while a dynamic rap video compilation explores the relationships between public housing and public perception. San Francisco-based Rebar, a design collaborative, provides an example of their community work with the Panhandle Bandshell, a community theater built with car hoods, plastic water bottles and other post-consumer materials.
Alternative housing designs feature in the work of Design Corps, Studio 804 and the Rural Studio at Auburn University. These projects, represented through models and video presentations, exemplify some of the innovative approaches to building with communities in areas of extreme need that range from the rural poor in Hale County, Alabama, to migrant farmworkers in North Carolina, and tornado-affected residents of Greensburg, Kansas. The Floating Pool, a mobile swimming pool designed by Jonathan Kirschenfeld Associates, adaptively reuses a decommissioned cargo barge to bring summertime recreation to underserved populations of New York City. Finally, the work of Smith and Others in San Diego is represented through a special video interview and model that articulates the way architects can develop their own projects, re-shaping the way the city grows and changes by emphasizing quality of life for residents over maximum profit for developers.
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