Sunday, April 4, 2010

smallBIG: flatworks

Eleven artists/architects contributed flatworks -- drawings, paintings, or photographs -- to the "small architecture BIG LANDSCAPES" show at the Swope Art Museum. Artists from Argentina, Canada, Germany, Slovenia, Spain, and the U.S. considered subject matter in their home countries, and in Brazil, China, Kenya, Venezuela, and the West Bank. In so doing, they brought an international awareness to the show's content, highlighting that some issues and strategies are somewhat consistent globally, even as local pressures and potentials bring distinctiveness to the small architecture and big landscapes that are being created every day and every second around the world.

Marjetica Potrc
Lubljana, Slovenia
"Temporary Territories"
Ink on Paper, 2003-2007

Marjetica Potrc works closely with local communities to devise homegrown, sustainable solutions to the daily quality-of-life dilemmas that affect people who live in the world's city slums. As part of a process she calls "participatory design," Potrc has spent months immersed in places such as settlements in the Western Balkans and the barrios of Caracas, Venezuela, engaging the knowledge of local people and drawing from existing materials to create designs to improve their living conditions. Her work is driven by her belief that, "Citizens are the ones who make the city." Potrc has had solo exhibitions at the Guggenheim Museum and Max Protech Gallery (New York), Nordenhake Gallery (Berlin), the List Visual Arts Center at MIT, and the De Appel Foundation in Amsterdam. Her installation "Genesis" is on permanent display at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway.

Santiago Cirugeda
Seville, Spain

The project "Insect-House: The Tick's Stratagem" came about when Alameda Viva invited Cirugeda to support their act of resistance to the cutting down of trees in Seville by occupying those same trees. By following the fundamental premises of the efficacious urban guerrilla, the activist-architect designed shelters that allowed for immediate construction. The outside shell protected occupants from possible aggressors. The shelter's bottom was usually 4.5 meters off the ground and provided storage space; the top had a sliding shell for protection. The implicit goal was remind people that even if their voice is considerably quieted, they still can act and decide. They have a say. Beyond a mere ecological attitude concerning the protection of trees, this is a strategy of opposition to plans directed, and often imposed, on the population and its style of urban life.

Craig McCormick
Indianapolis, Indiana
"Thonet" and "Lebanon, Indiana"
color photographs, 2008

As an architect, I witness a side of real estate development and consumer culture that many people never see. Developers and bankers have a language all their won, referring to buildings as "product" and "vehicles for profit." I came to the realization that most of what is built around us today is really not for our use or enjoyment, not to better our lives, but simply to wrangle a dollar from out pockets or to feed a proforma. This change how I fundamentally think about making buildings and pictures. Begun in early 2008, Economic Entropy is a visual documentation of change in the American built environment caused by short sighted economic methods. Economic Entropy is a depiction of randomness and inevitable deterioration in a social system caused by economic change. It is nature and the objects of consumerism together reaching a state of inert uniformity.

Alan Frakes
Tulsa, Oklahoma
"Mini Mall Reflections," Oil on Canvas, 30" x 40" 2007
"Dumpster at Elder Paint," Oil on Canvas, 12" x 15" 2007 (collection of Wes Janz)
also in the smallBIG show by not included here:
"Dumpster Graveyard," Oil on Canvas, 30" x 40" 2007 (collection of Wendy Ford Parker)

Dumpsters exist in everyday environments, alongside each of us. I find beauty and potential existing within this subject, typically understood to be leftover, ugly, or rubbish -- sometimes relegated to the back lot, out of the way, sometimes right under our noses in plain sight. Always, like dutiful soldiers, continually collecting more and more waste. We take them for granted, but they are always there as a part of our landscape. The Dumpster as subject was "discovered" by looking for simple colorist subject matter as a challenge for an unattractive setting and then portraying it to illustrate the beauty within that subject, through light and shadow. These paintings are among those selected from "Sites Unseen," an artistic collaboration between artist Alan Frakes and the photography of Wes Janz, and address the impression the common everyday dumpster has made on the landscape.

Wes Janz
Indianapolis, Indiana

Prefabricated houses roll south, 70 miles per hour, on I-69. I daydream north, 13+ years, same speed, same road, from my Indianapolis home to Ball State University. The prefabs are sourced in northern Indiana, in Elhart--the "RV Capital of the World," Middlebury, and places with fun names: Goshen, Wakarusa, Nappanee, Shipshewana. The photos are inspired by Chris Jones' "chance processes" and John Cage's 4'33" composition. A house approaches, camera up, shutter plush, gone. Three seconds. Converging high speeds, closeness, and one-eye-on-prefab-one-eye-on-traffic bring blurs and out-of-frame experiences. Houses are backgrounded as overpasses, yellow lines, guardrails, vehicles, dirty windows, weather, seasonal landscapes, and signage come into view. January to July 2009. Prefabricated houses keep rolling, their mobility reflecting our confidence in the best of times, tagging along now with the contradictory and complementary forces of foreclosing, vacating, and on-the-moving in our unsettling and resettling lives.

Derek Mills
Indianapolis, Indiana
"[Re]Dress Distress: A Systematic [Re]Purposing of Urban Decay" 2010

Throughout the Rust Belt, many thousands of long-vacant structures sit alone, boarded up. Indianapolis is a leading contributor with approximately 10,000 abandoned houses. This proposal explored the potential of the "gone" architectural stock of West Indianapolis. Talking with a local resident led the author to a "turnkey moment ... I came into the conversation with Antoine influenced by my preconceptions about urban decay ... but left with a memorable personal connection that went far beyond any purely academic concern. As a result, I recast my design knowledge first as a 'person' and then as an 'architect.'" Four hierarchical and interdependent approached were proposed. "Transfer" anticipates 100% material reuse. "Soft Demolition" reuses raw wood framing for small pavilions. "Band-aid" rehabilitates parts of houses thought the use of new enclosure systems, and "Architectural Transfer" introduces a "plug-n-stay" manufactured kit to revive abandoned houses.

Steve Jessmore
Flint, Michigan

"9/11 Corner" (digital stitched portrait). Moose and Suzi Fitch changed the landscape of their inner city Flint neighborhood by purchasing vacant lots and transforming them into patriotic memorials. They've often said that someone has to remember the sacrifices made to secure our freedom.

"Sense of Community: Mr. Smith." One in a series of 175 images and stories from a weekly photocolumn by Jessmore, published between 2004-2008, when he was the chief photographer for the Flint Journal. The series recognized Flint citizens who had not lost hope and vision that Flint could become a better place to live and work. The column received numerous state and national photojournalism awards.

"150 Steps--A Walk Through Flint on Its Sesquicentennial" (2005-2006). Hi-resolution digital images manually stitched together document Flint streets in the city's 150th year. In all, 21 miles of city blocks were photographed. Saginaw Street and Third Avenue are shown.

Rufina Wu / Stefan Canham
"Portraits from Above - Hong Kong's Informal Rooftop Communities"

Self-built settlements on the roofs of high-rise buildings have been an integral part of Hong Kong's history for over half a century. Rooftop structures range from basic shelters for the disadvantaged to intricate multi-storey constructions equipped with the amenities of modern life. Rufina Wu (Canada) and Stefan Canham (Germany) utilize the tools of an architect and the tools of a photographer to document rooftop communities on five buildings located in older districts in the Kowloon Peninsula, slated for redevelopment by the Urban Renewal Authority of Hong Kong. Text records of the residents' stories, measured drawings of each distinct rooftop structure, and high-resolution images of the domestic interiors of more than twenty households offer an unprecedented insight into the everyday life on Hong Kong's rooftops.

(Their recently published book on the subject can be found @ Portraits from Above.

Chelina Odbert and Jen Toy
Nairobi, Kenya

Kounkuey Design Initiative practices architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning in areas where environmental degradation compromises quality of life. Kibera, the largest informal settlement in Sub-Saharan Africa, is home to over 1,000,000 million residents, yet it has no trash collection system or formal dumping site and only 1 toilet per 250 people. Robert Neuwirth writes in Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World: "Some part of Kibera ... are so unsafe that you cannot walk from your hut to the latrine at night for fear of being mugged. So you either hold it until morning, or you use what Kenyans artfully but uncomfortably call 'flying toilets'--you use a plastic bag and then, after sunrise, you fling it as far from your home as you can." KDI designed a poster campaign to engage people throughout Nairobi in understanding the need for proper waste facilities in Kibera.

Richard Saxton
Boulder, Colorado

Richard Saxton is an artist working in the fields of sculpture, architecture, design, and public art. The work presented here, Research Archive (Selected Pictures), is part of an ongoing investigation by Saxton into the construction of the built landscape. Serving a larger purpose of informing Saxton's other creative endeavors, the archive also exists as a work in itself, an accumulation of pictures that looks beyond the obvious, showing how disparate perspectives can inform interrelated but different spaces. The images come from a number of locales from across the world, including the Great Plains and Mountain West regions of the U.S., Europe, Haiti, and South America. Saxton's Research Archive primarily focuses on rural and owner-built structures, constructions that do not conform to any design standards or building codes. The archive is a celebration of freedom and autonomy in building, and is a testament to chance, resourcefulness, simplicity, unpredictability, and everyday ingenuity.

Medium: Archival Ink Jet Prints

Daniel Miranda
Buenos Aires, Argentina
(with Adam Miller)
"Slum 31 -- Interpretations / Observations"
01 (landscape, shown above), o2, 03, 04

Friday, April 2, 2010

smallBIG: roundtable

Following the Friday, February 5 2010 opening reception of "small architecture BIG LANDSCAPES," a roundtable discussion was held the afternoon of Saturday, February 6. Titled "small group of architects BIG PUBLIC DISCUSSION," the session was moderated by Wes Janz, with smallBIG contributors Azin Valy, Bryan Finoki, David Stairs, Giulia Fiocca, Olon Dotson, and Scott Shall asked to take leading roles in setting out questions or responses to the larger group. Persons from the local community also participated in the roundtable, held in a permanent gallery room of the Swope Art Museum.

Central to the conversation, as set out by Janz in his introduction to the roundtable, was the need to both reflect critically on the show and to ask questions about where this work and these works might and should go in the near future -- the main point was to look forward, to imagine what to do next. Comments, as they came from the assembled group and were noted by Janz, are included below. Giulia Fiocca, contributor to the "Walk On" small architecture was asked to begin the conversation:

Giulia Fiocca
It is important "to build relationships, rather than to build," and to be involved in ways that cause us not to be the tools of developers. People "survive without us." Think: "small action BIG REINVENTION."

Bryan Finoki (roundtable)
"Who are we to try to depict" the lives of those living in distress? The architect should function in "strictly an assist role, maybe as a translator." Remember: "humanity persists despite struggle."

David Stairs (essay)
It's important to shift curiosities from "What are we doing?" to "Are we doing any good at all?" His interest is not in the "cult" of the architects, but in the profession of architecture. Here, "Ivan Illich has discused professions as self-aggrandizing." David does not use the word "intervention," which is popular with architects. The "wisdom on the ground" should be the "first precept." Get involved on a "first name basis." For more on Illich, see David's article "POSTprofessional" at Design-Altruism-Project. For more on "first name basis," see Janz's postings (Part 1 and Part 2) at Design-Altruism-Project.

Scott Shall (small architecture)
"When the word 'intervention' is used, it's not neutral." He prefers "injection," is in "going with the flow."

Bryan Finoki
Sees the "built environment as an enforcer of behavior." "Who do we define spatial justice? ... Is there ethical space? ... How do we practice spatial justice? ... What is spatial injustice?" "We can't go anywhere without money being involved."

Wil Marquez (small architecture)
We need to be concerned with "civility," with "staying involved... People have forgotten how to participate in spatial justice."

David Stairs
"Ownership factors into it... What is owned in private? What is owned by the public?"

Scott Shall
We can speak of "owners and non-owners." "Can space liberate?" "Foucalt said: space can liberate if occupants and designers are in alignment." "Are we much better at creating oppressive space?"

Bryan Finoki
"Architecture liberates power and capital. Not people."

Wil Marquez
"Sharing information can liberate people and bring about collaboration and cross-pollination."

Bryan Finoki
"The internet has made us lazy... We're not getting out to make public space."

Wil Marquez
"Do we knock on doors or do we come in through the door?"

Shai Yeshayahu (small architecture)
"The information age is changing things rapidly... Tomorrow we'll have to be reparameterized."

Azin Valy (small architecture)
"What is justice?"

Janice Shimizu (small construction)
"How long do you have to be in a place to know what is justice?"

Bryan Finoki
There is a "complete assault on our lives." This "small architecture BIG LANDSCAPES" show argues for a "return to our own empowerment at a rudimentary level."

Olon Dotson (small architecture)
Is the architect a "facilitator of people's processes?"

Giulia Fiocca
"Who are these people? How much can we share with them?"

David Stairs
"Justice is something that's bred in the bone. "We exult in the freedom of the internet at our peril." "Most of the people in the world communicate face-to-face. We must see human interaction as a face-to-face activity."

Lisa Petrulia (curator, Swope)
"Can you give an example of spatial injustice?"

Tara Sumrall (essay)
"Yes. The houses 'given' to people on reservations. The way they are just dropped off, the low quality of the dwelling to begin with." When teaching at the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, she saw "people come to school and wear the same sweatshirt every day."

Craig McCormick (photographs)
"You're underwater and that's not questioned."

Tania Lopez (roundtable)
The "architecture of 'the projects' is the same as the architecture of prisons."

Olon Dotson
"Where did the word 'projects' come from?"

Azin Valy
What is the root cause of the problems? ... It's so easy to blame poverty, or capitalism, or justice." It's important to see "words not as absolutes, but as gray."

Craig McCormick
See the "Clip House" by Interloop Architecture in Houston.

Scott Shall
"All too often, the spaces are more menacing than the people."

Giulia Fiocca
See the thematic for the 2010 Venice Biennale, "People Meet in Architecture."

Scott Shall
"How does this work move forward?" (referring to the smallBIG show)

Maria Del C. Vera (small architecture)
"We are embodied by discipline and law... (We) feel the immediate realities."

Timothy Gray (small architecture)
"Are there models of good works? ... I'm sitting here as a citizen, not as an architect... Architects are seen as the servants of the rich... Are there any good alternative examples? Can we find models that give us a sense of how to move forward?"

Shai Yeshayahu
"I don't like and I don't want models. I like this idea of one small project with big impact. How does one module provide a beginning point?"

Harold Baker (roundtable)
(referring to the smallBIG show) "This is it ... this is next ... this is it... This is a fledgling field of sorts."

Bryan Finoki
Maybe The 1% pro bono design program by Public Architecture

Harold Baker
"How about Robin Hood?"

Giulia Fiocca

Craig McCormick
Community development organizations, like LISC (Local Initiative Support Corporation), people with "a heart for the development of communities."

Scott Shall
See the book, "The Starfish and the Spider." Spiders are centralized -- cut off a leg and you have a seven-legged spider, crush the head and you have a dead spider. Spider organizations are centralized, structured. Everyone knows the identity of the boss. Starfish are decentralized -- not only can they grow new limbs, they can regrow their body from a part of a severed limb. Every limb has everything it needs to fully exist. Starfish are organized not around hierarchy or structure, but around ideas and shared principles. The internet supports starfish, like Napster which was forced to refine and re-up itself after some of its essential identity severed.

Harold Baker
"The future will be designed collaboratively... The group brain is more effective than the singular brain."

(photo above by Josh Coggeshall)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

smallBIG: small constructions

Three small constructions were made specifically for the "smallBIG" show at the Swope. Two of the installations -- one by Janice Shimizu and Josh Coggeshall, the other by Ana de Brea -- became pieces of furniture, an in-between scale in-keeping with the human body and en-couraging touching, interacting, feeling the piece, and the body. Each of these pieces repurposed salvaged materials -- for Janice and Josh, timbers found alongside a street in Muncie, leftover from a demolished industrial building, then thrown in the back of Josh's truck; in Ana's case, plastic bags, plastic bags, plastic bags, plastic bags, plastic bags (i.e., she used a lot of plastic bags).

The third, by Roberto Frangella, has its own brilliance -- brought from Buenos Aires (where Frangella lives) when de Brea returned from her holiday visit home, the "house" is made simply, of six painted stiff pieces of paper held together with an array of bulldog clips. Simple, beautiful, handmade, inexpensive ... as much as any piece, Frangella's "El Habitat Minimo" captures the spirit explored and dimensionalized in "small architecture BIG LANDSCAPES."

Roberto Frangella
Architect, artist, community activist
Buenos Aires, Argentina
"El Habitat Minimo" 2010

"Art helps reflect on real situations of life. I pay attention to the way many people live in the suburbs of the province of Buenos Aires. I imagine people leaving their homes in the morning and walking unpaved roads crossing abandoned sites, seeing small houses always under construction, a precarious football field, water coming from a hole, seeing that old cart horse, a few people riding bikes, the street dogs. All that happening during very hot summers or very cold winters. It is a life of effort and sacrifice that many people live in order to give their children a future. In our poorest neighborhoods, the bravest people are found, those whose lives yield an example of perseverance and continuous work. These people are the focus of my art, the heroes of my illusions. Through my drawings they are the most important men and women of Argentina. At least for just this time."

Janice Shimizu + Josh Coggeshall
Architects (Shimizu + Coggeshall), architecture professors (Ball State University)
Muncie, Indiana

"Urban tree removal becomes necessary when a previous asset becomes a liability, but it is an unnecessary expense. While municipalities face an increasing demand for tree removal, rising labor and transportation costs, landfill fees, and lost opportunity costs (money not spend elsewhere), there is an alternative to this financial and environmental burden. With managed stewardship, cost recovery could be achieved by harvesting trees while they have value. By maintaining an arboreal diversity that preserves street aesthetic and function yet responds to the possible future uses, new infrastructure could supply a flexible demand for this resource. What started as an idea about recycling street trees has transformed into a larger vision of the inter-connected management of urban forests. We liken a cabinet built from salvaged timber to a new quilt made from small and varied pieces: an aesthetic that celebrates what might come our way and transforms a liability back into an asset."

Salvaged wood: Yellow Pine, Red Eucalyptus, Douglas Fir, + Spalted Birch for cabinet skin

Plywood, medium density fiberboard, acrylic, chipboard, + basswood

Ana de Brea
Architect, professor (Ball State University), artist
Muncie, Indiana & Buenos Aires, Argentina
"Chair" 2010

100% recycled plastic bags and bottle caps