MIT researchers examine cities worldwide for 2019 Seoul Architecture and Urbanism Biennale

Transportation, communication, development, and social interaction are explored through the lens of the urban.

Seoul Architecture and Urbanism Biennale attendees interact with the

Seoul Architecture and Urbanism Biennale attendees interact with the “Sit(e)lines of a Garden City” installation on the port city of Haifa, Israel.

Photo courtesy of the researchers.

Inspired by the question “What are the problems our cities must confront?”, faculty, students, and alumni from the MIT School of Architecture and Planning participated in the 2019 Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, which ran from September to November.

The Biennale’s Cities Exhibition, curated by Rafael Luna MArch ’10 and Dongwoo Yim, invited participation from researchers in more than 80 cities worldwide, asking them to examine their most pressing concerns through the lens of the Biennale’s theme of “Collective City.” Their curatorial process included both identifying issues specific to cities and uncovering unexplored connections among them – and creating a new discourse in response.

In their statement, the curators said, “[O]ur cities are a collective of spatial, temporal, and social environments and at the same time, organisms that constantly change due to the intervention of unintentional or unplanned factors. Even a [perfectly planned] city can reveal a new consequence due to the new variables; a city devised without solid plans creates a new order through the optimal interactions of the city’s elements. In all of these processes, temporal, spatial, and social elements are combined and work together. Thus, each city continues to evolve through every moment.”

This year, the MIT-related participants and projects in the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism included:

Aldo: A Social Infrastructure, from Julia Jamrozik and Coryn Kempster MArch ’08, examines Buffalo, New York – a 19th-century boomtown that declined sharply in the mid-20th century. Despite recent investment and activity, parts of Buffalo remain blighted by poverty and segregation. Aldo addresses this inequality with social infrastructures for playful public encounters, creating spaces for people from varied economic, political, and racial backgrounds to share experiences.

Bangkok’s Urban Presence: Toward the Future of Smart Urbanity, by Non Arkaraprasertkul MS ’07 and Shouheng Shen, proposes interventions to address mobility obstacles in Bangkok, Thailand, such as traffic congestion. This work envisions a new “Smart Urbanity” that is scientific, data-driven, and socially sensitive to space and place. By investigating the challenges faced by pedestrians, this work seeks to provide a generalization of how and why we should not ignore physical realities when creating a sense of place.

Big Plans: Made for China, by Michael Sorkin Studio/Michael Sorkin MArch ’74, presents several projects that arise from fundamental predicates of the good city: neighborhoods; primacy of pedestrians; free mix of uses; recalculation of the ratio of green, blue, and built space; high levels of local autonomy; and the most radical environmental infrastructure possible. At a time when there is intense discussion of what, exactly, are the qualities of Chinese urbanism, these projects reflect a wide range – from the quasi-fantastical to the fully realizable.

Boston Understories, by Landing Studio (Dan Adams and Lecturer of Urban Design and Planning Marie Law Adams MArch ’06), uses the lens of the regulatory sign to contemplate spaces and activities under highway viaducts. Markers such as “no trespassing” signs fail to reflect the actuality of these sub-infrastructural spaces – where the market forces development into infrastructural margins, ecological systems converge with mobility networks, and public works intermingle with public recreation. Boston Understories introduces a new, more plural taxonomy of signs to encourage, amplify, and make legible actual and imagined collective domains of urban viaduct spaces.

Creative Collectives, from the platau platform for architecture and urbanism (Sandra Frem MS ’09, Boulos Douaihy, and Sabin), looks at the spatial history of the collective in Beirut – from political to social and economic – from 2000 to the present. It also investigates emerging forms of collectives at the intersection of private and communal, such as creative and entrepreneurial clusters. The project imagines a speculative future where Beirut is overlaid by a network of nodes – Creative Collectives – with specific criteria: creative reappropriation of vulnerable urban fabric and open spaces for positive negotiation among conservation, individual modes of practice, and collective experience.

The Heterotopial City project by Ibañez Kim (Associate Professor Mariana Ibañez, Simon Kim SM ’08, Andrew Homick, Adam Schroth, Sarah Davis, Angeliki Tzifa, Tian Ouyang, and Kyuhun Kim) addresses master planning’s out-of-touch visions for urbanism and architecture; the complex role of citizenship in a highly dispersed communications landscape; and the shifting concept of natures without separate identities such as human/nonhuman, wild/civilized, public/private, and inside/outside. A crypto-city composed of familiar places is the location of new collective commons, synthetic natures, and hybrid environments; this city compresses elements of real metropolises to reveal our current human nature and suggest alternative actions.

Introduction to Collective Consequences, by exhibition curators Luna and Yim, revealed their curatorial efforts and decisions as they interpreted the biennale’s main theme of Collective Cities. Collective consequences are an accumulation of multiple layers – the results of both planned and unplanned intentions. The Cities Exhibition was created with open-ended curation to allow for dialogue and chemistry between individual exhibits. The introductory exhibition provided methods for reading a city as a platform to understand different ways of discussing contemporary topics related to cities.

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