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Graduate Sessions Syracuse University Graduate Architecture School


Graduate Sessions No. 13 Teddy Cruz Conflict As An Operational Tool Syracuse University Graduate Architecture School Francisco Sanin, Chair Randall Korman, Interim Dean Interview + Exhibtion: Brendan Finney, Sara Greenwood, Anastasjia Gridneva, Andres Mario Jaime, Steve Klimek, Nilus Klingel, Ryan Novi, Cristina Rossi, Victoria Ines Gueglio Saccone Graphic Design: Brendan Finney Edit: Brendan Finney, Anastasjia Gridneva, Ryan Novi Graduate Sessions is a series of seminars and symposia offering Syracuse Architecture graduate students the opportunity to engage leading scholars and practitioners in coversation and debate. The resulting publications offer unique insights into the work of our guests as well as the ongoing concerns of our students and the graduate programs. Syracuse University School of Architecture 225 Slocum Hall Syracuse, NY 13244-1250 (315) 443-1041

CONTENTS 7 Graduate Sessions Francisco Sanin

11 A Conversation with Teddy Cruz Brendan Finney, Steve Klimek, Nilus Klingel, Ryan Novi

41 Teddy Cruz: Conflict As An Operational Tool 65 On Rethinking Housing, Citizenship, and Property Teddy Cruz

77 Exhibited Works of Teddy Cruz












Graduate Sessions Francisco Sanin


or some years now, the Graduate Architecture School at Syracuse has had two programs in place that allow its students to critically engage the work of key architects and theorists. The first, The Architect’s Work, is an ongoing series of public exhibitions that showcased the works of given practitioners and thinkers. Teams of students would research the work, strategize, design, and construct the exhibits. The second is The Graduate Sessions. Here too a group of students would research the work of a prominent architect or theorist, and would engage them in conversation in an open forum. A subsequent publication with the transcripts of the event would be issued. This is the 13th such publication, and with it the two series are formally merged under the title of Graduate Sessions. Last year the two series were informally brought together in a single event and publication when the school welcomed Pier Vittorio Aureli and Martino Tattara – their practice is DOGMA – for both an interview and exhibition of their work. As such, the publication included not only the interview transcript, but also images of the associated exhibition. With this 13th edition a new series is launched that appropriately incorporates both events into a single publication developed around the work of a leading thinker and or practitioner. 7

This year’s publication features the work or Teddy Cruz, a critical thinker, artist and designer whose work on the Tijuana San Diego border has served as paradigm and laboratory for explorations of new relations between architecture, urbanism and politics. An exhibition themed around his theorem “Conflict As An Operational Tool” was constructed by the students as a result of a close collaboration and dialogue with Teddy Cruz. This publication aims to foreground both the results of the research and dialogues as well as the students work in the design process of the exhibition itself. In addition, an article by Teddy Cruz amplifies some of the major issues and themes of the publication. With this publication the graduate program at Syracuse university school of architecture aims to contribute to the ongoing debate and exploration of ideas about architectural practice and discipline in relation to the urban and the political.




The aim of this interview was to address several facets of Teddy Cruz’ work: activism, education, representation, and form. By addressing one facet through another, the layered, multivalent nature of the Estudio Cruz project becomes apparent: the practice builds project into project, informing itself in order to grow. The interview took place on April 4, 2012 amidst the accompanying exhibit in the gallery of Slocum Hall at the Syracuse University School of Architecture.

Brendan Finney Stephen Klimek Nilus Klingel Ryan Novi 11

A CONVERSATION with TEDDY CRUZ Nilus Klingel: I think a good place to begin would be with the emergence of the activist architect, especially in the mainstream of our architectural discourse. Clearly this recent emergence has myriad reasons, not the least of which is the current economic climate. We’d like to hear your reactions to this emergence and what you think might be some of the potentials that it offers for architectural practice. Teddy Cruz: First of all I would like to thank the Syracuse University School of Architecture. The Graduate Sessions is a fantastic program that presents and exhibits certain works, opening up a series of questions that are embedded in the practices that produce them. I’m interested in the operational tools by which we redefine our engagement of the world, and I’ve been really blown away by the process of the exhibition, its research and construction. From the beginning we’ve been sending images back and forth, having Skype conversations, exposing critical issues that inspire us and move us to rethink our roles. It’s amazing how the images are recontextualized by the participants. The curatorial dimension of this project is an important one because the issues then inspire ways of deploying the material in the gallery, and ultimately, this conversation. At the core of any project is the production of a new conversation, a conversation that hopefully begins to take us away 12

from our clichés. I’m very grateful to be part of this process, and I think that it can be a model to rethink the relationship of practice to pedagogy: that we exchange procedures, not only images. And I think that that’s probably a good thing to use as a segue into the question because what I’m interested in is, in fact, procedures that can enable us as architects to contact the many domains that have remained peripheral to design. In our pursuit for a kind of autonomy, self-referentiality, and distance from the institutions, we as architects have made ourselves obsolete at times, and I’m interested in understanding how we take experimental detours in order to contact those peripheral domains, in my case the very politics and economics of development and the social relations embedded in those procedures as materials, so that we can then return to architecture armed with new protocols that can reorganize our own aesthetic and formal procedures. Without that kind of contingency between the social – the interface with the public itself – we perpetuate ourselves as autonomous, as distant. It is the critical interface with the socio-economic and political that begins to define what an activist practice might be; although I’m less interested in ‘activism’ as a category than in the kind of procedural logics by which we, again, enable that contact with the existing real in the world around us. If the economy were as glamorous as it was a few years ago, we wouldn’t be having this exhibition here. Maybe it would be something else, but now all of a sudden every school seems to be clamoring to carve out a space of social responsibility– the crisis prompts us to rethink ourselves. I think for an activist the material is the crisis. I would say the most incredible activists, not from the world of art or architecture but activists operating on the ground, have been people that are less interested in the categories, but people who, out of their own kind of tactical approach to their relationship to critical issues and to things and people, begin to integrate what has been divided. I’m interested in that notion of the activist that stitches together the kind of fragmentation that has been perpetuated by institutional rigidity, and enables the kind of reconceptualizing of that field into new sets of procedures; to infiltrate into the very institutional frameworks that have produced the problems in the first place. The activist is a kind of illegal alien that carves tunnels of possibility, meandering and connecting what has been disconnected. In that sense, yes, I would imagine that rethinking the role of the architect in our time is fundamental, especially today as we also have the opportunity to rethink the institutions themselves and our role within them. Architects by nature are schizophrenic figures that want to be impossibly comprehensive. I think there is something inherently expansive and emancipatory about architecture that enables the contact of that kind of multiplicity of issues. 13

So, it is fundamental to participate in a conversation that reconceives new types of relations across institutions and ultimately across socioeconomic domains so that we can restore a critical relevancy to our field and, in fact, a more radical experimentation with material culture informed by the political as opposed to the self-indulgent arbitrariness of current aesthetic paradigms. I continue to believe that at this very moment the future of the city depends not only on buildings, but on the fundamental reorganization of socio-economic relations, and that expanded notions of practice can take our conventional ideas of design to intervene into the reconfiguration of those relations. Regardless of whether we call his activism or not, all I know is that an expanded field of design is the urgent task of architecture education and practice today. Brendan Finney: Could you talk a little bit about the way in which your practice is an activist practice, because it seems bifurcated: in one sense you’re an on-the-ground activist, as you say, working as a community organizer of sorts; in another sense there’s a lot of mapping and diagramming that goes on, and it’s activist in the way in which you expose these institutional issues or economic policies that are the problem. TC: I think that everything began with a sense of dissatisfaction. I became disillusioned at some point with the powerlessness of art and architecture with respect to today’s socio-economic and political realities. It occurred to me that we could reveal the potential embedded in the everyday as a kind of material that reorganizes conceptually what this reality means, and that reality can be the operational system that produces a new cultural praxis. Our field of architecture had become so irrelevant in the context of that reality’s power. I saw that the drama of today’s reality demanded a new theory, other ways of practicing. I became dissatisfied with many of the emancipatory manifestos from our discipline; whether the neo avant-gardes of the ‘60s and ‘70s or more recent theoretical expressions from the 80’s and 90’s, which I, in fact, admired very much; many of these ended up becoming mere caricatures of change, from Ground Zero to Dubai, trivializing those very manifestos by subordinating themselves unconditionally to the neoconservative political and economic powers that generated the crisis in the first place. So that sense of dissatisfaction began to tell me that it was not necessarily Architecture with capital-A that I was interested in; that in order to recapture the type of promise opened by those manifestos, I needed to expand the modalities of practice that have defined our profession. Yes, I believe in architecture, okay, that’s my tool. But at this moment I needed to begin taking the detours I mentioned before. I began to realize 14

that, for example, in addressing the housing crisis or housing affordability, I could not begin necessarily with designing buildings, but I had to enter into the design of economic and political process. Or as the activist director of the nonprofit I work with in San Ysidro mentioned to me, no advances in housing design can be produced without advances in housing policy and economy. As architects, we could equally have a say in a kind of intervention into those systems. So the idea of designing ways of encroaching into institutional socioeconomic and political institutional protocols became an interesting point of departure. We cannot enter into the crisis of housing without understanding -almost forensically- what produced the crisis in the first place. The conditions that produced the crisis could become the material for architects. I began to think of expanded models of practice, away from the material systems and the tectonic systems of architecture for a moment, in order to enter into these other modalities where urban pedagogy, where communicational systems, where social and organizational logics, where the developer’s spreadsheet, where economy itself could become the new sites of intervention. Of course, our intervention into those structures could have and should have spatial consequences, so the evolution of those systems into material practices is at stake. One of the most fundamental manifestos of the 80’s came from Bernard Tschumi, when he suggested that we as architects, then and always, have been obsessed with the conditions of design, when in reality we should be designing the conditions.1 I think this message is a powerful reminder for many of us today, seeking to restore the relation between social responsibility and artistic experimentation. That in the context of todays crises, we could be the designers of the conditions, the systems within which things can occur, from which new spatial and formal paradigms can emerge. I’m not suggesting that we suspend architectural work. As we move through these concepts, whether it is working with maquiladoras in Tijuana, or rethinking tax credit base subsidy lending, at every turn of the road we are also understanding how those conditions could affect the way we imagine spatially and tectonically the reorganization of a parcel, for example. So it’s not to say that I have suspended ten years of architectural work only to return to architecture. What I’m saying is I’ve tried to problematize the relationship of formal and socio-economic and political systems. It is at this intersection where the most fertile gesture of this so called activism can be found. Ryan Novi: In terms of the sort of cyclical disciplinary focus that you speak of, I’m reminded of the Situationists. Despite promoting active engagement in the everyday life, much like you’re talking about, the 15


“You cannot design a new definition of cities and their architecture. But one may be able to design the conditions that will make it possible for this nonhierachical, nontraditional society to happen.” Bernard Tschumi, Architecture and Disjunction (Cambridge, The MIT Press: 1996), 258.

(de)Border collage, 2000.

Situationist International project is an example that largely inhabited the space of the gallery, the gallery being the space of the elite intellectual. And despite this contradiction, the value of the S.I. project seems to lie in its sort of successive absorption and reinterpretation over the years by the very intellectual community to which they were presenting or representing. So do you see a similar contradiction applying to the work of Estudio Teddy Cruz? Can you perceive the popular dissemination of your work in a couple years? TC: Part of the problem is the way cultural institutions treat certain works without critically framing them or radically contextualizing them. Even though at the end of the day, I think what is important is the dissemination of the issues, of course: we need a bit more commitment from the institutions to mediate the relevancy of those works within contemporary culture. In fact 16

what is good about this exhibition here at Syracuse University is that we are not just stopping at the gallery or with the kind of fixity of the images acting on their own, but there is a way of framing the images within today’s realities that enables this conversation, and so on. I wish that every exhibition were like this one. First of all there is something about certain references and precedents that we rely on in order to rethink ourselves and renew our practices. In other words, history wasn’t invented five minutes ago; we are responsible for the radicalization of those histories. At times I wonder how can we pick up where the Situationists left off, how can we enable the continuation of certain projects? I’ve heard of some people who were so fundamental in the ‘60s and ‘70s who now speak about their work as if it were just a kind of juvenile euphoric moment. I’ve been disillusioned by hearing some incredible actors of those movements almost dismiss what they opened up. On one hand, the responsibility of framing and reframing and reorganizing those legacies is important. And as we do that, unfortunately because of our academic alliances and allegiances, we tend to throw out the baby with the bathwater. But just like right now with the Occupy Movement there is a moment where the pendulum hits and all we want to do out of desperation is erase and destroy and begin anew. But we can be editors, constantly, by extruding traces and hidden instruments from and within each of those moments’ legacies, or in fact from the very institutions we must critique. In terms of Situationist thinking, it really was a moment of awakening for me when I discovered them in the mid-‘90s when they began to have more presence in our academic halls, along with the kind of missing information from the artistic and architecture movements from the post-war period. But what’s interesting is not just the images that were disseminated from these movements, but as I mentioned earlier, it is the procedural operational logics behind some of that work that we need to recuperate. One such operative trace for me has to do with the Situationist’s reversing of the institutional hierarchies in shaping the city, changing it from a top-down model to a type of grounded, bottom-up set of dynamics that looked at neighborhoods and communities as devices to rethink a more terrestrial project that could shape urbanization and the encounter and reencounter between the formal and the social. There are certain strands of the avant-garde that have been essential to me. But at the end, in the hands of historians, in the hands of institutions, many of those legacies are packaged and all that remains is a metaphor, all that remains is the images, and we never really talk about the processes behind those images. So I’m interested in questioning existing institutions of 17

Cultural Traffic: from the Global Border to the Border Neighbourhood, pavilion at MAXXI Museum, Rome, 2010-2011.

display and their exhibition models that, by their very nature, are very difficult to talk about in terms of process or process-based dynamics. For this reason, I’m not afraid to say that yes, the gallery can be a site of intervention. One aspect of my work that I want to address more and more in the coming years is how to enter into the gap between institutions and publics. As we have noticed through the increasing polarization between the right and the left in this country, the public can be hijacked so easily by the politics of fear, and public opinion can be purchased so shamelessly. In fact, the public itself as a domain has been seemingly banned from our political language in the US. This has produced a big divide between cultural institutions and 18

communities. This gap can inspire us to retake the challenge of producing new communicational systems, evidentiary visualizations and artifacts that can become powerful tools, political tools inside museums and galleries, universities and community forums, in order to produce new critical interfaces with the public. What I’m trying to say is that I’m aware of the need to disseminate our work in a variety of environments. In fact, part of my role has been that of an urban curator, facilitating this dissemination across sites. I recently organized an event at the San Diego / Tijuana border where I brought the participants to the sites of conflict themselves. This is a response to my discontent with the centrality of the museum and the gallery conceived as isolated environments where only specialized publics attend. We did a project right in the middle of the border, inside Homeland Security’s territory, and we crossed the border in an unprecedented way through a drain that connects a slum in Mexico and a natural estuary on the US. We obtained a permit to transform this drain into an official port of entry from San Diego into Tijuana for 24 hours. We did this so that people could witness this collision of the ecologies between the shantytown, an environmental zone, and the militarized zone, as the new border wall, built for the sake of security, is ironically increasing environmental insecurity by intensifying the flow of waste from the slum into the estuary. The work radicalizes certain images, and by radicalizing I mean it gets to the root of some of the conditions of crisis in order to expose institutional stupidity. These interventions operate across a variety of environments, a range of sites and in the shape of different media and installations. In the past ten years we’ve designed games and images for community workshops in the border neighborhood of San Ysidro alongside the NGO Casa Familiar, projects of visualization to enable the community to recognize the political in different ways. Meanwhile, at the Museum of Modern Art, we were invited to do an installation called “The McMansion Retrofitted,” which presents the model of a generic tract home in San Diego inside a mirrored box where the model’s reflection was repeated infinitely. I hid behind a wall and watched the public looking at the installation, and I could see in their faces how surprised they were, and even commented, “Oh my God, this is the problem of sprawl!” A simple artifact can convey the clarity and complexity of the issues. So, yes, while museums exhibit the work, we are also responsible by curating those images and amplifying their political role. BF: Do you see yourself as sort of invading the institution then when you have an exhibit at MoMA or MAXXI? If you’re criticizing these 19

institutions for their appropriation and, as you say, packaging of these other kinds of avant-garde-isms, do you see yourself as infiltrating them and subverting them and turning them into another operational tool? TC: Yes, ideally that would be the case, for sure. The level of criticality of a practice is the degree by which a practice infiltrates itself into the institutions. That’s the reason I was saying that it’s a very different project; it’s not a project of critical distance but of critical proximity to the institutions. Now, the question would be to what degree the institution is subverted, questioned, and so on. I got criticized because I accepted an invitation to exhibit at MAXXI in Rome, a museum project that was designed by Zaha Hadid. Even though I’m critical of the institutions, I don’t see a problem with participating in a conversation, in the debate, at a variety of scales, from high and low, top-down and bottom-up, and I think that in many ways we serve the purpose of interlocutors. And that’s what I was saying earlier, that at times I’ve been a bit annoyed at the fixed ideological position from the left that has not enabled it to rethink itself, particularly in the US. I think that often the left tends to reject the institutions just because we have not achieved the ideal state. We need to be editors, I think, so that the few institutional traces that can be recuperated are not ignored by our disappointments. We need to be a lot more clever and agile in reorganizing institutional protocols. The project today is one of modest alterations to the system, and incremental encroachment. RN: If some sort of subversion is the goal, what are the benchmarks for efficacy in your practice?


See Diana Li, “Žižek calls for reexamination of capitalism,” Yale Daily News, April 18, 2012, http://www.yaledailynews. com/news/2012/ apr/18/zizek-callsfor-reexamination-ofcapitalism/.

TC: I don’t think ‘total’ subversion is the issue. It’s an infiltration into the protocols themselves, to reorganize them. There’s a quote from Slavoj Žižek that says, “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine a modest radical change in capitalism.”2 I’m interested in this notion of modesty, tactics of retrofit and alteration. I’m less interested in saying, “destroy capitalism.” I want to take advantage of the system, I want to reorganize its resources, transfer the profits to communities. In that sense, it’s not about subverting for the sake of eliminating, but retrofitting or producing a process of alteration so that certain protocols can begin to open up spaces of opportunity in order to redistribute resources more equitably and to restore socio-economic justice. I’m interested in playing with existing policy, existing economic processes, as opposed to inventing anew in that sense.


SK: You said that the reorganization of the political and the economic ground is the only way to produce a truly experimental architecture in our time. Does Estudio Teddy Cruz fundamentally exist as a catalyst for testing this and establishing itself as a laboratory for redistributing social equity and experimenting in new forms of architecture? Is your practice a catalyst for this argument that you’re making about the redistribution of social equity? TC: Yes. You know, at the end of the day, it’s obvious that part of our challenge not only as practitioners, but also as pedagogues, as students, the challenge is not only to construct things but also to construct a discourse. Words matter: ways of thinking about things, the way we engage and construct and curate and choreograph the conversation across divided jurisdictions, communities, and so on. So in a sense, a lot of the project that I hope we have advanced as a catalyst, as you said, might have to do with planting ideas in the world, inviting us to rethink certain hierarchies and approaches. Some theorists, like Pier Vittorio Aureli, might suggest that the project must only respond to an absolutist, top-down agenda, nostalgically restoring some kind of autonomia. While we get there, what do we do in the meantime? We need to be less idealistic about this top-down model that obviously has not arrived. And when it did exist, it was problematic. So, while we get there, we need to be the interlocutors of the mediation between the top-down and the bottom-up. One aspect of being the catalyst that you mentioned suggests that architects can act as mediators and facilitators of the debate. It’s not a reactionary ‘fuck you’ attitude, but as Chantal Mouffe would suggest, the debate is an agonistic model to enable dissensus3; it’s questioning a democracy based on overwhelming consensus, neutrality, abstraction, and really producing an intervention into the debate itself, visualizing ideas, exposing the issues, reframing the conversation. When we act as interlocutors between a community activist and a city council member, and we begin to push an agenda so that the nonprofit might begin to imagine itself as a developer of affordable housing; when we collaborate with a nonprofit in San Ysidro and together we begin to design ways of breaking apart a top-down tax credit subsidy model to redistribute it in the neighborhood; when we begin to think of designing new modes of political representation of the invisible so that a nonprofit begins to produce ways of translating informal dynamics into policy; I think that’s when we have become the catalyst – we’ve developed a more conceptual and more complex conversation. And I’m not afraid to say that while we have not built that much, 21


Among her writings, see On The Political: “The aspiration to a world where we/they discrimination would have been overcome is based on flawed premises and those who share such a vision are bound to miss the real task facing democratic politics.” Chantal Mouffe, On The Political (New York, Routledge: 2005), 2.

I think our contributions have really dealt with that realm, in anticipation of building. BF: You mentioned the informal dynamics that might be transformed into a sort of policy. Could you discuss the idea of the informal in your work? Whether built-work or policy-work, it may not just be the absence of form as a literal translation would suggest, but perhaps it’s the achievement of form through processes and influences whose ends are beside the point of form-making? TC: The informal has been an amazing space of debate as it has come back to us in the conversation of architecture, but sometimes it has been trivialized by many of us, by many practitioners who are dealing with it in onedimensional ways, and I’ll explain why. I am interested in the redefinition of our political language. For example, some of the images in this exhibition have to do with challenging density, right? Density is seen less as an amount of things per area, and instead as an amount of social exchanges per area. What would that produce as an image, as a procedure, as a policy? Equally, I’ve been trying to rethink the meaning of the informal. One of the most liberating definitions of the political is the space of juncture between the formal and the informal. That is, the procedures that emerge out of the intersection of


the top-down and the bottom-up. The political is a site of construction. It’s important to rename things and reconceptualize things. One idea to consider is that the informal is not just an image, an aesthetic category; it is primarily a praxis, a set of procedures. It is these socio-economic and political procedures that we have not learnt from, nor translated, and this is part of the current trivialization of the informal. There is an organizational logic embedded in the informal, a way of acting, a way of performing, from which we could alter our own fixed architectural protocols. The informal implies, then, a set of procedures that reorganize imposed political and economic models. In many of my interactions with either informal settlements in Tijuana or with the impact of immigrants altering small parcels in many neighborhoods in San Diego, it has to do with translating the nature of those bottom-up procedures towards the rethinking of top-down urban policy; this is what I call the operational dimension of the informal. This is another role we take within these expanded modalities of practice – the catalyst, as you were saying – in terms of forwarding a new agenda. It has to do with acting the role of facilitator, of translator and interpreter of such stealth urbanization. The invisibility of those informal transactions with space, boundaries, resources or collaborations, can be translated into certain tactical and strategic modes of operation that infiltrate themselves into institutions. I think that there is a site, a place of operation for architects here. It also has to do with the shattering of our obsession with images and not processes, and our one-dimensional way of interpreting metaphors. A lot has been written about this, about the fixity of images; we seem to focus on the formal translations of a metaphor into something that is fixed instead of tackling the performative dimension of that metaphor. I had a Chicano student once who was obsessed with Mexican iconography as a kind of kit of parts. We were designing a Latin American cultural center in the seminar, and he came to me and said that he had already solved the design problem, that he was going to use the symbol of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent. And in the next critique, he brought the finished building, literally a feathered serpent. So we began to open up other ways of approaching that, and I suggested that we look at some spaces of literature where the feathered serpent is important as an icon, as a symbol, less because of its fixity as an image but more because it connotes the approximation of opposites. In other words, the feathered serpent wants to fly and bury itself simultaneously. Can we produce an architecture that is light and permanent at the same time? To enter that contradiction is really the challenge of the process, not just simply translate the symbolic into a literal formal systems as the solution. 23

Many times I’ve said that if parametrics and algorithmic-based morphogenetics could do to the social and political systems what they do to form, then we’re talking. RN: Well, in terms of those aspirations, what role does representation play in the work from Estudio Teddy Cruz? How do the ideas expressed in these collages, videos, and diagrams disseminate to eventually provoke action? TC: That’s the question – what is the role of the artist? I remember talking with Cathy Opie once, who is a photographer, a famous artist from Los Angeles. She was nervous because she was going to be in a debate with Mike Davies. She says, “Teddy, I don’t know what to do, I’m not an intellectual, I just understand the world through images.” I found that really powerful. Of course, images are powerful tools, political tools, activist tools, but as I’m critical of the fixity of images, I have been questioned on issues of representation. On one hand, it’s more of a Latourian dimension – that representation is not just things or images, but the representation is political as well. Who is representing who, and what are the issues at stake that are producing or enabling us to produce those representations? That’s why I’m interested in the mediating role that nonprofit organizations play in immigrant neighborhoods, because they become the representatives of the invisible. They become the agencies that bundle the fragments into cohesive and self-assured political envelopes and so on. Representation at the scale of the political suggests that we could design conditions of governance, that we could design logics of organization and representation as well. An example of that is something that Okwui Enwezor, a well-known curator, mentioned to me a while back. He said that in the United States, particularly where ‘the public’ has become a forbidden word in our political language, we need to move away from the neutrality of the public. This made me think of architectural students, all of us, thinking that just by beautifying a space we will assure the magic of social intercourse. Who is going to bring the people there? Who is going to manage that space? Who is going to take care of the protocols by which people will have access to that space? We never ask those questions. We need to move from the neutrality and abstractions of our conceptions of the public towards the specificity of rights. Can we in fact design rights? Can representation be, here, a set of protocols? Can we conceive of protocols as a material? And then, yes, there is representation as images. You know, I could say that I’m a closet painter; I mean I think that my passion is painting. I emerged from the phenomenological school of the ‘80s, and when I came to 24

Postcard from the Border, 1996.

the United States in 1982 after finishing my third year of architectural school in Guatemala, I was enamored with Alberto Perez Gomez. If I had known that the Cooper Union existed, I would have gone there. In fact, the border collages emerged from that period when I used to teach at SCI-Arc in the mid-‘90s at a studio called Latin America Los Angeles. It was a way of bringing Latin American students of architecture and art to L.A., San Diego, and Tijuana in order to look at this as a continuum, as a metropolitan continuum. At that time, the images were guiding the conversation. We would go out into the city to collect photographic fragments of marginal spaces, of infrastructures and so on, and in a one week, collectively, we would stitch these images into these collages, which are really big, around 5’ x 5’. The image became the organizer of the conversation, and in so doing there emerged a poetic dimension to the work that has been essential, definitely. So on one hand there is the poetic dimension of the 25

Pixelation of the Large with the Small, 2008.

image that enables the transformation of the existing real, and on the other there is its operational, political dimension that is determined by the way that the image is built, and how that organizes a conversation and intervention in a group. The early years of my practice were supported by selling these drawings, commercially I mean; that was a way to pay the rent. But soon I was dissatisfied with the fact that I was doing what I thought were really great drawings, and the drawings were just put in drawers or on walls. While I was indulging in this mechanism of drawing inside the sanctity of our art studios, others were guiding the future of the city– developers, politicians, economists. I began to realize that drawing is not only a poetic tool, it can be also be political tool, bringing the notion of diagram into my work. And even though it has been essential that schools of architecture have enabled the diagram as a way to introduce students to the complexity of the force field that makes 26

the urban, those diagrams have remained also autonomous palimpsests of information that are equally as hermetic. These drawings remain extremely complex and inaccessible. They are drawings for other architects. I realized that I wanted to produce diagrams that were instead simple and accessible images that could empower community activists and politicians, expressing the complexity of urban issues in very lyrical and accessible ways. How to make something complex seem accessible was the question. One image that we have, “The Pixilation of the Large with the Small,” shows how the land use of Tijuana infiltrates the largeness of San Diego. It is a dynamic image, animating the ‘pixels’ across the border. When I showed that to a city council member in San Diego, he was blown away. He said, “I get it. I really get it. This is interesting, I understand the conflicts produced by existing zoning.” And so I’m interested in diagrams, dynamic mappings, visualization processes or projects that expose political, socio-economic relations and their spatial consequences. NK: The anecdote about the councilperson is what makes, at least for me, your images really exciting -- that they operate on two valences. One is on the representational valence– they provide what you call a “tactic of translation.” They provide a means of taking people who are invisible and making them visible. But it’s not simply representative, there is also a performative or maybe an operational valance that’s immediately underneath it, and so if you look at the diagram of your practice that’s out in the atrium it’s not just an image of how a process might change, it’s an image of how process is changing. I think that that’s where the work you do with not-for-profits is very interesting because there, you’re actually taking the image and you’re putting it into action, and I was wondering if you could talk more about that. What are the experiences you’ve had in that role as architect, as moderator or mediator between different constituencies, between a councilperson and a person in the neighborhood who needs their neighborhood changed, and how are those people ennobled or enabled to face the free market? TC: I decided I wanted to enter into the politics of housing in San Diego and that to do so I needed to partner with particular community based organizations. Partnership is an important aspect that we architects often neglect. We think that we know how to solve problems with our own tools, we never think of plugging into a system that is already there and where political and social knowledge is found, the type of knowledge that can mediate our tools. In fact, because of this experience, I have been interested in the designing of collaboration itself, across fragmented domains of expertise. 27

Andrea Skorepa, the community activist I have been collaborating with at Casa Familiar, said to me a while back that no advances in affordable housing can be achieved without advances in housing policy and economy, and more meaningful community participation and collaboration. So, we need to think of the design of housing in tandem with the design of a system of interface with the community in order to bring awareness to the issues. In other words, we need to rethink certain political processes and their spatial consequences. Here is where I am also critical of existing models of advocacy planning and community based design. Many community-inspired projects have been problematic in my mind as they have become highly patronizing in their interaction with communities. Too often architects enter fearful of being colonizers, and so they simply ask the community, “What do you want?” The community answers and the architects go back to the studio to design and that’s it, end of collaboration. In my experience with the process, we’ve learned not only that the community might not know what it wants, but also we as designers don’t know how to translate some of the community’s desires. And so it gets back to the notion of agonism, to problematizing the conversation and engaging disagreement as a creative tool. We need to produce intelligent and critical questions in order to get intelligent and critical answers, and vice versa. So we rethought the workshop model; we were not afraid of challenging certain preconceptions.


As example, I remember that at the first workshop that we had in San Ysidro, what the community wanted was a Costco painted with Aztec pyramids. This is emblematic of how the debate has been hijacked by style, by what I call the packaging of identity by a series of symbolic gestures. The debate is reduced to questions such as, “What style we should build in? Spanish Colonial?” We realized that we needed to move the conversation away from style towards a series of critical interfaces that could amplify other things, other actions in the neighborhood; that meant opening the question of how to translate the many informal transactions and negotiations with space. So we designed a series of games; one of them was a density game that had to do with one block. We brought a board with pieces of wood symbolizing units, trees, cars, and we had a table of ten people, and I told people to build 14 units with so many cars, so many homes, etc. I explained that this is what architects and developers would do, and nobody moved, everybody froze. And then this 80-some year old lady took one piece of wood, put it in one parcel, put another piece of wood in another parcel, and so she replicated her own block, individual homes on individual parcels. And somebody else said, “Well, what if we brought the two houses together so that they could share the space in between?” Somebody else said, “What about then linking the alley to the street?” And so on. The lady got so excited that she began to fill the whole block with wood. At some point she told me, “I cannot believe this, I cannot believe that these houses are selfish.” This is where I borrow the notion of selfish urbanization. She said, “You know, I remember when I grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, the block where I lived when I was a teenager was not made of individual houses.” It was made of a continuous building, of a more historic fabric of course. “But there were spaces,” she said. We were trying to reconstruct or construct a new definition of density, and this woman said in her own words: “Can density be not about buildings but about spaces?” And, “Can density be about a block’s collaboration?” It was a beautiful moment: all of a sudden the emergence of this concept – that density could be about neighborhood collaboration – because her neighbors were already collaborating in blurring the boundary between public and private, and that it was the capacity to share spaces that defined it. What the workshop project ultimately produced was a recognition and visualization of the many performative interfaces people were enacting with the spaces of their neighborhood. The everyday negotiation of private and public boundaries, the plug-in of an informal economy into a garage, the building of an illegal unit to support an extended family, all of those transactions with boundaries, space, and resources needed to be amplified, suggesting that it was them and not the decorative Aztec pyramids plastered 29

Neighborhood Urbanism: The Informal as a Tool to Transform Policy, 2008.

all over the Costco what was at stake in re-defining sustainability, and those hidden transactions could enable a different type of economy and social life than the one the top-down, large-box economy could provide. Of course, these neighborhoods unavoidably need the Costcos, because for them it is about affordability, and even if we feel differently about this we cannot come to these environments acting so patronizingly. For this reason, in the beginning, my activist client would slap me, as I came from Harvard to the neighborhood. She would say, “Who are you to say that these people don’t deserve affordable goods? Why are you so patronizing to suggest that?” The question is how to negotiate those aspects and incrementally begin to open up other ways of thinking about economy? How to invent tools in order to mediate the conversation, carefully calibrating the causes and effects and contradictions embedded in every-day’s reality? 30

SK: A lot of your work has used transporter flows as a laboratory for engaging the socio-political and economic forces to determine everyday experiences, and I think that one of the most significant but perhaps less well understood contributions of your work is establishing a laboratory not just as a model for an expanded architectural practice, but also as a model for a new pedagogy, a forum for learning that can then engage with the socio-political and economic, which have been removed from practice for several decades. Can you discuss the pedagogical implications of the border laboratory, particularly as it addresses and uses political economies and political form? TC: Not only do we need to rethink ourselves in terms of our own procedures, in terms of our role as architects within these complex socioeconomic dynamics, but we also need to rethink the size of intervention. In the past few years of glamorous economy, we’ve been celebrating the global city as the epitome of globalization – whether it’s Dubai, or Shanghai – but all that we have done is perpetuate these places as epicenters of an urbanization of consumption. While we were seduced by the economic power of these cities, not one single idea was advanced here to re-think urbanization today. Instead the true advances in rethinking infrastructure in relationship to social justice and inclusion were happening somewhere else, not in places of economic abundance but in places of scarcity. The most progressive agendas for transforming institutions, for transforming the notion of the political, for transforming our reductive conceptions of public infrastructure and housing, have been happening in marginal communities, primarily in Latin America; amazing projects in Medellín and Bogotá, for example, present a very different approach, tapping into the potential of social networks and informal economies. I think we need to reorient our gaze from the predictable sites of intervention towards environments of conflict. The best projects emerging from these Latin American cities where not driven by consumption only but by socio-economic and cultural production. That is why the border zone has, for me, been the most fertile laboratory to rethink many of these issues, primarily the confrontation between urbanizations of consumption and display and those that engage the productivity of the territory. It is within geographies of conflict such as this border where we can amplify some of the most pressing issues today in our debate, and use them as fertile ground to rethink our idea of urban intervention, from the struggles and tensions between sprawl and density, formal and informal, wealth and poverty, surveillance, labor-politics, migration and so on. These issues are on steroids in less than 60 linear miles between San Diego and Tijuana. 31

Part of the project has been a kind of forensics of urbanization where we can expose and visualize the conflict embedded in those dynamics that can, in turn, bring into public awareness the issues that are at stake. The political equator event contained that aspiration: that while the public would propose or would support the construction of a border wall not too long ago, they needed to realize that that border wall was in fact undermining our own security, because it was interrupting the fluidity and functionality of watershed systems across the border, and that could ultimately generate social and economic degradation. The stupidity of the institution in imposing artifacts for the sake of security was the problem in the first place. But in the end it is about producing a different type of narrative that can expose the contradictions. This is why we need new urban pedagogical models and public debates – new communicational systems or systems of interface. We, as architects, can be the designers of such systems; that’s part of our agenda. What was incredibly successful in Latin America, whether we are talking about Medellín or Bogotá or Curitiba or Porto Alegre, is the production of new models of participation, of social and political representation towards the democratization of urban development. Former Bogotá mayor Antanas Mockus propelled a project of civic culture, for example, as framework towards infrastructure founded on an urban pedagogical model. That is really at the basis of everything. It is this interface with new modes of community participation, a search for a new civic imagination, that can enable us to close the gap between social responsibility and artistic experimentation. BF: Speaking of these new types of urban pedagogies, you have this project at UCSD, the Community Stations project, that you argue produces corridors of knowledge exchange that will link the specialized knowledge of the university with the ethical knowledge embedded in the communities in order to produce a new form of urban pedagogy. Is the academic institution in this state of crisis now? Do you see it as another site of conflict? As you say, maybe it’s another site for your operational tools. TC: Yes, I began the UCSD Community Stations project recognizing that today’s crisis is also a crisis of knowledge, and of knowledge transfer. The aspiration is to build knowledge-exchange corridors, linking the specialized knowledge of institutions with what I call the creative and ethical knowledge of communities. It’s a two-way corridor of exchange. Part of the problem, at times, is that many universities’ community outreach projects are founded on the premise that as an institution of knowledge, it can come to the rescue 32

of these communities, solving their problems, etc. What we don’t realize is that these communities also have resources, they have the political and economic knowledge that can in fact complement the abstraction of our own research, the kind of knowledge that needs to move in the opposite direction towards the university so the university might re-think its own educational protocols. For an activist to teach in my university, they would need to have a Masters Degree or a Ph.D. So how do we enable this political and social knowledge embedded in communities and bring it into the university? We have begun to produce a series of programs to do just this. And again, this is all about the designing of the interface; I’m thinking, “Somebody has to curate those protocols and relations.” For example, one program is called “Public Scholarship,” where we pair activists and professors to co-teach particular seminars. I will also be co-teaching a seminar with the activist in San Ysidro, a seminar called “On Citizenship, Property and the Rethinking of the American Dream.” Of course technology becomes a tool. We have plugged into new audiovisual technology to support long distance learning and teleconferencing capability. Casa Familiar has founded the FRONT, which is their main arts and culture hub for this community, where we have installed this technology so that there can be communication back and forth, between the neighborhood and the university. But the idea is also to circulate students. In other words, how can universities begin to open themselves up, not simply to export but to import the knowledge embedded in those

Children interact with the OptIPortable at the Knowledge Exchange Corridors exhibition at UCSD, 2011. 33

communities? And how do we enable certain protocols to make it possible? In order to make the project clear and accessible, the programs are incredibly rudimentary and very common-sensical, naïve in a way. One such program is Public Mentorship, where two Ph.D. students sign a social contract with three teenagers in a neighborhood to follow each other for a year. The teenagers become the guides of the Ph.D.s into their neighborhood and the communities, and in the opposite direction, the teens enter the university hosted by the students. I am also doing a project with Aaron Levy at the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia called The Mixplace Studio that is similarly trying to reorganize these sorts of hierarchies. It links the Slought Foundation, the University of Pennsylvania and the People’s Emergency Center in the Mantua neighborhood, producing a circulation of activity across these institutions. As we were discussing before, the question is how to curate the conversation so that we can amplify existing conflicts as the catalysts to generate other modes of representation? Designing new modes representations is, in a sense, designing new systems of exchange. With Community Stations we are engaging artists to design new models of visualization that are participatory and accessible, similar to the density game we discussed earlier. Now somebody who comes to the non-profit can imagine and visualize links between the organization’s work with housing and social service, with land use and citizenship. It is about producing these sorts of knowledge exchange capabilities. This is what is at the core of any activist practice, a kind of transference of knowledge. I think that’s what has happened in Latin America, and it’s very seldom talked about because there are projects that tend to hijack the attention with their aesthetics of protagonism, but never exposing the complexity of the socio-political process. What has actually happened in Latin America is a comprehensive restructuring of political systems at municipal levels that has begun to mobilize itself from municipality to municipality: governments learning from each other, from Porto Alegre to Medellín. So the transference of knowledge, the exchange of procedures, the circulation of tactics of engagement, that’s what could potentially reframe the sanctity and onedimensionality and self-referentiality of architectural education. That’s what I’m interested in: how can an activist practice enter into the university and help dismantle or retrofit an education that has remained extremely self-obsessed and socially indifferent for so long? Are new modes of learning called for today? Francisco Sanin: Would you mind discussing your projects spatially a bit, in greater detail? What I mean to ask here is for you to comment on the 34

formal and spatial dimension of architecture. As you know I have been interested in this relationship between politics and the formal in a way that does not posit the formal simply as result or representation or reflection of external forces, but as the dimension that gives architecture its agency, its politics so to speak. TC: Okay, yes, but at the end of the day my projects are processes. And we haven’t talked about how some of these processes, of course, can begin to enable actual spaces; because what I’m interested is in the political and its spatial consequences. Some projects in San Ysidro have relied on rethinking the composition of the parcel into slivers, into smaller systems, by threading small infrastructural spaces with housing or by varying the composition of small-scale development. By doing this, different housing economies can coexist in once parcel. A block can be restructured with the powerful type of solid-void-solid-void sequencing, creating critical adjacencies of program and space. All of these meditations with socio-political and economic systems result into actual formal organizational logics. One aspect that has definitely been at the core of my practice is an idea of an architecture of parts, a return to small-scale development. At the moment, when larger scale development is almost impossible because of the economic crisis, small scales are the sites of experimentation. I’m interested in accessory buildings, or dwelling units and all the code-based devices that together can form affordable smaller configurations of programs. While researching the history of that type of development, I began to realize that not too long ago in this country there was a complicity between urban policies and lending processes that benefited the smaller scale development. Some of the most interesting neighborhoods in Los Angeles or San Diego built in the first half of the twentieth century where made of duplexes and fourplexes. These environments were not beautiful because they look traditional according to New Urbanist standards – equipped with picket fences or porches – but because their fabrics were made of a different political economy of housing, enabling small scale, incremental urban development. In other words, the financial and political institutions used to benefit small parcel property owners to develop their own parcels by having an extra unit to support themselves. For this reason, I’m interested in rethinking smaller parcels as an accumulative layering of density. This can be a counter form of development to the one that has only benefitted large-scale developers, especially as small parcels began to be consolidated into huge parcels to take advantage of cheap lending. So, now a tax-credit based subsidy cannot fund small development, developers can only be competitive if the project is 50-units in density, which in many neighborhoods is not allowed by code. 35

What I’m trying to say is that we began to look at how a pro forma – the spreadsheet of a developer – could be a site of intervention; it could be pixilated with the informal economies and densities that official urban policy ignores. This is where the architecture begins to emerge in very interesting ways. For example, I know some Guatemalan ladies who make tamales, amazing tamales, in the kitchen of their small post-war bungalows. They are just trying to survive by transforming their houses into their illegal businesses. They barely speak English. So I thought, “Why not bring them together into a kind of micro-cooperative or association?” I am now their representative. I’m the one producing or providing the knowledge to compose that association so that they can qualify for some type of funding. So we can compose a pro forma out of this entrepreneurial agency, paired with a particular political representation that can enable this invisible economy to amount to something, and that in turn this can have a spatial configuration and an aesthetic language. As a developer I am now going to design an industrial kitchen, along with housing units, that opens into a space that can sporadically become a small farmer’s market where this micro association of people can run their own business. While they are my clients – they are paying rent – they are also making a profit as they are co-managers and co-owners of this project. So these configurations of socio-economic representation and programming have incredible resonance in the composition of space, structurally, and it is the potential of architecture to be transparent with such socio-economic relations that is really at stake here. I am interested in the translation of all of that into formal systems. 36

Victor Tzen: You’re interested in the spatialization of the political systems that you’re mapping or negotiating or seeing, but I am wondering about architecture, about the issue of scale. The political has multiple scales: global, national, regional, etc. How do you begin to calibrate the capital-A Architecture in order to negotiate with these multiple scales of political agencies that are existing and working within the city? Because changing the kitchen may have immediate local consequences, or it might be just a ripple into larger sorts of systems. This is a very complex web of relationships. How do you begin to deal with that issue of scale? How much do you do, how little do you do? TC: That is a fundamental question, and it goes back to Slavoj Žižek questioning of the very nature of utopia, imagining it less as the capitalist utopia that is selling us these perverse environments that very few of us have access to. We need to think of a modest utopia, one that is less idealized in the broader macro scale, but instead emerging out of a sense of urgency that prompts us to re-imagine one building at a time, modest alterations in the existing reality to support new forms of socio-economic sustainability. When I was visiting Ramallah in Palestine last summer for a conference, I was naïvely expecting to find these amazingly progressive projects: we imagine that a place so wrought with conflict would have huge activism, and things to show for it. I was taken on a fieldtrip around the hills, and I was surprised to see Palestinian developers building housing projects that were not only horrible and forceful on the topography, but they were faithful replicas of Israeli settlements, complete with the worst of their clichés: beige, suburban, gated, and so on. This showed me that a community will not be free until it resolves its own housing paradigms, new forms of economy and density, its own ways of resolving one parcel, its own definition of housing. Regarding the issue of how we enable these small gestures to scale up: it is the bundling of these small gestures that begins as a kind of collection of contingencies, and incrementally amounts to something. It is easier to enable a benevolent macro, top-down urban project in places such as Medellín where the government was behind a progressive urban policy, but in the US it is difficult to imagine this because the word ‘public’ has become forbidden in our political language; here the very nature of an urbanization of social justice benefitting the collective amounts to a communist coup. A socially made, infrastructural urbanism has been hijacked by the economics of selfish urbanization perpetuating the mythology of the American Dream as promised by private property: the promise of an urbanism of isolation where the individual has the right to be left alone is the 37


Among his writings, see “Field Conditions”: “Field conditions are bottom-up phenomena, defined not by overarching geometrical schemas but by intricate local connections. Interval, repetition, and seriality are key concepts. Form matters, but no so much the forms of things as the forms between things.”

basis of today’s crisis. So, this is the reason I wanted to begin small, enabling this accumulative stitching of contingent urban moments. This is once more my disagreement with someone like Pier Vittorio Aureli. While we might aspire for capital-A architecture, a self-assured, absolutist architecture to rescue us from the speculative urbanization that has prompted such neo-liberal amorphous dissonance today, I’m more interested in paying attention to the collection of these other socio-economic organizational modes of bottom up governance in order to enable a critical interface between the formal and the informal. I believe that a new form of the political emerges out of the conflict between the top-down and bottom-up. And we may actually reconceive the very nature of infrastructure in doing so. Stan Allen reminded us of this ten or so years ago, that the true nature of infrastructure is to be a differential system that negotiates between formal and informal, between top-down and bottom-up; it enables the small and the large simultaneously4. Here the issue of scale and its many variants is a crucial aspect; that the differential systems embedded in informal procedures – that smallness – can enable a different conception of the large. This is what has happened in Medellín and other such places, the capacity to work transversally across scales and institutions in order to produce urban interventions that emerge out of simultaneously engaging the macro and the micro, the abstract and the specific. And thit is what I am trying to achieve.

Stan Allen, “Field Conditions”, Practice, Architecture, Technique and Representation (London, Routledge: 2009), 28.




TEDDY CRUZ CONFLICT as an OPERATIONAL TOOL For more than a decade, Estudio Teddy Cruz has been claiming the urgency to radicalize the specificity of the political at local scales in order to rethink current global dynamics and their macro institutional frameworks. The Tijuana-San Diego border has served as a laboratory from which to re-think current politics of surveillance, immigration and labor, density and sprawl, the polarization of informal and formal systems of housing and urbanization, and the expanded gap between wealth and poverty. As a research-based practice, Estudio Teddy Cruz has amplified urban conflict as a productive zone of controversy leading to constructive dialogue and new modes of intervention into established politics and economics of development and marginal neighborhoods as sites of artistic experimentation. Teddy Cruz is currently professor in public culture and urbanism in the Visual Arts Department at University of California, San Diego, and the cofounder of the Center for Urban Ecologies. The Architect’s Work team constructed the exhibit as a model of Estudio Cruz’ practice itself, a model of an alternative form of practice. Estudio Cruz layers project upon project in order to generate a continuous discursive practice, one conceived at the global scale and achieved at the local. In the same manner, this exhibit organizes a breadth of the practice’s work along the Estudio’s practice diagram, generating a layered representation of the studio’s work that is constantly informing itself. The various media employed in the exhibition display the many ways in which Estudio Cruz engages with the communities, economies, and politics ‘from the global border to the border neighborhood.’



Graduate Exhibition Team Brendan Finney Sara Greenwood Anastasjia Gridneva Andres Mario Jaime Steve Klimek Nilus Klingel Ryan Novi Cristina Rossi Victoria Ines Gueglio Saccone Faculty Advisors Martin Haettasch Victor Yu-Juei Tzen Francisco Sanin scaffolding provided by NES Rentals printing by The Imagepress thanks to Speranza Migliore












Diagrams produced by the design team illustrate the decision to use Estudio Teddy Cruz’ own practice diagram as a guide for distributing the work through the space of the gallery. The ‘detours’ from the diagram are used to coordinate material with various agendas (Tactics of Translation, Design, Mediation), and at various scales (Global, Regional, Local). The subsequent layering compounds the work of ETC. The practice, as is the exhibition, is constantly informing itself.


















Conditions of Ownership who owns the resources

crisis of environmental sustainability

crisis of public infrastructure


crisis of institutional collaborations

crisis of socio-economic sustainability

crisis of housing affordability

crisis of political engagement

Practice and Research exposing conflict as an operational tool

Tactics of Translation

Fragmented Institutions

exposure of territorial power


Political Jurisdiction Whose Territory is it?



Design Redistrubution of Resources

Economic Pro Formas

Can a neighborhood be a developer?

Social Capitol Top Down Formal

Negotiate Institutional Protocals

Produce Alternatives

Policy Frameworks

Can density be understood as an amount of social exchanges per acre?

Spatial Practices

Can form anticipate social encounter?

Mediation Informal


Bottom Up

Expanded Model of Practice & Research

Capturing Hidden Value

Economic Capitol

Political Process







The construction of the exhibition took place within the course of one week. With this narrow window in mind, the exhibition team developed a modular scheme involving tube + coupler scaffolding, monitors, and projectors that could be quickly assembled. The video monitors were hung on vertical scaffolding poles by converting the scaffolding couplers into a mounting device. Projectors were embedded in a nest of horizontal scaffolding against the ceiling. The projections were cast onto shower curtains, whose transluscence lent itself to the layered complexity of the exhibition. 62





ne of the most relevant and critical issues of our time is the challenge of restoring the ethical imperative between individuals, collectives, and institutions in co-producing the city. How to enable new models of co-habitation and co-existence in the anticipation of density and the re-construction of a collective imagination? How can artists, architects, and scholars engage the re-thinking of existing fragmented institutional protocols in order to re-activate a public culture founded on inclusive social infrastructure? 65

These questions pertain to the urgent re-organization of our artistic practices, as we need to take detours into other ways of thinking and making that can intervene into today’s debate, as we re-think the politics and economics of urban growth. Following a reflection on this expansion of modes of artistic practices, performance artist Tania Bruguera told me recently that precisely now – when the concentration of resources had been consolidated once more so dramatically from the many into the very few – it is time to return Duchamp’s urinal to the bathroom! Her provocation suggested to me that we could not continue perpetuating the notion of a “free imagination” as our creative prophylactic, keeping us at a “critical distance” from the conditions themselves that have produced the current crisis. What we need instead is an “urgent imagination”: how to intervene in the gap between the top-down and the bottom-up, institutions and publics, while reconnecting art to the drama of the socio-economic and political realities of a world in flux. In other words, reconnecting the ‘urinal’ to its initial two-way pipes of operation: one upwards, engaging the transformation of existing institutional protocols, the other connecting down-wards, flushing the conceptual and operational potentialities of the every-day. While there is no geography today that escapes the crisis – it is everywhere – the following reflections are US-focused. It is in the United States where we find the epicenter of the brand of greedy capitalism that caused this new version of the crisis in the first place. It is here where we find the DNA of the selfish, oil-hungry urbanization, which is supported by the very conservative urban policies and economics that detonated a worldwide, exclusionary, and now unsustainable urbanization in the last years. Today, we must re-imagine the very meanings of housing, property and citizenship at a time when the longevity of the Welfare State is questionable and the social has become absent from our global political institutions, even as the paradigm of an ‘ownership society’ has become unsustainable in conditions of economic crisis. For these reasons, I cannot escape beginning these words by denouncing the hypocrisy of the recent interpretation of the 66

American Dream – as expressed through the voices of right wing ideology – which in my mind is the basis for the anti-immigration, anti-taxes, anti-public, anti-infrastructure society we witness today, blindly continuing to defend a strange version of democracy as the almighty right to be left alone, a project of isolated individuals, lacking a collective ethos.

The Three Slaps on the Face of the American Public In the Unites States the obvious is staring us – the public – in the face and for some reason we continue avoiding it. We occupy a critical juncture in history, one defined by unprecedented crises across any imaginable register (socio-economic, political, and environmental), and our institutions of culture, governance, and urban development are atrophied, at standstill, not knowing how to re-invent themselves, how to construct alternative procedures to engage the conditions that have produced the crises in the first place. Sufficient economic analysis of our current dilemma has shown the obvious similarities, for example, between late 1920s depression-era conditions and our own situation today. I hope it is evident by now that both socio-economic crises were characterized by the not-so-coincidental meeting of excessive inequality and low marginal tax rates on the wealthy. While the similarities are clear, there is not enough mention today of the very different immediate outcomes following both critical periods. In general, the post-depression years were marked by a collective political will to engage the necessity – the urgency – to reform the institutions and engage public participation and debate. This is not the space to elaborate on this history, but suffice to say that the political period following the great depression years witnessed the emergence of the New Deal, the Works Progress Administration, the Bill of Rights, which all together amounted to an unprecedented alliance between civil society, philanthropic spheres, and government to invest in a collective imagination towards the production of 67

public housing, infrastructure, education, and services partly enabling a few decades of more equitable distribution of economic and civic resources. The economic and infrastructural growth experienced during that period of committed public spending to re-energize the institutions clearly demonstrates that trickle-down economics, based on de-taxing the rich so that its wealth will eventually touch the rest of us, has been the fake democratic façade of American-style neo-conservative economic models, making us all believe and defend the mythology of the American Dream as promised by a society based on ownership, low taxes, and individual freedoms for unchecked economic expansion. This time of huge inequality today, as the rich have become richer in the midst of high unemployment rates, finally reveals the socio-economic reality behind the crisis of this selfish dream, but also forwards the notion – different to conservative beliefs – that social and economic strength depends not on less government but on a necessarily intelligent government, one defined by the convergence of responsible taxation, progressive public policy, and a proactive collective imagination. Our current period of crisis, then, has been defined by exactly the opposite. The absence of an uncompromising political leadership and constructive debate by and about the public, has allowed the hijacking of the public itself by a right-wing demagogy that turns every socially-based effort into a communist coup, co-opted by the politics of fear. Therefore, in my mind, our period differs from the post-depression years in that it has been characterized by the shrinking conception of the public and the consolidation of economic and political power into the hands of an elite of individual and corporate wealth, which, in fact, remains unaffected and unaccountable today. This consolidation of political power to lobby and install an anti-taxes, anti-immigration, and anti-public culture is what makes our period radically different from the post-depression era, cementing the final erosion of public participation in the political process and a culture of impunity in the upper echelons of institutional structures. 68

The ultimate impact of this consolidated economic and political hegemony can be illustrated in what I call the three slaps on the face of the American public since 2008: First Slap: After the big bubble of economic growth burst in September of 2008, finally revealing the huge socio-economic inequalities that the last two decades of economic explosion had produced, the public, without consent, came to the rescue of the architects of the crisis, bailing out the banking industry. Second Slap: Following this, the lack of collateral regulation to protect homeowners in the management of loan defaults made the banking industry cause millions of foreclosures, producing further insecurity and unprecedented unemployment rates. Third Slap: Finally, the unfolding of this economic crisis and its political upheaval has recently enabled a right-wing minority to mobilize a lobbying machine to de-fund the public with massive spending cuts on education, health, and social services without raising tax levels for the wealthy.

From Urbanizations of Consumption to Communities of Production

In the context of these shifts, we are paralyzed, silently witnessing the most blatant politics of unaccountability, the shrinkage of social and public institutions and not one single proposal or action that can suggest a different approach, different arrangements. So, before economic and environmental, ours is primarily a cultural crisis resulting in the inability of institutions to question their ways of thinking, their exclusionary policies, the rigidity of their own protocols and silos. It is within this radical context that we must question the role of architecture, art, and the humanities and their contingent cultural institutions of pedagogy, production, display, and distribution. 69

In fact, one primary site of artistic intervention today is the gap itself that has been produced between cultural institutions and the public, instigating a new civic imagination and collective political will. It is not enough only to give art the task of metaphorically revealing the very socio-economic histories and injustices that have produced these crises, but it is essential that it also becomes an instrument to construct specific procedures to transcend them. The formation of new platforms of engagement in our creative fields can only be made possible with a sense of urgency, pushing us to rethink our very procedures: alternative sites of research and pedagogy, new conceptions of cultural and economic production, and the re-organization of social relations seem more urgent than ever. How are we to re-organize as artists, architects, and communities to perform a more effective project that can enable institutional transformation? I emphasize effective project because what we need is a more functional set of operations that can reconnect art to the urgency of the everyday and the re-thinking of its institutions. This brings to mind the summer of 2011, when I attended a conference in Ramallah called “Designing Civic Encounter” organized by Ursula Biemann and Shuruq Harb. As we drove around the outskirts of the city I was surprised to see newly built Palestinian housing developments sprinkled across the surrounding hills, imitating – in fact, literally reproducing – Israeli settlements: beige enclaves in the shape of gated communities, equipped with all the Jewish settlers’ suburban clichés. How ironic, I thought, here I am in a Palestinian context where I naïvely expected to find alternative approaches to affordable housing, that in some way or another would resonate a community’s search for cultural affirmation and enmancipation. Instead, I found that these new housing models in Palestine were, just like everywhere else, determined by the visionless environments defined by the bottom-line urbanism of the developer’s spreadsheet and the conservative politics and economics of a hyperindividualistic ownership society. 70

But most essentially, this experience left me thinking that a community will not be free until it is able to creatively resolve its own housing needs, its own modes of socio-economic sustainability, its own conceptions of public space and infrastructure: its own civic culture. Can a more critical sense of sovereignty be shaped not at the scale of nation states today, but at the scale of neighborhoods in the way a community constructs a new political will towards the re-thinking of the city today? Can “Civic Encounter” be designed, choreographed, enabled? This does not mean that we will “escape” the city into an autonomous alternative village-commune where we will compost ourselves to death. If we retreat like this, we will end up being another enclave in the compendium of enclaves that have atomized the city into isolated and fragmented parts. At this moment this means that our work needs to complicate itself by infiltrating existing institutional protocols, negotiating modest alterations, and being persuasive enough so that bottom-up, urban resilience can become the agile device to transform top-down policy. In my own practice, over the last ten years, the Tijuana-San Diego border has served as a laboratory for researching the current politics of surveillance, immigration and labor, the polarization of informal and formal systems of urbanization, and the expanded gap between wealth and poverty. This has led me to understand that we need to urgently re-think our practices, our procedures; not only to enable bottom-up creative intelligence to scale up, but also to facilitate the circulation of bodies of knowledge, translating the socioeconomic procedures behind informal urbanization. Can we be the curators of new modes of public participation towards the retrofitting of existing uneven political and economic institutions? This has been the space of intervention for my urban research and practice, engaging the specificity of the political inscribed in this border region and the marginal communities that surround it. While in the last years the global city became the primary site of economic consumption and display, local neighborhoods in the margins of such 71

centers of economic power remained sites of cultural production. These are peripheral communities where new socio-economic configurations take place through tactical adaptation and the retrofit of existing discriminatory zoning and exclusionary economic development in the contemporary city. These communities’ stealth urban praxis needs artistic interpretation and political representation, and the conflict between top-down urban policy and bottom-up socio-economic contingency needs mediation and new forms of intervention. A new political language emerges from these collisions, with particular spatial consequences from which to produce different interpretations and definitions of housing, infrastructure, property and citizenship, and new forms of urban policy and economy. I would like to end these reflections with these four propositions: 1. We – artists/architects – need to be the developers of our own housing (the new site of intervention is the developer’s spreadsheet); 2. We need to be the producers of new political processes and economic models (the site of intervention is the very politics and economics that have perpetuated an exclusive urbanization in our time);  3. We need to be the enablers of new models of political representation and participation (the site of intervention is the very notion of community: who represents who during this period of transformation?); 4. We need to engage the visualization of institutional conflict (the site of intervention is existing educational processes themselves: an urban pedagogy).




CATALOGUE of EXHIBITED WORKS Estudio Teddy Cruz employs a variety of media in order to represent and communicate their projects and issues. Accordingly, the exhibition showcases both static prints and videos, accessible diagrams and complex images. Included here are the works that were selected for the exhibit. All images are courtesy Estudio Teddy Cruz.



DIAGRAM Estudio Teddy Cruz developed this diagram in order to organize and explain their unique model for architectural practice. Through conversations with Teddy, the team organized the exhibit along this diagram, using it as a tool to organize and display the work of the practice and, as a result, the pratice itself.

crisis of environmental sustainability

Conditi of Owner

crisis of public infrastructure


crisis of institutional collaborations

crisis of socio-economic sustainability crisis of housing affordability

crisis of political engagement


Who Owns Res


Making the Invisi

Exposing Territo

Politic Jurisdic

Whose Territor

onditions Ownership



Owns Resources?

he Invisible Visible

g Territorial Power

Political risdiction

se Territory Is It?

Fragmented Institutions


Econ Pro F

Redistribution of Resources


Produce Alternatives

Institutional Protocols

Po Frame

Design Resources

Sp Prac

Political Process


Economic Pro Formas

Can a neighborhood be a developer?

Economic Capital Top Down Formal

Policy Frameworks

Can density be understood as an amount of social exchanges per acre?


Spatial Practices


Can form anticipate social encounter?

Bottom Up Social Capital


Capturing Hidden Value

Practice & Research

Exposing CONFLICT as an Operational Tool



VIDEO Nearly twenty films and animations were featured, the bulk of the show’s material. Estudio Teddy Cruz uses these simple, effective vignettes as legible devices for communicating their projects and initiatives.





PRINT These images were printed and mounted large, as centerpieces, and were hung alongside relevant quotations from Teddy Cruz. Each of the 3 reflects a different aspect of Estudio Teddy Cruz’ visual output: the Image, the Model, and the Diagram.

All images are courtesy Estudio Teddy Cruz. “The value of an image is opened up here—what our tools of representation mean. We’re trying to find our role as architects and retool ourselves to engage conflicts and crises, the conditions that are really reshaping the discourse. On one hand, our field has been burdened, as many artistic fields, with the metaphorical. So we run the risk of images that are just images—they may just be emblematic. Built into that comment is dissatisfaction with the way representation has produced levels of commentary without producing actual tactics for intervention. Knowing that, I would say these works are mini-manifestoes for my [architectural] work. We find the collisions between top-down and bottom-up development and between natural and artificial ecologies. The image suggests that it is in the midst of these conflicts that practice should reposition itself. The image is built of pieces, a kind of debris of all those environments. As I traveled with students from 1994 to 2000 and beyond, it was a way of engaging the territory, witnessing these environments of conflict.” from Repositioning Practice: Teddy Cruz, Architectural Record, October 2008. Teddy Cruz with Ana Aleman, Border Postcard: The Tijuana Workshop, 2000.



“For the ‘Manufactured Site,’ we are proposing a prefabricated building frame that can act as a hinge mechanism to support the multiplicity of recycled materials and systems that residents bring from San Diego and reassemble in Tijuana to create makeshift dwellings. These structures are fragile, as is the topography of the land they occupy. The frame could be the first step in the construction of a larger scaffolding that would help strengthen the otherwise precarious terrain, without compromising the temporal dynamics of these selfmade environments. We want to give the layered complexities of these sites primacy over the singularity of the object. In our view, housing is less about a collection of objects and more about participatory community processes and the resourcefulness and organization of people. By bridging between the planned and the unplanned, the legal and the illegal, the object and the ground, as well as manmade and factory processes of construction, the ‘Manufactured Site’ questions the meaning of manufacturing and of housing in the context of building community.” from Urban Acupuncture, Residential Architect Magazine, January 2005. Estudio Teddy Cruz, Manufactured Sites, 2004.



“Despite the apocalyptic implications of a more fortified border with intensified surveillance infrastructure, the growing tension between the various communities of San Diego and those of Tijuana have elicited multiple insurgent responses. These responses have unleashed new opportunities for constructing alternative modes of encounter, dialogue and debate, sharing resources and infrastructure, recycling at the most outlandish levels the fragments and situations of these two cities, and constructing practices of encroachment into the increasingly privatized and controlled public realm. A series of ‘off the radar’ two-way border crossings -- north-south and southnorth across the border wall -- suggest that no matter how high and long the post-9/11 border wall becomes, it will always be transcended by migrating populations and the relentless flow of goods and services back and forth across the formidable barrier. These illegal flows are physically manifested, in one direction, by the informal land use patterns and economies produced by migrant workers flowing from Tijuana into San Diego, searching for the strong economy of Southern California. But, while ‘human flow’ mobilizes northbound in search of dollars, ‘infrastructural waste’ moves in the opposite direction, constructing an insurgent, cross-border urbanism of emergency.” from Levittown Retrofitted, Post Architecture Magazine, no.1, 2007. Estudio Teddy Cruz, Border Research, 2000.



MURAL This mural was originally displayed at the MoMA exhibit “Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement “ in 2010-2011. Through conversations between the exhibition team and Teddy, the concepts embedded in the diagram became central to the theme of the exhibition. Estudio Teddy Cruz modified the image accordingly for this exhibition.


The Political Equator

New correspondences between the global and the local.


Functioning Core Multi-national outsourcing in search of cheap labor markets of the nonintegrating gap.

Unprecedented migration across global borders in search of the strong economies in the functioning core.


Non-Integrating Gap

A global border connects some of the most contested checkpoints in the world and is emblematic of hemispheric divisions between wealth and poverty. This is an operative critical threshold that bends, fragments and stretches in order to reveal sites of conflict worldwide, in the midst of the conflict between geopolitical borders, natural resources and marginal communities.


The forces of division and control produced by these global zones of conflict are amplified and physically inscribed in particular critical geographies such as the San Diego-Tijuana border region. We need to move from the abstraction of globalization into the specificity of the political inscribed in the physical territory: The radicalization of the local.


An Urbanism of Retrofit:

The urban future depends on the pixelation of the large with the small.

The multi-color ‘confetti’ of Tijuana’s compacted land uses seeps into <?><?>San Diego, altering the homogeneity of the large exclusionary colors of Southern California’s zoning.

A migrant urbanism deposits itself in many older California neighborhoods, where mono-use parcels are transformed into complex micro socio-economic systems. Citizenship is a creative act that transforms and reorganizes existing spacial and institutional protocols.




Expanded Models of Practice:

Architects as mediators of top down economic development and bottom up social agency.

Top Down Institution Economic value as seed of development for the city.

Private developer sees… Housing Development as market owned Profit as an individual’s right Density as maximum amount of units and minimum investment in public infrastructure Inhabitants as generic customers the power of

Economic Capital


City Official

Designing Collaboration

Community Activist

Non-Conforming Neighborhoods: The Illegal Buddha

Neighborhood Participant

the power of

Social Capital

A small post-war bungalow in San Diego’s Mid City has been transformed into a Buddhist temple that negotiates economic and cultural resources in the neighborhood. Here, density is no longer an amount of objects per acre; it is defined by an amount of social exchanges per acre.

Bottom Up Agency Cultural and social value as economic engine for the neighborhood

Community Activist sees… Housing Development as neighborhood owned Profit as the community’s right Density as maximum social exchanges per acre <?> embedded in public infrastructure Inhabitants as participants

While the global city became the privileged site of consumption and display, the immigrant local neighborhood remains a site of production, of new cultural and socio-economic relations.


Besides designing buildings, architects can also collaborate in constructing new political and economic processes.





Constructing the Political:

Designing a micro-policy and new conceptions of ownership for the border neighborhood of San Ysidro.

Casa Familiar Micro-Policy

The Neighborhood as Developer:

Housing cannot be sustainable on its own. It needs to be plugged with socio-economic support systems.

Micro Infrastructures for Coexistence

No advances in housing design and affordability can be achieved without advances in housing policy and economy.


Small public rooms, a community garden and the retrofitting of a historic church serve as a social framework for housing.

Translating the Informal

Casa Familiar coordinates mapping and documenting of all non-conforming additions and mixed uses.












Thirteen granny flats are threaded into a housing system where seniors are co-managers and co-producers of a childcare agency.




New Zoning Categories City Hall legalizes non-conforming units through a new affordable housing overlay zone and authorizes their reconstruction.












The tactical distribution of diverse housing building types within a small infrastructure of collective spaces supports different housing economies and demographics.

Casa Familiar:

Community Based NonProfit


Casa Familiar: Informal City Hall

Senior Citizens

+ Sweat Equity


On-site artists will choreograph pedagogical interfaces with children and families, plugging education and other resources into the social frame.

Arts Artsand and Culture Culture $






+ A live-work duplex given to artists collaborating with Casa Familiar in the designing of programs that activate the social frame and the church.

Small accessory buildings serve and support spaces for extended families, accommodating a variety of uses.

Tax credit subsidies do not support small development; existing land uses prohibit alternative mix uses and small lot housing densities.

Social Service Infrastructure

Casa Familiar Programs Tues 3:30 PM

Informal Uses / Time Scenarios




Casa Familiar plugs social programming into the frame and in-between spaces, supporting informal economies and anticipating social interactions.

NGO facilitates the design and production of plug-in additions. City Hall prepackages new units’ construction permits and allows NGO to manage process.

Sun 9:30AM



Casa Familiar: Facilitator of Micro Lending

Mon 10:30 AM

We need to move from the neutral notion of the public to the specific rights of the neighborhood.

Sat 4:00 PM


NGO manages prepackaged tax credits and other subsidies and facilitates micro-credits by breaking large construction loans. Residents partner with NGO to co-own resources.

The future of urbanism will not be led by buildings but by the reorganization of socio-economic relations.




Fri 8:00 PM


A small frame, co-owned by residents, is conceived as a social service infrastructure threaded into housing. Plugged with electricity and a collective kitchen, the frame is activated across time with specific social, cultural and economic programming tactically choreographed by Casa Familiar.

Casa Familiar in San Ysidro: Neighborhood based community non-profit organization becomes microdeveloper, translating invisible socio-economic entrepreneurship into economic value. ‘Not everyone can own a unit’: New social contracts between Casa Familiar and neighborhood participants

The tactical distribution of diverse housing building types within a small infrastructure of collective spaces allows the choreography of temporal socio-educational and economic community programming.




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