Estudio Abierto / Open Studio is a platform for collaboration between design and allied disciplines, a platform for critical rethinking and action—practicing empathic urbanism for the anthropocene.
We feel this urgent need for practices to emerge which are based on interdisciplinary understandings of the built environment. We feel there is a lack of social and political agency in much of practice and teaching in architecture and urbanism today. We also observe an acute disinterest of architecture graduates in architecture itself once they come to the realization that professional practice and academia has a gulf that no one mentions while they were in school. We also observe in academia a lack of doxastic commitment, which seems to be pursuing agenda based on their interests (the race to tenure). We are cognizant of the pressure of the ever-expanding capitalist realism which has forced schools to take on business models and diverge from the intent of the academy as a place of rigor and questioning. We feel the intent, potency and relevence of architecture and by extension, urbanism needs to be revitalized and reinvigorated. Open Studio wishes to usher in a new model of interdisciplinary practice, that is rooted in what we have dubbed as empathic urbanism. We seek to generate a new set of clients, of practitioners, of users and of citizens, who are aware of their societal roles.
Please note that we are aware of the modernist, rationalist accusation of being sentimentalist about the status quo or the pervasiveness of the capitalist realism that has the world in its grips. We do not claim to have the truth. What we know is that architects are tainted by the idea of the artist / the genius / the master, as captured by the image of Howard Roark, and we feel that is an awkwardly obsolete model for an architect in the 21st century, the century where we are coming to terms with the anthropocene, yet to comprehend fully the complexity of our naive pursuit of material convenience has brought both ecological and social catastrophes.
In the global risk society created by modernity, we feel that the architect and urbanist must metamorphosize into an empathic agent, the one orchestrating with the poeisis (unfolding) of a better environment. No longer a harbinger of certainty, fixity and the hegemony of the end vision, the architect + urbanist must be rather ready to play with the uncertainties.
We believe the zeitgeist is shifting. The old praxis and models that bind us in our disciplinary ghettos are giving away to emancipatory role-playing in each others disciplines. As they say, the change is in the air. The Venice Bieannale 2016 was a clear indication of the nascent unfolding of design agency applied in social context and we want to sail in that wind. We refuse to be categorized as a practice in box categorized as 'social'. Our concern is precisely this urge of categorization. We resist this modernist notion of reduction and clarity. We are not any of the ideological divisions as mapped by Zaera-Polo in his compass, at a given time. We want these different positions to collaborate towards a common agenda of an empathic urbanism. We prefer transmodern musings, shifting roles, non-linear design processing and yet, maintain a clear understanding of the philosophical/social/political stance.
For example, we want to orchestrate the design process in a seamless unfolding of participation in design process using big data / social media, to use computational iterations of form-making by feeding parameters in scripts devised uniquely for the social scenario, to build using local materials and appropriating both local knowledge with high tech, to understand architectural products and urban process through the lens of history, social psychology and theoretical frameworks, and all the while propagate a clear social agenda.
This synergestic collaboration is only possible by coming together of a tribe of designers who understand the potential of such an endeavor. We are the cavemen of another era of design thinking. Estudio Abierto / Open Studio is our cave.
Paco Mejias Villatoro is a registered architect in Spain and holds a Ph.D. in Architectural Theory and Design from the Madrid Polytechnic School of Architecture. He has been teaching Architectural Design since 1997, in Spain, Canada and the United States. He has been conducting workshops all over the world (Italy, Germany, Turkey and China), as part of events as the Venice Biennale and the Alfa European University Training Network for Sustainable Urban Development (AURORA). As a practitioner, he worked for Zaha Hadid Office in London, before opening his own firm in Spain. He has been awarded in several competitions and nominated for the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Prize. Currently he is Associate Professor of Practice in Architectural Design at the Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou.
Tanzil Shafique, M.Arch, Assoc AIA, currently a PhD researcher at the University of Melbourne, where he also directs masters design studios. Previously he was the Design Research Specialist at the Office of the Dean of the Fay Jones School of Architecture + Design at University of Arkansas, where he also worked as a Project Designer at the University of Arkansas Community Design Center and was a faculty for the Urban Design Studio, leading the Urbanism Seminar. He graduated at the top of his M.Arch in Ecological Urbanism class from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York in 2014. His thesis was awarded the Faculty Graduate Award. He was practicing architecture in NYC before moving to Arkansas. Previously he taught undergraduate studios in BRAC University in Bangladesh. As part of the UACDC, his work has been awarded numerous AIA awards. He writes and lectures on design philosophy around the world.
David Marroquín is an architect and social entrepreneur working in communities in Iowa and in Guatemala. Currently, he is working on starting an archi-social Community Center in Iowa that incorporates revitalizing an abandoned school into an urban farming + social housing. Previously he was a Project Architect at the University of Arkansas Community Design Center (UACDC) working on urban design and planning projects. He graduated from the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala in 2008 with a degree in Architecture and Urban Studies. His expertise as an architect includes several years of practice in the real state sector designing and building residential towers in Guatemala city. David has been involved in social entrepreneurship through internships and as a board member of two non-profit organizations.