Feb. 18, 2014

Origin Story, Part 4: HERE FOR NOW: Call to Action

As part of AIA SF’s 2011 Architecture and the City festival titled Architecture of Consequence

envelope a+d [link to About section that mentions envelope on proxysf.local] published the zine ON SITE IN THE CITY. Made in part to supplement the exhibition, the zine supported the firm’s dialogue with Dutch Firm ZUS about how progressive design and creative problem solving can address many of our most pressing urban issues, from decreased social cohesion and unsustainable food systems to diminishing free time. 

This excerpt originally appeared in ON SITE IN THE CITY as part of “PROXY: An Experiment in Flexible Urbanism” by Douglas Burnham. 

While we foresaw the ways in which PROXY would transform the neighborhood and the city, we did not anticipate the transformative effect it would have on us. Our engagement with PROXY has altered how we understand the role of the architect as an actor in the creation of the city, and, due to this new understanding, it has fundamentally changed the structure and content of our studio. It is our sense, perhaps through direct experience, that the architect’s role in our current culture has been narrowing into one who is merely a service provider, or a stylist or packager of programs. Consequently, too much work is executed unthinkingly, not enough questions are asked, and not enough meaningful territory is staked out. Our engagement with PROXY has expanded our notions of what is possible, of what we should be undertaking, as architects, as thinkers, as active creators of the emerging urban condition.

Indeed, this project required that we assume multiple roles not only as architects, but as urban planners, developers, fabricators, fundraisers, philanthropists, cultural curators, good neighbors, and responsible citizens. Acting in these varied roles forced us to reconsider our responsibilities and relationship to the city. We learned that the larger network of conditions— the urban, the cultural, the neighborhood, the experiential, the economic—requires us to operate beyond a bottom-line mode of thinking and to consider the creation of places of quality within the city as a calling of a higher order. The ethic of a flexible urbanism extends beyond the deployment of vendors in mobile containers (or other content frameworks) to incorporate a process of thinking about the city as a vibrant, living construct that is constantly in the process of becoming.

Our motto for the PROXY project “HERE FOR NOW” is as much a recognition of the fact that we only have a short term lease on these lots (that we understand the project as having a fixed, short life), as it is a call to engage: to seize the moment, immerse oneself in direct experience, and enjoy the intensity that urban life has to offer. A full-scale, real-time experiment into the mechanisms of a flexible urbanism, PROXY demonstrates that by embracing the need for change in the city, we not only heighten our engagement with the surfaces and fabric of the city, but with each other.

More installments: