Architecture as Social Policy

Event: Politics, Publics and Design
Location: Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP), Columbia University, 09.10.07
Speakers: Dr. Rene Spitz — Chairman, International Design Forum (IFG), Ulm; Kenneth Frampton — Ware Professor of Architecture, GSAPP, Columbia University; Adi Shamir — Executive Director, Van Alen Institute
Organizers: Kadambari Baxi — Associate Professor, Undergraduate Architecture, Barnard College & Columbia College; Irene Cheng — Doctoral Candidate, GSAPP, Columbia University

Living City

Living City was awarded a 2007 New York Prize Fellowship through the Van Alen Institute.

Courtesy David Benjamin and Soo-In Yang

In a time where globalization meets global warming, the boundaries between public and private are constantly shifting. The International Design Forum (IFG) Ulm and Van Alen Institute are two organizations examining the relationships among politics, the public realm, and design — the former with an annual design competition, and the latter with its New York Prize Fellowship.

The Designing Politics competition intends to “encourage projects to develop consequences which leave a lasting mark on our social and physical environment,” according to Dr. Rene Spitz, IFG Ulm chairman. What made the winning projects in 2006 stand apart from other submissions was the way they examined the relationship between design and politics.

The KwaThema Project: Designing Negotiations Between Planning and Violence, submitted by Hannah le Roux of Johannesburg, proposes to overcome the tension between violence and planning within derelict public spaces in a small township in South Africa by working with the local community. One aspect of the project, for example, is to transform an eroding former liquor store into a children’s playground with help and input from local school children. Uncounted Counts. Citizenship by Design and Design for Democracy is a research project investigating the relationship between the individual and the state, examining nationality within globalization. Created by Kadambari Baxi, associate professor at Barnard and Columbia Colleges, and Irene Cheng, doctoral candidate at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP), Columbia University, research will lead to prototypes of alternatives to the standard products, including passports, naturalization tests, ballot papers, and election booths.

The Van Alen Institute’s 2007 New York Prize Fellowship “provides international emerging practitioners and scholars an opportunity for in-depth research and a platform for interventions in the public realm,” according to the online overview. Living City, one of the prizes awarded to David Benjamin and Soo-In Yang, evaluates NYC’s air quality. For three months, Benjamin and Yang will develop a full-scale architectural membrane that “breathes” reacting to the surrounding air quality. Through a responsive, kinetic surface, movement is converted into public information.

In response to the panel discussion held at GSAPP on the two programs, Kenneth Frampton, Ware Professor of Architecture at GSAPP, discussed the importance of contextualization, but voiced concern over the inherent latency some of the projects presented. Whether or not all of the projects will be implemented, the proposals are forward looking and a step in the right direction toward social responsibility.