Foreclosed: Constructing an Exhibition Narrative

The five multidisciplinary teams working on projects for the exhibition Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream passed the halfway mark of the workshop phase last week. Here they talk about the varied resources they are using to help make decisions on model scales and project narratives as they choose what to include in the exhibition.


Video stills from interviews conducted by Theaster Gates and Roberta Feldman. Images courtesy of Spirit of Space (

Studio GangJeanne Gang

Project: The Garden in the Machine

Site Location: Cicero, Illinois

With all of our project’s ingredients in place, including the site, its residents and their occupations, financial models, and our variations on the “garden,” we turn to conceiving the specific elements for the exhibit. Meanwhile, team members Theaster Gates and Roberta Feldman continue gleaning stories from Cicero residents who have actually suffered foreclosure, revealing the harsh reality of the crisis while reaffirming the need for (re-)combining work and dwelling in a new type of housing.

Back at Studio Gang, our site model (currently rendered in blue foam, bond paper, and chip board) is looking good at the scale 1″=40′. This scale occupies the sweet spot of being large enough to see the sprawling factory’s relationship with the smaller scales of the surrounding bungalows, parks, and rail lines, while retaining enough texture to give visitors a feel for what it’s like to inhabit the space. It also offered us the opportunity to materially test one of our central conceits—preserving the factory’s wall while adding or subtracting interior elements to suggest the reassembly of dead space into something new, vital, and flexible.


Studio critique with Neil Denari. Photograph courtesy of Zago Architecture

“Sausage Making”

Zago ArchitectureAndrew Zago

Project: Property with Properties

Site Location: Rialto, California

As with a sausage, the making of an architectural project doesn’t lend itself to elegant description. The various processes and materials used in its production often make little sense outside of the studio environment, being so markedly different than the intended final effect.

Our day-to-day activity consists, mostly, of a workmanlike persistence in materializing the spatial, economic, political, and technical aspirations of the project. Unlikely source materials enter into this process, such as, in our case, poorly printed comic books, Persian miniature paintings, plans of public zoos, product boxes, and pavilion designs by the Baroque architect Fischer von Erlach. In our process, insights and approaches accumulated over a number of years of practice, together with novel insights brought from the nature of the project and from our collaborators, are meticulously applied and tested in our approaches to building form, site-plan layout, and tectonics of construction. As with the sausage, we hope that our results are more appealing than our ingredients.

Another critical aspect of our development is to balance our internal activity with outside observations. We have had the opportunity to review our project with various colleagues. Their observations and suggestions have helped us clarify our thematic and spatial aspirations. After one such review yesterday, we have narrowed the contents of our final production—not only the scales and extents of the various models and drawings but also their intended overall effect.


Determining the model scale at WORKac. Photograph courtesy of WORKac

WORKacAmale Andraos and Dan Wood

Project: Nature-City

Site Location: Salem-Keizer, Oregon

After much deliberation, we have settled on a scale for the “core sample” architectural model, to give a sense of the interiors while bringing the public into Nature-City’s urban scale, diverse typologies, and varied landscapes, as well as the intimate relation each housing typology has to the various infrastructures (sustainable and other) operating on the site.

The next step is to edit and consolidate the narrative, not only working toward the production of enticing visuals, but also finding ways to convey this narrative to Wieden+Kennedy, our “dream experts.” With incredible input and commitment, each team member—Eric Sanderson (Ecology), Jerry Frug (Urban Design), Jason Loiselle (Engineering), James Lima (Finance), Michael Etzel (Local Expertise), and John McMorrough (Architecture)—has now brought a particular critique and agenda to the project, from ecology to questions of urban density and diversity, public/private relationships, sustainable infrastructure, ownership and development models, local expertise, and architectural critique. W+K represents the interface with a public audience.


Model shown to scale. Photograph courtesy of Michael Bell: Visible Weather

Michael Bell: Visible WeatherMichael Bell and Eunjeong Seong

Project: Simultaneous City

Site Location: Temple Terrace, Florida

There was a recurring debate in schools in the late 1990s about uses of digital techniques for representation versus fabrication. Before digital fabrication was well established there was a sense that it would essentially denigrate uses of renderings, or images–aspects of illustration—that fabrication was a deep challenge to images and narrative. What was missing from that debate was the output of special effects in film—Industrial Light and Magic, for example—but in a wider sense how special effects in film had become, seemingly, most of the film—everything was digitally adjusted, and the line between what was real or artificial was blurred in ways that made people seem not to care so much about what was what. Housing is often discussed in ways that resort to image and narrative, and in the end architects have had very little role in the commercial market of housing today. The lament is often that image carries the project and that the role of popular taste defeats the conceits of architects. Somewhere in all of this it’s possible to conflate the blurring of making and drawings, of real and projected or imagined. In either case the unknown aspects of the future are decreased and the sense of something as already complete rises: fabrication, renderings, drawings, animations, financial modeling, finite element analysis tests for structure, and demographic projections all seem to diminish risk in ways that are almost contrary to the original goal of a startling avant-garde; a rupture or break in the norm and all its uncertainty is seemingly replaced by a raft of calculations that assuage the risk. If that is the case I think this does get closer to ILM: things seem real and are therefore pre-built in ways that fast-forward the trauma of the new and deliver you to the experience after the realization rather then the upheaval of change.

If that is the case all five of these projects could possibly be built without constituent apprehension and then tested against the stories, the construction means, all for less than a line item in the current budget impasse in Washington. In other words, maybe architecture can lose its author’s radicalness and become experience—be realized more synthetically even as it still constitutes deep change.


MOSHilary Sample and Michael Meredith

Project: Thoughts on a Walking City

Site Location: The Oranges, New Jersey


1. ***Deleted due to inappropriate content***
2. Design. Design. Think about it. Check e-mail. Reflect on the world at large. Design some more. Check e-mail some more. Look at phone. Make a model. Get a coffee. Instant message with some friends. Update “status”; yes, we’re in a Relationship. Procrastinate. Surf and collect references. Remind yourself it’s all been done before. Design even if you don’t want to. Repeat.
3. Do as little as possible. At some point in the process, we realized that there is no way to solve this problem. It’s too large. We suppose we still want to solve it, we’ll do our best, but we’re hampered by the fact that we’re architects. Everyone thinks we just deal in luxury goods and they might be right. Anyway, we started this process looking at generic structures. This history of the city is a history of repetition—the repetition of generic structures. Agglomerations whose distance and density depends upon methods of movement, economy, social relationships, and public health policies. Our concept of the generic isn’t a modernist universal structure, or a meta-whatever, the idea of generic urbanism is akin to social networking, which relies upon a common format that you can plug into, customize, inhabit, whatever. (Think Cedric Price Fun Palace.) Nowadays, there are no exteriors, there’s only interiors, and interiors within interiors, etc…. Listen, we’re all for idiosyncratic forms, we love them, we make them, we think that IS Architecture, but for better or worse in this particular case we’re more interested in a specific urbanism and a relatively generic architecture, something made to be repeated. Okay, you caught us, we like repetition, we like rhymes and references. References could be Venice, or Aldo Rossi’s housing at Gallaratese, or the Smithson’s Golden Lane, or Kahn’s Design for Philly—who doesn’t love all those arrows marching along in unison? We’re completely uninterested in composing a pleasant Andy Griffith set or extravagant dynamic spectacles. We just want it to happen, not composed, filled without thinking too much. Like that Barthelme story we posted weeks ago, don’t be too imaginative.
4. Work on Format, Presentation, Exhibition. Every week MoMA asks us what are we presenting…. “Hilary and Michael that all sounds fine, but what is it going to look like?” MoMA structured this as if they’re teachers and we’re students. It’s our least favorite aspect of the MoMA experiment. We hated being students. Barry wants to make sure everything is clear, that the public understands it. Reinhold says we should be speaking to the collection. (See last week’s post for reference to this conundrum.) We keep telling them it’s under control, no problem, we can handle it, etc. We tell ourselves that too. This isn’t much to go on. We understand MoMA’s position, we feel their pain. The way we work is that have to make stuff to see if it’s any good. Despite how much we talk and write, we don’t put faith in concepts or intent, we believe in things. We’re pretty literal. We make it, then stare at it—working iteratively. Like some of our recent work, maybe everything should be rendered at dawn or dusk, maybe with fog/mist, representationally destroying the architectural object, maybe with scientific color-spectrum effects done wrong (done aesthetically), every color all at once, maybe with drawings superimposed, maybe a day/night loop so that it has no beginning no ending…. Ideally there’s a sense of humor to the narrative, strange miscommunications, misreadings, awkward silences, etc. Who knows? We’re all for inside jokes. At least we should enjoy ourselves even if nobody else does…. Basically we’re shooting for a strange concoction of real and representational, neither completely and both at the same time. We’re open to suggestions. We currently want to focus on a LARGE, immersing movie, sort of like a Mies drawing. At a recent pin-up someone said our movie draft looked “Lynchian.” We never thought of that, but it sounded great.