Arts Take Over Real, Imaginative Spaces

Event: Festival of Ideas for the New City
Location: New Museum for Contemporary Art; NYU Kimmel Pavilion; Cooper Union Great Hall; Center for Architecture; Openhouse Gallery, and others, 05.04-08.2011 (plus 05.09.2011 panel to close Audi Urban Future Initiative)
Speakers: Rem Koolhaas — Principal, Office for Metropolitan Architecture (Opening Keynote); Jaron Lanier — Scholar at Large & Partner Architect, Microsoft (Keynote); Antanas Mockus — Former Mayor, Bogotá, Colombia (keynote); Click here for the full list of speakers and events
Organizers: New Museum for Contemporary Art (Founder); Architectural League; Bowery Poetry Club; C-Lab/Columbia University; Center for Architecture; Cooper Union; Drawing Center; NYU Wagner; PARC Foundation; Storefront for Art and Architecture; Swiss Institute; Architizer (Media Sponsor, Audi Urvan Future Initiative)
Sponsors: Founding Supporter: Goldman Sachs Gives; Lead Sponsor: Audi Urban Future Initiative; Lead Supporter: Rockefeller Foundation; Producing Sponsors: American Express; Brookfield Lonti Ebers; Supporting Sponsors: Toby Devan Lewis; John S. Wotowicz; and Virginia D. Lebermann

Rosan Bosch jumps UP and DOWN in her jumpZONES.

Courtesy Center for Architecture

Combining academic talks, art events, and a community-oriented Streetfest, the first Festival of Ideas for the New City turned lower Manhattan into a speculative smörgåsbord. Tomorrow’s cities, speakers suggested, will be biophilic, wirelessly networked, troubling, and exhilarating.

Rem Koolhaas’s keynote addressed preservation historically and theoretically, arguing that contemporary conditions (resource constraints, worldwide “radical stasis” maintained by institutional imperatives, and pervasive anti-utopianism) call for rational criteria regarding preservation and demolition. The “Cronocaos” exhibition’s form embodied the tension between new construction and the built history it replaces: hanging explanatory boards in a New Museum annex, OMA/AMO left half the space “unrenovated,” a revealing palimpsest of Lower East Sides old and new.

AIANY’s “jumpUP, jumpDOWN, jumpZONE” made practical contributions to the quality of urban life: ExpoTENtial’s Par Corps lab, tours of the Center’s geothermal system, and Rosan Bosch’s exercise space and workshop, an outgrowth of her “Free Zone” intervention promoting physical activity using streets and urban infrastructure.

In the Audi Urban Future Initiative (curated by Stylepark at Openhouse Gallery), the winning entry by Jürgen Mayer H. was techno-optimistic, envisioning driverless navigation within a post-petroleum smart-grid environment. The related “Draw/Think/Tank” panel in Raumlabor’s Spacebuster bubble featured debate over personal mobility and its discontents. A post-Festival panel presented further scenarios resulting from pairings of five New York firms (Abruzzo Bodziak, Leong Leong, Marc Fornes and THEVERYMANY, Matter Practice, and Peter Macapia/labDORA) with the Urban Future finalists.

Between rigorous attention to the past and fanciful approaches to the future, participants on the Networked City, Heterogeneous City, Reconfigured City, and Sustainable City panels envisioned cities becoming not only greener and healthier but better-prepared to handle the social implications of their physical forms. Among the many constructive remarks were Elizabeth Diller’s meditation on architecture’s boundaries and purposes: “The idea of a profession isn’t about exclusion. It’s about developing a body of knowledge collectively that is powerfully influential in society.” Mayors from Bogotá, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Braddock, PA, accordingly, described experiments applying creative expertise to civic problems, from mitigating climatic effects of development to inculcating a culture of citizenship through absurdist spectacle (Bogotá’s Antanas Mockus, borrowing Russian Formalist “estrangement” strategies, hired mimes to ridicule inept drivers, and distributed behavioral approval/disapproval cards for citizens to hand each other). The arts rarely invade the political realm so directly, but success stories highlighted throughout the Festival — local examples include the High Line, Lincoln Center’s renovations, Natalie Jeremijenko’s investigations of technology, and Common Ground’s affordable-housing achievements at Andrews House and the Schermerhorn — imply this sort of border-crossing should happen more often.