The new issue of MAS Context, a quarterly publication released by MAS Studio takes on the daunting issue of production and consumption impacting cities through the lens of a handful companies operating out of Chicago. Production and consumption have a negative connotation in today's atmosphere of sustainability and conservation but architecture is fundamentally a celebration of the craft of inventing, designing and making. MAS Studio, in collaboration with Chicago-based collective The Post Family, looks critically at the social, environmental, and political implications of consumer culture while celebrating the excellence of production.
The essays within MAS Context drift between subjects, blending our economic realities with a social context. In Requiem, Deborah Richmond explores how the congestion of brand identity has evolved into a reflection upon personal values. Our consumer choices have become social causes - organic, fair trade, local anyone? And the market, in the US anyway, bends to accommodate the growing fads and trends to bring the consumer what he or she wants - the ultimate commodity.
We can talk imports and exports, home-grown or fair trade, but at some point our over-saturated global market is choosing winners and losers out of whole populations. Edward Burtynsky's sublime photos of Vermont's quarries, of crowded factories in China, of massive infrastructure projects in the United States and Bangladesh, featured in this issue, is a chilling reminder of the profound destruction caused by the consumerism, consumption and production within our global culture. These images in particular make us question whether any pristine, untouched ecosystems and landscapes still exist and if they do, for how much longer. This excerpt of his work within MAS Context serves as a moment of pause to reflect upon the implications of city building - what it takes to have amenities, goods and services and how that level of extraction scars the planet's delicate ecosystems, not to mention its effects on people living in those areas of extraction.
But there is a bright side to this issue! MAS Context does not leave its reader high and dry without a peek into an optimistic future where urbanism, production and consumption has tremendous potential for positive growth. The mom and pop shops of the 20th century still exist, though some are fading out. MAS Context brings some of them out of the woodwork as most exist under the radar, operating for decades with due diligence in their fields of expertise, manufacturing at small scales but providing the high quality work that have grown their respective industries.
This business model has a tendency to keep the flow of goods and services local, building a relationship with the community, and generally reducing the long supply chains to which large scale corporations resort. A local business encourages a symbiotic relationship with its location: "what is good for my community is good for my business" and vice versa. The social agenda embedded in this consideration is evident in numerous architectural proposals that try to reimagine what cities of the future could look like - master-plans that envision the mixed use of residential and commercial at local levels that grow organically. Take for example Patchwork City by OOIIO Architecture or the DIY Urbanism Proposal of Almere Oosterworld by MVRDV. What this new generation of proposals have in common is a rejection of the idea that a neighborhood within today's global culture can be grown instantaneously - consider in this category the ubiquitous "Towers in the Park" and suburbs across the United States.
These new proposals string together numerous functions in a community. The functions are often socially and environmentally considered adaptations of fundamental city elements that encourage local engagement. The urbanism that evolves from such proposals encourage a fostering of industry with a "do-it-yourself' attitude. Manufacturing, agriculture, and service industries are included under one idea of self-sufficiency. As Nina Rappaport writes in the opening essay for MAS Context, cities in the US grew as factories and operated as such. Manufacturing was the keystone to keeping a vibrant city economy. Tracing the factory roots to the early 20th century, Rappaport considers how even large scale manufacturers like Ford were able to grow within their community context. What would attract manufacturers back into the cities? What incentives do large cities have in welcoming factories? Rappaport offers a few suggestions that base their viability upon the architectural language and community structure of the factories:
- make them visually and socially engaging and instructive, design them as schools, museums or libraries to the effect of them becoming a SPECTACLE
- design them to be adaptable and FLEXIBLE to the community and its context
- develop a relationship between the industry and SUSTAINABLE methods of operating; renewable energy and recyclable resources are plentiful in factories
This issue of MAS Context delves into explaining the status of city's today from a US-centered point of view. Deborah Richmond briefly mentions what all this means in the context of a global economy, while Burtynsky's photographs glimpse into the checks and balances of our global resources from extraction to production. Ultimately, the issue celebrates the companies that have continued to manufacture in a tradition that serves their respective communities and that have grown out of this passion for craft and invention. Putting these pieces together ultimately reveal something about what the future of our cities can look like.
Guest Cover Design by David Sieren.