Living Anatomy

The exhibition on view at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design seeks to answer fundamental, global questions around how housing affects quality of life.

“Living Anatomy”, view of the exhibition
Amid increasing urban densification and global interconnectedness, housing is a topic that uniquely illustrates design’s reach across human issues and politics.
As a subject that has been actively engaged at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) through a variety of disciplines, and as part of the school’s broader mission, housing is a timely focus for the school’s first main exhibition of the 2015–2016 academic year.
“Living Anatomy”, view of the exhibition
“Living Anatomy”, view of the exhibition
The semester-long “Living Anatomy” examines housing not only for its design elements as physical shelter, but also for its social and political implications and the interplay among these forces. Initiated by GSD Dean Mohsen Mostafavi and produced by a curatorial research team of GSD faculty, staff, and students, “Living Anatomy” reveals ideas from the GSD and beyond that have shaped discourse and policy around housing over the past 50 years at the GSD and beyond. It situates housing as a cultural change agent, engaging with history, economics, environmental issues, psychology, and public policy, among other fields – both driving and responding to advances and shifts within each.
Presenting material both historical and contemporary, the exhibition seeks to answer fundamental, global questions around how housing affects quality of life, including: How does housing contribute to stronger communities? How can housing respond to the transience inherent to modern life? How have designers addressed ongoing issues like density? How can housing help communities prevail through trauma, whether natural or cultural?
“Living Anatomy”, view of the exhibition
“Living Anatomy”, view of the exhibition

The mixed-media exhibition features both built and academic work and showcases projects and discourse that illustrate innovative approaches and solutions to housing in contexts around the world, including: Rem Koolhaas’s Maison Bordeaux; Sou Fujimoto’s House NA; Jeanne Gang’s (MArch ‘93) Aqua Tower; SANAA’s Garden & House; Michael Maltzan’s (MArch ‘88) Star Apartments; Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal’s Mulhouse Social Housing; and Farshid Moussavi’s (MArch ‘91) La Folie Divine.

The exhibition employs models, photographs, renderings, and texts to illustrate six themes: “Inviting”, in which housing actively promotes social engagement, strength, and purpose; “Territory”, in which high-density developments that have become integral to urban growth have been integrated into an urban fabric rather than stand aloof; “Exposure”, in which projects play on the relationship between interior and exterior, and function as part of their environments; “Recovery”, in which housing can not only help communities reclaim a sense of place after natural disaster, but also strengthen their quality of life in the face of social disarray; “Transience”, in which particular housing formats are designed for, and enable, temporary and shifting living arrangements; and “Discourse”, in which texts from historians, critics, economists, policy experts, and other thinkers position housing as a source of historical and ongoing scholarship and debate.

Taken together, this thematic framework allows the exhibition to capture the richness of housing-focused conversations that take place within design and across other fields, and to reveal the role that the GSD has had in shaping many of those conversations.

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