Interboro in the Midwest

11-02-2007

Interboro just returned from a thoroughly enjoyable trip to the Midwest, where it lectured at the University of Kentucky and the University of Cincinnati. Interboro would first of all like to thank our gracious hosts, Karen Lewis and Marshall Brown, respectively.

Interboro always treats these lectures as an opportunity to reconsider its work. When one is working, one doesn’t always have a sense of the larger picture, but when one steps back and has to think about how to present and represent work, well then philosophy emerges!

This time around, Interboro spent a good bit of time talking about advocacy. We thought we’d share with you the philosophy that emerged.

Advocacy is a theme that is very important to us. When advocacy is talked about in planning and architecture, Paul Davidoff typically comes to mind. Davidoff, for those of you who don’t know, was a planner who, in 1965 wrote a landmark essay called “Advocacy and Pluralism in Planning,” where he argued that planners should be advocates of the poor, advancing their interest in the same way that a lawyer represents a client. While we’re certainly with Davidoff in insisting on the importance of attitudes and values in planning (we would agree, for example, that “appropriate planning action cannot be prescribed from a position of value neutrality,” that “values are inescapable elements of any rational decision-making process,” and that the planner should “be an advocate for what he deems proper”), one important difference is that we don’t think planners and architects should wait for clients to approach them. Publics, constituencies and causes don’t preexist; they are rendered. Publics produce themselves. With this in mind, advocacy shouldn’t always be about helping an existing constituency or public obtain its stated goals, but about producing a public, assembling a public out of the infinity of practices that exist out there in the city (much like an astronomer creates a constellation out of the infinity of stars that exist up there in the sky). This isn’t about listening in a passive way; it’s about engaging in a two-way dialogue; it’s a supremely creative act that encourages us to see the city as raw material for production.

The blotters, and the New Suburbanists in Detroit, the microorganisms at the mall; we like to think of our work as an attempt to advocate for these groups who wouldn’t exist without the sort of advocate we’re describing. What we’re suggesting is that planning and architecture begins when we make them visible; when we name their practices and tell stories about how important they are to the world: what we call “ghostwriting.”

And we try not to be shy about how we do this. The case studies we do, the stories we tell, the maps we make – these are not for the sake of some future architecture: they are architecture.

After all, neither does architecture preexist. Part of what we strive for in our work is an ever expansive role for the architect. When you approach places with an open mind, when you begin by doing good detective work, you’re likely to find all sorts of applications for architectural thought.

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