Foreclosed: Visualizing the Invisible

The five multidisciplinary teams working on projects for the exhibition Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream have six weeks left in the workshop phase. Here, they talk about how to visually communicate some of the less tangible elements of their proposals and the blurred lines between private and public process.

Photograph of in-progress model. Photograph courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Studio GangJeanne Gang

Project: The Garden in the Machine

Site Location: Cicero, Illinois

We have our factory, a model, and a project title; with six weeks to go, we’re getting there. The puzzle confronting us this week is: how do we make the invisible elements of our program visible? For example, when is a parking space not a parking space? When it’s the center of a community-wide (or city- and nationwide) car-sharing program that underpins our vision of reduced car ownership (and its financial burdens) on the streets of Cicero. But try explaining that in a model.

The same dilemma extends to the factory itself. Our program is the reassembly of a foreclosed factory into new spaces that meet the needs of a growing, recently arrived Hispanic population. But what are those needs beyond the generic headings of “live, work, play?” That’s what we’ve been working on these past few weeks, which we intend to address in the titles of our program elements for the exhibition. A list of these elements is below, with a few notes on the more nontraditional ones:

  • Dwell/Work
  • Pool
  • Event Square (Farmer’s Market, Film and Music Festivals, Informal Recreation and Gathering)

Allotment Gardens: Unlike community gardens, these are still a private enterprise. Common in Europe, allotment gardens are parcels of land that are rented to families or individuals to sow and grow what they wish. While most such gardens are located outside of population centers, ours are sited on the factory’s shared balconies. They are our literal “gardens in the machine.”

  • Remediation Garden
  • Community Greenhouse
  • Car Share
  • Recycling Center
  • Incinerator
  • Waste-to-Energy Digester
  • Vertical Wetland
  • Vehicle Wash and Repair
  • Elementary School

Culinary Incubator: Strict government regulations make it impossible to prepare food communally or commercially at greater than a bake-sale level, so our culinary incubator is a certified restaurant kitchen at residents’ disposal—a welcome amenity in Hispanic cultures.

  • Daycare
  • Community Gym
  • Art Center
  • Artist Studios
  • Market

Community Workshop: We thought it was only fitting to keep part of the factory as a factory. As the name implies, the Workshop is outfitted with professional wood- and metal-working equipment, overseen by professional staff and rented by residents. Informal light manufacturing already exists in Cicero; our aim is to make it safer and more efficient.


1/32"=1'0" model, here we go! The “Lowrise of Homes” and ”Tower of Houses.” Photograph courtesy of WORKac. (Click to view full size)

WORKacAmale Andraos and Dan Wood

Project: Nature-City

Site Location: Salem-Keizer, Oregon

On the video and installation front, we had a great meeting with Wieden+Kennedy yesterday. It’s exciting for us to learn about their creative process. Our goal is to outline “ten reasons why one would want to live in Nature+City,’ which will help their “brief.” Today, we are conceptualizing wall vs. video content, to create a “room within a room.”

On the models front, we have built 1/32″ models, working on adjusting the scale of one type in relation to another. The core model will cut through six types: the Compost Mound Block, Water Houses, Mushroom-Canning Houses, and the Extreme Courtyards, with the Low Rise of Homes and Tower of Houses serving as reference. At the site-model scale, we are further developing the gradient of “nature” from the inner and elevated gardens and courtyards to the oak savannah, wetlands, and Douglas Fir forest that occupies 70% of the site.


“A Note on Urban Representations”

Zago ArchitectureAndrew Zago

Project: Property with Properties

Site Location: Rialto, California

For architects, the design of cities requires the depiction of cities. These depictions tend to fall into one of two categories: abstract representations and pictorial representations. Often, a project requires the production of both. The former engages an interdisciplinary dialogue while the latter engages the imagination of the viewing public. The emergence of new urban forms has often been accompanied by new urban representations. From the Nolli plan of Rome, to Piranesi’s vedute, to the 19th-century urban panorama, to Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip, urban representations link new forms of urban space to the evolving spatial sensibilities of the public. In architecture today, little new work is done on the problem of contemporary urban representation. Instead, a proliferation of graphic diagrams that rely on the clever deployment of green splats and arrows (the efficacy of which is, invariably, demonstrated via renderings of bowered paths with translucent joggers) is deemed the appropriate level of urban specificity.

XYT film stills: Detroit, Michigan (top), and Rialto, California (bottom). Images courtesy of Zago Architecture

In response to this stagnation, we have worked to develop new forms of urban representation. One example of this is the experimental film XYT Detroit Streets (top image). In this work the structure and atmosphere of urban panoramas are digitally restructured into the terms of contemporary space. The street scenes remain legible, but perspective is replaced by a slowly shifting tableau without a privileged viewpoint. For this project, we have adapted our XYT technique to representations of Rialto California (bottom image). This will be shown as part of the site documentation for our project.

Moving from site documentation to our proposal, we have devised a notable variant of our XYT process that places our project into a (phenomenal) axonometric space. This saturated and active tableau will be displayed on a large, vertically displayed monitor in proximity to our documentation footage.


Phillip Crupi "Making Things Work." Photograph courtesy of Michael Bell: Visible Weather

“Things in the Making”

Michael Bell: Visible WeatherMichael Bell and Eunjeong Seong

Project: Simultaneous City

Site Location: Temple Terrace, Florida

Everyone involved has been preoccupied with the details of the exhibition, knowing we have to edit, but the general question has not been about how to complete things or how to define the project’s scope, but rather how to communicate the ideas. The scale of the project, from urbanism to housing units, energy issues, day lighting, function, or financial issues—the end result is as much a project as a larger process. The overall way we’ve worked with the Museum has made this very much a live process and one in which nascent ideas and iterations are quasi-public. That has not made it easy to focus but it also forced focus. At times it has seemed to parallel a public sphere (television, town halls….) where ideas are often dismantled (before they begin) and where the lowest common denominator usually survives.

We’ve tried to see how that public process affects us, not by giving up on ideas that fail to communicate right away but, rather, to see why they don’t and trying again. In the end I think issues of a new vision or a new way to live—to shape private life in the midst of public—has been the most important issue, and eventually you begin to feel that all the ideas have been subsumed into that realm. The work starts to lead you rather you leading it.

We’ve felt that there are key images that communicate and bring you into the work, but we also know that we’ll have to look at how to animate diagrams and/or choreograph information to go along with the images. Much of what we’ve designed has been enabled by ideas in finance and engineering. But if the project does not have its own final spatial sensibility, we’d think it had failed as architecture. “Things in the Making” was the subtitle of a conference hosted by MoMA and organized by Joan Ockman several years back. It was in turn based on William James’ text. In all of this work to date we’ve often felt we were occupying a space between the pragmatism of the everyday and a still highly authored architectural image or spatial sensibility. The MoMA workshop itself has been a “thing in the making,” but the work produced has tended toward a form of architectural euphoria—in an ideal world that bridging would be not only work, but would translate to many.

The image (shown above): After seven blog posts and a query on the state of the exhibition it struck us that we have too many computers and too much information. We ganged the computers together and asked one of our team members (Phillip Crupi) to pose as if they were all his workstations. The team has become very unified and it’s often amazing how rapidly files move from one person to another.


Detail of in-progress models. Photograph courtesy of MOS

MOSHilary Sample and Michael Meredith

Project: Thoughts on a Walking City

Site Location: The Oranges, New Jersey

Not a TO-DO LIST #6:

Disclaimer: These past few weeks we’ve posted in an “informal,” blog-ish manner, exaggerating informality for effect. We have used an overtly personalized “we.” “We” thought we were being sincere. Our reasoning was influenced in part by the provocation of reimagining the “American Dream” as laid out by The Buell Hypothesis—a task that requires reimagining urbanity. There’s nothing radical about the observation that urbanity has changed over our lifetimes. We began this project with the statement that the urban has been replaced with the social, and it’s a thought we’re still trying to understand. What we thought we meant that the idea of a “public” has shifted in how we construct identity, how we relate to others, and how we communicate. (At their core, architecture and urbanism continually construct their subjects.)

The institutions of architecture and urban design postulate an imaginary “public” that either overemphasizes sameness (as in modernism) or exaggerates difference (as in postmodernism). Today neither approach seems prescient. The blog format, tweets, texting, and the like have reworked social relations at a very fundamental level. If urbanity at its core is the construction of identity, then address, facade, style, neighborhood, etc. all produce collective ontologies and values. They reflect upon us. Social media has produced new social intimacies and subjectivities. We know it’s trite, but today we exist in a cultural space that is neither hegemonic nor heterogeneous, but rather simultaneous. What used to be marooned inside our heads now floats freely in data clouds. Our fleeting thoughts have become potential media events, and this media constructs our identity as much, if not more than, address or neighborhood.

The dialectic of public vs. private, which is so often delineated in design, feels more meaningless than ever. There are no hard edges to public or private—they’re superimposed topographies of networks, bubbles, spheres, and foams. In this landscape, what is the role of housing, or architecture? Are we just one more layer of information, or do we try to exist between multiple layers. As abstract as it is to consider, we’re attempting the second option.

We probably don’t watch as much TV as we should, but a pedestrian example we recently noticed is a strange advertisement for luncheon meats. The husband is at home on the couch obsessed with his phone and his wife wants to tell him it’s time to eat but he’s ignoring her staring at his phone, so she sends him a message with a picture of the product they’re trying to sell. It’s such a strange ad with recursive media, looking at the TV of someone looking at their phone, domesticating our obsession with communication and technology to the point where the representational world of media surpasses the real world.

As troubling as the confusion between the real and the representational is, we’d like to believe that our desire for constant communication will eventually lead us towards public transportation. As all of us are more and more plugged in, eventually there will be limits to the simultaneity. We’re betting that we can’t really totally exist in multiple spaces at the same time, that we can only oscillate between them. Texting while driving is already a major health issue (1). Anecdotally, it’s impossible not to notice the numbers of people texting and using their phones while driving, talking, watching TV, etc. This distraction or desire for communication will only continue to become more and more present, which is great for our energy policy and public transportation (2). As legislation is introduced (3) forbidding driving while texting, people will have to choose either to communicate, blog, tweet, text, etc. or drive. The irony with this line of thinking is that as we become more and more obsessed with our gadgets, navel-gazing and communicating, the more we worry about constructing our identities, the better citizens we could become.

In this regard, our proposal for a walking city, a city where people’s main mode of local transportation is pedestrian and where they would take public transportation for work, should not be considered nostalgia for some vague sense of traditional values. It’s not about looking backwards. Rather, it is looking forward to a better future.


1. Often lumped into the broader category of Distracted Driving, texting is considered the most alarming, as it requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention. In general, drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into car crashes. Their reaction times are delayed as much as having a blood-alcohol concentration of .08 percent. In 2009, distracted driving accounted for 20 percent of injury crashes, while 18 percent of fatalities involved reports of cell phone usage. (Source: National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA))

2. Fuel usage is reliant on a number of factors that are increasingly relevant for our site in Orange, NJ. Distance to the nearest central business district (Newark or Manhattan), density, the use of public transportation, median income, household size, etc. As density and the reliance on public transportation increase, the amount of gasoline used per household decreases noticeably. (Source: Edward Glaesser

According to a study in 2006, it was “estimated that over 39 million gallons of fuel are consumed annually for every one pound increase in average passenger weight.” Further, if each driver were to reduce travel by one mile, in just six years the obesity rate would lower by more than two percent. (Source: Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, L.A. McLay, S.H. Jacobson, Virginia Commonwealth University)

3. To date, 34 states have banned text messaging for all drivers, while nine of those states also prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. (Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), State Highway Safety Offices.)