Tag Archives: reflexivity

Second Modernity: Making Good on Architecture’s Social Contract

The last decade has seen a surge of work reasserting what we have always known to be true: architecture needs to do more than just look good, it needs to do good. …

Sociologists Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens, and Scott Lash identify these responses to the new “risk society” as unabashedly Modern, but in a new way and with a new urgency. They suggest that we critically reevaluate, refresh, renew, even “modernize” Modernism in a process of “reflexive” or “second” modernization. Moving forward in the spirit of the first Moderns but armed with new tools, we just might experience something more complex, more reflective (or reflexive), less utopian, or at least more pragmatic than what we associate with the label “Modern.” Modern or not, design is moving back toward doing the most with the least for the many.

Robert Cowherd, “Second Modernity: Making Good On Architecture’s Social Contract,” Architecture Boston 13, no. 4 (Winter 2010), 21, <http://architectureboston.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/evidence/>.

Design For Life

Some of the most valued research projects in recent years have been dominated by questions related to the direct and indirect interconnections between architectural and urban scales. The challenges of globalization, climate change, and demographic realities have in part driven an ongoing shift from the late 20th century obsession with the building scale to an expansion of architectural thinking to the scale of cities, landscapes and regions. Similarly, architecture as a purely formal exercise has necessarily expanded to encompass social, political and economic questions manifesting as distinctly cultural forces shaped by, and generating new forms in, the built environment.

During the post-war period, the ideals and aspirations of early modern movements came to fruition in extensive public housing and urban renewal programs transforming significant portions of almost every city in North America. In the aftermath of the failures of these programs, efforts to employ design to improve the situations of underserved communities have been considered problematic, lost in the shadows cast by failed modernist social projects. One result is that the focus of quality design has inadvertently shifted back towards serving a wealthier private clientele. In the meantime, a very different set of conditions in Latin American cities has fostered a remarkable production of high quality design as one of the key points of entry for gaining ground in the interconnected struggles against social disparities, crime, and fear. The cities of Latin America from Curitiba, Brazil to Bogota, Colombia have become synonymous with cutting edge urban design and now serve as models for new paradigms in the design of cities around the world. Within this framing, the world-class architectural design emerging from Medellín, Colombia presents a remarkable demonstration of the powerful role that good design can play in opening up previously unimagined opportunities for resolving even the most daunting challenges.

MEGA project-informal CITY: Reflexivity of Cities

Popular portrayals of megaprojects too often stop short of examining the supporting role played by all that is not the megaproject: the vast pools of construction and service labor that will travel too and from, but never live in, the new city. To neglect the role of the informal city in making the formal city possible runs the risk of leaving many of the most cavalier assumptions embedded in megacity discourses unchallenged. From mid-20th century Brasilia and Chandigarh to 21st century Abu Dhabi and Dubai, informal cities and megaprojects exist in an uneasy symbiosis of mutual dependence. A remarkable recent proposal for the redevelopment of the informal city of Dharavi at the heart of Mumbai, India offers a vivid demonstration of the possibilities for breaking the mold of megaprojects of the past that ignore any connection to the informal city. It’s ambitions to acknowledge and promote the agenda of the traditionally underserved populations featured in the international blockbuster “Slumdog Millionaires” while also presenting a new model for megaproject development is instructive as the exception that proves the rule. The example of Dharavi Redevelopment Project is the basis for an examination of the complex relationship between market driven commercial property development and the social agendas of the majority of urban citizens. Whether or not the Dharavi project eventually delivers on its promises, scholarship of the megaproject will be moving towards a more explicit relationship to its hidden twin, the informal city.

At the core of 2oth century urban crises is the attempt to construct cities according to overly simplistic diagrams of modern urbanization. An inability to adjust to changing circumstances is the common thread that can be traced wherever cities have failed to satisfy the basic needs of its citizens. Instead of delivering us from the whims of chaotic natural forces, the scientific city imposed a structral rigidity that enfeebled the historic mechanisms that would otherwise have been mobilized to restore balance. The capacity for responding to changing conditions in a more or less self-ordering and dynamic manner has been usefully identified as “reflexivity.” It is this characteristic of reflexivity that has made market based economic systems so successful in practice and so attractive in theory. At the same time, institutionalized late capitalism has magaged to establish its own heirarchal rigidities in pursuit of competetive advantages. Once established, individuals and firms are rewarded for weakening or dismantling the reflexive actions of markets through monopolistic practices. It is in this way that capitalism can preach the gospel of free markets while actively undermining its operation through its actions.

As formal political and economic systems continue to be plagued by the pitfalls of structural rigidities, it is interesting to note that the most reflexive systems are still to be found in the informal operations of local societies and communities throughout the world.