(Sub)urban Realities

MoMA's new exhibition Foreclosed continues the museum's exploration of seminal issues in contemporary living.

Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream, the latest exhibition to come from the Museum of Modern Art's (MoMA) Department of Architecture and Design, is the second iteration in a series of architectural exhibits titled Issues in Contemporary Architecture, conceptualized and curated by Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, Barry Bergdoll. This series of architectural exhibits examines seminal issues in contemporary living as well as practice, and invites multi-disciplinary practitioners to enter larger global debates, such as the national foreclosure crisis in America.

This vision of the Museum as a proactive institution in which exhibitions are used for advocacy-related purposes relates back to MoMA's founding mission of "creating a dialogue between the established and the experimental, the past and the present, in an environment that is responsive to the issues of modern and contemporary art." Like its precursor, Rising Currents: Projects for New York's Waterfront (2010), an exhibit that focused on the pressing global issue of climate change, Foreclosed is another such show in which the institution (MoMA) and the curators involved (Bergdoll and Director of Columbia University's Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, Reinhold Martin) argue for the importance of initiating contemporary architectural projects that are responsive to pressing issues in contemporary society. "Unlike normal architecture shows about display," says Bergdoll, "Foreclosed works on a specific project with architects and designers and produces work that is responsive to the surrounding environment and then exhibits it."
Top: A view of Orange, New Jersey. Above: Zago Architecture, <em>Property with Properties</em>, model
Top: A view of Orange, New Jersey. Above: Zago Architecture, Property with Properties, model
The exhibition, on view through July 30 in the Architecture and Design Galleries on the third floor of the Museum, presents proposals for five sites across the country developed by five interdisciplinary teams – comprised of professionals from various fields including architecture, urban planning, housing policy, ecology, landscape design, engineering, and the social sciences – that sought to rethink America's suburbs. Each team focused on a specific "megaregion," as Bergdoll terms it, or a metropolitan area that lies between two major cities. Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample of MOS Architects and their team studied The Oranges, New Jersey, within the Northeast area of the United States; Michael Bell and Eunjeong Seong of Visible Weather and their team analyzed Temple Terrace, Florida, within the Southwest area; Andrew Zago of Zago Architecture and his team rethought Rialto, California, within the Pacific Southwest area; Amale Andraos and Dan Wood of WORKac and their team examined Salem-Keizer, Oregon, within the Pacific Northwest area; and Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang and her team looked at Cicero, Illinois, within the Midwest area.
MOS Architects, <em>Thoughts on a walking city</em>, model
MOS Architects, Thoughts on a walking city, model
The teams departed from the research presented by Reinhold Martin, Leah Meisterlin and Anna Kenoff in The Buell Hypothesis, which reconsiders suburban dwelling and related infrastructures in hopes to catalyze urban transformation, and then applied it the study of their respective focus-areas. As the exhibition itself clearly states from the outset, "The resultant proposals are not a set of blueprints for the development of specific places so much as an array of visions that invite rethinking the physical and financial architecture of living, working, and commuting in the extended suburbs." In this way, the designers were asked to imagine new ways of thinking about the relationship between land, housing, infrastructure, urban form, and what is considered the public realm in today's cities and suburbs. By altering the cultural narrative that is as pervasive as it was when first introduced into mainstream society in 1931 by James Truslow Adams, we can rewrite and ultimately redesign the future of American cities. These five proposals on display at MoMA, while optimistic and idealistic in nature, do capture the spirit of change and forward thinking in both design and practice. While differing in scale and execution, all five projects address the notion of the "American Dream" as an ideal that needs to be refigured in order to reflect current needs and demands of contemporary society.
Foreclosed "is only the midway point": these project proposals become a catalyst for discussion, opening up the conversation to a larger public, as Bergdoll did with Rising Currents
WORKac, <em>Nature city</em>, model
WORKac, Nature city, model
The installation includes a wide array of models, drawings, renderings, images, analytical materials, and digital media that reconsider the national housing crisis according to the study put forward by Martin, Meisterlin and Kenoff. A promising project, Gang Studio's intervention for the community of Cicero, Illinois titled "The Garden in the Machine" used the typical form of housing in Cicero, the bungalow, and subdivided it into various parts in which to reconfigure the new American suburban living experience. By creating a modular housing prototype that is able to mix family-types and generations, the houses themselves become more adaptable to the changing needs of the individuals who occupy them, and the city itself. Another proposal by MOS Architects challenges the idea of a pedestrian-friendly suburb by eliminating many of the public streets that make up Orange, New Jersey and replacing them with three-story multi-use structures that can be used for a variety of live/work situations. The new buildings form a continual ribbon through the existing fabric of the city, constructing a new mythology of the street and altering our perception of private versus public space.
Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang presents her research at MoMA PS1
Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang presents her research at MoMA PS1
Ultimately, this exhibition is the next step in what Bergdoll calls "a process." Foreclosed "is only the midway point": these project proposals become a catalyst for discussion, opening up the conversation to a larger public, as Bergdoll did with Rising Currents. What happens next is the continuation of the dialogue that began at MoMA PS1 (where the architects began the initial stages of research and design) and has transferred into the Architecture and Design galleries in the Museum. In order to establish solutions to current problems, such as the emergency housing crisis in America, we must propose ideas (as the aforementioned teams have done) through careful research and study before proceeding with rebuilding and redevelopment efforts. What Bergdoll demonstrates throughout Foreclosed and in this exhibition series is the importance of involving architects and design practitioners in the early stages of development of larger problems and social issues, such as the housing crisis and the global warming crisis, respectively, on both a local and global scale. Thanks to these efforts, the architecture and design community can now offer a more substantial role in the redevelopment of cities and, more importantly, ways of thinking about how we live in the expanded spatial environment. Danielle Rago (@danielle_rago)
Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample of MOS present their research at MoMA PS1
Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample of MOS present their research at MoMA PS1

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