THE URBAN WORKS AGENCY
Nowadays, it seems, we are all “urbanists.” All around the world, urbanization has become the object of intense focus in society and among a broad swath of academic and professional disciplines that far exceed the boundaries of traditional urban planning, theory, and practice. Such efforts are imbued with a burning desire to intervene, with a renewed sense that we can all be effective agents of change in how, where, and with whom we live, love, and learn. Yet, at the very moment that the urbanization is at the core of a global discourse, design practice finds itself increasingly irrelevant to the production of space.
While the air is thick with talk of “the city”, it seems the time is ripe for designers to lead, focus, and steer this discussion — for us to emerge from decades of intellectual slumber and post-critical production as handmaidens to capital, and to reclaim the urbanas both epistemological territory and object of instrumentalized knowledge. As increasingly large swaths of the urban territory are being produced not as acts of spatial design, but as economic and logistic organizations of the landscape, we ask how can design have agency in these discussions?
This is our moment. While design has the potential to be simultaneously socially, politically, and economically relevant — it is currently hamstrung by myopic disciplinary boundaries and ossified modes of practice. This is our call to action. Design practice and designers must become more entrepreneurial, more socially engaged, and more intellectually elastic to heed this call. We are interested in experimenting with new forms of practice by becoming more directly involved in social justice through pro-bono or public interest work; by expanding horizontally to reclaim disciplinary territory lost to consultants, contractors, and developers; by expanding vertically to lay claim to more parts of the development process; expanding the scale of design to the regional, mega-regional, or global scales; increasing the scope of design to include broader processes, infrastructures, and territories; and leveraging new technologies and processes of making and craft to more directly engage in the full process of spatial production. Within these experiments, we are on a broader quest for agency in the world — for the right and the power to intervene effectively on the territory.
Neeraj Bhatia & Christopher Roach, Co-Coordinators
THE DIGITAL CRAFT LAB
The CCA Digital Craft Lab (DCL) supports and promotes advanced research in architectural design, digital fabrication, material science, data visualization and robotics. The work of the lab sits at the intersection of the arts and sciences and is committed to engaging the pressing issues of our time through experimentation, pedagogy and outreach. The lab routinely collaborates with engineers, scientists, artists, architects and designers to develop innovative frameworks and prototypes for engaging important issues related to sustainable building practices, ecology, material innovation, and entrepreneurship. The DCL works with industry partners, sponsors and collaborators to support the activities of the lab. Associated design studios, seminars and the post-professional MAAD Digital Craft degree focus on contemporary digital design technologies.
ARCHITECTURAL ECOLOGIES LAB
The Architectural Ecologies Lab at California College of the Arts serves as a platform for collaborative research between designers, scientists, and manufacturers. Operating at the intersection of architecture, fabrication, and ecology, the lab merges spatial practice with innovative techniques of material production and rigorous ecological research. The lab’s work leverages interdisciplinary expertise and meaningful collaborations with science and industry to develop compelling architectural strategies to address ecological challenges like sea level rise, habitat restoration, and climate change. The lab explores how ecological performance can inform innovative approaches to architectural form, material assemblies, and manufacturing processes. Central to the lab’s work is a commitment to experimental fabrication processes, full-scale prototyping, and proof-of-concept tests that extend design ideas beyond the academic studio and into the real world.
EXPERIMENTAL HISTORY PROJECT
Most schools of architecture offer courses to students in the history, theory, and criticism of architecture. But are history, theory, and criticism – often abbreviated as “HTC” — the only possibilities for the scholarly study of the built environment? When we formed CCA’s Experimental History Project in 2013, we wanted to explore other possibilities of historical and theoretical inquiry into the built environment — what we call “HTX”.
In the three years since the creation of CCA’s Experimental History Project we have hosted conferences, staged exhibitions and attracted students interested in the possibilities of “X”. Such work includes exhibitions on historical reconstructions of the immaterial aspects of architectural heritage; conferences and exhibitions on immersive new media history projects; digital preservation and conservation techniques; and courses on experimental historical methodologies. We also created a one-year post-professional graduate degree, a Masters of Advanced Architectural Design in History, Theory, Experiments (MAAD HTX), where students can explore the possibilities of new genres in history and theory. Such efforts begin to scratch the surface of “HTX” — an exploration we intend to continue in upcoming events and projects and work with our students.