Art Forms Architecture's Live/Work/Space at UMass Amherst

Live/Work/Space, Artists’ Studios 2010–2021 at University of Massachusetts Amherst, Design Building Gallery, Nov. 9–Dec. 10, 2021. 

In his classic 1996 book exploring the phenomenology of architectural space, Finnish architect and theorist Juhani Pallasmaa writes, “Architecture is our primary instrument in relating us with space and time, and giving these dimensions a human measure. It domesticates limitless space and endless time to be tolerated, inhabited and understood by humankind.” 

In the live/work artist studio, the sequencing of undifferentiated time and space becomes especially acute, giving structure to places the body occupies both day and night. The tailoring of such an environment to the lifeways of the individual or artist couple involves an extended conversation about the client’s desires, habits, work methods, and aspirations for happiness and well-being, giving them form through drawings and, eventually, a built structure. 

Live/Work/Space documents this conversation through five artists’ studios designed by Grigori Fateyev’s Art Forms Architecture between 2010 and 2021. Represented through rough sketches, watercolor paintings, architectural drawings, detailed illustrations, 3D renderings, models, and photographs, the exhibition displays the artifacts of built projects—and two in progress—at the intersection of Fateyev’s imagination and that of the artist clients. 

The drawings serve to share ideas with clients, modifying them in response to feedback, meet the code requirements of building inspectors, specify to contractors how to realize the structure, and, here at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Design Building Gallery, offer students, educators, and the public a view of the process of commissioning, designing, and constructing purpose-built and renovated structures for artists to live and work. 

As a set of projects, each offers distinctive characteristics in terms of program and building typology. They include a new standalone work space for a painter in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a live/work loft and exhibition space in a renovated 1890s textile mill in Housatonic, Massachusetts, a purpose-built studio and residence with living and working spaces for a painter-and-sculptor couple in Hudson, New York, a studio and residence in two overlapping volumes for a multidisciplinary artist in the Hudson Valley, and a duplex townhouse in Hudson divided into two-story living space and top-floor video production facility. 

In his drawings, Fateyev’s use of black-and-white ink, pencils, charcoal, colored markers, and watercolor, as well as elevations, floor plans, and renderings, provides insight into various stages of the design process and the possibilities of architectural drawings as a form of both communication and expression. It’s notable that Fateyev started school in theater set design in St. Petersburg before gravitating toward art and eventually architecture at Cooper Union, and that his architectural education was rooted in both figure drawing and conceptual studies, where he fell under the influence of John Hejduk, a beacon of so-called Paper Architecture, in which the expressive possibilities of drawings to share ideas became, in many cases, an end in itself. 

Yet Fateyev, as he approaches the threshold of his mid-career, has already demonstrated considerable facility in realizing sensitively built structures that take seriously the critical concerns of construction, such as quality of material, energy conservation, climate conditions, and experience of the users. The photographs of his completed work in Live/Work/Space capture the beauty and function of the eventual projects in texture, color, and detail, as well as in relation to their surroundings. As much as they’re designed for the clients’ programmatic needs and desires, the buildings resonate with their natural and vernacular context, combining a passion for the techne of architecture and the mechanics of buildings with an intuition for structuring and embodying the time and space of experience. 

On Observing the Hyper-Local and Making Planetary Policy, Finnish Cultural Institute

On Observing the Hyper-Local and Making Planetary Policy, Finnish Cultural Institute of New York, Nov. 2, 2021. 

Since the start of the pandemic in the United States, the NGO  has been organizing a weekly video-conference discussion, dreaming of a different future. Our board members at the time were all based in New York City, living in quarantine, witnessing the daily failure of institutions meant to provide social support, offer a stable system of governance, protect the public interest, and manage crises. The pandemic accelerated and rendered even more transparent the failures we already knew to be absolutely systemic.

The then-president was a widely known fraud, a businessman and real estate developer who had long revealed the inherent dysfunction of public-private investment as a central means of producing social goods through his epic exploitation of tax incentives, using them to skim extraordinary amounts of money from the system for personal profit. We felt especially powerless as we listened to the screams of ambulances outside, as the bodies piled up in morgues and refrigerated trucks lined up outside of hospitals. 100,000 souls lost. 200,000. 300,000. 400,000. 500,000. The numbers abstracted experiences of terrible suffering, the elderly dying intubated on ventilators, alone and isolated from loved ones, infected with the virus due to poorly managed elderly care facilities. It was a tragedy due to failure of public policy. 

Originally, Amplifier had been founded based on the theory that what we call “cultural capital” is misallocated in cosmopolitan centers like New York City and Los Angeles. If “cultural communities” naturally occur where cultural producers live and work, and if these communities have the effect of raising real estate values, leading to preservation of deteriorating buildings as well as rising cost of living for previous inhabitants, could you not produce projects that reorient cultural production toward places that are radically disinvested, lack resources, and are largely abandoned by the government, especially Black communities like Flint and Detroit?

We started this initiative in 2010, organizing the first pilot projects in 2011, founding Flint Public Art Project in 2012. We launched public art festivals in vacant industrial brownfields to reimagine them as public spaces, helping to establish a landscaped public park on the grounds of a mile-long former Chevrolet factory. We renovated an abandoned house as a residency for visiting artists to produce creative work throughout the city, attracting cultural producers and activity to a historic district in which the city’s heritage was being lost to decay, arson, and abandonment. The model worked. But where was the government? Where were the institutions that were supposed to prevent this collapse in the first place?

We wanted to dream of another future. Architects sometimes describe themselves as “world-builders” in that they literally design the world we inhabit. We started to employ the language of world-building on a planetary scale. We wanted to imagine a system in which a world-governing body—or bodies—would manage natural resources adequately and ensure the distribution of the goods and services that everyone has the right to—such as shelter, food and water, and health care. It would protect biodiversity, regulate industries to prevent climate collapse, and prepare for the potential displacement of hundreds of millions of people due to loss of arable land, rising temperatures, and the inability of people to survive in their native habitats.

In the 250 years since our institutions were formed, in the case of in the U.S. and Western Europe, what new principles, assumptions we take for granted, scientific knowledge, social research, cultural worldviews, technologies, and logistics capacities could be instrumental in conceiving another way of organizing ourselves? In some way, this discussion with Efe Ogbeide of FEMMA Planning suggests that a country like Finland already offers a model of another way of living, in which basic forms of social support are sustained by a functional government, and people are not left to the whims of profit-making and private capital.

In Amplifier’s framing of world-building, the work Ogbeide is doing to engage citizens integrally in planning through participant observation and personal discussions is precisely the process we imagine can lead to better outcomes. How can larger institutions like cities, states, and world-governing bodies better understand and gather information about hyper-local concerns, desires, ways of living, belief systems? How can we make use of that information to ensure that local resources are managed adequately and global regulations facilitate the greatest happiness, well-being, and sustainability for all creatures, both within the local ecosystem and on a planetary scale?

Image: Architect Nea Tuominen resided in NYC as an architect-in-residence in 2018. Tuominen received a special mention in a competition seeking an inspirational urban arcology concept, which sets in contemporary high-rise design in Hong Kong.

The Futures of Urban Planning, Withstanding podcast

The Futures of Urban Planning: Interview with Efe Ogbeide from Helsinki-based urban planning office FEMMA Planning, Withstanding podcast, Finnish Cultural Institute of New York, Nov. 2, 2021. 

"We begin the second season of Withstanding in the company of Efe Ogbeide from Helsinki-based urban planning office FEMMA Planning and NYC-based advocacy journalist and organizer Stephen Zacks. Ogbeide and Zacks discuss current questions related to participatory urban planning, as Ogbeide shares previous research conducted by FEMMA Planning in the suburbs of Helsinki. How to practice participatory urban planning that helps to create more livable, inclusive and equal city environments? How to implement hyperlocal strategies into a vaster planetary scale, as we are confronted with occurrences such as a pandemic or climate change.

"The episode features the sound piece focus.point.shoot (2021) by DeForrest Brown, Jr. The track is a stereomodernist rhythm and soul commissioned for the 30th anniversary of the legendary Berlin techno club and label Tresor. As Speaker Music, musician and theorist DeForrest Brown, Jr. transmits a Black militant geopolitical awakening taking place in his home in the Black Belt region of the American South, in which African American descendants of slave class laborers vastly outnumber the white voting population in the 21st century."

World-Making: Imagining a Well Cared for Planet


World-Making: Imagining a Well Cared for Planet, presentation, Infrastructures of Care, Hekler, Oct. 14, 2021. 

What are the common principles, ideas, and visions that we take for granted are shared universally? What motivations other than self-interest and short-term profit can be encouraged, designed into a system, and used to produce better outcomes? In this workshop we will examine processes, principles, and visions for the planetary as an exercise of writing a constitution, in the effort to begin bringing about a legally binding global community that can preserve and protect life, not just of humanity, but of billions of other species with which we share space.

Image: Design Earth, The Planet After Geoengineering

Sears Homes of the Early 20th Century in L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui


Once Upon a Time in the Far Far West: Sears Mail-Order Homes in the U.S.L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, Sep. 2021. 

From 1908 to 1940, Sears, Roebuck & Co. sold about 75,000 homes in the United States through its mail-order catalogues. The homes appeared on the pages of Sears Modern Home catalogues as attractive architectural drawings accompanied by floor plans and descriptions showcasing hundreds of vernacular styles. Each style had a model number marketed with brand names such as the Maytown (a two-story structure featuring a porch with Colonial columns, three-sided window bays in the parlour and dining room, and an octagonal turret on the second floor), the San Jose (a Spanish mission-style bungalow), the Arlington (an eclectic Colonial bungalow with craftsmen features, cedar shingles, and a cobblestone chimney), and the Chateau (a pseudo-Second Empire brick-faced house with a mansard roof, dormers, and blue-green shutters).

The homes were inexpensive, benefitting from an idiomatic do-it-yourself American method of "balloon-style" wood-frame construction. Farmers on the Western frontier and minimally skilled workers with nothing but hammers and nails could assemble them without the need for experienced
carpenters to cut complex joints or teams of tradesmen to lift heavy pieces of lumber. It's a technology tied to the U.S.'s 19th century colonial expansion across the West, where streams of settlers flooded in following treaty after treaty with Native American tribes.

Sears homes sold at prices starting as low as 400 to 925€ (10-25,000€ in today's euros) up to 4,300 to 5,000€ (120-135,000€ in today's euros) depending on the optional features and quality of finishes a buyer selected. The Puritan, for instance, a two-story, three-bedroom Dutch Colonial with a gambrel roof and sun room, sold for the equivalent of 2,100€ in the 1920s. The Chelsea, aka Modern Home Number 111, a simple two-story, four-bedroom, nine-room house the catalogue said was "becoming more popular every day in some of the more stylish neighborhoods in cities" sold for the equivalent of 3.400€. The Magnolia, a four-bedroom, ten-room Colonial-style house with oak floors, birch trim, verandas, and French doors, went for the equivalent of 4,300€.

The homes were shipped across the country by train from factories in places like Newark, New Jersey and Norwood, Ohio. Workers pre-cut and milled the materials in assembly-line facilities, taking advantage of modern optimised production techniques. A kit of materials composed of some 30,000 pieces, not including nails and screws, was dropped on the purchaser's lot in two railroad boxcars to be raised up by the owners, friends, and neighbors, or hired workers. Buyers could also finance the homes through the company and pay off the mortgage in 12.50€ to 63€ monthly installments over 10 to 15 years. The ability of Sears to finance long-term mortgages was a key to its success. It also led to its downfall.

The method of prefabricated home construction worked well. Several other companies, including Gordon- Van Tine, Montgomery Ward, and the
Aladdin Company also succeeded in producing kit homes during the same period. Untold numbers of houses from the period survive in cities across the U.S. and remain in good condition, despite fears that the construction methods using lightweight Douglas Fir and hemlock for wall framing and
a choice of wood lath and plaster or "sheet plaster" for interior cladding–a precursor of today's standard gypsum drywall–would not be durable.

Black Camera republished essay on African Cinema


The Theoretical Construction of African Cinema, Black Camera 12, no. 2, Spring 2021. 

In his investigations into the possibility of an African philosophy, V. Y. Mudimbe interrogates the various intellectual movements that have influenced the development of Africanist discourse: Negritude, Sartrean existentialism, missionary writings, ethnophilosophy, anthropological structuralism, and Fanonian neo-Marxist nationalism. A thorough study along the lines which I am proposing for the investigation of ideological currents in African cinema and criticism should, ideally, address all of these influences. For now I intend to make a few generalizations in reviewing some of the recent critical works on African cinema, the publication of which has highlighted the need for a systematic study of the theoretical foundations of the discourse on African cinema.

The contentious operative question underlying Mudimbe's work concerns how African philosophy might be positioned so as to avoid being a priori confined by the Western discourses that were initially introduced into African culture through colonialism, and which originally defined philosophy as a field of knowledge and a disciplinary practice as such. It may be useful to recall how Hegel presented the problem in relation to the African tradition in his Philosophy of History:

The peculiarly African character is difficult to comprehend, for the very reason that in reference to it, we must quite give up the principle which naturally accompanies all our ideas the category of Universality. 

On the basis of this logic, and by force of the institutions generated in its tradition, it became impossible to conceptualize such a thing as African history except as a sub-category of that of Europe; African thought, insofar as it was acknowledged at all, would necessarily be articulated in terms that extended out of the Enlightenment.

It would be hard to avoid the implication that any African discourse making philosophical claims would have to be inherently a hybrid intellectual product, its very effort to link itself to the philosophical tradition having as a precondition some reconciliation with Western culture. Thus, unsurprisingly, given the political relationship that has obtained between Africa and the West, the question of what "African philosophy" might consist of has been characterized by a struggle to distill the pure, authentic, original, traditional, or indigenous characteristics from what have generally been considered perverse external influences. Mudimbe's historicizations lead us to suspect that, articulated in this form, such an activity may not be very useful, and that the concept of authenticity may itself be implicated in formulations of intellectual originality, cultural appropriation, and mimesis that elide the very historical and cultural specificity which it is supposed to animate:

 The fact of the matter is that, up to now, Western interpreters as well as African analysts have been using categories and conceptual systems dependent on a Western epistemological order, and even in the most explicit "Afrocentric" descriptions, models of analysis, explicitly or implicitly, knowingly or unknowingly, refer to the same order. Does this mean that African Weltanschauungen and African traditional systems of thought are unthinkable and cannot be made explicit within the framework of their own rationality?

The Libertarian/ Right-Wing Attack on Professional Licensing for Landscape Architecture Magazine

Licensure on the Line: After years of political attacks, the design professions are uniting to protect against threats to professional licensure, Landscape Architecture Magazine, Sep. 2021. 

“Once we show them what we do, they usually back off,” Rob McGinnis says. “We believe that our defense of our licensure in Virginia is important not just to our licensure but to the entire licensure status of all landscape architects, because once you pull that one licensure out, it will be identified by another state—particularly nearby abutting states—as an example.”

Led by right-of-center advocacy organizations and often funded by private interests, state legislatures have increasingly been writing bills to restrict licensing requirements for professions and occupations. With legislative titles such as the “Right to Earn a Living Act” and “Consumer Choice Act,” the laws are put forward under the premise that professional licensing imposes an unfair barrier to entry into certain types of work, infringes on individual freedom, and increases the costs of services to the consumer.

Lawmakers have included landscape architecture in “right-to-work” bills reflexively, without clearly understanding the nature of the practice or its difference from other kinds of landscape work. Conservative and libertarian lobbying groups such as the Institute for Justice, the Goldwater Institute, and Americans for Prosperity—the latter funded by the libertarian Koch brothers, heirs to the commodities-production-and-trading conglomerate Koch Industries—began pushing these laws around 2016; by now, nearly every state has voted on some version of a law rolling back or limiting licensing requirements.

On Architectural Licensing for Oculus


IPAL: A More Equitable Journey to Licensing, Oculus, Summer 2021. 

“Design is great when it’s designed for you,” Pascale Sablan says. “A lot of construction, design, architecture, buildings are rarely designed for and with the local community or reflective of that local community. It becomes a signifier that longtime residents may no longer be able to afford to stay, and new neighbors who perceive cultural rituals as a nuisance, which sometimes escalate into a conflict that the police are called to mitigate.”

It’s not that young people are not exposed to architecture, according to Sablan. It’s that architecture is the problem. “Perceiving the design profession in a negative light is not a misconception but an accurate depiction of the relationship we've cultivated with our profession and those who are socio-economically disadvantaged more often communities of color.”

Exhibit Columbus for Architectural Record


Exhibit Columbus Opened This Week in Indiana, Architectural Record, Aug. 27, 2021.

As part of the third Exhibit Columbus, which opened on Saturday, a vanguard of thought-leading architects has created temporary small-to-medium-scale public installations in Columbus, Indiana to strengthen community connection and reinforce the value of the city’s modern landmarks. The installations are sited adjacent to historically significant buildings and contemplate big questions about sharing the planet with other species, environmental crisis, surveillance, representation, colonialism, and the importance of essential workers. In that way, they gesture toward a broader engagement with the rest of the world and anticipate the role of a small city in the Midwest in envisioning the planet’s future.

The projects include University at Buffalo professor Joyce Hwang’s To Middle Species, With Love, a series of houses for bats and other “non-charismatic species” installed in Mill Race Park, designed in 1993 by Stanley Saitowitz and Michael Van Valkenberg. Chicago-based Future Firm’s Midnight Palace lights up a streetscape outside of the 1971 Sears Building—designed by Cesar Pelli and Norma Merrick Sklarek of Gruen Associates—using an assemblage of light bulbs, conduit, and screens for films paying homage to essential workers and night owls. And Madrid-based Ecosistema Urbano’s Cloudroom is a 50-by-32-foot inflatable sun shelter with word-cloud graphics drawn from the 1992 Declaration at the United Nations Rio Earth Summit, situated on the lawn of Perkins & Will’s 2007 Central Middle School.

The extraordinary architectural legacy of Columbus is well known and widely embraced. As the story goes, in 1942, the First Christian Church of Columbus commissioned Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen to build its expanded facility in the modern style. J. Irwin Miller, a descendant of a local department store owner-turned-banker-and-industrialist, had learned about modern design at Yale and convinced the church to build it. By the early 1950s, Miller had ascended to chair of the Cummins engine corporation. He commissioned Eero Saarinen to build his family home, then established a foundation to pay architect’s fees for public buildings that selected modern architects. Later, former Saarinen associate Kevin Roche designed several of Cummins’ headquarters and manufacturing buildings.

Other major figures drawn to Columbus by Miller’s largesse and influence included I.M. Pei (public library, 1969), Robert Venturi (fire station, 1968), James Polshek (mental health center, 1972), and SOM (Republic newspaper headquarters, 1971; Columbus City Hall, 1981). The program continues today, with Iwamoto Scott selected to build the campus of Ivy Tech community college and Gustafson Guthrie Nichol chosen to plan a campus for the city’s three technical colleges. All of this in a town of slightly less than 50,000.

In 2015, the Landmark Columbus Foundation was established to preserve and continue the city’s extraordinary design legacy, with Exhibit Columbus launched the following year as a biennial program activating the city’s modernist monuments through urban interventionist-style installations, symposia, and juried awards to emerging regional and international figures. New Middles, curated by Iker Gil and Mimi Zeiger, takes cues from the Midwest, middle America, middle or mid-size cities, mediation, and in-betweenness as themes. (Each is a two-year cycle, so they took place from 2016–2017, 2018­­–2019, and 2020–2021.) The exhibition includes a who’s who of the thinking curator’s designers, including Sam Jacobs, Olalekan Jeyifous (recently featured in MoMA’s Black Reconstructions), and Lola Sheppard and Mason White. Several of the architects are based in regional and small-to-medium size cities, among them Derek Hoeferlin (St. Louis), Jei Jeeyea Kim (Indianapolis), Ang Li (Chicago), Natalie Yates (Muncie, Indiana), Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller (El Paso, Texas), and Dream the Combine (Minneapolis).

As a small, ostensibly well-governed city in the middle of the United States, the project’s curators and directors argue, Columbus has a role to play to adapt to large-scale planetary crisis by initiating “small acts of future-making.” With half of the globe seemingly on fire, flooding, or experiencing famine and civil conflict due to the climate emergency, it’s crucial to mediate between the hyper-local interests of places like Columbus and the needs of all.

In small ways, through its ongoing willingness to indulge visitors in sincere, self-critical discussions about colonialism, its community of care for each other, and investment in public places, Columbus could be a model. Of course, we also want there to be well-governed national and globalinstitutions to support the rest of us—not have support contingent on non-profits hustling for corporate donations—and to enforce rule-making to protect human rights and biodiversity everywhere.

World-Making in L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui

World-Making: The reactionary, backward-looking narrowing of possibilities in America during the last four years–amplified beyond reason by the pandemic–clarified an urgency to rethink another planetary future. And it is being nourished largely by architects and designers living and working in the US who originate from everywhere else around the globe, L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui, July 2021.

"Like the friends in Boccaccio's Decameron who go off into the countryside to imagine another life as the Black Plague ravages 14th-century Florence, a certain number of architects in the United States greeted the waning of the 2016-2020 American White Nationalist fervor and the quarantines of 2020 with renewed vigor for imagining another world. Formulated in some cases as a process of world-making and in others as speculative story-telling and the narration of science-fiction futures, this movement in its broadest incarnation seeks nothing less than the reorganization of political and economic systems at a planetary scale."