As the work of the environmental/urban design disciplines is increasingly engaged in projects and research that can be characterized as fundamentally political in nature, this track looks to explore the ways in which design negotiates, manipulates, leverages, responds to, and subverts the politics of its work as an opportunity for projecting expanded disciplinary agency.
Track Chair: Christopher Marcinkoski
Keywords: political instruments, urbanism, landscape, design-agency, entrepreneurial-design
The environmental design disciplines are increasingly engaged in work that is fundamentally political in nature. Whether it is developing strategies for reforestation in sub-Saharan Africa; negotiating water rights and industrial-scale agricultural production in the Colorado River basin; planning and designing new settlement within emerging Asian economies; synthesizing renewable energy infrastructures with ecological and social concerns; administrating natural resource extraction; combatting sea-level rise in established metropolitan contexts; accommodating displaced refugee populations; managing projected population booms; or developing new typologies of hybrid public realm for cities, the work of the environmental design in the 21st century – more than ever – is being employed as an instrument of political power.
Yet too often, any discussion within the disciplines of the political nature of this work is rarely more than a subtext. As such, design has assumed what could be characterized as an almost apolitical identity, one that only serves to undermine the potential cultural agency of these activities. This is a missed opportunity. Environmental design and planning – in particular landscape and urban design – have a unique capacity to synthesize, clarify, reframe, reorient, visualize, bring attention to, and/or prompt in a way few other disciplines can.
The interest here is not in revisiting a period of counter-cultural critique, but rather in considering the inherent politics of contemporary environmental design praxis and research as an opportunity for projecting expanded disciplinary agency. The methods and tools by which design engages, negotiates, manipulates, responds to and subverts the politics of its work is the motivation of this track topic. In particular, anticipatory (rather than responsive) strategies are of great interest. So too is entrepreneurial work that moves design agency outside conventional channels or protocols. Examples of design activism and catalytic research initiatives at scales from the local to the territorial are desired, as well as any other work that considers the political nature of contemporary environmental and urban design praxis.
About the Track Chair:
Christopher is an assistant professor of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a licensed architect and director of PORT A+U, a leading-edge urban design consultancy. Prior to his appointment at Penn, Christopher was a senior associate at James Corner Field Operations where he led the office’s large-scale urban design work including the QianHai Water City in Shenzhen and Shelby Farms Park in Memphis. Christopher holds an MArch from Yale University and a BArch from The Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of the forthcoming book Anticipating the City That Never Was – Urbanization After the Bubble.