MDes Open Project: Revisiting Field Conditions

In surveying landscapes, neighborhoods, and communities, design could greatly benefit from further consideration of how they are recorded. While categorization and reproduction attempt to read a subject, they also risk overly simplifying and misinterpreting it. In his 1975 essay “There are More Things,” the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges famously revindicated the many possibilities any thing inherently contains prior to, but also in spite of, human-assigned meaning. Similarly, in his earlier “On Exactitude in Science,” he pithily exposed the dilemma posed by maps, both celebrating the meticulousness and questioning the usefulness of one whose size coincides point to point with that of the territory. Indeed, unreduced interpretations of fields, as the architect Stan Allen argued, remain conspicuously underexplored arsenals for design. His 1997 essay “From Object to Field” is a call to embrace “the real in all its messiness and unpredictability.” He gripes that architect´s need for control has impoverished the discipline by disengaging it from the complexity and indeterminacy of most every field.

This Open Project revisits the premise of field conditions encompassing not only territory, but also discipline and actors. What is this missing “real” in design? Among other notions it may contain the persistent and irregular energy of behaviors, rituals, events, social groups, transactions, solidarity, times of the day, exclusion, illegality, non-human forces et cetera that affect and layer a place with spatial complexity and which design is distinctly equipped to translate into concrete gestures. Furthermore, consuming the fullness of ‘reality’ is integral to design and represents a force of inventive inquiry at the core of its métier. In order to facilitate ample opportunities to explore the ‘real’, students will go on frequent walks and become “regulars” of a specific neighborhood within the Metropolitan Boston Area. Engaging organizations and locals in conversation, observing daily routines, exploring overlooked spaces, tracing real estate dynamics, spotting conflicts, and identifying misunderstood assumptions are desired outcomes of each visit. Practitioners in diverse urban landscapes will share germane design experiences in collaborative and participatory processes intended to encourage students to pursue collaborative endeavors amongst themselves and with neighbors. In revisiting field conditions, students move into shared creative processes that while inclusive and complex, arrive at expressions that are resourceful, accessible, and relevant to people and the places they inhabit.