The multidisciplinary teams working on projects for the exhibition Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream have two weeks to go in the workshop phase before the final public Open Studios at MoMA PS1 on Saturday, September 17.
Project: The Garden in the Machine
Site Location: Cicero, Illinois
With the deadline and open studios looming, we’re wondering how best to explain ourselves—not just to visitors next month, but also to each other. Although this isn’t a typical office project, we’ve decided to treat it as such in one respect: by assigning several team members to assemble a booklet organizing our months of research, diagrams, and sketches into a road map that chronicles our thinking and overarching project narrative for the client.
In this case, of course, the client is the public, and our decision to compile such a booklet while the rest of the team is busy with the model was inspired by last week’s pin-up discussion, which centered around how to communicate the full extent of each team’s research without turning the exhibit into a science fair presentation. To that end, the booklet’s purpose is twofold: first, to remind us of the full sweep of the project while narrowing down what should go on the exhibit walls (less is more, it’s reminded us), and second, to document our process for curious members of the public in the form of a 72-page dossier available for free download from Studio Gang’s (and hopefully MoMA’s) website. After all, revealing the full story behind the final work is what we do.
“Thoughts on a Walking City”
Site Location: The Oranges, New Jersey
TO-DO LIST #9:
2. Try to ignore all hurricanes, tropical storms, and floods
Site Location: Temple Terrace, Florida
Street Lights: After months of analytical work and a great deal of design, much of what we have produced brings us right back to the start—to MoMA’s goals for a reappraisal of the American suburb, to the Buell Center’s focus on public aspects of housing. In working on a final model and drawings it starts to seem fruitless to refer to the analysis because it is synthesized in the work. Additionally, it has been our sense that our recent discussions with Barry Bergdoll and Reinhold Martin have returned not to how it works, but instead to what it means socially and politically. What is it like to be there?
When I arrived at Columbia to teach housing studios I had relied a great deal on the scholarship of Gwendolyn Wright. Wright’s work on housing has often seemed a stand-alone project in being able to investigate the formal histories of modernism and its reliance on the quantitative, while also then re-investing or newly opening the qualitative realms of housing—who lives in housing, but also a much finer grain of its innovations, its authors and agents of change. Wright’s work on Catherine Bauer and the narrative of Bauer’s role as an intellectual, activist, and politician made it explicit that work in design was also based in corollary and constructed forms of agency. It had the effect of causing one to wonder about the social lens of not just who work was for, but of the social scene of its authors and the limits of their agency.
The work at MoMA is often a balancing act: it has to stand alone in the end as a project, but it’s also a narrative and a subjective construction—a fabrication of a new world that chooses lead actors or drivers. The last discussions with Bergdoll and Martin were inspiring because, in the end, we are back to discussing not only what it means but also what the work’s implications are.
We began with an arcane focus on streetlights. We modeled the city streetlights in a citywide digital model. The project still has a sense of that expanse within it and the way you navigate the extended spaces—the sense of distance in the empty suburban street—has driven us. The project is very finite and quantitative as well; our recent talks did remind me of a debt to Wright’s writing and also Dana Cuff’s writing on the nature of redevelopment and the narratives of personal investment, stake holders, property rights, and the sub-text of any major work in housing and urban redevelopment.
In short, the screen capture of the project modeled for laser-cutting plexi parts would never reveal the social goals of the work, but it has been a consistent attempt to find that balance between the finite work of architecture and the emergent work of a social or public life. Jesse Keenan was a major help to us in examining the financial aspects of Temple Terrace, but if you look at our architectural models I am not sure that it will show explicitly. Yet that influence from the first meetings is still very much present, as is the case for so many who have added to the project.
Site Location: Salem-Keizer, Oregon
Two weeks to go until the open house. I fear we are so zoomed in production that we are losing the big picture. While most of the argument has been flushed over and over again, the piece that is still not clicking is the “financial” argument. On the one hand, there is The Buell Hypothesis, which asks what would have happened had the billions of dollars in stimulus money been directed towards public housing and better infrastructure. The Buell Hypothesis doesn’t require us to justify why or how, but rather show what this scenario would have looked like. On the other hand, there is the “general audience”—high and low, familiar with the suburban landscape and not—as well as the usual naysayers who will want to dismiss the exhibition on the basis of feasibility. Clearly, ecological infrastructure and an investment in public architecture is going to “cost more” than rolling the usual suburban division rug out. But isn’t the whole point of it all that this cost is not real? That the True Cost to people, animals, land, and plants of sprawling single-family homes is exponentially more than what is computed in standard development models? As we are crunching numbers with HR&A, all of these questions are surfacing, as of yet unresolved…