This interview first appeared in Assembly, a new magazine that ArchDaily contributor Sarah Wesseler is working on.
According to the United Nations, 1 billion people currently live in slums. Over the next two decades, this figure is expected to double. In recent years, slums (also known, more neutrally, as informal settlements) have increasingly attracted positive attention from academics and design professionals impressed by their efficient deployment of scarce resources, community-based orientation, and entrepreneurial vitality. Architect Rem Koolhaas celebrated the slums of Nigeria in his 2008 book Lagos: How It Works, while Teddy Cruz has become well known for his work with shantytowns on the U.S.-Mexico border. And no less a traditionalist than design enthusiast Prince Charles, prone to harsh public attacks on contemporary architecture, has championed Dharavi, the Mumbai neighborhood portrayed in Slumdog Millionaire, praising its “underlying, intuitive ‘grammar of design’” in a 2009 speech.
Detractors claim that these and similar attempts to examine the slums through the lens of design romanticize poverty and ignore the sociopolitical forces responsible for their creation and proliferation. However, although some projects involving informal design are doubtless better conceived than others, in general there can be no real question that it is appropriate for architects and planners to concern themselves with a phenomenon fundamentally tied to design-related issues such as land use, infrastructure, and materials. And given the failure of so many top-down modernist schemes for housing the poor over the past century, it is logical for the profession to turn its attention to a housing model which continues to mushroom organically around the globe: the shantytown.
An ongoing research project being carried out by 26’10 South Architects, a young South African firm headed by husband-and-wife architects Thorsten Deckler and Anne Graupner, provides an interesting look into this type of work. The couple have spent the past year and a half studying the spatial dynamics of Diepsloot, a Johannesburg suburb created in 1994 to house the poor. Today, approximately three-quarters of Diepsloot’s residents live in slums.
The interview after the break.
Over the past decade, sustainable design has been transformed from a fringe movement to big business. However, given the sheer scale of the environmental damage caused by the built environment, it’s clear that far more must be done. To prevent future catastrophes, the industry must both scale up its green initiatives and increase their effectiveness.
On the quantity front, the entity most responsible for the explosion of green building is LEED. Developed in 2000 by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), the voluntary project rating system has won over the industry by providing both a convenient set of guidelines for sustainable practices and a clear marketing incentive for designers and firms to go green (or at least appear to).
Architectural paint analyst Natasha Loeblich traces the histories of structures from such as the Revolutionary War-era buildings at Colonial Williamsburg, by studying what’s on their walls. I spoke to her about her work and the field.
For the past month, Boston’s experimental design exhibition space Pinkcomma Gallery has hosted Publishing Practices, an exploration of architectural publishing throughout the last century. Designed by architect and editor Michael Kubo in conjunction with gallery directors (and fellow architects) Mark Pasnik and Chris Grimley, the exhibit provides an in-depth look into the relationship between reading, writing, and design.
I spoke with Michael Kubo about the exhibit and its history.
While working toward a PhD in sociology at the University of Chicago, David Schalliol has spent several years examining the built environment of his adopted city both as an academic and an artist. In photographic studies such as his Isolated Building Series, Schalliol highlights the relationships between architecture, history, and policy, focusing in particular on the city’s historically underprivileged South Side neighborhoods.
After the break, you can read an interview we made to David a few days ago.
Interview conducted, condensed + edited by Sarah Wesseler
What do research and development mean in today’s design field? To learn more about architectural R&D, I turned to KieranTimberlake, a Philadelphia-based firm that has earned wide acclaim for its innovative work in arenas such as prefabrication and sustainable design. Partner Stephen Kieran and research director Billie Faircloth spoke with me about the history and practice of the firm’s in-house research team.
For generations, architects have helped shape the New York skyline into one of the most remarkable sights in the world. This spring, they will add hundreds of new forms to the city’s silhouette—only this time, they’ll do it with kites.
On May 9th, architects, designers, artists, and assorted kite lovers will converge on Manhattan’s Riverside Park for the first annual FlyNY, an international kite design competition. Participants will put their designs to the test before a panel of judges including, among others, architect Michael Sorkin, Surface magazine co founder Riley Johndonnell, and Queens Museum of Art curator Erin Sickler. The top three designs will be featured in an article in the June issue of Metropolis magazine, and all winning kites will be auctioned off at a party in Chelsea on May 28, with proceeds benefiting Architecture for Humanity.
In recent years, the art world has played host to a number of lively explorations of architecture and the built environment. (In 2006, The New Yorker went so far as to snipe, “Painting about architecture has become popular to the point of excess, much the way seventies artists went overboard on the cube.”) By looking at architecture through the lenses of politics, psychology, humor, and more, artists have been helping to enrich the conversation about the field.
Last week I sat down with painter Sarah McKenzie, who was in New York for the opening of her new show, Building Code, to discuss her thoughts on art and architecture. McKenzie, who first came to public attention for her aerial views of suburban developments, currently uses images of construction sites as her source material.
The interview after the break.