Another Architecture

by Mitch McEwen

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    Interview w/ Sampsonia Way of Pittsburgh-- reparations, algorithms, autonomy and Black American poetics, gentrification, and other topics

    Mitch McEwen
    Jan 12, '17 7:04 PM EST

    The full interview is here -  

    Interview by Leah Wulfman    /  January 12, 2017  Excerpts below: 

    LW: You are opening up and engaging architecture outside of the discipline’s established protocols and rarefied means of practice. How do you reach out to individuals and communities that aren’t typically reached with traditional architecture practice and working methodologies? How is your engagement with open source architectural platforms and parametrics a part of this agenda?

    MM: I actually am a bit skeptical about working directly with a community. We are trained to operate in a disciplinary way; there’s a techne. So, I’m skeptical of the pretense that we can walk into a room with people that have never done any architecture or urban planning and immediately have everybody get to work. The “This Is What We Will Build When We Get Our Reparations” charette that I conducted at the City of Asylum was somewhat of a critique of the standard charette, and it was a prototype that I will continue to iterate on and re-present. It can never be a final thing, no final vision.

    As I see it, for anything in public space, you have to invent the public.

    That’s different from open source since open source is within the techne of the discipline. If you have alternative methods of sharing data or working with geometry, then that’s a means of circulation amongst people within the discipline, rather than attempting to patent and make these new methodologies part of the traditional office model. This type of work is evolving through A(n) Office, where we are investigating how we can come up with new models for securing revenue and payment that aligns with what we are aiming to do in society. It’s not a finished thing. It’s not an answer.

    Interview by Leah Wulfman    /  January 12, 2017  












    Participants in the reparations workshop at City of Asylum. Photo by Heather Kresge.

    LW: Well, when Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was first started their number one list item and first priority was not helping to house people—not affordable housing—but actually active gentrification, active segregation.

    MM: Gentrification is not even the right word. It’s a reverse subsidy, allocating wealth from Black America to white America. Urban planning has ways of historicizing its role in all of this. However, in architecture, if you discuss majority Black cities and neighborhoods, we don’t even have a lens to understand that we are actually talking about a public that’s already constituted. Within architecture, it’s already assumed to be so white that it is as if now we are talking in the realm of abstraction. So, even when it comes to “This is What We Will Build When We Get Our Reparations,” it is as if there is no constituted “We,” and we are already talking about “They.” So, in that situation, I needed to come up with a means of organizing the “We” in order to avoid the “They.”








    The reparations workshop at City of Asylum. Photo by Heather Kresge.








    Participants in the reparations workshop at City of Asylum. Photo by Heather Kresge.

    LW: At your lecture yesterday, you mentioned that autonomy in architecture is something you like to call “white boy surrealism.” In dialogue with art and another—reaching out to other disciplines—A(n) Office seems to distinctly reject autonomy in architecture. How are you engaging autonomy in other disciplines?

    MM: We have a way of talking about autonomy within architecture as being about drawings investigating their own rulesets, distinct from structural rationalism—of course Peter Eisenman is the predominant figure around this, and I worked for Bernard Tschumi Architects, whose early, transgressive work in architecture was influenced by the neo-avant-garde artists of the 1970s. Autonomy here means no relationship to society. I’m especially critical of how this becomes a white elitist form of producing a discipline. The discipline is already social. It simply doesn’t want to critique how it’s social, and autonomy is used as a scapegoat out of that.

    When I was talking about autonomy in relationship with Robin Coste Lewis’ poetry, I wasn’t able to fully unpack all of the beautiful relationships she works with—around rulesets and legibility of operations—in the 15 minutes I was given to discuss. I’m extremely invested in this work, and I enjoy working with computer parametrics as a means of designing and producing architecture. This engagement with autonomy in poetry is such productive territory for me and my work in relationship to autonomy in architecture. Much of this work goes back to Modernism, and the question of how we are working on Modernism. This is not necessarily concerning the constant discussion in the field regarding form, what I’m talking about are the critical dimensions of Modernism.

    (The full interview is here)

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Posts are sporadic. Topics span architecture, urban design, planning, and tangents from these. I sometimes include excerpts of academic articles.

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