Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On the trail of a humane architecture...

[Image: Squatter Settlements in Metro Manila by Neal Oshima in October 2006 who wrote, "as we become increasingly aware of the damage we, as a species, have done to the planet and as the prospects of long-term human survival dim, I wonder if these photos aren’t an optimistic glimmer of the future of the human species on earth."]

Alright. So, one announcement I’m super excited to make is that next week Subtopia will be heading out to Indiana to join Wes Janz at Ball State University as a guest speaker where he’s teaching a graduate studio “towards a humane architecture” in the context of informal settlements – a dream topic for us, to say the least. You see, it’s not All about militarization but really more broadly an interest in the spaces of globalization’s cracks, the sub-architectures of global urbanism with their own etched borders and informal patterns, filling fissures with little fossils of humanity vaulted in the landscape.
Maybe, it’s a kind of abstract archaeology: how do we trace the morphology of humane space? What does it mean to be humane, and how are spaces specifically humane or inhumane? In this context what is architecture; architecture vs. shelter, site vs. place, “consuming knowledge” vs. “constructing knowledge”, prescribed space vs. reclaimed leftover space…

[Image: Squatter Settlements in Metro Manila by Neal Oshima in October 2006.]

Ultimately Wes is exploring where knowledge resides in space - in it’s architects and planners (formal design), or in the billion squatters and improvisers of their own structures around the world today (indigenous design)? How is knowledge transmitted spatially, architecturally? How do architects even begin to engage this context? What do the squatters have to teach us about knowledge, architecture, our humanity, about teaching and learning itself?
In case you haven’t been with us I’ve featured Wes a couple of times both here and on Archinect and after emailing back and forth for a year or so we finally met a few months ago at Postopolis! where Wes gave a great presentation on the architectural and political ramifications of mass demolitions in abandoned cities like Flint, Michigan. You can read about it in Dan’s wicked archive @ City of Sound.
One of the things I most dig about Wes is his emphasis on the process itself, the experience of education, and the self-reflexivity that spurs his architectural curiosity. He’s a natural inquisitor and as an educator I think his provocation of the field of architecture is right on.
Needless to say I can’t wait to get to get out there and engage all of this with the class. We’ve all shared some great email dialog already and I have to say: thinking about concepts around squatter settlements, architectural informality, and design suture with a bunch of smart people who are interested in exploring them both intellectually and in a studio space sounds unbelievably cool to me. Since I never formally studied architecture or endured a design studio I am totally grateful for this opportunity – so thanks again Wes!

[Image: Squatter Settlements in Metro Manila by Neal Oshima in October 2006.]

Seriously, I have a lot to say on this topic but am really more curious to learn from everyone else and see how they respond to this from their own p.o.v. I certainly don’t need to get into the details here but the context of informal space, borders, illicit urbanism, remote landscapes, community design, land use activism, (un)planning, global poverty and migration zones, post-military landscapes, urban homelessness, refugee detention, mobile jails, need I go on? These are the contexts that in my opinion are perhaps the most concerning to the future of spatial practice, what Nick has articulated in his current exhibition as Just Space(s). And too put all of this into a class experience, well, Wes is all over it.
But, the best part of it all actually is that after Indiana Wes and the gang and I will all meet up again a week later in SoCal to embark on an intrepid little jaunt to the U.S./Mexico border.
That’s right! Psyyyychhed. This is what education should be all about.
We’re going to B-line to Yuma in Arizona, a notoriously intense zone of illegal border crossings and enforcement, to check out the fence installation there before heading back along the border through Calexico, Mexicali, and Tijuana and hopefully get out to Imperial Beach for some Border Ball.
And, well, uuhhh.....honestly? I can’t think of a much better way to spend the tail end of my summer. There will be of course plenty to report as time goes on.


Blogger g+a said...

Hey, the Ball State studio sounds fantastic, kind of like a global Mockbee Rural Studio scenario. Wes' investigation of where knowledge resides in space parallels almost exactly a topic which I've begun exploring centered on improvised design and conflict situations. I've got a possible trip out to Afghanistan at the end of next month to document examples of improvised design pretty much with the same intentions as Wes. It would be great if you could put me in touch with him, I'd love to hear more about what his studio is doing and of course keep me posted about your trip down there. Good luck and enjoy!


8:43 PM  

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