Course Syllabus

See online course syllabus here:

https://medium.com/@john.h.locke/syllabus-hacking-the-urban-experience-fall-2019-b18886715093

 

 

Session A Overview

“Attack current conditions in a manner that will change them.”
- Siegfried Kracauer

It’s easy to say we need recyclable, sustainable technologies, old and new — pottery making, bricklaying, sewing, weaving, carpentry, plumbing, solar power, farming, IT devices, whatever. But here, in the midst of our orgy of being lords of creating, texting as we drive, it’s hard to put down the smartphone and stop looking for the next technofix. Changing our minds is going to be a big change. To use the world well, to be able to stop wasting it and our time in it, we need to relearn our being in it…”
-Ursula K. Le Guinn, Deep in Admiration (2017)

 

This semester we will continue and build off of the prior collaboration with the UNI Project (www.theuniproject.org) — a non-profit that creates learning environments in public spaces across New York City — to design, build, deploy, test and defend a 1:1 scale prototype intervention intended to facilitate interactive participation in public life.

How we build, how things are made and for whom, reflects the social, economic, and political values of a community. We have the opportunity to help shape those values in our own neighborhoods. Here, on the street, New York’s key urban questions can be explored and tested. This is where in the words of Michael Sorkin, cities are “distribution engines”, separating bodies and power in to distinct tranches, which require a constant vigilance to break down these spatial inequalities in an endless struggle to maintain free, open space that is accessible to all. We’re now living through the broken failures of neoliberal urban planning, where public benefit has been surrendered in deference to a developer’s personal gain. However, with tactical precision, we will apply ourselves to subverting the systemic decisions that have led us to this point, in an attempt to provide an alternate path forward. We can prove that things, ideas, installations can exist in public space only for delight - outside of market forces.

We will begin with Henri Lefebvre’s assertion for a shared “right to the city”, an essential reading of the urban experience against the privileged inertia of entrenched power. This argues for a strategy in which a pluralistic collection of citizens must collectively create their city. The temporary activations and assemblages that we develop can lead the way toward an urban environment that provides for the many. In this way, our work should by its own definition be critical, it should merge the social, physical, and experiential, and acknowledge the political ramifications behind architecture and planning in 2019’s America.

This course seeks to assert the relevance of the design and fabrication skills at our disposal as potentialities for increased relevance. Through the re-appropriation and re-imagining of existing urban conditions, you will harness your entrepreneurial spirit to design and fabricate a working prototype that embraces the messy reality of New York. The student will begin by identifying a quality of the urban condition that includes the latent capability for engagement and work toward fabricating an adaptive, responsive and environmentally viable solution. Specific emphasis will be placed on testing and exploring through hands on research the possibilities of detailing and fabricating using unorthodox materials. Formulating a strong guiding thesis idea will be essential to the project’s success, but the core challenge for the student will be converting a strong idea into physical reality, something to be observed, tested and documented.

Session A Goals

By attempting to capture a broader audience for architectural interventions, a number of questions present themselves and you will be challenged to anticipate possible eventualities — how will this thing be used? How can we quickly imbue meaning in our work? How do we engage with different communities? How do we even know who is part of a community? How do we collaborate with outside groups? Fabrication will be considered less from a formal quality, and more from a use, durability, improvisation and public participation viewpoint.

Ultimately the student will come out of the course with a healthy respect for two core concepts: Firstly, an increased skill in the use and applicability of the fabrication skills we have at our disposal for solving design issues using unorthodox materials in unconventional settings; and two, that there is an opportunity for architects to regain lost relevance by inserting themselves through unsolicited proposals into the public consciousness as stewards of urban well-being.

 


Policy

Class Costs: I understand we are building, testing, printing, and iterating with physical materials at scale in the class. Therefore, no student should expect any out of pocket costs in this class. While all effort will be made to be efficient and economical with how we use materials, expense should not be a limiting factor. Save all receipts and you will be fully reimbursed, quickly.

Attendance: You are allowed two excused absences for the semester. We are a fast course, with weekly meetings, so each and every session is highly important. I understand that things come up, so just email me and let me know before class if you are unable to attend. More than two absences will affect your grade, more than three absences will result in a failing grade.

Participation: In a course like this, participation is especially important. We’ll be working together as a team to explore ideas and make something impactful through an engaging, fun process. I have every intention of making this a less stressful experience as much as possible, and all students should feel free to make their voices and opinions heard. Be present. Listen. Engage with the work and with your colleagues. I want you all to succeed together and will do everything in my power to ensure we create an environment conducive to that goal.

Disability: If you have any type of disability — whether apparent or not — and need any accommodations or alternatives to the exercises or assignments, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or Columbia Health https://health.columbia.edu/content/disability-services and we will find a reasonable alternative path that meets the course goals.

Grading: 
Session A: First Assignment: 25%, Final Assignment 50%, Stranger Experiences: 15%, Class Participation: 10%
Session B: Individual Iterative Material Development: 25%, Participation: 20%, Final Installation: 55%


I’ll be updating this syllabus and schedule with additional assignment information, media, and links as we continue through the semester. Consider this a constantly evolving, living document. We will be using Slack for quick course communications, please sign up here (via your @columbia.edu email).


Schedule

Session A (9/10–10/15)
Session B (10/22–11/26)

Week 01, 20190910 HtUE: What is Public Space?

Is there public space devoid of intentions? For whom would that exist?
“Unsavory”

We will begin the semester with an introduction of the high level topics and goals for the course. We will critically engage with past work and position our own strategies for interventions within the overall larger framework of public works in New York City.

Reading:

Assignments:

  • Stranger Experience 01 (Due 9/17): In parallel with other assignments, you will also complete a series of short assignments, called “Stranger Experiences” — a series of interactions that will provide you with a deeper understanding of the role of spontaneous encounters to shape meaningful dialogue. This first experience will include a meticulous observation of existing public spaces as well as talking and interacting with users of your work.
  • SE01: Without distraction, observe an urban space for no less than 30 minutes. What makes this a “public space?” Why or why not?
  • SE01: See what others do not see. Where do you think the user’s came from? Why?
  • SE01: Identify a behavior, strategy, habit, rule or object that is of value. Is there something to the design that promotes or deters interaction? Did the designer have a personal opinion or were there systemic factors driving the creation of the space?
  • SE01: What can we learn? Explore the space. Is it being used as intended?

Previous Coursework
  • Adaptive Experience 01 (Due 9/24): 
    Our first class assignment will use a LinkNYC kiosk as project site. You will be expected to explore the following topics with their installation, such as: Who is the target audience? What are the trade-offs each of us negotiate when occupying public space? Who owns them and why do you think they are there? Who owns the sidewalk? How do you make the invisible visible? 
    New York is layered with history and meaning built on top of the old. Your work here will form a symbiotic relationship to the host, creating something new and greater than the sum of its parts.

Week 02, 20190917 HtUE: Who Owns Public Space I

As city government cedes control of public works to “benevolent” billionaires or private-public partnerships, what does it mean when a city becomes a collection of viral moments? Public architecture proposals aim for crowdsourced funding, while neighborhood parks languish. What are existing strategies for creating public works in New York and how can architects and planners find opportunities here?

Renderings of Pier 55 by Heatherwick Studios, primarily funded by Barry Diller
via Curbed: “The antisocial stairway of Hudson Yards

Reading:


Week 03, 20190924 HtUE: Unsolicited Architecture

This week we will be joined by Sam and Leslie Davol, via wikipedia:

“the founder and executive director of Boston Street Lab, a non-profit organization which creates programs for public space. Notable among these is the Uni Project, founded by Sam and Leslie Davol, which brings mobile libraries and other educational programs to public urban spaces.”

Read more about the mission of the Uni Project at CityLab: https://www.citylab.com/life/2017/04/what-being-a-rock-star-teaches-you-about-practical-urbanism/522714/

We will also take a look at results from the first Adaptive Experience assignment, review Uni Project’s mission — how to design for flexibility, and discuss program goals for the final project.

“Transgression results in the enlargement of the accepted architectural domain.” from Office of Unsolicited Architecture

Reading:

Assignments:

  • Final Experiential Drawing: Moving in to the second half of Session A, we will begin preparation for the final. The first component will be an 18x24 drawing that places your intervention amongst the overlapping and systemic spheres of influence present in urban space. These forces can be identified as originating out from user groups, the senescent quality of your installation, city government and regulations, land use speculations, capital and market forces, material progeny, project semiotics, etc. Like Archigram’s Instant City diagrams, we will explore how drawing can visually describe temporal, event-based work.
  • Final Material Mockup: As we saw with our study of the uncanny, familiar objects in unfamiliar settings can simultaneously both attract and repel the viewer. How can we use that effect to build seemingly foreign installations that can still immediately communicate with a diverse populace? We will explore different materials (unexpected, fun, commonplace, etc) and test how they could be used in a larger fabrication. We will review a proof of concept material test at the Session A final.
  • By the Session A final, we should know how we will build a meaningful installation for our partners. The first week of Session B we will move in to production. What do we need to achieve that?

Week 04, 20191001 HtUE: The Temporary City

Through a variety of systems of control — some more subtle than others — the existing city reinforces spatial inequalities and social hierarchies. Temporary architecture has the capability to upend this old order and test new modes of urban experience. By this act, urban design becomes political and can speak to larger issues such as protest and social justice. This requires a re-assessment of the passive architectural practice to one of active engagement.

via Urban Omnibus

Reading:

Assignment:

  • Stranger Experience 02 (Due next week, work in pairs): Your work speaks for you, and is in turn filtered through user’s own perspectives, experiences, and biases. In this exercise you will collaborative create something with a stranger through a process of iteratively escalating requests. The goal is that this assignment will provide actionable experience in to how your own built work can actively engage and collaborate with a diverse public when you cannot be physically present.

Week 05, 20191008 HtUE: Kickstarting the Brooklyn Bridge

We will begin this class with a hands-on demonstration of a material’s capability to quickly create new types of space.

We will continue to review the notion of architecture without capitalism and architecture’s historic relationship with neoliberal trends in politics. This has constrained the profession, but it could be liberating for you, as we continue the discussion of collective modes of practice.

We will be continuing our discussion centering on how public space is owned and operated in New York City. We will look at the range of factors that brought about the private trusts and leaseholders that control much of the city’s public parks. While we do not have the money or institutional power behind us, by studying the myriad loopholes and gray areas behind public works, we can strategically use this ambiguity to our own advantage.

from the +Pool Kickstarter page

Reading:

Assignment:

  • Stranger Experience 03: In many ways this is the most straightforward, but also the most challenging pursuit. Without the shared, common entry point of asking for directions, you will need to invent your own method for creating a street introduction. Before our Session A final, each group should describe your final proposal to at least one stranger at your chosen site. If any feedback is provided, share at our final. How you “describe” your proposal is up to you — is it verbal, visual, etc.?

Week 06, 20191015 HtUE: Session A Final

This will be an informal session to review progress and discuss ideas raised by your work.

Previous Coursework

Final Session A Deliverables:

  • 1:1 Material Prototype
  • Large Format Experiential Drawing
  • Stranger Experience 03

Reading:

  • No Readings

Course Summary:

Date Details