While many may long for this semester to be like any other, No Normal projects plans for a semester like no other. The ticking time bombs of WHITENESS, pandemic, and climate catastrophe are in our hands—all during an US election year with global consequences.
The modern Enlightenment mind that is still so dominant in culture addresses these problems and failures with the myth of solutions—solutions that often give authority to new technologies, econometrics, law, and other technical languages in the absence of spatial knowledge.
But this studio experiment not only welcomes further shocks to the system, it regards problems and failures as its chief resource—not things to be eliminated but rather creatively combined to leaven and catalyze each other. And in a year with no studio travel, constellations of problems are the site/territory—the terra incognita, to explore.
Constraints on studio processes cause energies to balloon out into long overdue experiments and rehearsals of skills that are necessary now more than ever. We will design conventional forms—objects, details, buildings. But we will also design forms for the interplay between those forms—interplay that adds power and relevance to those forms. The search for solutions and master plans may lead to the most dangerous outcome of this moment—a “new normal.” The studio’s experiments with site, form, representation, pedagogy, and authorship are instead looking for No Normal.
Without respect for nationalities, legal jurisdictions, or homo economicus, agents of disease, whiteness, and climate change slice across boundaries leaving a vivisection of interdependent factors. Data about infection rates or atmospheric temperatures mean very little when not considered in terms of race, governance, health care, underlying health factors. There are no monocultures or equations of certainty. Rather there are protocols for the mitigation of harm, like the COVID protocol that combines evidence about distancing, handwashing, and face covering or the defund police protocol that also relies on many entangled factors in space.
This productive entanglement between problems models interplay itself as a form. A protocol of interplay is different from a solution. It is different from designing a single object or building. It is a verb rather than a noun. It mixes different species of information from the scale of microns to the scale of territories. It mixes heavy physical spatial information with digital, quantitative, econometric expressions. It mixes epidemiological, ethnographic, demographic, economic, social, and cultural evidence. It may also require additional modes of representation.
Culture often looks to new technologies for innovation, but this studio will treat the mixing chamber of space as itself a medium of innovation. And it will argue that a broader audience should have a currency in not only object forms but also active forms and protocols in space as tools of decision making in markets and government. We will be looking at protocols that deal with, among many other things, police defunding, pathogens, poverty, automation, migration, cooperative land tenure, coastal retreat, reforestation, and compounding reparations.
The studio nourishes the kind of independent applied design research different from the solely authored design thesis that is somewhere in architecture’s pedagogical past. The studio will not only work in teams, it will build teams outside the studio, the university, and the country to help design travel in relevant ways through culture. Easterling/Issaias will organize some of these encounters, and will provide leads to other partners, but part of each team’s design work is making some of these contacts themselves. And to make some advantage out of what might otherwise be an inequitable situation, ideally each team will be composed of on campus and international students who can give each other access to resources of different kinds.
The studio will offer a mixture of on-line and socially distanced contact time. Easterling will be mostly teaching online. Issaias will occasionally offer in-person teaching. Care will be taken to organize short meetings of the entire studio and short critiques with teams that accommodate time zone, so attendance is expected. We will find ways to accommodate technical challenges on a case by case basis. Many class sessions will be recorded and tagged for content that might benefit other YSOA students.
Three constellations of problems serve as the territory for design. Some have pindrops in the US, but all are global and could be located anywhere. Teams can choose any one of these sites/territories. Each can be used multiple times or not at all.
Compounding Reparations considers the means to dismantle WHITENESS, counter inequality, and construct compounding reparations with spatial variables.
Spatial Titration works to take the curse off of density and transit in the face of a pathogen.
Red New Deal looks at confluence of federal subsidies, farm bankruptcies, high emissions food production, wind resources, tribal grazing lands, Dust Bowl erosion, pandemic, trade wars, tariffs, and Red/Blue politics.
For each, Easterling will deliver a research dossier with the following information:
GIS Mappings, Examples of interplay, and examples of representation
Links to the research drive below will be replaced with sortable downloaded sheets once studio begins
This constellation considers the means to dismantle WHITENESS, counter inequality, and construct compounding reparations with spatial variables.
Consider the violence latent in any neighborhood that, because of racism or xenophobia, is consistently starved of health, welfare, security, and mobility. Perversely, in the United States, the institution regarded to be the delivery system for that community safety and welfare is often another form of violence—policing and mass incarceration. Counter the violence of this monoculture, activist groups like Reclaim the Block or Cahoots have organized a protocol of interplay to defund the police and reallocate these resources into an array of integrated institutions and professionals delivering education, housing, health care, emergency intervention, and counseling, among other things, that would eliminate the need for a good deal of police intervention.
Protocols like defunding the police, community land trusts, or cooperative land readjustment can address health/welfare, inequality, racial injustice, and racial capital by allowing a community to design many different kinds of value in space without relying solely on commodification or conventional forms of security.
Community Land Trusts allow communities to band together against gentrification. The trust agrees to sell properties at affordable rates. Renting rather than selling the land, and selling only the dwelling, helps to keep these prices low. But owners of dwellings in the trust can still build equity and value in many tangible ways through their own maintenance and interconnection—through the rich entanglements of urbanity.
Spatial variable can contribute to what might be called compounding reparations. Reparations are often characterized as one-time settlements for an incalculable harm like slavery or apartheid. But compounding reparations deliver a spatial asset that can provide increasing value, and the means by which enriching entanglements increase the value of land, education, opportunity or access.
The Tri-State Region (the New York–Newark, NY–NJ–CT–PA Combined Statistical Area) has a population of 23.5 million and an area of 13,852.3 square miles. Taiwan has a population of 23.78 million and an area if 13,974 square miles. The densely populated rail corridors between New Haven and Philadelphia and between Taipei and Kaohsiung City are similar in length—180 miles and 218.7 miles respectively. The Tri-State Region has had 500,000+ cases and 40,000+ deaths from COVID-19. And the economic shutdown has been punishing. Taiwan has had 441 cases and 7 deaths from COVID-19. And the response did not require an economic shutdown.
Given the importance of social distancing, early assumptions about COVID-19 might reasonably target dense urban cities and specifically transit systems as instruments of contagious spread. In the absence of robust testing, current data sets may deliver false conclusions, but they can already demonstrate that links between density and infection rates can be misleading. Data about behavior, race, air pollution, lack of health care, reliance on ER for health care, and underlying conditions among many other factors, can send the story streaming in different directions.
Spatial contexts may be healthy or unhealthy independent of density, if other factors are controlled. For instance, nursing homes, cruise ships, prisons, meatpacking plants and even places of worship may pose risks because of age, behavior or compliance with precautions. Similarly, forms of transportation with different densities (e.g. compare trucking and commuter rail), may have comparable infection rates due to behavior, trip durations, vehicle reuse, or contact with hotspots among many other factors. And fleets of automated vehicles, which have been projected for use in lower density travel, will be sources of infection just as are taxis and rideshares.
How might the dense space of transit might be used safely and how, with the right protocols in place, might it even be used as an asset to fight diseases like COVID-19?
Consider the US Great Plains states—Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota—within which issues of pandemic, over production, tariffs, aquifers, emissions, tribal lands, and climate change form colliding and imbricating layers in a complex geological and cultural cross section. The same wind that caused the Depression Era dust bowl now attracts energy investors from Europe. The same meat production that is energy intensive and emission-producing also sponsors meat-packing plants that are COVID hotspots. Instead of a Green New Deal, activist Nick Estes has proposed a Red Deal demanding reparations for the abuse of tribal people and land while also associating with radical leftist politics. And these are also politically RED states that argue against big government even as they are the recipients of massive government welfare.
Farms for which government subsidies support agricultural industries that are abusive to the environment because of aquifer depletion, fracking, pipelines, erosion, energy intensive food production, or abuse of tribal land might they be required to use those subsidies for common health and welfare. A farm receiving large subsidies but lying at the intersection of multiple problems might find opportunities in the complex of problems—the opportunity to develop a portfolio of values in wind or solar, or low emissions protein, soil stabilization, or compounding reparations for tribal lands.
In any event, not a monoculture but an ecology of problems is ultimately more sustainable, lucrative, and independent from one political association or another. The rotation between use and replenishment of resources and between different sorts of industries might also be more politically savvy from a global political perspective.
This studio constellation will join forces with a Green New Deal Superstudio sponsored by the Landscape Architecture Foundation.