Into the Open

Highlighting America's rich history of architectural experimentation and the original ways architects today are working collaboratively to invigorate community activism and environmental policy


Fields of Knowledge
  • Comm. Development
  • Curatorial practice
  • Design
  • Health / Sustainability
  • Pedagogy
  • Politics / Economics
  • Public culture
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Parc Foundation

Contributing Institutions

The Architect's Newspaper


William Menking, Aaron Levy, and Andrew Sturm


Exhibit concept conceived with architects Teddy Cruz and Deborah Gans


Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Robert Rubin and Stephane Samuel, Oldcastle Glass, others


Commissioned by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S, Department of State, Washington, D.C., in cooperation with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Process initiated


Opens to public



U.S. Pavilion
11th International Architecture Exhibition
La Biennale di Venezia
Venice, Italy

Traveled to Parsons The New School for Design (New York) in April 2009, then to Slought and the National Constitution Center (Philadelphia) in July 2009.

On the web


75% Formal - 25% Informal

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.

Learn more about the exhibition:

Curatorial Commentary
Design Concept
Featured Participants
Credits and sponsors
Exhibition Catalog

read more

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 faade 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.

"Architecture in the United States has lurched back and forth between social engagement and passivity since at least 1932.

That was the year the Museum of Modern Art presented Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, which highlighted--or, according to some critics, triggered--a split within the field. Conceived by historian Henry Russell Hitchcock, architect Philip Johnson, and MoMA director Alfred Barr, the exhibition presented modern architecture as a new style that resulted from the evolution of form, instead of social conditions such as a need for low-cost, mass-produced affordable housing. The white walls, flat roofs, and rejection of ornament in the work of architects such as Ernst May, as depicted in the MoMA show, presented modern architecture as an aesthetic style--an abstract form in a landscape, photographed aerially and devoid of social relations. Arguably, the position espoused by Johnson, Hitchcock, and Barr defined the profession in North America from that time onwards. Iconic buildings, formalism, and a myopic obsession with the upper class: these became the hallmarks of much American architecture.

Today, changing populations, shifting borders, and uneven economic development--exacerbated by the explosion of migration and urbanization--have generated conflicts and conditions that question traditional architectural methods. In a milieu characterized by territorial and institutional deadlock, architects, urban researchers, and community activists increasingly must intervene in situations by "going beyond building." This does not mean dispensing with the value of architecture per se, but rather acknowledging each situation's unique complexity as the generative idea. This exhibition explores the original ways that today's actors are designing the conditions from which new architectures can emerge. They are becoming activists, developers, facilitators of inclusive urban policies, as well as unique urban researchers. Their work expands upon diverse alternative practices of the 20th century, including the urban reformers of the Regional Planning Association of America, the research-based designs of Charles and Ray Eames, the humanistic modernism of Hassan Fathy, and the experimental installations of Art Farm.

We are also proposing that social, cultural, and spatial boundaries that characterize the American landscape be understood as a new framework defining architectural problems. Accordingly, we have identified a heterogeneous and dispersed series of practices that are empowered by the inventive ways they work and with whom they engage. These intellectually entrepreneurial practitioners are reaching creatively across institutions, agencies, and jurisdictions to negotiate hidden resources in the private, public, and non-profit sectors to invigorate social activism and environmental policy.

In the absence of large-scale public infrastructure projects in the United States, local initiatives are necessarily becoming empowered, dynamic arenas for exploring and generating new forms of sociability and activism. We hope this preliminary showcase of America's alternative architectural practices acts as a stimulus that encourages new forms of social participation to flourish beyond our current imaginings.

With a little knowing irony, we like to label Into The Open: Positioning Practice, which opened in September 2008 in the United States Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia, "the first architectural endeavor of an Obama presidency." Setting aside the fact we were commissioned by the U.S. State Department under George W. Bush, and that the exhibition opened some weeks before November's election, we believe that the present moment will redefine the meaning of social space in today's American cities and neighborhoods. With Obama's new mandate in the U.S. election and the current world wide financial crises acting as forceful agents for change, maybe the stars are finally aligning in a propitious way. Perhaps they will force architecture to mitigate its current celebrity obsessed approach, encouraging instead a new type of collaborative thinking about design and space that highlights local, periphery, and even edge conditions.

To remain relevant, architecture must find ways to respond to the cultural fluidity, socio-economic challenges, and environmental rifts that define our times."

-- William Menking, Aaron Levy, and Andrew Sturm

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