Re-thinking how we think about cities at the OP CITY symposium

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Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 12:00pm

On June 1, 2013 a group of architects, urban planners, designers and media artists from across Canada and the U.S. came together for the symposium OP CITY: Figuring the Urban Future and its Audiences. Presented by the Daniels Faculty in partnership with UCLA’s cityLAB, the day-long symposium explored new methods for observing and understanding contemporary cities, such as mapping, data visualization techniques and multimedia interventions. The aim of this work is to break down disciplinary divides and build alliances with often overlooked audiences to discover new approaches to the challenges faced by cities. OP CITY looks at the city in new ways, evaluating the opportunities, optics and operations that lay within.

Four teams of collaborators considered these issues and presented their ideas at the symposium. Members of the Daniels Faculty participating in the symposium included Dean Richard Sommer, Assistant Professor Matthew Allen, part time faculty member Michael Piper, and MArch ’13 graduate Ultan Byrne. Moderators Dean Sommer and Roger Sherman were joined by Discussants Dana Cuff, CityLAB Director, and Eve Blau, Adjunct Professor at Harvard GSD.


Presentation #1: “Project Project: Live Modeling a Queer Urbanism”

Jonathan Crisman (pictured below), Project Director of the Urban Humanities Initiative, in collaboration with his teammate Steven Beckly, examined the use of projection to speculate about alternative futures for urban space. The project included a design for queer space in the neighborhood of St. James Town in Toronto.

Crisman’s primary objective was to facilitate new forms of architectural and urban development that are quintessentially multivalent and contradictory, and represent the plurality of the city rather than artificial unity. His presentation included a short video that demonstrates conceptual frameworks created through projection.


Presentation #2: “Building Characters”

Michael Piper, Matthew Allen and Ultan Byrne’s proposal aimed to make visual sense of suburban built environments using an online urban design platform with Google Earth. The team identified different types, or ”characters”, of suburban public spaces, which could be used to assist designers in transforming suburban landscapes. The interactive mapping software used in conjunction with the typologies for suburban public spaces that the team identified would also enable the general public to better understand, and propose changes to, their urban environments.

The team’s proposal suggested “re-purposing Google Earth as a tool for engaging urban inhabitants.” Online users would be able to offer their input and suggestions, which would be tracked and analyzed to provide a platform for crowd-sourcing at a large scale.


Presentation #3: “What About the Valley?”

“What About the Valley” was presented by Christopher Marcinkoski, with Andrew Moddrell and Nicholas Pevzner. Marcinkoski and Moddrell are founding directors of architecture firm PORT A+U and teach at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Illinois-Chicago, respectively. Pevzner is a lecturer at the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design.

The group of landscape architects examined the Lower Cuyahoga Valley in Cleveland, Ohio – an area of more than 12,000 acres that holds latent civic and ecological potential. They argued that the “industrial valley,” as it is known locally, could see a civic reoccupation with the implementation of design interventions. The group was “interested in deploying nimble design experiments that lead to more permanent interventions, investment, and occupation of the Lower Cuyahoga River Valley.” The goal of the project is to begin a dialogue with the people of Cleveland about the potential of the Valley and to build on that momentum in order to transform the region into a productive civic landscape.


Presentation #4: “Hacking Geodemography: Domestic/Data Occupation”

The final presentation from McLain Clutter was prepared in collaboration with his teammate Matt Kenyon. Clutter, Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan Taubman College, presented a critical examination of the use of geodemographics: data sets that combine demographics (ethnicity, sexuality, gender, etc.) with the geographic locations of these groups. Clutter described how these data sets are used for great profit for shopping malls, big box stores and other developments geared towards the consumer groups living in the area.

Clutter and Kenyon proposed “hacking” these data sets and re-purposing them to yield projective design potentials. “The goal of the hack is twofold,” explained Clutter. “First, to manipulate geodemography to make visible new design potentials in the city that will be solicitous of latent urban audiences, and, second, to design scenarios that would change the geodemographic data available pertaining to the project’s site.” The team argued that this new appropriation of the data will offer new agency to the design of the physical environment.

The Daniels Faculty and cityLAB would like to thank the Graham Foundation for its support of OP CITY: Figuring the Urban Future and its Audiences.