The “Collaborative Feminist Scholarships and Activisms Roundtable” brought together five publicly engaged humanists and artists across the ability, gender, and sexual orientation spectrum together in conversation with a similarly diverse group of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows at U-M*. Katherine Gibson, Nadine Naber, Amber DiPietra, Petra Kuppers, and Amy Sara Caroll shared their strategies and experiences of doing collaborative work in distinct geographical contexts, connected to, but not limited within, academia.

As someone whose queer identity pervades his life and practices as a student, teacher, and advocate, I couldn’t help but feel inspired in the company of such brilliant and caring individuals. Perhaps, that explains why I raised the following question in the end: In light of emotional and intellectual demands of collaborative activist work, how do you practice self-care? The panelists’ responses were varied. Katherine Gibson, for example, conducts walking meetings with her students and staff. Nadine Naber makes all-natural, therapeutic body products for personal use, as well as for friends and colleagues. Amber DiPietra advocates for intimacy with oneself, for allowing the body to produce new knowledge in a quiet, “unlanguaged” place. Petra Kuppers thrives within interdependency: to see and recognize each other within partnerships, to let this mutual love, trust, and familiarity strengthen oneself and one’s work. And, Amy Sara Caroll relies on writing, in particular, Haiku.

I felt extremely drawn to Nadine Naber’s end comment in which she went beyond individualized notions of self-care, and similar to Petra Kuppers, suggested on getting to a calm place by nurturing a sense of belonging in and with a collective. With that in mind, I asked the same question to my #PAGE friends. Here are their additions.

*The roundtable was jointly sponsored by: U-M Arab and Muslim American Studies and the Border Collective Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop.



Image: Le 56 / Eco-interstice, St. Blaise neighbourhood, Paris in Testify! The Consequences of Architecture (2011, pp.102-103)

After three long and wonderful years, I will be moving out of the Michigan Branch of Telluride Association (MBTA) next month. I would like to thank the organization and its people for contributing to my development as a thinker and community-based scholar in multiple ways. At MBTA, I experienced the joys and challenges of democratic self-governance and community participation, and observed the limits and potentials of each undertaking in overlapping settings. The ongoing exchanges at once paralleled and broadened my studies on architectures of voice and social difference, personalities and ideologies, everyday life and everyday user. The various involvements allowed me to live out the messiness of varied expectations, I write so passionately about in my academic work.

At the beginning of this month, the leaving housemembers were given an opportunity to purchase books for our house library—a trove of small and large publications that collectively speak to the organization’s commitment to sustaining wide ranging scholarly and socially-driven pursuits. In order to reach out to a diverse audience and encourage a broader understanding of architecture’s social responsibility, I purchased the following books. Each of them, I expect, will raise both current and future house member’s interest in locating architecture’s evolving social role between and among different disciplinary affiliations.

a) Jane Jacob’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) – I had to share this classic with the rest of my housemates, especially after introducing them to the activism of Jacobs in my presentation in January and whetting their curiosity about the book itself; b) Lukas Feireiss and Ole Bouman’s Testify! The Consequences of Architecture (2011) – I chose this book for its emphasis on built work and occupant testimonies as well as its juxtaposition of design intentions and multiple “lived insights.” Notwithstanding the underlying formalistic bias, the book would be a great conversation material in a community-oriented house such as MBTA; and c) Christoph Niemann’s Subway (2010) – This book is for people of all ages. There may be maps, drawings, and abundance of published information on NYC’s quintessential underground system, but nothing surpasses this storyboard of everyday lived experiences of Niemann and his two boys using the city’s subway.

The “social experiment of L.L. Nunn,” to quote a former house member, leaves me with very few words to express my earnest gratitude for such a lively and intense community-focused scholarship. These books are just another way to thank the House for adding a breadth of experience and wonder to my life. Thank you, Telluride Association.

Alphaville Oakville beckons! / Image: Video still from Godard’s Alphaville (1965)

As I close this term and begin packing for the holidays, I contemplate once more the vast array of experiences and involvements that ran parallel to my dissertation writing, and which collectively made the last few months extremely memorable.

Agency, Agenda, and Social Space: My course offering this fall was structured around five interconnected themes: Space, Everyday Life, Agency, Voice, Participation, and Program. Each of these themes was selected and strung together in ways to help clarify and encourage connections between and among the different positions on social and political values of space. The assigned readings were not exhaustive, and given my background, there was bias towards critical cultural and sociological writings, which I viewed as interdisciplinary in scope as well as of special significance to architecture students. During our last session at Mighty Good Coffee, I offered a reflective understanding of space in relation to each of the five themes. The students, on their part, came with extremely insightful one-page handouts that spoke to a specific theme or a combination of themes of interest. I consider myself very fortunate to have had such socially conscious individuals be part of this class. My plan is to continue this engagement beyond the classroom and beyond our respective programs. More on that when I come up for air next year!

Social Space / Spatial Practice Publication: After a long wait, I am pleased to announce that my course documentation will be published by CEPT University Press in the coming year. With the objective of encouraging continued undertakings of similar nature in the Urban Design program at CEPT, my suggestion for the publication title was “Pedagogical Experiments in Urban Design. Episode 1: Social Space, Spatial Practice.” Course documentations, I believe, need to position themselves as contributions to current concerns in theory and practice of architecture and urban design. They must raise questions that outline and inform contemporary design discourse and forms of pedagogy. The suggested title speaks to this ambition. I used “pedagogy” to set the stage for consistent engagements with questions of space and society from within the Urban Design program and to encourage new ways of connecting urban design education to people, places, and practices. I took “episode” to be more than an incidental event in a given academic year (a lecture, seminar, workshop, or studio). Episode carries with it notions of both a part and a whole, in other words, an installment of an experimental series, at once separate from it, constitutive of it, and in dialogue with it. I cannot wait to lay my hands on the printed copy.

EDRA 44 Providence Spring 2013: At the next EDRA meeting, I will be chairing and presenting in a symposium on environmental design research methods. The session entitled, “Enriching Environmental Design Research” will go beyond the traditional tendency to equate design with intuition and research with science, and look at interdisciplinary assumptions, methods, and frameworks that speak to multiple epistemological positions and strategies of shared value to both activities. Specifically, the symposium will cover a spectrum of methodological positions that explore a variety of research designs and discuss their limits and potentials to contribute to new knowledge in our field. On a personal note, I am delighted that my advisor will be reconnecting with her peers through this symposium after a lengthy hiatus (of almost a decade).

Here’s hoping that next year is equally encouraging. Happy Holidays to everyone!

Image: (Top) Reconstruction Design of the Electrical Management Building in Sarajevo by Lebbeus Woods (1994). (Bottom) Computer rendering by Carlos Fueyo (2004) / Source: dpr-barcelona (November 23, 2009)

“Architecture, as a social and primarily constructive act, could heal the wounds (of suffering and terror), by creating entirely new types of space in the city. These would be what I had called ‘freespaces,’ spaces without predetermined programs of use, but whose strong forms demanded the invention of new programs corresponding to the new, post-war conditions (…) The design for the reconstruction of the Electrical Management Building is a case study in the application of this theory. Most of the building would be restored to accommodate corporate offices of the known kind. However, in the space that had been literally blasted off by artillery fire, would be constructed a freespace, to be inhabited by those who, in the reinvention of ways to inhabit space, would open the way to the future.” – Lebbeus Woods, “The Reality of Theory,” February 6, 2008.

Lebbeus Woods, the visionary architect, educator, writer, and maker of some of the most beautiful drawings has passed away. His “aestheticized politics” continue to inspire, confound, and complicate my obsession with architecture’s social and political responsibility. As Michael Kimmelman, who broke the news via Twitter said, “Yes to Michael Sorkin’s writing: Woods’ “ever-expanding discourse of the almost possible is an inspiration not just to build but to think” (emphasis mine). How not to remain just a “drawing room” architect, however, is another question [1].

R.I.P. Lebbeus Woods.
See also: BLDGBLOG’s tribute: Lebbeus Woods, 1940-2012 (October 30, 2012)

[1] Dutton on Woods and Krier in “Cultural Studies and Critical Pedagogy,” Reconstructing Architecture (1996).

I’m off for the holidays to the East Coast, but here are some important year-end updates to roundup an incredibly busy term:

Architecture in Print: Fall 2011 marked the successful completion of our inaugural blog project entitled, “Architecture in Print” run by Art, Architecture, and Engineering Library at The University of Michigan. The project takes stock of periodicals and print matter in the “Special Collections Library,” and produces an annotated visual catalogue of materials that have impacted the dissemination of architectural knowledge in significant ways from the 1920s onwards. In Winter term, I’ll continue to work on William Muschenheim Collection focusing on European and American modernism.

Social Space / Spatial Practice: This week, I was finally able to finish my course publication draft and send it off to PVK R at CEPT University for review. The sent draft was a fairly extensive record of our collective involvement from this past summer. Broadly, the publication document seeks to contribute to the discourse on wider social meanings in urban design. Specifically, it is an attempt to outline the various contours of urban (social) design; to focus attention on social and political values of urban design; to deepen design discussions on space—society relationship; and to set a theoretical foundation for ongoing and newer investigations into people, places, and practices.

Emerging Voices Lecture Series: My involvement in P+ARG organized “Emerging Voices” lecture series will continue next semester. As a committee member, I submitted the grant proposal on behalf of the organizing committee, and we now have requisite funds to bring three emerging scholars to Ann Arbor to lead one formal lecture and one informal working session with current doctoral students and faculty members at The Taubman College. Each speaker corresponds to three specialty areas: design studies, history/theory, and urban planning respectively. Stay tuned for added information on speakers and discussion themes!

EDRA 43 Seattle Spring 2012: I will be chairing and presenting in a symposium at EDRA entitled, “Hard Space, Soft Space, and Architectures of Appropriation,” next year. I received an e-mail notification of acceptance just few days ago. Hurrah! This EDRA session will continue the conversation from last year, and involve paper presentations by a panel of three individuals focusing on notions of hard space, soft space, and (spatial) appropriation as key interrelated elements of emergent placemaking. More on session theme, paper abstracts and speaker bios, soon!

That’s all for now, folks! See you all in a few weeks time. Have a restful and rejuvenating holiday break!

Additionally, I was extremely pleased to learn that K. Rattenbury and S. Hardingham’s “Bernard Tschumi: Parc de la Villette [SuperCrit #4]” was released by Routledge this year. The actual SuperCrit #4 event was held in October 2005 at the University of Westminster, London and organized by Research Centre for Experimental Practice EXP and The Architecture Foundation. Speakers included Peter Cook, Bruce McLean, Nigel Coates, Carlos Villaneuva Brandt, and Murray Fraser.

[At this point, I can’t wait to get my personal copy. Also see: John Morgan Studio (format design)]