Learning from Denise Scott Brown

Learning from Denise Scott Brown

Denise Scott Brown

Urban Planner and Architect, Denise Scott Brown became one of my heroes last summer after reading an interview with her on Gizmo Web.  There was so much to learn from even this interview.


On communication in architecture. I particularly found in interesting her examination of the way architects look at the ‘masses’ and how instead we should understand that society is made up of many subgroups with individuals being part of several of these groups.


“Social scientists in America now would say that we cannot usefully talk about the masses, that we need to consider the subgroups that form large populations, that even the commercial discussion of «markets» and «market segments» is better than rhetoric on the masses. And mention of the word in our profession usually carries the corollary «We the architects know the real needs of the little people». The same goes for the “mass media”. Modern means of communication permit messages to be targeted to families, women, men, young people, intellectuals, non-intellectuals, poker players, football fans, philatelists, entomologists – there are million ways to cut the media pie. And one individual can belong to several groups. I may hold certain opinions as a woman, others as an architect, and yet others as a planner. To fulfill these roles I must internalize conflicts among them. How could it be otherwise? And should it be otherwise? When people harbour no internal conflicts they become one-dimensional and may become ideologues. That can be dangerous. Conflicts within the individual may be a valuable protection against extremism, against the possibility of another Hitler or Mussolini. …. if communication is one of the functions of architecture, then we architects must understand the hierarchies of messages and the forms of communication that should co-exist, at certain locations and within different building types from a city hall to a suburban house.

 

Denise Scott Brown spent time learning from fields outside architecture and urbanism. I feel like that is what I am doing at the moment, learning about other ways of doing and it is fascinating to see how her experiences influenced her work and approach.


DSB: I was at that time searching for new methods of analysis and synthesis “outside” architecture – that could help architects break from their narrowly architecture-centric views. I found useful thought and techniques in urban sociology, systems thinking, Pop Art, Mannerism, and the area of land economics called Regional Science – to name a few. Even in the 1960s computers played an important role. After War World II American social scientists and planners tried to adapt war-time computer techniques to research on cities.


Denise on on exploring and analysing cities.

“Learning from” studies to date have appropriated only limited facets of our LLV and LLT material and techniques, and the research studio’s role within an overall education plan has not been thought through. Therefore it’s hardly surprising that architects today use urban research information for sculptural purposes – city mapping, for example, as an aid to discovering cool new forms. They ignore the relationships these maps reveal. And they miss the powerful resources offered by mapping that shows how social and economic conditions distribute “on the ground” . Architects need such information to achieve what they have long desired: ability to design what Aldo van Eyck called «the physical counterform to social form», what the Smithsons called «active socioplastics».


This is where I got the name of my blog, I love the thought of active socioplastics, the relationship between physical forms and social and economic behaviours? On people?


Her essay “Sexism and the star system” is a fantastic womens experience in architecture. Although written over 20 yrs ago in 1989, it still rings true.

DSB: «So you’re the wife! Are you an architect too?» was a question asked me throughout my career at VSBA and up to today. And I have answered, pointing to Bob: «No, he’s the “architect too”! I am an architect». However this is a problem of being married to a guru, not the one faced by young women as they progress in the field.

SM: At that time women’s rights were at the center of social debate. Today I perceive a new social problem, which is the struggle between generations. In Italy the phenomena is most relevant, it seems that young architects have trouble to take over the previous generation, as there is a sort of “resistance”. What do you think about it?

DSB: There is always a generation problem, and it exists at both ends – I have been at each. But do you believe there is no longer a women’s problem? You’re right – but only in the sense that there never was one. It was always a men’s and women’s problem! And I believe it exists today as strongly as ever. You have not yet perceived it, because as a young architect you are accorded the greatest equality that you will ever know. It gets worse as you proceed, and when it does, you’ll find it is a strong problem. And sadly, because you don’t have a feminist awareness, you’ll think it’s your fault.
Although women start out in practice equal with men, complications set in when they must juggle child-rearing and practice, just at the point in their professional development when seniority brings responsibilities for project management and the need for one hundred percent participation in the studio. Then even if you are brighter than they, the men will go further than you, and you will think: «There’s something wrong with me!»

There are other reasons why men receive preference over women when both reach “the glass ceiling”. And there are reasons – too many to consider here – why architects don’t make gurus of women. And another theory is sometimes offered women: «You have power in your own sphere. Look at the power of the Spice Girls. Why must you compete with men?» This is the age old power of seduction. But where has it got us? As an old feminist recently said: «If the Spice Girls really had power, Dick Cheney, would wear a tutu»!

Denise Scott Brown is an inspiration 🙂

How to build a collaborative cardboard city

How to build a collaborative cardboard city

As part of my course in community arts practice with Impact Arts, I ran a series of workshops at the Orkidstudio EMPOWERMENT exhibition. Inviting visitors to the exhibition to collaboratively build a cardboard city. It was the most fantastic and fun experience.
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Inspirational projects were Kiel Johnsons’ cardboard city workshops and Nathan Coley’s beautiful Lamps of Sacrifice.
The aim of the workshops was to encourage people to make their vision of an imagined future city. To design through making using simple materials like cardboard and postcards to write/ draw their vision of how the community could be better for all.
Although each week explored a theme from the exhibition; Inspire, Equality, Enterprise and Educate. But I wanted to leave it open and see what people would come up with instead of directing them,
I made a simple base from cardboard, 4 A0 boards and painted the river in. Leaving it without an obvious scale.
We used cardboard and simple tools like scissors, scalpels, marker pens, rulers, and paint.
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It was a fascinating experience, seeing the cardboard city grow over the four weeks. I found that cardboard was a brilliantly easy material to use. Anyone from young kids to adults could use it. The city became a was a collective “You-topia”. A colourful re-imagined city containing a lovely mixture of spaces from a seesaw, to a range of houses, to an equality rocket and creative workshop centre. 
 
I asked a range of people visiting the exhibition to take part. What was lovely was that the people I thought would say no were usually the ones that said yes and took part. There were lots of children that took part from 2yrs old upwards, not many teenagers but there were a lot of adults too.
Adults absolutely loved it reminded them of their childhood, which made it easy for them to engage. A lovely couple told me they’d been at a gallery seen a kids workshop, wanted to take part and this workshop gave them that opportunity. It got me thinking about more projects I could do like this that could encourage that playful side of grown ups.
Another thing I discovered was that people like to have something to take home, a momento, something to show off. In this case each person got a polariod picture which delighted them.
Scale was of interest to me, I had originally thought of making a couple of buildings to set a scale, thinking with my architects brain but I decided to leave it without a scale. It was interesting to see as the city built up and people got more confident, the buildings got bigger and bigger.
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The approaches to making varies. Kids usually knew exactly what they wanted to make, some people were meticulous spending ages getting it right while others made lots of things. Every week there was someone or a group who absolutely loved it and didn’t want to leave whether it was students or kids.
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If I did the project again, I would try it with more of a structure to the city, maybe focus on a particular part, or draw in the streets. More to see how that changes people’s creative expression. In that case the brief could be more specifically focused, which was on of the feedback I got. I would also want participants to name or describe their buildings. I used postcards but not many people used them with it as it took a while. Labels would be an interesting and simple method and would give it an interesting identity. I post-rationally did this by creating a map of the city, which gave it a collective identity. I did learn that even if you keep the brief loose, there are other ways of pulling a project together to present it.
Probably my favourite thing was seeing people who at the start  they weren’t creative absolutely lovely making by then end. It was also great to meet and talk to the exhibition visitors and see how they enjoyed it. I absolutely loved the workshops and definitely want to keep doing them 😊.
Broken City Lab, Calgary, Canada

Broken City Lab, Calgary, Canada

Broken City Lab is a project in Calgary, Canada run by an artist led interdisciplinary collective and no profit. They used a range of projects, events, workshops and interventions to explore their locality. With a focus on research and social practice to generate works that critique, annotate and re-imagine the cities they encountered.
One of their projects was Urban Discovery, where they went around the city over a week, in a camper van making explorations and discoveries of the cities narrative. I love the idea of going round the city and engaging with people in their environment. Another thing that is great was the simple materials they used, like post it notes, blackboards.
Their blog is great so check it out! 🙂
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Cardboard Inventions- Kiel Johnson

Cardboard Inventions- Kiel Johnson

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Just discovered the work of Kiel Johnson, he makes incredible cardboard arts from camera’s to participatory cityscapes. His use of cardboard a simple everyday material, is fun and playful. And shows how simple materials can be used with great imagination. I really like the quote he gave in his TED talk “I’m a firm believer that a good idea only comes when working on a bad idea and I just have to get busy and trust that something good will happen.”

The cityscapes look brilliantly engaging, allowing people to make, collaborate and interestingly talk to each other. And his Corrugated Youth seems like a lot of fun, I want to make a robot outfit too.

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Find out more on his website 😊

http://www.kieljohnson.com/kieljohnson.com/HOME.html