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DSGN AGNC (Design Agency) is a research and design studio that experiments with forms of political engagement. We initiate community engagement processes, research efforts, and propose actions, architectures and designs at various scales — from pamphlets to buildings to landscapes.
DSGN AGNC arises, in part, from a concern about the types of questions that are asked by critical architectural practices. Or, rather, a concern about the questions not being asked. Who are the powerful entities hiring architects and what are their agendas? Who are the people that actually build architecture and what is their condition? Can architecture and design help society move towards a more equitable model of power distribution? What ties all these questions are the hidden conflicts (power dynamics) that characterize global neoliberal political economies.
DSGN AGNC has been exploring how a critical architectural and design approach can operate in this context. Our projects are located in the United States, Italy, Colombia, Mexico and Nicaragua. We never start a project with a product in mind, meaning that we let a critical research process lead us to the right mode of intervention for any given situation. That means that we are as likely to organize activism around a piece of policy as we are to create a map or design a built structure.
Our work is rooted in Critical Activism — a methodology that uses activism and critical discourse to open up possibilities for change in the processes by which architecture and cities are made. Critical activism also postulates that no product is ever final — designs, buildings, ecologies and urban systems demand broad and holistic community-based processes that can change over time with both constants and variables.
Through our projects we have learned the value of:
Working without distinctions of whether something is ‘art’, ‘architecture’, ‘activism’ or…
Every project begins by listening to local stories. Stories give clues on what needs to be designed…
AGONISM IN THE FACE OF CONFLICT
Begin a project by mapping out and revealing spatial, social and policy conflicts that a community faces and then create agendas with a set of strategies and tactics that can create broad-based coalitions of different stakeholders — leveraging local and political support.
AN EMERGENT AESTHETIC
Don’t impose. Let design ideas arise from the context and conflicts you are working within. Design will be effective if it arises from a process and takes into consideration local conditions.