Parsons The New School for Design will present Into the Open: Positioning Practice, the official U.S. pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia, the 11th International Architecture Exhibition, from March 4 through May 1, 2009 at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center. The exhibition focuses on the increasing interest in civic engagement in American architectural practice, and examines the means by which a new generation of architects is reclaiming a role in shaping community and the built environment.
Into the Open: Positioning Practice features 16 architectural groups who actively engage communities, responding to social and environmental issues, including shifting demographics, changing geo-political boundaries, uneven economic development, and the explosion of urban migration. These intellectually entrepreneurial actors are designing the conditions from which new architectures can emerge—becoming activists, developers, facilitators of inclusive urban policies, as well as innovative urban researchers. Reaching creatively across institutions, agencies, and jurisdictions, they’re negotiating hidden resources in the private, public, and non-profit sectors.
“Parsons is thrilled to be able to present this compelling exhibition, a highlight of the recent Biennale in Venice, to audiences here in New York,” said Tim Marshall, the dean of Parsons The New School for Design. “Civic engagement is at the heart of the educational process at The New School, and particularly the architecture program’s signature studio, The Design Workshop, a design-build program with similarities to the Rural Studio at Auburn University in Alabama—one of the projects featured in the exhibition—yet with a distinctly urban focus.”
Among the projects on view in the exhibition is the work of Estudio Teddy Cruz of San Diego, whose spectacular fence installation explores the dynamics of urban conflict on either side of the U.S. and Mexico border, from San Diego’s affluence to homelessness in Tijuana. Alice Waters’ The Edible Schoolyard is a project conceived by the noted chef and restaurateur in response to the lack of nutritious food served in many public schools. Young students plant and tend a garden and use its produce to prepare their lunches and snacks. Working in cooperation with the Yale Sustainable Food Project, exhibition organizers have developed a model, growing garden within the gallery featuring local and seasonal vegetables and flowers that reflect the cultural diversity of New York City, from artichokes, fava beans and lettuces to Hakurai turnips and Osaka purple mustard greens. Another featured project is New York-based architect Deborah Gans’ Roll Out House, a humane housing solution for displaced populations that is manufactured of lightweight, flexible materials, and provides both a physical and social infrastructure.
“We like to label this exhibition the first architectural endeavor of the Obama presidency. It is a call to arms for architects across the country to seek out new forms of practice and to recognize that traditional methods of architecture need to adapt to meet contemporary life,” says William Menking, founder of The Architect’s Newspaper, who organized the exhibition along with co-curators Aaron Levy, Executive Director of Slought Foundation, and Andrew Sturm, Director of Architecture for the PARC Foundation.
In addition to Deborah Gans, other New York-based activists and projects include The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), New York, whose founder Damon Rich teaches at Parsons. CUP deconstructs the complex financial underpinnings of housing construction through an interactive model illustrates the diversity of housing subsidies. Laura Kurgan’s Spatial Information Design Lab employs complex mapping and animation to illustrate the relationship between demographics and the penal system, analyzing the money spent on incarceration versus the investment in housing and neighborhood infrastructure in parts of New York City. In addition, Jonathan Kirschenfeld Associates’ Floating Pool, nominated for a Cooper-Hewitt People’s Design Award, adaptively reuses a decommissioned barge to bring summertime recreation to underserved populations of New York City.
Other featured projects include work by the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Culver City, California, which explores the path of waste in Los Angeles; Smith and Others Architects, based in San Diego, who empower architects to be their own developers; the San Francisco-based design collaborative Rebar, whose Panhandle Bandshell is made of post-consumer waste; The Heidelberg Project and the Detroit Collaborative Design Center, both based in Detroit, whose work addresses issues of urban decay; Project Row Houses of Houston, which fends off urban development in the city’s Third Ward; nomadic designer Kyong Park’s International Center for Urban Ecology, who examines “The New Silk Road”; and, in addition to Rural Studio, the design-build programs Studio 804 at the University of Kansas, and Design Corps, a nonprofit organization based in Raleigh, North Carolina. For more information, visit www.labiennale.us.
“We hope this preliminary selection of America’s alternative architectural practices encourages a new spirit of inclusiveness and participation beyond our own imagination. To remain relevant, architecture must find ways to respond to the challenges and crises that define our times,” said Aaron Levy.
In conjunction with the exhibition, Parsons will present a symposium on Friday, April 24, from 5–9 pm at the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Auditorium at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, featuring several of the participating designers and organizations, including Teddy Cruz, Deborah Gans and Laura Kurgan as well as Rick Lowe, the founder of Project Row Houses in Houston. In addition, Parsons will organize a series of charrettes conducted with Parsons faculty and students, with special guest speakers, as well as curatorial and docent tours of the exhibition. More information will be available at www.newschool.edu/johnsondesigncenter.