Sit In, Toxteth, Liverpool, by What If. [photo via Canadian Centre for Architecture]
On Monday, Places Journal posted the first in a four-part series entitled The Interventionist's Toolkit: Provisional, Opportunistic, Ubiquitous, and Odd Tactics in Guerilla and DIY Practice and Urbanism. In the piece I ask "What is the operational mode of the bust?" and then track the different practices that have cropped up in the last few years. These are ways of working that combine design with activist and grassroots tactics.
As we head into spring I'll add more thoughts and examples to the Toolkit. But here's a taste of the first installment:
...Previous economic crises have offered up examples: paper architecture, the growth of theoretical and artistic practice, in the 1970s and '80s; the lost generation, young designers leaving the architecture for virtual realms, in the '90s; and paperless architecture, the rise of formal digital experimentation, in the early '00s....
Our current recession is inspiring its own strategies and tactics: It's increasingly a catch-all for a host of urban interventions. This is a trend that I like to describe with a mouthful of a title: Provisional, Opportunistic, Ubiquitous, and Odd Tactics in Guerilla and DIY Practice and Urbanism. With this verbaciousness, I hope to capture the tactical multiplicity and inventive thinking that have cropped up in the vacuum of more conventional commissions. These days vacant lots offer sites for urban farming, mini-golf, and dumpster pools. Trash recycles into a speculative housing prototype (see the Tiny Pallet House). Whether it’s The Living’s Amphibious Architecture or Mark Shepard's Serendipitor, the built environment speaks through mobile devices. Retail spaces hit by the recession are fodder for reinvention, as the art organization No Longer Empty transforms unleased storefronts into temporary galleries. Even the street itself is reclaimed. REBAR’s annual initiative, Park(ing) Day, urges global participants to use a pranksters wit to turn parking spaces into pocket parks, one quarter at a time.
Driven by local and community issues and intended as polemics that question conventional practice, these projects reflect an ad hoc way of working; they are motivated more by grassroots activism than by the kind of home-ec craft projects (think pickling, Ikea-hacking and knitting) sponsored by mainstream shelter media, usually under the Do-It-Yourself rubric. (Although they do slot nicely into the imperative-heavy pages of Good and Make magazines.) They are often produced by emerging architects, artists and urbanists working outside professional boundaries but nonetheless engaging questions of the built environment and architecture culture. And the works reference edge-condition practitioners of earlier generations who also faced shifts within the profession and recessionary outlooks: Gordon Matta Clark, Archigram, Ant Farm, the early Diller + Scofidio, among others....
....Still, there’s a tendency to dismiss these kinds of projects as simply whimsical — to smile at their authenticity or their expression of clever détournement, but at the same time to suppress any uncomfortable restive rumblings. But these projects hold at their heart a belief that change is possible despite economic or political obstacles, or disciplinary or institutional inertia. And the prospect for real change builds as more and more works accumulate in exhibition catalogues and digital venues. Broadcast via Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and design blogs, these new temporary or provisional projects can be read relationally to each other without explicit contextual concerns. By aggregating and focusing upon these small-scale interventions, my hope is to reveal a larger framework — a network that makes nimble use of social networking and Web 2.0 technologies to transform local episodes into global outreach. Thus The Interventionist’s Toolkit — a series that will light upon Places from time to time this winter and spring — is not necessarily about featuring projects, but about finding new ways to practice and provoke within the fields of architecture, urbanism, and design.