#CHAT01 ”Introduction: A Matching Game” Full Transcript
In conjunction with #mOOO4 A.D.A.P.T. architecture competition
D – Dina
J – Jesse
M – Megan
Jia – Jiageng
B – Baolin
Alright, I am gonna start by introducing everyone. Welcome, to people who are here already. This is CHAT01, the first of our speaker series for the competition ADAPT, in partnership with mOOOarch.com. My name is Megan; I am one of the organizers of this event, and here with me are my two teammates.
Hi everyone, my name is Jiageng. I’m from Columbia University. We are very lucky to have Jesse and Dina with us. It’s nice to meet you all. I’m very excited to be here.
I’m Baolin from Yale. We’re really thankful that Dina and Jesse can be our speaking guests for today, and we hope everyone will enjoy today’s conversation.
I just want to reiterate our objective in hosting this event. First of all to increase transparency behind the jury process of these competitions to transform the traditional architectural competition into a truly global conversation between experts and designers from all fields and regions of the globe. We really want this to be an opportunity where people can exchange ideas and be inspired by each other. So today we hope to have a casual and fun discussion with our two amazing juror who’ve agreed to join us today, and of course to kickstart a conversation between design and health.
I’m gonna officially introduce them: so with us today are Professor Dina Battisto, from Clemson University, and also, Jesse LeCavalier from the University of Toronto, who was also a Visiting Professor at Yale School of Architecture this past semester. I’m gonna turn to them, so that they can each introduce themselves very briefly, and talk about their field of expertise and interests. So let’s start with Dina: thank you so much for being here, and would you introduce yourself please.
Sure. Megan, thank you for inviting me to this exciting competition. My name is Dina Battisto, as Megan mentioned. I am working here at Clemson University, in Clemson, South Carolina. We have a very unique program, that started in 1968, that focuses on architecture and health, that’s really the space I’m working in. What that means is that architecture for health is not just about healthcare facilities, but the idea that design should promote individual health, community health, and public health in the design of communities, it’s also about how we can design to promote global health or planetary health, through sustainability and green design. So that’s what I do.
I work in the graduate M.Arch program. I teach students in the Architecture and Health program, and I’m also coordinator of the Built Environment in Health Ph.D. program, and teach research, design, critical thinking, and research methods to all the students in the M.Arch program.
Great — thank you Dina!
Thank you guys again for the invitation and the opportunity to join the conversation. I have a lot of admiration for the initiative that you all are demonstrating, making space for this kind of work and discussion, especially at this moment it is very valuable to hear from this emerging generation of designers. I think it’s really valuable that you’re taking the time and making the space and finding the energy to do this, so thank you for being able to be involved.
So yes, I teach at the University of Toronto where I am the director of our new Ph.D. program that was just launched this year, so we have our first group of incoming students who will be working at the Daniels Faculty, which is a faculty that includes landscape architecture, architecture, visual studies, urban design and also forestry. So we have a really interesting interdisciplinary school. There are a number of programs that we hope come together in really productive ways. And in addition to my teaching, I have a research and design practice that looks at ways that infrastructure, and more specifically, logistics, can be connected to questions of design and transformation in architecture. Some of the places where I’ve been testing that out have been a recent participation in the MoMa PS1 program, as well as my own research and writing, which includes a book I wrote about Walmart and logistics, called the Rule of Logistics.
And more recently, with some collaborators we contributed to the Oslo Triennial last year. The theme was about deep growth, and we developed a series of brochures and research documentation about different models of living that were really about trying to wonder how architecture and cities would change if we were to think about values differently, so much of the way we often think about design is underpinned by unclear assumptions about certain capitalist values, and I think if we were to rethink some of those questions of health, some of the answer might start to emerge differently. So, I’m excited to be able to join this conversation for these reasons.
Thank you Jesse. I’ll start with our next question: what made you agree to become a juror to this particular competition? What about it that attracted you or made you want to join in the first place? And what do you look forward to in evaluating these entries?
The most honest answer is that I have a lot of admiration for you and Baolin, and Jiageng, so I would just say yes to whatever you ask me to do. Another aspect of it is that I found the structure of the competition to be intriguing around the pairing of these terms. For a long time I was teaching in the first year course both at the ETH Zurich and the New Jersey School of Architecture, NJIT, where we were using similar exercises that frame creativity around a series of constrained conditions that then actually, rather than limiting possibilities, help to focus them. So I think the kind of heuristic setup that you’ve created in the competition is really intriguing. It really intrigued me because it becomes a kind of game. It is fun but also serious. I think that this kind of structure gives us ways to get outside of our own intuition. In a way, that is really useful and very powerful. So the part of the idea that attracted me was the set-up and the structure.
Well, thank you. So I’m going to ask the same for Dina, so how did you react when we first approached you with this competition brief?
Well, it’s funny, I was actually in the kitchen and I read your email about the fact that you had read my recent book on Architecture and Health: Guiding Principles for Practice. And, I remembered that my instant reaction was, wow, I’m excited that students were reading the book. As a long term proponent for architecture and health, it has not always been fashionable, a taboo. I can remember that when I was in school, as an undergrad, I did a health related thesis project. I did senior housing. And I can remember at that time being like, why would you choose something related to health? why not choose a high-rise office tower and focus on the outside skin.
And actually I got into health for very personal reasons, when my father had a stroke a few years ago. So that kind of opened my eyes to the deficiencies in the healthcare facilities, and then had a new lens thinking about design. So when I got your email, I can remember telling my family, oh I’m so excited, finally it’s resonating with someone.
And so, I love the fact that you’re bringing help to the conversation. It’s no longer taboo, it’s something that your generation, the millennials are finding important. You’re becoming a generation of activists. So I would love to be involved in any student project or activities that can help propel the movement forward.
Thank you so much Dina, that’s very encouraging to hear. Thank you for your support throughout this process, because I think, not only because we’re in a very special time, when the global pandemic is going on, but also it is a great time to bring out these connections between these social systems, between health and infrastructure, physical and immaterial. So I think a lot of what you and Jesse are interested in research are these connections between design and the world basically. How the world really is.
Since Jesse commented on the unusual structure of the competition, we’re maybe going to start by talking about this matching game. Just as Jesse mentioned, we want the competition to be an opportunity to impose limits to encourage further creativity and encourage unusual innovation between things that are not usually correlated together. So this is just part of the competition brief, I’m very curious if the two of you are doing this competition, why two keywords will you choose?
I would probably, if it were me entering, rather than choosing off the bat the ones that I would invest in, I would think about it more like a game. So what I might do is, I might print out all of them, and put them face down. And make it more like a kind of creativity game where I would then draw one from each category and then give myself like 2 minutes or something to think about 10 ways that those can come together. And then I would do it again, and again and again, for as many as I could to just start getting the wheels turning. I guess the idea for me is to introduce some level of unpredictability, rather than thinking it in a way which of these align. Because I’m thinking from the point of view of the jury perspective, I would be attracted to the pairings that didn’t seem intuitive. Then it would seem surprising, introducing a level of friction. Through the intersection of the two pieces, something else would emerge.
As you guys might be aware, you’re drawing on those surrealism games that these other models of automatic production. Also a little different because this is really about space, how space supports activities. And so for me, I might look through all of the ideas that came out of that, maybe identify a few of them that seem most promising and try to develop it from that.
Within the list itself I’m attracted to the ones that seem less sort of benign, so maybe like parking lots or convenient stores or things like that. And also some of the activities that are less recreational like blood donation, or examination, things that don’t seem immediately sort of like relaxing, or fun, and think through how these will be transformed.
So you’re really saying that, by activities that are not too relaxing, you’re interested in sort of the tension between a benign or recreational public space versus like a very specialised medical activity. You think that would have some chemistry together?
Well I think that there are a range of ways to think about it. I like to think of things in terms of spectra, or along different sorts of polarities. For example counselling is a very private, personal intimate thing, whereas in a certain way it is also an intimate thing where you might do it publicly. I guess a number of these things are fairly intimate in a way that it’s something you do by yourself or someone else, and then in a way what you’re suggesting is that these things become more public through the physical space in which they might unfold.
Also, one of the questions coming up in our sort of COVID moment is about how we exist collectively. In a way, when so many other things where we normally do out in public with each other, we have to do it at a distance with each other or alone, or within our respective bubbles.
But I do think that one of the contributions of the designs here could be to take the activities that we think we know they are and change the way we might imagine them. To ask the reciprocal question, what kind of spaces can support the things we didn’t expect. And what sort of new forms of healthier environments could emerge from them.
Thank you. Dina, what do you think hehe;)
Well, when I agreed to help or to be a juror, I was very excited. And then I have to admit that when I read the brief, I got scared. In a way, I felt uncomfortable, which is a good thing because I realised it was going to challenge me and all the people who participate in this process. Because as Jesse said, many of the pairings are kind of unconventional, and kind of make you think in a different way, which I think is great. It kind of reminds me of, a little bit, when I was back in architecture school and we had no constraints and we were somewhat naive and we weren’t limited by anything. And you always create these ‘what if’ situations, and you really begin to think of a future vision. I really like the idea that this competition allows for that. I mean the only limitation is your creative mind.
And so, I also think that for me, I agree that instantly I was pairing things that make logical sense. And I thought no, this is not what this is about. When you pair them because they make logical sense, then you can’t think about the fact that the built environment needs to be flexible. For example, here in our university, our recreation center, is being converted into classrooms. So basketball courts are converted into classrooms. Who would have ever thought that a basketball court would be transformed into a classroom? So when I look at the logical pairings, it makes me think about the need for change and diversity and kind of cross programming.
But then when I take another approach, just select one from the left, the physical space, and one on the right, I think about how these health activities could promote some or one of the domains of health. Dining is a kind of common example. Dining has the ability to promote social health. So when we think about the domains of health, individual health, we might think of physical health, like physiology, like sickness, what we’re sick with. We might also think of our social health, which we realised during this pandemic, is an important integral component of health. I’ve seen it with students, I’ve seen it with friends, when you’re socially isolated, you get sick, you don’t feel good. Mental health kind of breaks down.
Mental health is another one. Emotional and mental health, even spiritual health. I mean there are so many domains of health. So I think about these health activities that you’ve listed as a kind of pathway, or vessel to promote individual health, or public health, because now again with this pandemic, it is brought into focus, the importance of community and public health. More so than in the past. It’s very interesting, our students who graduated this last year, have encountered a pandemic, from a virus. They encountered a hurricane, fire and flood, all within the two year graduation period. So I think health at this point has become amplified in the conversations. So one idea is to think about these things, these health activities that you’ve listed and maybe creatively think about how they might contribute to a dimension of health.
One last thing. It’s funny I was thinking about just freeing your mind, so I picked one on the left and I picked one on the right and I picked, what did I pick? I picked furniture and I picked gaming, video gaming. And all of a sudden, I started thinking about it, and I think, I thought about my thirteen year old daughter who has now picked up gaming as a social outlet, with friends. Fortnite, this fortnite thing. She doesn’t like video gaming, but it has become a social outlet in this pandemic. And I just started thinking, wow, how can we re-envision furniture? To make it so that it could be a social experience, it could be rethought in terms of providing a multi-sensory experience and connecting people. I think we can have a lot of fun with this. And I agree the unconventional pairings are the way to go. Will challenge you the most.
It was definitely part of our objective, the reason why we listed, like physical space and also health activities, is that, at least I know from our school, and the overall climate of the architectural design, is that it is very building based and object based. And sometimes we don’t think enough about the immaterial systems that actually shape how spaces are experienced and used. And for example, how objects are part of the larger systems, how wearables can be designed, how furniture is such a common, so every household has it but it can be a part of the non-physical system that together they generate something new, just like you said. It’s an awesome idea to connect furniture and video gaming right, because in a way the consoles are already part of our household objects, for people who game. So they are a new kind of fixture almost in our society.
So also I’m curious, what keywords would you add to the list, that maybe we haven’t thought of, because the three of us with mOOO arch, we came together, and we wanted, exactly, to generate a list that would sort of clash, that would have unconventional pairings. Now we wonder if you have even weirder options or better keyword that you imagine would be inspiring or challenging?
I think in terms of physical spaces, maybe something that could be added, is the home. And only because the home has become our center lately. And so I think that, we are using the home in a very different way than before. I mean I just look at right now, we are just all spread out across the house, trying to find a quiet place to connect to people around the world. So maybe the home might be something you might add. In fact the physical space I think, I really like your list. It is great and it’s a cross-section of outdoor spaces, kind of small and mundane places, furniture, wearables, all different things. I like that. I think on the health activities, one thing that maybe I would add, perhaps maybe is practical, is something related to relaxing. I mean massage is good, because that might make me feel uncomfortable when I think about, you know, how a bridge might be used for massage. I think there is a really interesting kind of a comedy that can unfold when you make some of these pairings.
You know, I don’t know how vehicles and pet-walking work. But again, it’s that kind of uncomfortable reaction that makes our mind start racing and thinking about what could it be. And I love the fact that it gives us, again, a glimpse into a concept that may not be realised today but it could be realised tomorrow, in a sense a little bit like a futuristic movie. So those would be two. I mean the health activities might also be things like that we’re involved with on a daily basis.
I mean, I’m just thinking aloud a little bit. One thing that I’ve been trying to think about is historically, at what point did certain physical spaces, at what point did they transform to admit about a broader set of activities. And so even something that we might be thinking of as an obvious one, like outdoor recreation and parks. In New York, when Central Park was first opened, Olmestad’s idea was that you would walk, slowly and peacefully along the paths and by looking at the greenery around you. That would calm you down. It wasn’t meant to be a place of rough horsing, running around and playing. It was a place of strolling, which is partly linked to ideas about an unruly working class that would then be kept subdued by having these outdoor spaces available to them. And finally people were like, no, we want to sit on the grass, we want to play on the grass. You can’t tell us to keep off the grass. And that was the moment of friction, that evolved, that then allowed the public space to evolve, as a result, you rarely and soon that you can, unless it is posted or whatever. There is an idea that what was imagined, a taboo and not allowed, is a norm.
And one thing that I think is worth thinking about is the audience here, the imagined subjects of these activities and spaces. And I think it is worth just being cognitive about any assumptions that might be built-in to some of these things. Because even if we know not everyone is equally able to participate in these spaces for a number of reasons. We also know that the pandemic has affected people in dramatically different ways, around their access to either healthcare or the necessity for them to be able to work or access to healthy food, etc. Then also the ways that health-ness in general, the social health of the whole society have been repressed.
I’m just thinking as Dina was listing off the kind of the pandemic, the hurricane, and of course also what we’ve been witnessing, this massive social unrest, around the black life matter movement, which is also part of the conversation about healthy physical space. While I was thinking about taboo, what’s been allowed and not allowed, and which spaces have been accessible and non-accessible, I was also thinking along the lines of Dina’s suggestion about everyday activities. I do think that the spaces for the activities here, the ones that are compelling, are the ones that are, that wouldn’t fit in the other ones, the other physical space categories immediately. So the ones that are more personal, or more ritualistic or more daily. I’m thinking that those were more bothering things, bathing, public restrooms, they are also part of a very, much more intimate kind of experience.
It reminds me of a show, let me call it the phantom of liberty, and there is a famous scene in that. He (the director) is a surrealist filmmaker, so he is interested in staging these kinds of uncertainties, these strange moments. So there is a dinner party scene, but the idea is that, while we need to use the toilet, typically we eat together and excuse ourselves to find a bathroom. And his idea is what happens if we invert that. And so everyone sits around the table on toilets and excuse themselves to have dinner in privacy, and they are very embarrassed about it and shuffled off. I think by doing that it raises the question how norms are established and taboos are formed and it asks why we are embarrassed about certain things or rituals, things that we all do and a part of our life. So why is it that we’re sometimes nervous about discussing them. So one of the things that can come out of this potentially could be encounters with the ways we think about our own sort of daily rituals and assumptions about what constitutes a kind of norm.
I would like to make a couple of follow-up thoughts on that. This whole idea of norms is kind of interesting because norms are just socially accepted practices. And so I was thinking, you know some of these pairings might seem unlikely, might have been unlikely 20 years ago, for example vehicles and blood donation, and now you can see college campuses with a truck that is trying to ask the students to donate blood. But 20 years ago people would have thought, no way that would happen. So again, I think pairing these things may seem unlikely now, but who knows, could be realised in the future. Or underground parking for example, and medical examination, you know there are hospitals now with the pandemic, there are capacity issues. They’re repurposing parking lots for waiting rooms, for areas for examination. Civic centers are rethought of field hospitals and cruise liners for waiting rooms. These are all things that are perhaps not normal, they won’t be part of our normal kind of conventions, but it’s forcing us to be creative and rethinking about how physical spaces can be repurposed. The last thing I wanted to say is that maybe also a strategy here would be to think about the population along with these health activities because you know, the population is, I mean we’re all different right, we’re a multicultural whole melting pot all around the world different people, different backgrounds and different preferences and different ages, and maybe also thinking about the health activity and pushing it a little bit and thinking how that might manifest or it might be influenced by the diversity of the population. Then try to find, maybe some common grounds, and how that might inform the design of the physical space. To put you a little bit further, it becomes more inclusive rather than based on again, that normative condition, that normal population that everybody has designed for.
I am very grateful that both of you have mentioned the idea of the intended audience, the people, the population that you are designing for. Because, while drafting this competition, we did debate a lot whether to set a site for the participants. Usually, a project would have a site, a physical region that necessarily puts it in a non-physical cultural context. It was a difficult decision for us to not specify this physical constraint and leave it for the participants to choose.
So for us, an important part of our idea for this list of keywords is to find public space or infrastructure that can be found throughout different cultures and countries that might be utilized in totally different ways. By doing would also help us to see how participants from a different culture would reimagine these spaces differently.
Also, about the idea of public and private. The physical spaces that we listed range in scales, from the intimate wearable to the larger shared public green spaces. So we can reimagine the friction between the more private activities and public assemblies.
Because you guys talked so well about how to go about picking these words. I would like to ask further: Now that you have the keywords and ideas, what would you do next? We are dealing with a lot of systems, like public systems and health systems that not everyone would have equal knowledge about. There is a certain level of expertise that’s associated with those topics. For example, Jessie is interested in this logistics that largely shape our social infrastructure and Dina, you are more familiar with the more medical oriented spaces and services. So, for participants, how do you think they should start doing their research? So in terms of methodology, Dina do you have any tips?
For me, I always find history as a good teacher. In this case, there is a lot of strange stuff that we might expect by looking historically. So one avenue will be to try to understand the origin of whatever I was looking at. Another point is less about research but more of a design methodology. I would test the scalability and repeatability of the proposal so that the implication of the things is not just a singular instance but has the capacity of a more systemic impact. So in this conversation about systems, one of the readings I found helpful was Leverage Points by Donella Meadows in which the author has her ways of categorizing points of impact. To rethinking the fundamentals assumptions about systems in certain layers. One might find this helpful in thinking about what kind of impact their proposal has. For me, something like this would be exciting as an outcome that it would not necessarily produce some novel dismo but would start to undermine or question our established base institutions through this series of the intersection of activities for example. Some new categories could also emerge, you know.
Someone might find a need in those solutions that are unconventional.
This might be a footnote, but I want to mention 1 keyword that I really liked, one that blended the intimate and the public is the public laundry mat. You go there and you have to wait while these machines wash your clothes for you. People would gather, and you have this time, and you don’t know what to do. But you can’t necessarily leave because all your stuff is in a public space, and you don’t necessarily want to stay because there is nothing really to do.
That is a great word! We missed that because it is not only relaxing and it contributes to our physical health and it is part of our daily routine. Socially as well, we expect this gathering of people folding their cloth together.
The question is about the methodology of working and how you’d approach this challenge. I think there are a couple of different ways:
One is more a systematic way of looking at it. I will choose one of the health activities and try to understand if the desired outcome of that activity is what I am trying to achieve. Thinking about dancing for example, or dating. What it means to dance, that’s the part that I would do a little research, maybe it’s the history of dancing, the influence of dancing. I’d really try to dig deep into those activities. And, to understand how people from different cultures dance. You can’t separate the people from the activity. I think the activity is a pattern of human life and they manifest differently in a different context. I think the approach would be to think deep and to dig deep instead of just staying at the surface of dancing.
Then, switching over and pairing with a physical space, I would try all possibilities and exhaust all potential pathways. The computers are great, but I’d encourage you to get a bunch of sticky notes, get all your ideas down, brainstorm, get it all out and maybe create a mind map as a way to make the connections. Maybe some seem logical, others are not. It’s about fun and play. That’s what I love about this competition. We might entries from all over the world and the fact we all dance and in different ways.
I think you two mentioned a great point about maximizing creativity and exhaust all channels but also this idea of pinning down, locating how people might treat this differently, and locate one thing that you find most intriguing and how that can manifest differently in a different cultural phenomenon.
So one possibility is to dig deep, the other is to throw it all there and have fun.
I think the researchers, for me, are more systematic. It’s more about moving inductively and deductively, back and forth. I am moving out and narrowing.
Another approach, perhaps the more challenging approach that I would take is to be more creative. Have the ultimate freedom, and be productive about it. Because the more you know, the more constraints you put on to yourself in the design process.
So that is actually a suggestion against research (laugh)
Well you know, research can be limiting.
I think the call for specificity and the contextualization is really valuable. I guess any one of those activities, once you unpack, will be a huge topic. For the designers, it would be important to identify a more specific direction. Some activities are more charged with social, political, economic incentives. So as a juror, I would be more compelled by projects that have a clear social or political position which is not usually in conflict with having fun. I do think for this competition, thinking about the larger question of healthfulness is important especially in this contemporary context is fundamentally a political question.
And I like the inductive and deductive process loop, I use the game of chance as one model, just like shuffling down the 2 categories. If you take one word and shuffle down it might shake the initial hypothesis. Even though you might start more randomly, later on, the process should be more rigorous.
I always support a rigorous design process, and it will manifest in their final outcome, you can tell.
Megan, I would like to add on that point. A lot of the time, I would start by formulating a question. So you can have a starting point: how does a bridge support cooking, how does a convenience store support bathing, you know. In the end, I’d like to see in entries with strong design arguments. That’s where it can be systematic. All design has some forms of intent which overshadow the process and helps to guide the design decisions. Although it is about heath and healthfulness, it does carry some kind of political, social, and economic agenda, there is a message in there, a proposition, a response. So, I think both the written and visuals are working together. The written part should be a persuasive essay in a way and works together with the visuals
I definitely see the scholar in you, Dina, what you described is exactly like the process of writing a paper. When you build rigor into the design. Is to have a very clear objective, have a creative solution, and backing that up! And packing it with the most concise and clear manner.
So I teach the Critical Thinking Methods and Design class. 20 years that I have taught the class, I find students incredibly creative in breaking down the formulation of the argument and touching the different audiences. It often communicates and resonates with architects, but how do you create agencies of change? It’s about to formulate strong design arguments and communicate with both written and visual formats.
Jessie, do you have comments on that, this idea of communicating an argument, or materializing a paper in design?
Enhhh, I agree that design and research processes are related. When they are at their best, the question leads you somewhere you did not expect, but you know exactly how you got there. I think the best outcome is an unpredictable result that is rigorously discovered. So that would hold in this case as well.