During the Loeb 45th Anniversary Celebration and Alumni Reunion, the third and final session of Loeb University–Pech Kucha-style presentations by Loeb Alumni– addressed a range of topics and practices, from curation to innovative policymaking to the role of DIY in spurring change. One common thread was that we must face today’s unique cocktail of challenges--rapid urbanization, rising inequality, a warming planet, and so on--by giving life to radical design solutions. These solutions must touch the ground: they must motivate, inspire, and engage.
Andres Lepik (LF ‘12) presented a now familiar juxtaposition: the shiny covers of the annals of high design with acres of informal settlements in Caracas. We’ve all heard that contemporary architecture is in crisis. Lepik put a twist on it, however, by placing agency back into the hands of designers. “Architects have the power to increase the social relevance of their profession,” Lepik argued, and he has directed his curatorial efforts to showcase those who are doing just that. Through his acclaimed exhibitions, from Small Scale, Big Change at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010 to, more recently, Afritecture, a traveling exhibit funded by the Goethe Institut, he has celebrated the role ethics can play in beautiful, ambitious design. Lepik noted the importance of interaction and engagement–Afritecture featured information printed on the floor, so people could literally be surrounded–in the exhibits’ success.
Armando Carbonell (LF ‘93), of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, switched gears with a quick spin through new ways of shaping land use policy when it comes to funding infrastructure. A photograph of the collapse of the I35-W bridge over the Mississippi River demonstrated a certain urgency: our current systems are literally failing us. Carbonell then introduced value capture–a method of converting unearned private value from public infrastructure investment into public revenue–as an “efficient, equitable, sustainable tool for urban development.” Carbonell highlighted how value capture has been used–across Latin America, from Cuenca in Ecuador to Curitiba and Sao Paulo in Brazil–to redistribute the location value of infrastructure, providing proof points that ethical, equitable policy can, in fact, be designed.
Building on the theme of doing away with old, tired paradigms, Andrew Howard (LF ‘15) issued a provocation: No More Public Meetings. After years of using traditional planning tools and processes, Howard realized “I had to change the way I was working to change the built environment.” Howard’s organization, Better Block, facilitates a DIY guerrilla approach to change based on a simple mantra: “set a date and make it happen.” Started in Dallas and now in more than 100 communities and three countries, Better Block brings people together to enact the change they want to see on their street corners, squares, and sidewalks. Using potted plants, paint, and movable furniture, the Better Block method transforms space in a matter of days, even hours, through community initiative, providing a more beautiful, persuasive case for permanent change than any public meeting can hope to do. Howard is now pushing his model to the next level with the Oak Cliff Investment Cooperative, which gives neighbors a vehicle to fund projects together and gain a return on their investment.
Herbert Dreiseitl (LF ‘11), of Atelier Dreiseitl and Livable Cities Lab, rounded off the day with a call to action. With manifestations that range from flooding to drought and heat waves, climate change is one of the most pressing problems facing cities today. Yet Dreiseitl’s work as a landscape architect and urban planner has centered on water not as the problem, but as the solution. From Singapore to Norway to Germany, his projects have taken on urban hydrology and storm water management as an engine for problem solving and placemaking. “We have all the toolkits available,” said Dreiseitl, insisting that what we need are “many small, complementary projects.” Like the previous presenters, Dreiseitl emphasized the importance of “better arguments” to achieve the public engagement and buy-in that are necessary if we’re going to pull this off.