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    We have two shoes here. Would anyone like to see if it fits? - Part 4 of 8: Stephen Mueller

    By jpeel
    May 5, '10 11:09 PM EST

    The School of Architecture at the University of Florida has begun the search for two new faculty members. Out of over 100 applicants, the choices have been narrowed down to eight individuals. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, each will visit the school, tour the studios and seminars, participate in critiques, be interviewed by both students and faculty, and deliver a presentation about the work in which they have been engaged and deliver their personal design philosophy.

    The fourth of these presentations was delivered by Stephen Mueller. Mueller graduated from the University of Kansas in 2004 with a Bachelor of Architecture, and received his Master’s Degree from Columbia University in 2006. Prior to Columbia he worked at HOK, Brisac Gonzalez Architects, NBBJ Architects and helped in the preparation of a monograph for Peter Pran, FAIA. Since completing his Master degree in 2006, he has worked for Dean/Wolf Architects and is currently a founding partner in the design/research firm AGENCY. Mueller’s teaching experience includes working as a teaching assistant for Kathryn Dean and Erieta Attali at Columbia University, as well as teaching assistant for Gaylord Richardson and Rene Diaz at the University of Kansas. Mueller also served as an instructor of an Architectural Graphics Workshop at KU. He has served as critic at Washington University in St. Louis, University of Nebraska, University of Kansas, Kansas City Design Center, Columbia University, City College of New York and New York University. Mueller was awarded the William Kinne Travel Fellowship from Columbia University and was a Fellow in Residence with the MacDowell Colony Fellowship. His current research focuses on establishing connections and overlaps between technologies and the populations they serve.

    In Mueller’s presentation, titled “Informal Orders”, he discussed his interests in emergent forms of urban organization and his research into the varied characteristics of the phenomena. For the first time in history, more than half the world’s population lives in cities. At the same time, more than half the world’s population lives in poverty. Mueller’s study is positioned at the intersection of these two accumulations, which places his research in the growing number of third-world countries and their informal cities; shanty towns, tent cities, refugee camps and the like. From out of this study, Mueller has begun to uncover and define a new agenda for contemporary architects and urban planners as they operate toward a goal of goodwill in the developing world. As Mueller presented, in many cases, it is no longer permissible to approach and respond to problems within these population centers from the top-down; in many instances, this scheme has proven ineffective and can exaggerate the ills it endeavors to eradicate. Mueller discussed some such stabs at humanitarian aid in which a large global entity, like the United Nations, had instead awkwardly accelerated the problem it was attempting to correct. Even with honest and charitable intentions, the far reach of these heavy hands clumsily lop off the very legs on which a population should be expected to stand.

    In spite of this “help”, the populations of developing countries continue to survive. The engine of their ability to persist seems largely due to their extraordinary creativity and adaptability. There are many lessons that can be learned from the efforts of these people who take advantage of the constraints and circumstances they have been given to carve out a niche in the happenings that surround them. It is with this idea that Mueller’s presentation moved into extrapolating and codifying unique traits of these emergent cities. Here, he presented a number of developments to this effect. One of the more interesting examples included was of the Zabbaleen, who can be said to be a people standing as a testament of the old adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. From the waste generated by nearby Cairo, Egypt, the Zabaleen have constructed a society. For no compensation other than the trash they collect, these people take away the refuse of the city. This trash is reused or recycled in the Zabaleen’s burgeoning settlement. This population is responsible for diverting 85% of the trash generated by Cairo from the landfills in which it might have other wise come to rest.

    Subjecting these case studies to analysis, Mueller has gleaned some key features at play in these emergent societies, and the main factors contributing to their success that can be architecturally embraced and augmented. Mueller uses this catalog of emergent solutions to inform and generate a “kit of tactical responses” that could be deployed on various situations from a bottom-up approach. As a plan for the unplanned, these strategic interventions are design to be highly accessible and allow for opportunistic endeavors. This mode he outlines takes advantage of “hackable infrastructures” to make space for a population living on the margins. Mueller presented two proposal of this sort; Filter/Bridge, which is a water filtering system located along the Tiber River that also acts as a platform for an informal market place, and Sound Barrier Housing, which makes occupiable an auditory and visual barrier along Ring Road. Both of these interventions are meant to properly place the Roma people within Rome, and architecturally mediate their relationship with the city’s Italian inhabitants, a relationship that has been somewhat strained.

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