Front cover reimagine
Click here for the PDF version of the magazine.
Letter from the Editors

How will history remember the years 2020 and 2021? As the editors of URBAN Magazine, we constantly strive to frame our publication in a way that powerfully reflects the poignant issues of our time. From the COVID-19 pandemic, to racial equity, spatial exclusion, and beyond, these subjects, though often overwhelming, are crucial to discuss. We feel fortunate and privileged to have had the opportunity to read and reflect deeply on the pieces submitted to URBAN by our esteemed colleagues and peers.

In Fall 2020, we dedicated Dialogues to our community’s reactions and thoughts as we witnessed legacies of social and spatial injustice unfold across different geographies. Since the last issue, the Chauvin trial and the surge of anti-Asian hate crimes reminded us that a lot of work still needs to be done. The Spring issue, Reimagine, invigorates these continued conversations with hope and contemplates new norms for the built environment.

Reimagine captures how the past year has forced us to intensely rethink our personal and collective relationships with urban space. Contributions range from personal stories of the past year, to those envisioning new roles of public space, giving voice to historically marginalized perspectives, and suggesting new paradigms for a post-pandemic world.

Publishing URBAN during these tumultuous times has been a challenge. We offer our deepest gratitude to the writers who shaped this issue, junior editors Eve Passman, Will Cao, Shreya Arora, and online editor Sherry Te. It has been an honor and privilege for us to work with them to continue this long-standing, student-led, editorial magazine. URBAN would not be possible without the support of GSAPP and our community of readers. We hope that you, like us, find a moment to step back, reflect, and Reimagine.


Senior Editors of URBAN Magazine
Tihana, Geon Woo, Zeineb

A Glimpse Into the Year
“What grad school feels like right now”
Source: Author

Mental health or quality of work? Which should I prioritize during graduate school in a pandemic? If I were to give myself advice as a friend, I would suggest to take care of your mental health first. However, taking that advice wasn’t as easy for me to apply during most of my graduate school experience, especially when COVID and other rattling and disturbing chronicles emerged.

I was hesitant to write about something so personal that could come off entitled. Why should I, a graduate student at an Ivy League, take up space to talk about my struggles during a pandemic? My hope is that the takeaway from my experience resonates with my community here, and that the countless virtual conversations I’ve had with many of my peers has a place to lie. My audience is anyone that would like to listen.

The trauma of this past year has been overwhelmingly high. Within the last year, students have faced tuition increases, excruciating housing insecurity, and mental health strains, none of which are new struggles, but have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the political climate. My international friends have had other struggles I have not faced. During the past summer, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had opened a directive that would not allow international students to remain in the U.S. if they were taking online-only courses for the Fall 2020 term. Both my roommates, with whom I had just signed a new apartment lease, did not know if they would have to leave the country sporadically. In addition, graduate student workers continued their strike in demanding a fair contract and recognition as employees, with some of my cohort fellows and teaching assistants participating.

Along with housing and financial stressors came mental health and other health-related concerns. My peers have gone through their own stressful moments. One person told me of a time they were yelled at by a professor via email at the beginning of the Spring 2020 semester for missing the first class because they had scheduled their flight from China on that day even after explaining the situation. Trips have been scarce and expensive, and finding a time that worked to get to the U.S. was a journey on its own. Others told me that they had given up, “Elaine, I have no more motivation and honestly just want to be done with grad school.” Many shared their experiences of being back on antidepressants, and I too have had a conversation with my doctor asking how it could help my own anxiety.

As a member of the Program Council, myself along with a few peers have tried to put together events to allow our cohort to feel more connected, which is a difficult task considering that we are scattered across the globe. We decided to create a newsletter exclusively for our classes. We called it the UP Digest. It is a place where folks can share and learn from each other, a free formed newsletter for more intimate conversations. Mid-semester, we received an anonymous submission through our form: “I need someone to tell me I am not the only one struggling with online learning, thesis, believing that I will actually finish the program. The school is not accounting for our mental health / mental strain from online learning…”

Another submission we received was, “I am frustrated with online learning and have hit my wall. I am no longer interested in courses, or my thesis, and I have no idea how I will get everything done. I move between stressed, disinterested, anxious, tired, and sullen. This is not sustainable.”

Hearing these messages from my peers was difficult because there was no one thing to say to make anyone feel that much better. The only thing I felt like I could say is: “you are not alone in this…” I wish I could do more.

On top of the mental health of our students, it would be wrong not to recognize that loads of work combined with high expectations from professors became added stressors. The student-teacher relationship broke in many ways. It was hard for me to face my professors when, in all honesty, I had given up too. During one personal interaction with a professor, I felt like crying. I did my best to hold it together, but after leaving the Zoom chat, I bawled. The balance between keeping a healthy mental state and the expectations of an education at an institution full of talented and intelligent communities had collapsed. The stress induced by my professors’ expectations, crossed with my own falling determination, was a tragic mix. It was even more depressing knowing that graduate school, which used to be a source of great joy for me, became something I dreaded so much.

Adding onto the mental health strain, the Asian community has also been through escalating racial attacks throughout the past year. The recent massacre in Atlanta had been so prominent for me. I continued “doomscrolling” the news; I was distracted, disturbed, and wanted to have time to mourn. It felt wrong having to set those thoughts aside to focus on submitting the penultimate draft of my thesis. The fact that I could do so was a complete privilege.

As my fellow classmates push through this semester with every last fiber of energy, I’m unsure if there are any more words of encouragement to give. What I do know is I can share and ensure our story is acknowledged and recognized so that future administrators, professors, and graduates may learn from our struggle and find better ways to nurture one another. I believe that prioritizing the mental and physical health of our students, over purely academic success, would enhance the graduate school experience.

I do believe the administration and my professors are trying their hardest to be empathetic, patient, and realistic with the conditions of a pandemic, with many of the mentioned circumstances being out of their immediate control. I only hope that the compassion shown during the midst of this crisis will continue to uphold. The trauma from this year will not have faded by Fall 2021, nor by Spring 2022. As I mentioned in the beginning, these issues have always existed, and are now so obvious they demand to be reckoned with.

Elaine Hsieh is in her final year of the M.S. Urban Planning program. While her concentration is in Urban Analytics, she enjoys reading about urban theory.
Civic Engagement in Physical and Digital Public Space

On June 2, 2020, over 28 million Instagram accounts posted a black square for #BlackoutTuesday as an act of solidarity with ongoing protests against police violence in the wake of George Floyd’s murder (Monckton 2020). Throughout the summer, the Black Lives Matter Movement gained traction like never before by protesting not just in a physical public space but in a digital public space as well.

Since the Greek Agora, public space has played a key role in the development of cities. They offer citizens places to meet and engage in meaningful discussion (Carmona et al. 2008). Around the world we have seen people from all walks of life come together in these spaces and use them to protest. People protest against their oppressive governments, against their political leaders for not doing enough to prevent climate change, against police violence, and march for their basic human rights.

The rise of social media activism has led to a new way of protesting that can draw more attention to a movement, and involve people from all around the world that support the movement but could not otherwise be able to attend protests in person. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and now TikTok are reshaping how we amplify our voices and make change; these channels give ordinary people power beyond the public space as we have known previously. Social media platforms offer a complementary approach to civic engagement that can make involvement in protests and movements more accessible, and, thus, create a bigger impact.

At physical protests, crowds often show up and march, waving their homemade picket signs, or participate in boycotts and sit-ins. People will echo chants and give speeches. Other times they will be silent. Despite what the media may have us believe, there is no wrong way to protest. At the end of the day, it is about being heard. Above all else, the significance of the place is the make or break feature of a protest. In Los Angeles, for example, low density has led to protests taking place on highways rather than in the city itself, because they block traffic and force people to acknowledge what is going on (Schwartzstein 2020).

Social media offers us a new way of looking at the significance of place. With something as simple as a hashtag or mention, a small group, or even just one person, no matter where they are in the world can start a movement. In the summer of 2020, I watched social media accounts shift to be more civically active; sharing information and graphics from activists and writing captions that declared their political beliefs. I saw celebrities like Olympic Steeplechaser Colleen Quigley share their accounts with people of color for the day, to share their story with a different audience in “Pass the Mic” campaigns. It was inspiring to witness – social media giving rise to a new age of political and social activism.

In 2011, when Occupy Wall Street protests began in New York, organizers turned to Facebook and Twitter to raise awareness of the events and direct people to demonstrations. The hashtag #OccupyWallStreet, aided in the scaling of the protests, turning it into a national series of demonstrations (Tremayne 2013). People have been using social media platforms as a public space since the beginning of the digital age, but it has advanced significantly in the past decade; no longer used solely to provide information about active demonstrations, but as a stand alone protest itself, as we saw on June 2, 2020.

With the rise of social media, we begin to notice the flaws of its imperfect system. For every post demanding change there is an “if you don’t like what I’m doing, unfollow me” post. And that’s what most people did. They unfollowed, blocked, and reported accounts that didn’t align with their beliefs. They created bubbles of their own bias and minimized their opportunities to have meaningful conversations with people that hold conflicting views. In the physical space, the ‘real world,’ this is not the case. You cannot block someone or mute things because you don’t agree with them. That is why we protest: to have these difficult conversations and do something about injustice.

Another issue surrounding digital activism is the violent spread of misinformation. We all have relatives on Facebook that share everything, whether it’s true or not, solely because it aligns with what they want to believe. You swear that if they weren’t family you’d probably unfriend them, or maybe you did. But the truth is, whether fact or fiction, news travels just as fast. While platforms like Instagram and Twitter have fact checkers for information surrounding elections or COVID-19, they can’t catch everything. It falls on individual users to be conscious of what they are sharing and recognize the potential bias of the person behind the original post. Misinformation, however, is not just a result of social media. Since the beginning of human history people have spread rumors and manipulated the truth. Where it was once contained to a more local level, we are seeing social media digitally spread information, real or fake, at a global scale, which leads to hate and bigotry across the physical realm.

When this hate spills out into the ‘real world,’ it is government’s responsibility to regulate the situation. But online, the government has very little control. Accountability lies in the hands of the private companies who own these social media platforms. Every citizen of the United States is granted the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly under the First Amendment of the Constitution, yet Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms hold the power to remove accounts that don’t abide by the terms and conditions set forth by the company. The question is: should private companies that operate in digital public spaces have the authority to sensor users?

Public space, by definition, is a democratic space where citizens can interact, share ideas, and discuss issues (Charkrabarti & Gladstone 2017). For centuries, we have only thought about public space as a physical space. In the age of social media and the new ‘digital reality’ created by the Covid-19 pandemic, protests are able to break free of that limited philosophy and engage with a new form of civic space. Our newfound online public space is not without problems. The well-intentioned #BlackoutTuesday protest last year was actually harmful to the Black Lives Matter Movement. Those 28 million posts overwhelmed the Black Lives Matter tag and blocked information about the movement and local protests from circulating.

Digital public space is not perfect. Then again, neither is the physical one. Digital platforms do however make protests more accessible. The two realms compliment each other, by increasing awareness, challenging mental models, and involving more people in the civic process.

Sarah is a first year urban planning student with dual concentrations in international planning and the built environment. She actively fights for racial and social justice and is a climate change activist using both Instagram and Twitter to advocate for change.

Carmona, M., de Magalhães, C., & Hammond, L. (Eds.). (2008). Public space through history. In Public Space: The Management Dimension (pp. 23-42). Routledge. Chakrabarti, V., & Gladstone, B. (2017). Reimagining protest in New York City (and every city). Log, (39), 106-109.

Monckton, Paul. (2020, June 2). This is why millions of people are posting black squares on Instagram. Forbes.

Schwartzstein, P. (2020, June 29). How urban design can make or break a protest. The Smithsonian.

Tremayne, M. (2014). Anatomy of protest in the digital era: A network analysis of Twitter and Occupy Wall Street. Social Movement Studies, 13(1), 110-126.

Solidarity can make a new world possible

The world is on fire. And necessarily so fire is cleansing; new things are forged in fire. The oxygen that fuels this fire is not only the killing of unarmed black men but also the dire political outlook of the world. Hope has been squandered by those who have the ascetics of progressive politics but not the actual platform and desire to fight for what is just. This is the scene that set the stage for the fascist theater that was Trump. Politicians and so-called activists who are, as one of my very good friends describes them, “experts in what is not possible”, have occupied the positions of power for far too long.” These actors are a perpetual buffer, separating the mass of oppressed people from much needed progress. The idea that so-called progressive candidates are detrimental to progressive movements is disheartening but unfortunately our reality. We see this in the fact that newly elected President Biden bombed Syria before coming to the aid of the American people whose lives have been ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic.

But if we have learned anything in the last year it should be that through collective action, we can overcome most things. The progress that has been made in fighting state violence carried out by the police and also our starting a new chapter in our discussion of race and oppression is proof of the inherent power of unity. The calls to defund police, the fight for a living wage for workers, and a reevaluation of the role that the built environment has played in the systematic exclusion and marginalization of communities of color are all the result of collective political action and outrage. The development and expansion of the concept of allyship and solidarity should be viewed as fundamental components of the future we hope to build. This latest phase in the popular movement against the racist, sexist, and xenophobic foundations of American society has completely altered the political landscape in the country–for the time being. And it has caused the nation to take a long hard look at the fundamental racist nature of most of its institutions. However, there are two themes at play here, survival and hope. Those who don’t believe that our society needs a fundamental change and are looking for ways to hijack language and concepts in order to survive to make their modes of oppression more palatable and continue to exploit working class and poor people in this country. On the opposite side are people who believe that a better world is possible, their religion is hope. The keepers of the flame are not dismayed or discouraged by the continued aggression of the enemies of democracy and life nor the glaring absence of their supposed friends at the most crucial of times. Pessimism is not possible because their very lives depend on the issues they fight for. Decent and affordable housing, a living wage and being able to walk the streets without being harassed and murdered are not trivial pursuits, but rather a matter of life and death, literally.

When we take a closer look at history this lesson of unity is ever present. In Newark, New Jersey African-American and Puerto Rican unity was the basis for the political transformation of the city, moving from complete domination by white ethnic groups toward a more representative political landscape. Blacks and Puerto Ricans united to form a mutual defense pact to protect their respective communities from white terrorist violence in the city. The unity of different socio-economic groups in the city’s central ward thwarted racist urban renewal plans when a Yale educated lawyer and a retired occupational therapist organized with low income renters to stop the expansion of the local hospital that would have ravaged the prodomity black neighborhoods of the central ward. When we look at the stories of ordinary people throughout the course of history, we see the need and effectiveness of collective action. Of course I’m biased toward collective political action, I was born and raised in Newark, New jersey. I’m from a place where ordinary people have accomplished extraordinary things. In 1970, 11 years before I was born, Newarkers elected their first African-American Mayor, Kenneth Gibson. A few years earlier, in the summer of 1967, the skies of Newark burned hot orange for five days during the rebellion. In the wake of Newark’s rebellion, in response to apartheid conditions and continued brutal police repression among other injustices, the political landscape was forever changed. There are stories similar to these in all of our cities and towns, buried deeper in some than others. We must understand that the experiences are there waiting to be uncovered while at the same time providing the much needed nutrients of liberation to the soil of possibilities. To understand our collective history of struggle is to better understand what is possible. That’s why it’s so important for progressives and marginalized people to stand up and explain, and fight for the world we would like to see. We know that decent schools are possible because they exist now, just not for all of us. Healthcare for all is within our reach because nations with far less have made it a priority. An anti-sexist and anti-racist world is not a pipedream because if these are not attainable goals, then too many of us cannot exist and be free.

So, in a time when so much is uncertain, we must recognize our memories as the blueprint to a better – more just tomorrow. The time has come to walk towards the sun. The warmth and light of a society truly living by democratic ideals. With so much darkness in the world light is easily identifiable, if we’d only look. If our enemies are talking division let’s speak the language of unity. We must stand shoulder to shoulder determined to gain clarity in this moment of extreme confusion. The confusion that says a living wage for workers is not possible while individual CEO’s rake in a disgusting $2,537 every second of the day. The confusion that is caused by racism that undermines class solidarity while the majority of workers are exploited. If the foundation of the protracted oppression of the poor and working classes is lies, we must build on the truth. We mustn’t lose focus of our mission to build a better world. Because our foes have not abandoned theirs to dominate the world through the perpetual exploitation of the poor and working class. This is the importance of the moment; to clearly define our goals and objectives and identify our power to win. Though the ground is ever moving beneath our feet, our solidarity will provide the stability we need to continue to build a peoples’ democracy – a place where the constant themes will be forged by those who are willing to fight for a living wage, decent housing, and free health care for all. Not those who create scenarios where violence is normal. The violence of slave wages and the constant threat of being evicted. Tomorrow will be framed by the imagination of those who resist state violence against black and trans people, who are willing to fight individuals and institutions that criminalize the poor and see our natural resources and environment as their personal source of capital accumulation. There will be no room for fascism or the anti-people policies of the corporate Democrats who have adopted the progressive language but not the necessary courage the moment requires. We will place one foot in front of the other and continue to march toward the sun, giving birth to a new reality where trauma is abnormal, the perpetual trauma caused by inadequate schools and mounting medical bills. That is what we are fighting for. Our challenges are real, they are not theatrical, so neither can our unity be.

Al-Tariq Shabazz is an urban planning student in his first year with the M. UP program at Columbia University GSAPP. His research interests are the intersectionality of race, property, equity and social justice.
Concerning the events of June 2, 2020

The murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers sparked protests that dominated the summer of 2020. Since then, there has been much written about the injustice of our criminal justice system, the metastasis on city budgets and citizen sanity perpetrated by policing agencies, and the violence that the society we inherited inflicts on people of color and the poor. I hope that this personal narrative, anecdotal in nature, can be a modest compliment to these bodies of work.

As a frequent attendee of the New York City protests this past summer, I hoped to document my experience for personal posterity as 2020 drew to a close. My submission to Urban Magazine was the impetus I needed to finally put pen to paper. The following documents a vignette of a night less than a week after the unrest began. I do not believe that this discourse is zero sum, that the presence of my voice in this magazine drowns out that of countless, more deserving others. That being said, it is understandable if the reader is not interested in reading a white man’s perspective. I write using the only perspective I have.

Around 6 pm on the evening of Tuesday, June 2, I left my apartment and headed to a protest that was taking place on the Upper East Side at Gracie Mansion. Finding the East River Path blocked, I deviated to city streets, in search of a group of protestors in Midtown. Around 7 pm, I joined a group marching along Park Ave, my tongue tepidly shaping the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in chants that would become ubiquitous as the summer went on. By 8 pm, the sun was beginning to set and I split from the group when we got to Union Square. Just as the Mayor’s curfew was coming into effect, I ran into a smaller group nearby that was in a confrontation with police. The protestors stood their ground and eventually the police retreated to their vehicles and drove away, to much celebration. One protestor carried an upside down American flag. Another, brandishing a lighter, asked if he could burn it.

Just as the police left the scene a large group made its way to Union Square, merging with the smaller one I was a part of. This group had several leaders, who I only classify as such because they carried bullhorns, although I would soon learn that to the extent the early protests were organized at all it was ad hoc and these leaders were self-appointed. The self-proclaimed leaders disagreed on which way to take the large crowd and encouraged us to take a knee while a decision was made. During this lull in the noise, the sound of glass shattering split the air. The consternation about looters had already begun in the media, but this was the first time I encountered them. The men with bullhorns lambasted the looters and quickly realized their error in stopping the march. The looters didn’t seem to care. We marched south as dusk settled in.

My memory of the events starts to get a bit hazy after nightfall. I’ll admit that I am a terrible estimator of headcount, but if I were to guess, it felt like there were over a thousand of us in our group, which stretched back in an immeasurable tail. I remember being in the West Village and then Soho. Turning left onto Canal Street in Tribeca. The ad hoc organizing became increasingly more organized - particularly among the minority of cyclists in the pack. As cyclists, we played a unique role, scouting ahead for police presence, directing foot traffic with flashlights when the group would turn, and blocking cross traffic, although we encountered few drivers after the curfew. I remember when a cyclist from another protest rode up and told the de facto leaders of our group that their group was heading for the World Trade Center. I accompanied him back to his group to try and arrange a merger between us. Riding between the two crowds took us through a surreal, empty, and starkly quiet city. In some places, we weaved among makeshift barricades of trash that protestors had erected in the wake of their march. Going from the clamor of the crowd to the empty canyons of Soho, its storefronts hardened with plywood, was disorienting.

I remember looters breaking the window of a liquor store in Tribeca. The typical cyclist response to this eventuality was to put our bikes in front of the broken storefront and chant, “keep moving!”, until the crowd had passed, but there was little we could do. The looters were just teenagers and they seemed to be doing it for kicks. As the night went on and protestors trickled into the subway system, the looters seemed to stick around and the proportion of looters to protestors grew. The police became more aggressive too – staying in their vehicles and keeping their distance but occasionally rolling up on the march with lights on in a column. Around midnight, the group was marching around City Hall Park when I noticed a small contingent of protesters leaving down a side street. I recognized one of them as the bullhorntoting protestors who gave me good vibes. I felt like it was time to go, so I followed them. We got to talking and introductions when suddenly a column of police vehicles streamed around a corner. Half of us got away but the rest of us got caught standing stupidly on the sidewalk. When the police officers confronted us, we weren’t read our Miranda rights. My bike was taken away from me. While being zip tied, a white shirt (shorthand for a senior or commanding officer) congratulated the officers on their “nice work.” This was confusing. Hadn’t they let half of us escape and only apprehended those of us that didn’t run? The seven or eight arrestees were lined up and patted down. None of us were violent. One man who was with us must have been 7’ tall and I could tell the police were afraid he would try to resist, but he didn’t. One officer asked what was in my backpack. Before I could answer, he dumped it upside down onto the pavement, shattering my phone screen. Its other contents were a light jacket and a water bottle, which was untouched for most of the night. I was already thirsty.

We lined up to board the paddywagon. On the way in, an officer relished the opportunity to tighten each of our restraints, sharpening the pain in my wrists. Once in motion, we continued introducing ourselves in an attempt to make light of the shitty situation. We were taken to a booking facility on Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn (the Manhattan booking facility was apparently full) and found ourselves in a line stretching out the door and around an enclosed but open-air parking area. It must have been past midnight when we arrived and having spent the previous 5 hours riding my bike, the next few hours of standing elongated before me. The dehydration and pain in my wrists started to overwhelm me as time passed. Afraid I would faint, I crouched against the bricks, unable to break my fall with anything else. I remember another protester I’d been arrested with, a nonbinary person who I’d later learn studied landscape architecture, kissing my shoulder in comfort. My vision was cloudy. We asked for water many times, and were told there was none. I thought of the full water bottle in my backpack.

Heading to a protest at Gracie Mansion I am turned away by two officers on the east rive...
Searching for a protest I find several fleets of NYPD vehicles that appear to be staging ...
Park Ave.
Moments after a small group of protestors face down several police officers.
Passing the boarded up windows of downtown retailers.
Moments after the looting started.

As the line progressed and got longer behind us, we realized we had been treated comparatively well. Protestors arrived with swollen eyes, covered in bruises. It was easy to recognize how the white prisoners were being treated with less violence and more sympathy than the others. Of the arrestees in this staging area, about half had light skin. We kept asking for water and eventually our arresting officer, P.O. Rueda, allowed us to sip from the water bottle from my bag. At the same time, a Black protester my age was vociferously asking for the same of his officer: “We see guys like this all the time,” Rueda explained in undertone. “They just do this for the attention. Give him water, and the next thing you know, he’ll be asking for food. It never stops.”

After a few hours we made it inside the building. Our restraints were removed (the relief!) and we were put into holding cells divided by male and female gender identities. It goes without saying that there was not adequate room for social distancing but I had already concluded that I’d be infected with COVID-19 by the end of the night, and felt no trepidation on the subject. We were searched again. The drawstrings on my pants were cut and my shoelaces removed. I learned Rueda was Colombian and that he had a graduate degree. He referred to the week’s events as “the Purge.”

The rest of the night amounted to waiting in line, being put in a cell, waiting in line, and then being put in another cell. The police called us “bodies” or “collars.” Their badge numbers were obscured by the Thin Blue Line (a motif used by police officers to show their distinctness from the communities they serve. During the protests they would obscure their badge numbers ostensibly to pay homage to officers that died of COVID-19, but the practice had the effect of limiting officer accountability by preventing their identification by badge number). Mask use was infrequent. The hallways were narrow and stained, and a riot helmet and club bounced at the hip of each officer. To open a cell at the end of the long hallway where we queued an officer would have to shout down the line for someone at the front desk to unlock it. This happened constantly. Out of sight, a man had his own cell. He was talking to himself, screaming, rattling the bars of his cage. It was difficult to hear anything else.

Despite the noise, I tried to sleep in the final cell of the night, this one with benches lining the walls. I knew the subway was closed, as were the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. I prepared myself for the long walk to West Harlem. Finally, Rueda arrived to let me out. We had developed a custom of clapping and cheering when one of us was let out and my release was not an exception. At the exit, I was given my summons and my backpack. I walked out alongside my new friend (they had been placed in the female-identifying cell despite their gender ID) who was released at the same time. A smartly dressed detective with a friendly demeanor stopped us and asked us some questions about who organized the protest. She seemed to be trying to figure out if we were “antifa.” We told her we didn’t know and trudged to the sidewalk.

Around the corner we found a group of people with water bottles, snacks, and phone chargers. Jail support. They gave us a ride home.

Hayes is a second year planning student and co-founder of the student organization GreenSAPP.
Evolution of City-Organism: Fight or Flight?
I stood in shock amongst my friends on the middle school football ground on January 26, 2001, when a 7.7 magnitude earthquake, lasting over 2 minutes, destroyed many settlements and killed over 30,000 people in the Western State, Gujarat, India. Ten years later, in 2011, I researched the transformation of the city, Bhuj, India at the epicenter of the quake.

We build to endure, to resist time, although we know that ultimately time will win. What previous generations erected for eternity, we demolish. Then, with similar intent, we lay stone upon stone and build again. Permanence is instinctively sought. The built environment, like all complex phenomena, artificial and natural, endures by transforming its parts.

–Habraken, N.J, Structure of the Ordinary

Many beautiful dwellings, streets, monuments, and lives withered, but they picked up the pieces, adapted to the situation, and prepared themselves and their built environment to endure a future calamity. Like Bhuj, many cities are redesigned after a disaster. Consequently, we redesign how we relate culturally, socially, and even politically to the city after re-organizing it to mitigate future perilous events. The urban human finds themselves constantly updating and generating newer versions of themselves, and therefore we see a rapidly evolving society.

We are not strange to these rapid changes in our social interactions owing to the current pandemic. A protein molecule permeated our biological pathways that resulted in reshaping our cultural practices of assembly and congregation, perhaps for many years to come. After almost a year of holding onto the hope that we can go back to our previous state, it is time to see this as an opportunity for urban systems to not merely create possibilities to physically distance and provide sanitary conditions, but facilitate an egalitarian society that can have a chance to thrive under any future adversities.

The pandemic brought forth imparities of our society that have been ignored and, therefore, most affected as the economic landscape changed drastically in a matter of days in March 2020. With ‘shelter-in-place,’ the onus of reproductive work (Federici 2012) was thrust on women across all cultures. In the last year, 2.3 million women in the US dropped out of the workforce, often to perform child care, when schools and daycares closed. (Jordan 2021) Within this new ecosystem, a “racial justice paradox” has emerged: Blacks and Latinxs are more likely to be unemployed due to the impacts of the pandemic on the labor market, but they are also overrepresented among essential workers who must stay in their jobs, particularly lower-skilled positions, where they are at greater risk of exposure to the virus (Powell 2020).

Domestic work in Indian urban homes is typically performed by migrants from remote villages that were suddenly left without jobs or support from the administration. Amidst a complete lockdown, unable to commute, helpless and jobless, many chose to return to their villages on foot. There hasn’t been a time when it was more evident that a city’s infrastructure is measured by the equity of privileges and opportunities rendered to its people. What kind of evolutionary changes within the infrastructural zone will help us prevail under these conditions?

In most living organisms, a fight or flight response to stress stimuli causes a reaction within the nervous system triggered in the amygdala secreting adrenaline. The activation of the pituitary gland causes a hormone release that triggers further reactions to boost energy in the organism to prepare for physical action against imminent danger. From an evolutionary perspective, quick physical response to threatening stimuli provided early organisms with biological mechanisms to rapidly respond to threats and thrive under perilous conditions. Some organisms can also maintain homeostasis even under such conditions. (Canon 1915) The fascinating protocols of organism design offer possibilities for an investigation into a city-organism.

Like organisms, cities are an assembly of functioning parts with protocols that describe their disposition. An arborescent metaphor for a city-organism signifies authoritarian yet accretive growth of the settlement. In contrast, Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” depicts the city as a machine powered by workers’ servitude while the overlords enjoy the expensive skyscrapers. In both cases, the metaphors of an efficient machine and an ever-expanding organism, authoritarian politics and its control over the socio-cultural environment are evident. The growth and efficiencies are controlled by a power regime to toy with the societal imparities, limiting opportunities for some while awarding privileges to a few in exchange for more power. Theocracy ordered the early medieval cities, where the central position belonged to the monarch and subsequent hierarchies were organized based on occupational specialties. Cities past the industrial era remain reminiscent of this disposition based on the socio-economy of its citizens.

Technology plays a critical role in taking control of these protocols and breaking away from the city’s authoritarian structuring. Over the past 30 years, it progressively created a socio-technological environment in which a human exists as an Avatar (a representation) of themselves in media, unbound by their contextual conditions. The socio-technological environment offers its occupants a level playing field, possibly pre-empting devolution of the authoritarian politics that exacerbated the acute economic imparities during the pandemic.

Under the threat of the contagious virus, our collective fight or flight response kicked in, and we locked ourselves out from the thrills of urbanity. We disabled our most tactile and present forms of communication and found media prosthetics to compensate and expand our potential under these circumstances. We accepted a life within the socio-technological environment. Platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet could connect people online, recreating the infrastructure zone that facilitated their physical congregation pre-pandemic. Taking a step further, transformed the media to emulate spatial conditions of meetings such as office environments, living rooms, schools, game rooms, speakeasy, waterfronts, and so on. Creating this media environment bore no relationship to the city or context. Instead, traveling across the globe and subverting placeness, it defined a techno-spatial endeavor that may be our most prominent evolutionary feature under these circumstances.

Communication technologies have come to the rescue of the human network in the past. In March 2011, Japan was hit by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake that initiated a 30-foot high tsunami. The giant wave then triggered a nuclear meltdown of the Fukushima Daichi plant, killing 1800 people and completely demolishing Japan’s telecommunication systems. This distressing experience prompted employees of NHN Japan, a subsidiary of a South Korean internet company, to devise a solution for people to contact family and friends during crises. Line was launched as a messenger service for instant communication where users can text and call people from their smartphones that rely on Internet-based resources to connect (Bushey 2014). Not long ago, a group of coders built a free online tool to create child care co-ops such as Komae. “On Komae, parents swap ‘Komae Points’ with other families as a way to manage and coordinate care for their children within a trusted network. I sit for you. You sit for me. We don’t pay for sitters anymore—Huzzah!” as advertised on their website. Mutual aid networks have flourished during the pandemic. A group of people seeking services and help use something as simple as a Google Doc, where they write down what they need and provide in exchange, forming a network of symbiotic relationships. Such initiatives in response to calamities did not rely on the primary infrastructure of their cities. Communities banded together to pool and increase their resources, creating a participatory infrastructure based in a socio-technological zone.

Like a network of biological protocols inherent in the organism’s design, which kick-starts a series of reactions in the neural pathways, the human network switched from a socio-cultural environment to a socio-technological environment as our physical interactions were prohibited during the pandemic. Subverting the geographical limitations, connecting across the continents, and creating an infrastructural zone independent from boundaries of authoritarian ideologies and motivations, the evolved human inches close to dissolving the accumulation of power. This is an evolutionary response of the human network under a bio-spatial threat. Can cities create such socio-technological infrastructures that host a participatory network providing equity of opportunity across communities?

Stepping back from morphological transformations to create adaptability within our environments, we must focus on designing protocols that establish relationships and define the actions performed within the socio-technological zone resulting in an ephemeral infrastructure. This infrastructure will be inherently adaptable, just like an organism.

Sneha Aiyer was a graduate student in the MS AAD program at GSAPP. Her projects and research investigate ephemeral and temporal aspects of built environments.

Colomina, Beatriz, Wigley, Mark, (2016) Are We Human?, Lars Muller Publishers, Zurich

Federici, Silvia, (2012) Revolution at point zero: housework, reproduction, and feminist struggle, Oakland, CA: PM Press; Brooklyn, NY: Common Notions: Autonomedia
*Federici uses this term not simply to refer to having children and raising them; it indicates all the work performed to sustain ourselves and others around us.

Kisner, Jordan (2021, February 17). The Future of Work, The Lockdown Showed How the Economy Exploits Women. She Already Knew. New York Times. Retrieved on February 22, 2021 from

Powell, Catherine, (June 4, 2020). The Color and Gender of COVID: Essential Workers, Not Disposable People, Think Global Health Retrieved on February 22, 2021, from

Cannon, Walter Bradford(1915). Bodily changes in pain, hunger, fear, and rage. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. p. 211.

Bushey, Ryan, (Jan 12, 2014) How Japan’s Most Popular Messaging App Emerged From The 2011 Earthquake, Business Insider

Prohibition and Appropriation:
Spatial Activism During the Coronavirus Pandemic

In fighting this regional, and now global COVID-19 pandemic, governments have deployed both voluntary and involuntary forms of quarantine as an essential measure to contain the spread of the disease. This piece explores how emergent medical restrictions, i.e. quarantine and social distancing, powered over regular social order, restricted daily public spaces, and affected the spread of the disease. Furthermore, this piece discusses how people in quarantine employed different spatial activism strategies to appropriate, create, and reproduce new public spaces.

Pandemic, Quarantine, and the Exercise of Power
The word “quarantine” evolved from the Italian phrase “quaranta giorni,” which means the time of forty days. These forty days of isolation originated from an ancient Venetian policy enacted in 1377 to segregate ships from plagued areas to ensure there were no cases on board (Online Etymology Dictionary, 2011). During the COVID-19 pandemic, quarantine means retreating physical movement from public spaces to one’s home or hotel room. Historical lessons from contagious pandemics like the 1910 Manchurian plague and 1918 Influenza pandemic, and current examples of East Asian countries’ response to COVID-19 all proved the effectiveness of quarantine as a public health tool. Research also showed strict transmission control measures, like shutting down public transportation, entertainment venues, and gathering, will effectively mitigate the spread of the virus (Kraemer et al., 2020; Tian et al., 2020).

However, exercising power during quarantine can also be discussed through Michel Foucault’s (1977, 1978) medical knowledge arguments. Focault argues the heart of modernity in European discourse relies on the idea that subjects marked as abnormal, diseased, criminal, or illicit should be isolated for their betterment and the collective good. Subjects who resist the logic of these disciplining institutions, who fight their confinement or resist enclosure and separation, simply reinforce the perception that they are dangerous, amoral actors who need and deserve segregation. Foucault (1984) further analyzed the noso-politics[biopolitics] under the topic of medical knowledge as power. He concludes that medical service once exercised surveillance functions identifying “unstable” or “troublesome” elements in the society.

Moreover, in the eighteenth century, the exercise of power furthered the disposition of order, enrichment and health, through various regulations and institutions in the name of policing. Giorgio Agamben (2020c) argued the COVID-19 pandemic turns the state of exception into a normal condition of our society, and worried this sacrifice of freedom for security reasons would erode citizens’ social relationships, work, and even affections. Eventually, Agamben argues, this state of exception would turn every one to bare life (la vita nuda). Agamben (2020a) notes the state of emergency might pose a threat to society by promoting unnecessary fear between citizens, and turn everyone into a potential source of infection, like the “untore[plague-spreader]” in the 1630s Great Plague of Milan under Manzoni’s pen (Agamben, 2020b). Fan (2003) also mentions the pronounced social impact of the 2003 SARS outbreak could be attributed to “the almost costless and rapid transmission of information due to the development of modern media and communication technologies.”

Example of Space (Re)production - Spatial Activism by Skateboarders
The COVID-19 lockdown kept citizens from their usual public space - sidewalks, streets, and plazas. Where can we find new public space during the state of exception? Maybe we can learn some lessons about spatial activism from skateboarders. Borden (2001) describes the three steps of spatial activism used by skateboarders to create territories in his enlightening book Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body. Skateboarders first find neglected space in the suburbia city; second, skateboarders showcase their die-hard skateboarding tricks to coin the occupation, and; third, spread the idea of skateboarding space to the larger public by documenting the activities with photography and movie clips. Through these three steps, skateboarding transforms the material realm of American suburbia into a romantic sphere of destabilized movements.

The following sections review how citizens around the world protect their public spaces through spatial activism during this state of exception brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Find and Utilize the Balcony as Public Space
Exercising social activities on balconies marks the declaration of visibility and the reclamation of public space by citizens (Caledria, 2012). Facing the street and plaza, the balcony is spatially proximate to former public spaces. Balconies are also regarded as the space between private and public, as activities on the balcony will be judged by others, despite them being performed on a private property. By exercising activities like singing, cheering, and shouting, the balcony serves as a public space in times of quarantine.

Balcony in western modern architecture has its root from the Greek vernacular housing’s outside room, in the form of a terrace, flat roof, or solarium (Campbell, 2005). Modern European architecture in the 1900s adopted the balcony or open window as a means to treat tuberculosis. However, in modern times, balconies in metropolitan cities usually function as relaxational and recreational spaces. When the COVID-19 pandemic makes the government opt to close parks and trails, the balconies in highly-dense cities rebuild the connection between homes and households. A YouTube video shows that Wuhan residents in a gated community walk to their balconies, first chanting “Keep it up, Wuhan,” followed by singing the Chinese national anthem together (Run Runner, 2020). During the spring and summer of 2020, every day at 7 pm, New York City residents went to their balconies to clap, applaud, bang pots and pans, and play instruments to convey gratitude to frontline medical workers. People in Naples, Italy, hung “solidarity baskets” filled with food from their balconies to help feed the homeless on the street amidst the social distancing orders (Poggioli, 2020). By intensifying the activities on balconies from relaxation to socializing, the citizens appropriated and gave new use to them.

A NYC resident uses a frying pan to make noise from his window at 7 pm.
Source: (Mordant, 2020).

Besides the functions of gathering and performing daily life, public spaces in the city have often been valorized as democratic spaces of congregating and political participation, where groups can vocalize their rights. A form of spatial activism appeared when the residents used balconies as a channel of democracy. Since January 23, residents in Wuhan were not allowed to leave their apartment for 45 days. During that period, all groceries and daily needs were delivered to the door by either the neighborhood committee or property management companies. Some residents were not happy that the property management company de facto monopolized the food market and charged high prices and delivered bad produce. On March 8, 2020, when an inspection team led by Sun Chunlan, Vice Premier of China and chief of China Coronavirus Task Force, arrived at a neighborhood in Wuhan, residents shouted “all of this is fake” from their balconies to Sun and other government officials expressing their anger (Guardian News, 2020). Through turning balconies into democratic spaces, the residents vocalized their rights to the public and government.

Social Media as New Public Space
Social media platforms make the world more connected during quarantine. People post videos and send messages on social media, which is more direct and comprehensive than traditional print media. During the pandemic, Internet traffic in China increased by 50% compared to the end of 2019 (Liu, 2020). Flourishing social media, to some degree, compensated for the loss of public space. Social media helped some cities or groups of people gain more attention under the disease. Webster (2011) argued that digital technology provides an unlimited supply of media, but people only have limited public attention. During the early stage of the pandemic, unable to spread the dire need on social media means being abandoned by crowdsourcing help, one of the primary channels of personal protective equipment (PPE) supply. Community advocates start fundraising campaigns on social media for money and resources to secure PPE for the hospital, while architects and makers exchanged knowledge on 3D-printing face shields to deal with the local shortage of PPE.

However, social media also has many downsides. While we saw much information about the hardship in United States, Italy, Spain, and the UK on the western-centric English social media and news platform, people suffering the disease in Turkey (#9 total cases) and Iran (#10 total cases) in April, 2020 were barely visible in the English-speaking social media world. The absence of nonwestern stories on international news and social media is critically dangerous when the amount of attention you gain could be directly related to the aid you will receive.

Space after the COVID-19 pandemic
In the foreseeable future, our society will still be functioning in a state of exception. The pandemic revealed the extent of our public spaces’ vulnerability. Government and social advocates, even the general public themselves must find ways to demilitarize our public space and return the physical and virtual public space to the public. Jacques Ranciere (2020) mentioned that neither politicians, who rely on a “state of exception,” nor intellectuals, who want to overthrow the current society, but only those working for the present can change the process in the future.

Hanzhang Yang is a MSUP student in his final year. He is VP of Event Planning for Urban China Network and co-founder of BeerSAPP. You can find him at random New York taprooms for the freshest tap and neighborhood’s history before COVID.

Agamben, G. (2020). The state of exception provoked by an unmotivated emergency (Trans.). PositionsPolitics: Praxis.

Agamben, G. (2020). Contagio.

Agamben, G. (2020). Chiarimenti.

Baltimore, D. (2003). SAMS – Severe Acute Media Syndrome? Wall Street Journal, 2003, April 28.

Borden, I. (2001). Skateboarding, space and the city: Architecture and body. Oxford: Berg.

Caldeira, T. P. (2012). Imprinting and moving around: New visibilities and configurations of public space in São Paulo. Public Culture, 24(2 (67)), 385-419.

Campbell, M. (2005). What tuberculosis did for modernism: the influence of a curative environment on modernist design and architecture. Medical history, 49(4), 463-488.

Fan, E., X. (2003). SARS: Economic Impacts and Implications. Asian Development Bank.

Foucault, M. (1984). The Foucault reader (P. Rabinow, Ed.). New York: Pantheon Books: 276-277

Foucault, M. (1978). About the concept of the “dangerous individual” in 19th-century legal psychiatry (A. Baudot & J. Couchman, Trans.). International journal of law and psychiatry, 1(1), 1-18.

Foucault, M. (1995 [1977]). Panopticism. In Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison (A. Sheridan, Trans). New York: Vintage.

Kraemer, M. U., Yang, C. H., Gutierrez, B., Wu, C. H., Klein, B., Pigott, D. M., … & Scarpino, S. V. (2020). The effect of human mobility and control measures on the COVID-19 epidemic in China. Science, 368(6490), 493-497.

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space. Oxford: Blackwell.

Liu, Y. (2020, April 24). [During the epidemic, Internet traffic increased by 50% from the end of last year]. Science and Technology Daily, 4. (in Chinese)

Mordant, A. (2020). Tony Manning uses a frying pan to make noise from his window Tuesday night [Online image]. New York Daily News.

Poggioli, S. (2020). In Naples, Pandemic ‘Solidarity Baskets’ Help Feed The Homeless. NPR.

quarantine (n.). (2011). In Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from

Rancière, J. (2020). [Viralità / Immunità. due domande per interrogare la crisi: #2 | JACQUES RANCIÈRE / ANDREA INZERILLO]. Institut français Italia. (in Italian)

Rose, N. (1999). Powers of freedom: Reframing political thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Run Runner. (2020). Coronavirus - People singing the Chinese national anthem.

Tian, H., Liu, Y., Li, Y., Wu, C. H., Chen, B., Kraemer, M. U., … & Dye, C. (2020). An investigation of transmission control measures during the first 50 days of the COVID-19 epidemic in China. Science, 368(6491), 638-642.

Webster, J. G. (2011). The duality of media: A structurational theory of public attention. Communication Theory, 21(1), 43-66.

Casa de Todos (Home for all): The day when the arrival of
COVID-19 in Perú brought along a new chapter of hope
Source: José Vidal (2020)

On March 31st, 2020, a few days after the Peruvian Government had imposed a strict period of confinement, a temporary structure for homeless shelter Casa de Todos (Home for all) was installed in the arena of the oldest bullring in the Americas, Plaza de Acho. The day that COVID-19 arrived, not only marked the beginning of a nationwide emergency, but also represented the disruption of a century-long systemic patriarchal norm that uses violence for spectacle.

Casa de Todos is a private-public initiative proposed by Lima´s Governor, Jorge Muñoz, and the Society of Charity of Lima, which sought to bring more than one hundred homeless people into a safe space where they could receive medical care and food. Most importantly, Casa de Todos served as a temporary shelter. The central arena was covered by a membrane floor and organized in 5 modular structures: a central structure, divided into bedroom units, and 4 smaller modules for services and medical assistance.

Since its construction in 1766 in the Historic Center of Lima, Plaza de Acho has witnessed a number of unusual events, such as the rise of the first hot-air balloon in South America in 1840, political rallies, concerts and different sport tournaments. Nevertheless, it was the first time in its 254-year history that Plaza de Acho was utilized for a purpose other than leisure activities or spectaclerelated events. In fact, it was the first time in 74 years that the biggest bullfighting festivity in Peru, El Señor de Los Milagros (Christ of the Miracles), was canceled since it started in 1946. Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic made a humanitarian effort possible, an attempt that different social and political groups had sought for many years.

Even though this humanitarian effort was celebrated by the majority, it was still expectedly condemned by some people. Nevertheless, a space for exclusion purposely conceived for activities perpetuating non-human violence has now been transformed into a space for healing and refuge. Certainly, the decision on choosing Plaza de Acho for a medical emergency event is way beyond its capabilities for accommodation: the bullring not only offers a secluded empty space, but also comes with technical installations and basic services, such as electricity, sewage, and water.

inception of Casa de Todos reinvigorated a fervent debate on whether the eventual prohibition of such a sanguinary practice must necessarily be followed by the inherent demolition of these buildings. The abolition of bullfighting not only requires social and political efforts but also architectural responses. Casa de Todos raised a desire to reveal possible modes of occupation and to explore new ways to re-signify nearly 300 existing bullrings dispersed throughout the Peruvian territory, most of which are located in underserved communities in the Andes mountain range.

Location of almost 300 bullrings in Peru. Nearly 95% are located in the Andes Mountain range (white segment).

Source: Personal elaboration

Architects and urban thinkers have a responsibility to question the underlying essence of infrastructure within the built environment, critiquing its implications of oppression, emanating from a period of European dominance, and its systemic dimensions. In less than 6 months, ahead of the bicentenary of the Peruvian Independence, it is important to question whether existing infrastructures, such as Casa de Todos, represent an opportunity to intervene in the inherited territory in a responsible and sustainable manner, avoiding the repetition of past mistakes perpetuated by former colonizing powers, to work from a logic of tabula rasa.

This speculative exercise is part of an ongoing research that aims to unveil the spatial and polyfunctional possibilities of third category bullrings in Peru, through the design of a flexible and temporary structure. The project seeks to enhance different modes of interactions and occupations, allowing to inhabit these infrastructures in a short time period, in an economical and sustainable manner. The elaboration of a manual of instructions will allow its systematic production and implementation, making possible its replicability throughout the Peruvian territory.

Proposal of a replicable and flexible structure that enhances existing and new ways to resignify and to inhabit bullrings in Perú.

Source: Personal elaboration
Alex Hudtwalcker holds a Master of Science in Advanced Architectural Design (2020) from Columbia University GSAPP, where he received the Honor Award for Excellence in Advanced Architectural Design. Since 2016, he has co-instructed different architecture studios and material workshops at both UPC and the University of Lima’s architecture schools in Peru. He is currently leading the Seminar of Urbanism and Territory at the Master in Architecture and Advanced Projects (MAPP) at the Graduate School of Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. Alex is currently based in Lima, Perú, where he allocates his time between his private practice, teaching and doing research.

Baez Gonzalez, J. (2021, February 05). Casa de todos, el proyecto en Perú que transformó una Plaza de toros en albergue durante la pandemia. Retrieved February 12, 2021, from

Beneficencia de Lima. (2020). Retrieved February 12, 2021, from

Cáceres Alvarez, L., Fuller, C., Krajnik, F., & Vidal, J. (2020). Casa de Todos. Rostros de la calle en Plaza de Acho. Lima: Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas (UPC). Available at

Advocating for Public Space in a Pandemic
Not many would know that Eastern Queens is home to beautiful parks rich with natural resources. While the parks are geographically close to each other, they are physically isolated and many existing pathways are disconnected. While a few plans to connect these parks were drawn in the 1970s and 1980s, neither were fully implemented.

Upon conducting research and community outreach, the value of this network of parks to the surrounding communities became evident. Residents use them for sports, leisure and family time, and essential day-to-day activities. However, massive highways and infrastructure systems built in the 1970s resulted in multiple gaps and barriers between the parks. They not only altered the physicality of the space, but also left inconsistencies in a landscape that was meant to be for people and ecology to flourish in the city. Many inaccessible and accident prone zones have immediately excluded parts of the community – mostly the elderly, children and disabled.

For the last few years, caring members of the community have been advocating to address these inconsistencies and create a continuous, protected and accessible trail that serves walkers, joggers and cyclists along the historically-proposed greenway. The proposed pedestrian routes and bike lanes would encourage sustainable modes of transportation and walkability, significantly improving public health. At a time when access to open public space is especially important, it is crucial to think about its quality and long term feasibility.


Our process began when concerned community representatives sought to expand their advocacy efforts. The cancellation of their annual event, Tour de Flushing, in July 2020, instigated the rethinking of their advocacy methods. Prior to the pandemic, the event raised awareness and garnered incredible support for the Eastern Queens Greenway (EQGW). We collaborated with local activists and Transportation Alternatives (a non profit organization) to design and visualize a cognitive map, supporting their vision. Sagi Golan, Senior Lead Urban Designer at NYCDCP and our Summer Studio faculty from GSAPP, mentored us.

The project’s potential to implement a bottom-up approach to urban design was especially exciting. Additionally, we saw it as an opportunity to inspire the residents around the area and the entire city to recognize the Greenway network’s capacity to benefit the economy of surrounding neighborhoods, promote inclusion and equal opportunities, and, thereby, enhance the livelihood of future generations, specifically in Queens, which houses one of the most ethnically diverse and underserved population in the city.

Framework and Site Visit

After our initial meeting with community members, we identified our main goal: creating a virtually accessible tool, with a tangible product, that can be easily used by the residents. This tool could potentially aid future advocacy and speak to safety and accessibility in their neighborhoods. A compelling visual map would be a useful output to reach out to the communities around the greenway as well as key stakeholders.

Next, we visited the site accompanied by two community members familiar with the trail and its history. With complete safety measures and physical distancing, we experienced the fragmentation and discontinuity caused by the highways bisecting the parks, while also observing the rich ecology and transformative landscapes along the route. Interacting with the community members allowed us to see the greenway through their eyes and to share their vision. This experience set the tone for the virtual collaborative work going forward.

Process and Collaboration

We arranged bi-weekly meetings with the community and Transportation Alternatives. We also conducted virtual meetings with neighborhood residents, to better understand their perspective and interactions with the EQGW. Upon publishing the first version of our work, we were contacted by a HUD politicians team to brainstorm planning policies for the coming term that would enable greenways like the EQGW to come to life. All of these meetings aided our holistic understanding of the realities of the EQGW, particularly its undeveloped potential.


Presenting the EQGW

The map was created to increase awareness, accessibility and orientation around the EQGW; outlining the experiential route of the greenway, highlighting hidden gems and attractions, and revealing the diverse ecologies existing along the trail. The trail is divided into segments to demonstrate time based on different means of movement: cycling, walking and running. The map introduces historical anecdotes, wayfinding guidelines, and amenities. It contains 4 main layers—Highlights, Activities, History and Ecology—referring to different components throughout the trail. We used a pamphlet and a story map to support the community advocacy effort. The pamphlet, a folded letter format, is used as a guiding map to explore the trail, and its hidden magical spots while marking the dangerous intersections in real time. As a complementary tool, the storymap gives the community and other visitors context of the trail history, recommends sites to visit and offers videos from existing cycling paths. Both tools provide information for new visitors while, at the same time, improving accessibility for current users and local communities.

Conclusion and Future Vision

The pandemic highlighted the vitality of open public spaces in the city. It pushed to advocate for their existence and their quality — sustaining themselves and creating space that are contiguous and pleasurable for all. We should be rethinking how we use open space to improve community life, environmental sustainability, and improved health and quality of life. In the same way that past afflictions were a catalyst for improved infrastructure, we must similarly reform open space to make it a viable infrastructure. This concept may sound basic to an urban designer or an architect, but it has been proven to us that public open space is integral to the community as well, and residents are willing to participate actively in order to move forward.

As designers, we began envisioning what the greenway could be and were fortunate to be able to explore our skills for a worthy cause. Spatial analysis and mapping tools were successful in engaging with the locals in a straightforward manner that resonated with them and their aspirations. This collaboration has taught us that small steps and gradual processes can be the seed for immense change – one that is more contextual, grounded, and achieved only over time. As we wait for this big change to come, we can enjoy what the Greenway has to offer and hope that more people will come together to make a change, and imagine what the EQGW can become, together.

Einat, Kunal, Sharvari and Tal are graduates from the MSAUD program at Columbia GSAPP. Post-graduation, they volunteered with a community in Eastern Queens to advocate for a safe, accessible and inclusive greenway, mentored by their former faculty Adjunct Assistant Professor Sagi Golan, Senior Lead Urban Designer for NYC Department of City Planning. Since the community’s biggest advocacy event was cancelled, they came together to design an illustrated map, a pamphlet for navigation and an online tool for the community in order to maintain ongoing outreach.
International Travelling in Times of the Pandemic: Worth the Retelling?

I. The Airport
After taking the longest nonstop commercial flight for 19 hours, I landed in JFK airport on January 23, 2021. I passed through the Customs Counter – which used to be full of snaky queues of foreigners – in about 10 minutes, picked up my luggage and hopped on a taxi to my apartment.

During the pandemic, empty customs lobbies became a norm at every metropolitan airport. Singapore Changi International Airport was handling very few flights too, when I arrived two weeks ago on January 8. The pandemic also made unusual traveling purposes sound acceptable. When the Singaporean Customs Officer asked me about the purpose of my stay in Singapore, I answered, “I want to enter the US in 14 days.” The Officer nodded silently at my answer, which would sound weird in a pre-pandemic world. Later, I overheard a student-looking young man answering in a similar fashion to another officer.

When I told my friends in the United States of my self-imposed refuge in Singapore, it bewildered them. A year ago, President Trump issued a travel ban restricting travelers who had been to mainland China in the last 14 days from entering the United States. To circumvent the restriction and arrive in the US, mainland travelers like myself resorted to staying for 14 days in a third country which not only welcomed travelers from China, but also posed little risk to the US.

Excluded from the US restriction, Singapore was a viable option for Chinese travelers. On November 6, 2020, Singapore began to receive Chinese passport holders, after mainland China reported a COVID local incidence rate of 0.00009 per 100,000 people over the past 28 days (Channel News Asia, 2020). In the same month, case numbers in the US were climbing, with 371.08 per 100,000 people, the highest 7-day average case rate in November (CDC, 2021). Based on the data, Washington’s insistence on banning Chinese travelers seemed more political than practical.

At both JFK and Changi, the experience as a flight passenger was smooth, but there were some differences. After I picked up my bags in Singapore, I followed instructions directing me to a testing center located inside the arrivals hall. Having prepaid before departure, I got tested immediately and was instructed to stay in my booked room at one of the quarantine hotels to await my test result. The hotel workers sent me to a designated floor reserved for quarantine guests and told me that food and deliveries would be dropped at my door.

The result came out fast. In 7 hours, I received a negative indication via email and was freed from my quarantine room. If you read about the quarantine experience in Singapore on English news media, the tone may have been less delighted. Travelers flying from European countries and the US are subject to 14 days of mandatory quarantine, regardless of test results at the airport. A Columbia Journalism affiliate who quarantined in a hotel shared that she was given a single-use room key, which was only valid for 20 minutes after check-in (Low, 2020). Breaching quarantine law meant severe punishments, including heavy fines, imprisonment and even losing Permanent Resident status for foreigners. Because I had flown from China, I was able to enjoy the rest of my stay as a true tourist. The mandatory quarantine regulation, which has been strictly enforced in Singapore and China, had been carried out weekly in the US. In New York, quarantine rule breakers were seldom punished and the state depended heavily on the travelers’ integrity for observing quarantine rules (Dorn, 2020). Flying from Singapore, a low risk country determined by New York State, I was neither required to quarantine, nor given a test upon landing.

II. The Streets
As I explored the city, Singaporean streets looked almost no different from a pre-pandemic world, with the exception that every person wore a mask. On a weekend afternoon, visitors were sometimes shoulder to shoulder at the malls on Orchard Road, the most popular shopping district in the city. Later that night, I went to a semi-outdoor food court at Bugis – a hip, local neighborhood where restaurants selling street foods were packed with customers.

The vibrant street scene did not surprise me because my hometown Beijing had also recovered well from the pandemic. When I took the subway to work in Beijing, the compartment was so crowded during rush-hour that people had to wait for a second train. Yet, the bustling street scene stood in sharp contrast to New York City where I now live. Last week a friend commented that Midtown Manhattan, where every tourist used to go, was “dead.” I felt the same when I was on campus, reminiscent of College Walk so populated with students.

The recovery in Asia was not achieved without “sacrifice.” Prior to my departure to Singapore, I had to show airline employees at the check-in counter in Shanghai Pudong International Airport that I had installed and activated the TraceTogether application on my phone. The app uses bluetooth to track other TraceTogether devices within six feet distance from the user, and the installation and activation of the app are mandatory for all travelers prior to their departure to Singapore.

Whenever people entered an indoor public space in Singapore, they scanned a Safe Entry QR code which registered their visitation. The same registration system was also applied in China, using built-in features in multiple popular apps such as Wechat and Alipay.

In Asian countries, people seem to be more comfortable with disclosing their personal data to disease control agencies. At first, when I was told to register at every shopping mall and restaurant I wanted to visit, I was reluctant. But I succumbed, noting that data privacy was not on the agenda of discussion in Chinese society, and complied when I desperately wanted to hang out with friends at my favorite bar. The Asian governments were successful in cultivating a consensus that sharing personal data was in the public’s best interest. By building trust, public agencies could then deploy this personal data for the public good.

III. The Metropolitan
Having lived most of my life in metropolitan areas such as Beijing and New York City, I was used to picturing rural issues as remote from my personal life. When the pandemic broke out in Wuhan and other major cities in the globe, I thought of public health as a huge challenge that densely populated cities would face. However, this January, I realized that it has been a misconception that cities are more vulnerable to infectious disease than rural areas. A couple of days after I left my hometown Beijing, I heard from my family that the municipal authorities were tightening up pandemic controls due to the discovery of several clusters of cases in the nearby rural areas. Streets became quiet again; people were advised not to travel for family reunion during the Spring Festival; mass testing was initiated in affected neighborhoods. My family canceled plans for vacation.

Local news described that the populous, rural area with inadequate health care service had been a loophole in the country’s containment effort (The Strait Times, 2021). Authorities attributed the spread to a combination of the rural residents’ low health awareness and an ill-prepared rural clinic system loosely incorporated into the national epidemic monitoring mechanism (The Strait Times, 2021; China Daily, 2021). Research also indicated that rural communities received little government aid of any sort and suffered a number of consequences such as high unemployment rates and reduced household income (Wang et al., 2021). The local news report also called it a “misconception” that the risk of infection is higher in urban areas than in rural areas (The Strait Times, 2021).

In the US, rural infection rates surpassed those in metropolitan areas in August 2020 (Marema, 2020). The spread of COVID on farms, meatpacking plants, prisons, and nursing homes created substantial impacts on marginalized and vulnerable communities in the countryside, where rural residents lack accessibility to quality healthcare and are excluded from fiscal relief (Ajilore, 2020). In comparison, Singapore’s disease control was a largely urban story. Unlike the US and China, which faced issues of containing the infectious disease in their vast rural lands, Singapore was able to swiftly mobilize its resources majorly located in a highly urbanized physical environment. Although urban density has been seen as a disadvantage to containing the spread of disease, cities such as Singapore enjoy advantages of advanced amenities and well-managed disease response systems.

IV. Moving On
On a Sunday morning this March, I joined a group at Union Square for a rally for Black and Asian Solidarity. I saw people holding #StopAsianHate signs and I heard passionate speakers voicing their support for racial justice and social equity. Standing in the far back of a very large crowd, I caught limited words that flew to me. The punchline which got me into deep thinking was the description of the American society as “a system which emphasizes our differences over our similarities.”

I do not know how American society could embrace Asian Americans, especially Chinese Americans, in a more friendly way, when political leaders in this country have been antagonizing their voters against China. As I write this essay, travel bans on Chinese nationals are still in place. The US-China trade war is dragging on, with US geopolitical interests evermore intertwined with its economic goals. When the US created indefinite barriers for Chinese international students to arrive at the campuses of American universities, I feared the severance of conversations between Americans and Chinese nationals in a relatively safe space for cultural exchange, such as universities, would breed ignorance and bias, harming Chinese Americans as well.

I do not know how our streets could be safer for Asian Americans, especially Chinese Americans, when the previous administration has spread so much false information on the disease and called the coronavirus “China-virus.”


Chinese Americans and Chinese nationals have different histories, but their cultural ties also make it impossible for them to be completely separated. I learned from watching the last two elections with my American friends that this country has been very divided, not only along color lines, but also along geographical lines between urbanity and rurality. I started to wonder, if we, as planners, could build space for people to heal and embrace each other.
Shen Xin is an Urban Planning student, traveler and diary writer. Her latest hobby is watching movies by herself.

Ajilore, O. (2020, October 8). Rural America Has Been Forgotten During the Coronavirus Crisis. Center for American Progress.

Channel News Asia. (2020, October 30). COVID-19: Singapore to lift border restrictions for visitors from mainland China and Australia’s Victoria state from Nov 6.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 2). Trends in Number of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths in the US Reported to CDC, by State/Territory.

China Daily. (2021, January 12). Loopholes in rural COVID-19 prevention should be plugged: Experts.

Dorn, S. (2020, October 17). Florida man is sole out-of-state traveler busted in NYC for breaking quarantine. NY Post.

Low, M. (2020, April 7). Singapore Dispatch: Someone Will Notice if I Die in This Room. Columbia Journalism.

Marema, T. (2020, October 15). Rural Infection Rate Surpasses Metro-America’s All-Time High. Daily Yonder.

The Strait Times. (2021, January 13). China’s rural areas require better Covid-19 defences: China Daily.

Wang, H., Zhang, M., Li, R., Zhong, O., Johnstone, H., Zhou, H., Xue, H., Sylvia, S., Boswell, M., Loyalka, P., Rozelle, S. (2021). Tracking the effects of COVID-19 in rural China over time. International Journal for Equity in Health, 20(35).

venturi_lc - wall exploded.png
Nestlé Pavilion, Le Corbusier and BEST Store, V&SB. Decorated shed.

Why are we still talking about buildings or cities as if they are separated only by a thin wall?

On a not-so-famous project, Le Corbusier called for an idea that would reappear about forty years later. In his Nestle Pavilion from 1928, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret applied a superficial treatment, on the outside-skin of a shed, as decoration to convey meaning. All the virtues of a semi-generic form, decorated as a commercial device intended as a billboard were printed into a thin, metal-sheet façade. Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi, his most famous detractors did the same in 1978, painting their trademark pop-inspired flowers and colors into enamel panels enclosing a big-box retail shed. This example shows that reading contemporary theory as a play on façades is too superficial, and we shall look deeper into the definition of the façade by researching not its decoration or composition, but the relationship between façade and its thickness.

Historically, we could insinuate the façade is an assemblage of symbols attached to the external face of a (generic) wall — the urban portion of the limits of a building — and comprehend this double relationship, building and city form (and the subsequent lobotomy), as a signifier to the city. This ambiguity between the interiorexterior representation is what Venturi (1966) calls the difficult whole, or the complexity and contradiction in the element of the façade that synthesizes the forces existing between the interiority and exteriority of the building.

With the increased complexity of contemporary designs, especially since the 1990s, the limits between the façade, the floor, and the ceiling become fluid, complicating the separation into discrete elements, turning the classical definition of the façade no longer operational. It then becomes necessary to introduce a new concept, that of the envelope and “its series of attachments” (Zaera- Polo, 2008). Still, this maintains a superficial vision of the façade’s role in contemporary terms, that Zaera- Polo even identifies, but does not provide an answer to when he says that the envelope “has been relegated to a mere ‘representational’ or ‘symbolic’ function. The reasons for such a restricted political agency may lie in the understanding of the envelope as a surface, rather than as a complex assemblage of the materiality of the surface technology and its geometrical determination.”

By considering thickness of space rather than the material of the façade, we finally realize “the hierarchies of interface become more complex: the envelope has become a field where identity, security and environmental performances intersect” (Zaera-Polo, 2008, p.199).

Politics: the urban vs the architectural building
To Pier Vittorio Aureli (2011):
     “If one were to summarize life in a city and life
     in a building in one gesture, it would have to be
     that of passing through borders. Every moment
     of our existence is a continuous movement
     through space defined by walls.” (p.46)

By questioning the thickness of the envelope, and its consequential multiplicity of walls and borders, we could argue that architecture confuses itself with the city. This dual identity of the edifice as city and as an object, from the urban building versus the architectural building in the search to be “within its own boundaries and to have an effect outside”, an urban-architectural fantasy that “implies the reduction of the physical-spatial reality of the city to the status of the architectural building: the city as an object of architectural desire is the city as building” (Gandelsonas, 1998).

If we analyze a building’s façade in this ambiguous role, we note the limits get confused when this imaginary line of separation possesses not only a few inches of material but reaches a spatial order of magnitude. In other words, (Leatherbarrow, 2001, p.57) “by instituting an inhabitable space in the thickness of the window wall, making an experiential threshold between street and room”, this border is not only hermeneutically re-signified as is its political agency – from the “capacity to re-articulate the affinity between the fragments of reality already existing we could detect and mobilize”(Jaque, 2019).

Villa Shodhan, Le Corbusier. Brise as inhabitable space.

By observing contemporary buildings in a critical analysis of thick-envelopes and towards an expansion of the definition, we provide new meaning to the façade and its political role in the contemporary city, with its implications both for the interior space, belonging to the building, and for the public space of the city.

When Bernard Tschumi’s Lerner Hall (1994-99) creates a thick envelope composed of ramps inserted between the modern glass and a historicist composition, the building’s character is neither expressed by an applied apparatus, nor a singular expression of its function (in other words, neither post-modern nor modernist). For the first time, the contemporary façade is consciously designed with a thickness that negotiates a relationship between interior and exterior, as an in-between space that questions the fundamental position of the envelope: that of the limit.

By making the façade thick, a new condition emerges on this urban-architecture building, one that assumes a new political position. Its reading is less from the meanings generated by the shape described from its function or materiality, and more from the possibility of events.

From this, Tschumi establishes the representation of his building on the borders of its composition. Meanwhile the stretch of the glass ramps allow the architect to redefine the possibilities of the envelope.

Lerner Hall Exterior.jpg
Lerner Hall, exterior. Source: Flicker, Columbia admissions (2010)

With this observation, the meaning of the building ceases to become the result of its program (once the in-prompt dance performances weren’t in the initial scope of the architect) or a mere representation of its concepts (as the final image ceases to be relevant). By acquiring thickness, the envelope becomes the building, a space where the building looks as what in it is made.

Overcoming post-modern theory, the idea of being a duck or decorated shed, is remixed. The thick-envelope is a representation applied on the form, one that arises not as decoration or ornament, but from the events and the agency of its program. In other words, the performance of its users becomes its decoration element.

WORKac Miami Garage - Exterior 05.png
Miami Garage, exterior. Source: Imagen Subliminal, 2018. Courtesy of the authors.

At the Miami Garage, WORKac expresses the potency of this concept: decorating the shed of an ultra-generic building — a parking garage — by increasing the thickness of its façades, to embed spaces that in turn present urban events. Within four feet, the office creates an “unexpected opportunity for social interaction” that vertically stacks a sequence of public spaces, “expressed on the façade as a series of tunnels in perforated screen, as in an ant farm of activities presented down the street”. The architects defined this strategy as follows: “start stuffing the envelope so it is not the space between the two skins that is inhabitable, but the skin itself” (Andraos and Wood, 2017).

Both modern, through the expression of its programmatic logic, and post-modern, in its aesthetics of a semiotic, compositional and referential representation, the now architecture+urban building transcends stylistic time and generates new micropolitics of action. Function and meaning merge into a choreography exhibited by the users. Its performance becomes the performance of the people inhabiting its façade. The fundamental question is what happens when you are neither inside nor outside? Does the space of the thick-envelope belong to the architectural-building or the urban-building?

Without a clear definition of spatial boundaries, its performative agency is questioned and the architect’s role is expanded to that of the urbanist. If the contemporary discussion is focused on the political and the citizenship of the production of spaces, critical thought on new possible forms of urbanism can become an active tool for the comprehension and construction of social spaces.

Up until now, the discussion has focused on the production of these borders as walls, thresholds, and edges that separate the horizontal plane into different conditions of public spaces. But this same threshold separation, when in the vertical plane, becomes a public space itself, an in-between urbanism. In the depth of the thick-envelope, the agency of these barriers is put into question – the subject of the architecture becomes the city as much as the user – no longer two distinct buildings, rather an intersectional space in between. By reading urbanism as an in-between-urbanism, we embrace the “emergence of non-traditional types of public spaces” and the construction of cities goes through the architect/urbanist persona. Thus, the reinterpretation of the envelope moves to new dimensions of city spatial construction, towards the creation of an open, porous city, as defined by Sennett (2006).

Contemporary architecture is the architecture of the thick-envelope – of the quasi-urban space where definitions of interior and exterior are mixed and political barriers collapse. In the inhabited space of a thick-envelope, the city and the building become one, and the question of submitting to either public or private regulations gets blurred: a new space invokes new performances. Understanding the contemporary condition is understanding the thick-envelope as a mediator between the object and the city.

As proclaimed a decade ago by Zaera-Polo (2008, p.204), “by analyzing the building envelope, architects may be able to re-empower the practice of architecture as a truly transformative force in the reorganization of power ecologies.” From the melancholic position that everything that was left is the architecture of the skin, the thick-envelope assumes the (last) position of a political architecture, a space of architectural agency long ignored.

Thiago Maso has a MSAAD from Columbia GSAPP ’15, and after working at OMA and WORKac, he founded N8Studio in Brazil, where he is also professor of Architecture Theory and Design.

Andraos, A. e Wood, D. We get there when we cross that bridge. New York: Monacelli Press, 2017.

Aureli, P.V. The possibility of an absolute architecture. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2011.

Gandelsonas, M., “The city as the object of architecture” in: Assemblage, n.37, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1998, 128-144.

Jaque, A. Mies y la gata niebla. Madrid: Puente Editores, 2019.

Leatherbarrow, D. and Mostafavi, M. Surface Architecture, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2002.

Sennett, R. The Open City. (2019, June 17), 2006.

Venturi, R. Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1966. Zaera-Polo, A. The Politics of The Envelope. In: Log,vol.13/14, 2008., 193-207.

Image Credits:

Image 01: Nestlé Pavilion and BEST Store, V&SB. Decorated Shed. Source: Author, 2019.

Image 02: Villa Shodhan, Le Corbusier, inhabitable space. Source: Author, 2019.

Image 03: Lerner Hall, exterior. Source: Columbia Admissions, 2010. Accessed August 08 2019,

Image 04: Miami Garage, exterior. Source: Imagen Subliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero), 2018. Courtesy of the authors.

History and Linguistics of Urban Planning in Northeast Asia
Figure 1

In the past century, the word “urban planning” in Chinese has had three different spellings. Each spelling does not actually have a different meaning. The variations arose due to complex modern history of Northeast Asia. The following table is a comparison between these three different spellings.

The word “计画”(“Ji Hua”, or “計畫” in traditional form) started appearing in Chinese books during Sui Dynasty, around the 6th century. Its meaning, “plan,” did not change for thousands of years. Like in English, it could be both a verb and a noun. The word “计画” in ancient Chinese also crossed the ocean and entered the Japanese lexicon. In Japanese, the pronunciation of “计画” is “けいかく” (“Keikaku”). The first Hiragana of this word “け” (Ke) actually originated from the cursive style of Chinese character “计” (Ji) .

In 1918, a Chinese magazine, Oriental Magazine published an article entitled Modern Civilization and Urban Planning. The subtitle of the article showed that it was “translated from magazine New Japan” (Figure 1). This was very likely the first time the concept “urban planning” appeared in a Chinese publication.

The article highlighted the process behind the creation of the term “urban planning.” Japanese scholars first translated “urban planning” into “都市计画” (spelling 1). When translating Japanese scholars’ works, Chinese scholars borrowed the word “都市计画” directly from Japanese, just as Japanese words such as “政治” (politics) and “经济” (economy) entered Chinese diction at the same time. This process reflects a very interesting historical “circulation” between China and Japan. More than a thousand years ago, the Japanese established their own unique civilization by learning from China. After modern times, during its period of decline, China learned advanced knowledge from the West through Japan.

Modern Civilization and Urban Planning in Oriental Magazine (1918)

In 1919, just one year after the publication of the article mentioned above, the Japanese government announced the first urban planning law in the country’s history, the “Urban Planning Law” (都市计画法, spelling 1), supported by the “City Street Building Law,” which formally guaranteed the position of urban planning in Japanese urban construction through legislation. This law opened up an era for Japan to scientifically formulate and implement urban planning.

After the founding of the Republic of China in 1911, the political situation in the country was turbulent and urban development stagnated. By 1928, the Chinese Kuomintang Party led by Chiang Kai-shek completed the Northern Expedition and established the Nanjing National Government, which nominally unified the whole country. Importantly, the new regime also planned to build the capital. Therefore, the National Government formulated the Capital Planning to guide the construction of its capital city Nanjing (首都计画, spelling 1).

The Capital Planning especially emphasized “presenting national characteristics.” Under the guidance of this plan, Nanjing built a large number of buildings combining modern structures and traditional Chinese forms. (figure 2). Despite the aesthetic value of these buildings, The Capital Planning, which guides architectural designs, is undoubtedly an important attempt for Chinese people to combine nationality with modernity in building practices.

While China struggled to explore its own urban planning, Japan accelerated its expansion and colonization in East Asia by gradually seizing Taiwan, Korea, Kwantung, and finally the whole Manchuria region. Japan regarded Manchuria as a “Paradise of Emperor’s Grace.” Therefore, shortly after the establishment of the puppet Manchukuo State, the Japanese were eager to formulate a series of “urban planning” for the construction of new cities, such as The Greater Hsinking Urban Planning (大新京都市计 画) and The Greater Harbin City Planning (大哈尔滨都市 计画, both in spelling 1). One important example of these urban planning projects is Hsinking, a project that broke many historical records at that time. Indeed, it was the first city in China to plan subway lines, the first city with full coverage of flushing toilets, and the highest ratio of green land in the major cities of the world. But at the same time, many details of The Greater Hsinking Urban Planning reflected the essence of its colonial features, such as racial segregation policies.

Unlike the puppet regime in Northeast China, the colonial authorities promulgated the corresponding urban planning laws: “Taiwan City Planning Law” (台湾都市计画令, in spelling 1), “Korea City and Street Planning Law” (朝鲜市 街地计画令, in spelling 1) and “Kwantung Leased Territory Planning Law” (关东州州计画令, in spelling 1). These urban planning laws are compiled in accordance with the “Urban Planning Law” of Japan. The major difference is that the actual decision-making power of these regions was still in the hands of local colonial governors instead of urban planning agencies. During this period, the series of colonial planning carried out in the areas under Japanese colonial rule evoked strong negative feelings to the Chinese people and other colonized people, which may be an important reason for the transformation of the concept of future urban planning in China.

The Greater Shanghai Metropolitan Planning (大上海都市计划, spelling 2) was compiled in the special historical period from the victory of the Anti-Japanese War to the eve of the founding of People’s Republic of China (1946-1949). After WWII, western countries abandoned their leased territories in Shanghai. This provided a chance for the Chinese government to make a plan for Shanghai, which united the city as a whole for the first time.

Conceptual analysis diagram of The Greater Shanghai Metropolitan Planning (1946 – 1949)

It is noteworthy that the term “plan” in the Greater Shanghai Metropolitan Planning is written as “计划” (spelling 2), and no longer as “计画” (spelling 1). This slight change in expression is the inevitable result of historical progress. At this time, the word “计画” (spelling 1) in Chinese has been replaced by “计划” (spelling 2). Only in Japanese, the word “计画” is still used today. The change of the spelling of “urban planning” conforms to this historical trend, and also reflects the transformation of Chinese people from passively accepting to actively controlling their own destiny.

After the founding of the New China, the country embarked on the Soviet Union’s planned economy represented by the “Five-Year Plan” in order to realize industrialization rapidly. In the past “urban planning” system, the urban economic planning part was separated, and the general economic plan formulated by the relevant departments of the State guided the specific economic plan step by step. The meaning of the word “plan” had changed in Chinese. In order to distinguish the “plans” like “five-year plan” from the “planning” like “urban planning,” in mainland region Chinese, a new word: “规划” (spelling 3) was created. Therefore, “城市规划” (spelling 3) replaced “都市计画” (spelling 1) or “都市计划” (spelling 2) in the Chinese Mainland until today.

But spelling 1 and 2 did not disappear. In modern Japanese, the term “urban planning” is still expressed in “都市计画” (spelling 1). The terminology preference in Taiwan is more diverse. The spelling “都市计划” (spelling 2) is the official way of writing this word at present. But both the spelling “都市计画” (spelling 1), same with Japanese, and spelling 3 “城市规划” could be found in different circumstances.

After a hundred years of evolution, a final pattern formed: Chinese Mainland uses spelling 3, Japanese uses spelling 1, and Taiwan mainly uses spelling 2, but accepts all three forms of spelling. The different spellings of the concept “urban planning,” like many other phenomena from different East Asian cultures, are a reflection of the region’s complicated modern history.

Diagram showing the development of 3 different spellings of “urban planning” in Chinese
Lai Ma is a second-year Historic Preservation student at GSAPP, coming from China. He has a strong interest in history, photography and social science. His current research concentration surrounds methods of interpretation of historic heritages.

Jun B. (1918). Modern Civilization and Urban Planning. Oriental Magazine Volume 15, No. 12, 1918 君實. 《現代文明與都市計畫》[J]. 《東方雜誌》第十五卷 第十二号(1918)(外編)

Wang, J., Sun Q. and Xie H. (2004). The Capital Planning of the Early Period of the National Government. New History Studies, Volume 15, Issue 1. 王俊雄、孫全文、謝宏昌.國民政府定都南京初期的《首都計畫》[J].新史學十五卷一期.2004年3月.

Huang L. (1996). The Comparison Research of the Urban Planning Law in Taiwan, Japan, Korean and Kwantung Leased Territory: The Characteristics of “Taiwan Urban Planning Law” 1936. Journal of Architecture and Urban-Rural Studies of National Taiwan University, Volume 8. 黃蘭翔. 臺灣﹒日本﹒朝鮮﹒關東州都市計畫法令之比較研究——1936年「台灣都市計畫令」的特徵[J]. 國立台灣大學〈建築與城鄉研究學報〉第八期. 民國八十五年六月

Hou L., Wang Y. (2015). The Greater Shanghai Metropolitan Planning: Modern Vision and Planning Practice of Metropolitan Cities in Modern China. City Planning Review, Volume 39, Issue 10. 侯 丽、王宜兵. 《大上海都市计划1946-1949》——近代中国大都市的现代化愿景与规划实践[J]. 《城市规划》2015年第39卷第10期

Zhang J., Li J. (2017). Urban and Public Green Space Construction in Shenyang during the Period of “Puppet Manchukuo”. Journal of Shenyang Architectural University (Social Science), Volume 19, Issue 3 张健、李竞翔. “伪满”统治时期沈阳的城市与公共园林绿地建设[J]. 沈阳建筑大学学报( 社会科学版) 2017年6月 第19卷第3期

Li Y. (2002) “Du Shi Ji Hua”: From Tradition to Modernity. Hanjiang Forum 2002.3. 李芸. 都市计划: 从传统到现代[J]. 江汉论坛 2002.3

Yao C., Yu L. (2017). Comments on Japan’s First Urban Planning Law and Its Supporting Decrees. International Urban Planning, Vol.32, No.2. 姚传德、于利民. 日本第一部《都市计划法》及其配套法令评析[A]. 国际城市规划 2017 Vol.32, No.2

Sun H. (2012). Urban Development and Social Change in Modern Shenyang. Northeast Normal University. 孙鸿金. 近代沈阳城市发展与社会变迁[D]. 东北师范大学. 2012年12月

Xin W., Liao S. (2000). Development, Change and Prospect of Urban Planning System in Taiwan. Urban development research, 2000.6. 辛晚教、廖淑容. 台湾地区都市计划体制的发展变迁与展望[J]. 城市发展研究 2000.6.

Chen X. (2005). The Changing Course of the Function and Characteristics of Taiwan’s Urban Detailed Planning Legal System from the Period of Japanese Rule to the Post-war Period. City and Planning, Volume 32, Issue 3, 253-275. 陈湘琴. 日治至战后时期台湾都市细部规划法制的功能与特性之变迁历程[J]. 都市与计划民国九十四年 第三十二卷 第三期:第253-275页

The Death & Life of Shanghai Shikumen
A Typical Shikumen House in Shanghai
From What Remains: A History of Six Lanes in Shanghai, by Yalan Bao, SmartShanghai (2019)

History of Shikumen

A style of housing in Shanghai – embracing both Chinese and Western cultures – shikumen (石库门) or “Stone Gate” are to Shanghai what brownstones represent to New York City (NYC) and other East Coast cities.

Shikumen houses are two or three-story townhouses, distinguishable by their high brick walls forming a front yard. As one shikumen house abuts another, a community lane is naturally formed, better known as longtang (弄堂).

In the 1920s, when most of the city was controlled by foreign concession authorities, shikumen and longtang emerged in response to an upsurge in residential demand from a burgeoning middle class who were seeking exquisite but affordable, traditional houses; namely, Chinese homes with a Parisian sensibility (Goldberger, 2015). At the height of their popularity, there were over 9,000 shikumen houses in Shanghai, comprising 60% of the total housing stock of the city (Ruan, 2011). Shikumen homes were often owned by a single household, accommodating a multi-generational family (Tay, 2015). But the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War in the late 1930s dramatically changed the conventional spatial dynamics. The influx of refugees led to an increased demand for housing; more specifically, affordable housing. As a necessary consequence, landlords began sub-dividing rooms and building add-ons in the front yards and terraces.

It was not uncommon to see dozens of families living cheek by jowl in a single shikumen residence, sharing narrow kitchens and crowded hallways. For many of its tenants, life in shikumen was hard but enjoyable.

Some good evidence supporting this can be found in a nationally renowned stage comedy called The House of 72 Families (七十二家房客), which accurately depicted how tenants running low on cash stayed high in neighborly spirit, helping each other out in difficult times.

Aerial View of Shikumen Houses and Longtang. From Shanghai STREET STORIES.
Life in Longtang. From Jie Lu, 1982.
The House of 72 Families. From Xinmin Evening News, 2019.
Shikumen Facing the Rise of Luxury Apartment Buildings.


Demolishing Shikumen

Entering the 1990s, when the first built shikumen houses became obsolete, the city of Shanghai recognized a need for urban renewal. Sadly, more than two thirds of the city’s shikumen houses have since been demolished (Tay, 2015), making way for new apartment blocks now presented as a glorious neighborhood. Today, there are only an estimated 200,000 residents living in the remaining longtang, or less than 1% of the city’s population (Bao, 2019).

Though the buildings’ structure was demolished, the nostalgia for shikumen and longtang lives on, as reflected by the comedy and remaining residents. As a former shikumen resident, I still remember the summertimes of my childhood, when I sat on a short round stool at the front of the stone gate, eating watermelon and chatting with my neighbors walking-by. It’s true that life in longtang is not always easy, sometimes suffocating – leaving one feeling trapped in the mesh of narrow lanes. Yet it’s also true that the arrangement of shikumen houses, lanes, and courtyards created interlocking patterns that encouraged direct interaction between side-by-side neighbors (UNCC SOA, 2015).

With an ever-growing number of residents expressing their desire to stay in longtang, where their sweet memories linger, a group of architects, planners, and preservationists are helping residents file petitions to the government. Bowing to pressure, the city of Shanghai has suspended the demolition of most shikumen houses in the 2010s, and introduced a new approach of shikumen renewal in 2020 as part of the city’s fourteenth five-year plan.

Preserving Shikumen

In addition to the physical distress most old buildings face, shikumen confront another unique issue, overpopulation. To address this challenging issue, the city of Shanghai adopted an approach called “Select-Renovate” (抽户 改造) – “selecting” tenants to move out, to free up and “renovate” the living space for remaining residents. Units where residents still use portable urinals and shared kitchens will have independent kitchens and bathrooms, and the shikumen building itself is preserved, repaired, and upgraded. The “Select” part of this approach is controversial in many ways, as selected families are forced to move from their homes.

Instead of cherry-picking residents, the city of Shanghai developed core criteria to rationalize the selection process. Residents will be only be prioritized on the “Select-Renovate” list when their unit meets one of the following criteria, including:

    •Originally being located in public space (i.e., an add-on unit in the shared kitchen);
    •Having a comparatively high residential density;
    •Having a comparatively small square footage;
    •Requiring full renovation as suggested by the plan.

To ensure fairness, residents who are selected to move out receive monetary compensation based on the square footage of their units, while remaining households move back to their upgraded homes and enjoy their for free once the repair work is done.

A more vital step of this selection process is community engagement, a process that was often overlooked by the city’s previous urban renewal projects. This time, residents are not forced to either leave or stay. Residents whose units fall under the core criteria can choose to stay in shikumen while residents whose units are in good shape can apply to leave if they would like to.

A shikumen resident talking with planners on the “Select-Renovate” approach Note. From Phoenix New Media.

During one resident meeting, Xiaojie Zhang, Deputy Director of East Nan Jing Road Subdistrict, found a household expressing hope of staying - despite living in a 5 square meters (53.8 square feet) space, the resident was resolutely unwilling to be put on the “Select- Renovate” list, stating he was used to living in the center of the city and could not afford an apartment with the compensation and his savings. He elected to stay even though the upgrade to his unit would be limited due to its small size.

“We kept this selection process transparent and consistent, which resulted in the success of this “selectrenovate” approach” Zhang said.

According to the fourteenth five-year plan (2020), the city of Shanghai will renovate “all types of old housing built before the end of 2000” and will implement “a higher level of renovation and upgrades to 50 million square meters (538 million square feet) of old housing”.

Though I cannot predict whether or not the city will be able to achieve this goal, I am certain people in the city will be more satisfied with this new participatory approach.

Yining is a Research Analyst & GIS Coordinator at NYCHA, where she develops data-driven strategies to shape meaningful investments that will not only address physical needs of buildings, but also enhance residents’ health and access to opportunity. Born in Shanghai, Yining holds a Bachelor of Engineering from Tsinghua University and a Master’s degree in Urban Planning from Columbia University.

Bao, Yalan (2019). What Remains: A History of Six Lanes in Shanghai. SmartShanghai. Retrieved from

Goldberger, Paul (2005). Shanghai Surprise: The radical quaintness of the Xintiandi district. The New Yorker. Retrieved from

Ruan, Y., Zhang, C., & Zhang, J. (2011). Shanghai Shikumen. Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Fine Arts Publishing House.

Tay, Sue Anne (2015). Conversations: Jie Li on “Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life”. Shanghai STREET STORIES. Retried from

UNCC SoA (2015). Chinese Puzzle: The Shifting Patterns of Shanghai’s Shikumen Architecture. The Thinking Architect. Retrieved from

Yang, Jian (2014). Fears for the last of city’s historic shikumen. ShanghaiDaily. Retrieved from

上海石库门首尝抽户改造:抽离部分居民释放空间. (2020, April 27). Retrieved from

上海市国民经济和社会发展第十四个五年规划和二〇三五年远景目标纲要. (2021, January 30). Retrieved from

Architecture as A Tool for Justice

Long-standing societal norms dictate that men are responsible for working, securing their families’ survival, while women are responsible for taking care of children. This idea originated from the division of labor in old times when productivity was significantly low and labor forces generated resources through farming and hunting. Due to the labor-intensive nature of this work, males had more advantages in securing jobs. This logic unfortunately has had a lasting influence on today’s labor mentality. Meanwhile, in modern society, many jobs are carried out in contemporary workplace settings, where women have demonstrated an equal working capacity to their male counterparts. This begs the question: Would gender disparity eventually fade because men no longer have any ‘advantages’ over women? If so, what should be done to accelerate this phase?

Today, regardless of what kind of house a family is living in; the dwelling unit is almost always arranged around the same collection of spaces: a kitchen, dining room, living room, bedrooms, garage, or parking area – whether located in a suburban, exurban, or inner-city neighborhood, whether the dwelling is a split-level house, a contemporary masterpiece of concrete and glass, or an old brick townhouse. These spaces provide an everyday necessity for someone, typically a female, doing unpaid labor by carrying out private cooking, washing, childcare, and usually using personal transportation. A standard dwelling unit is typically physically separated from common community spaces due to residential zoning restrictions. For instance, no industrial, community daycare facilities or laundry facilities are likely to be part of a dwelling’s spatial scope (Hayden, 1980).

How can justice for women be implemented economically and environmentally through Architecture in Housing projects? How can a conventional home serve an employed woman and her family? A house provides women the basic set of elements when they are required to carry all the household work with or without participation from their partners. Women work outside the home to be financially secure, achieve their career goals, and contribute to society. Further, progressive nations encourage women to be educated and economically independent. Yet, the patriarchal expectations of what women’s responsibilities should be never changed. Despite this, women continue to prove their ability to balance their work and responsibilities at home. Adding to the struggle of being both a working wife and/or a mother, men still enjoy advantages over women. Employed mothers are usually expected to spend more time in private housework and child care than employed men. Architecture is a major contributing factor to this injustice. Justice for women calls upon architects to be more socially conscious free-independent thinkers (Fitz, Krasny, & Wien, 2019).

Dwellings, districts, and towns are constructed to limit women physically, socially, and economically. When women resist these restrictions to spend all or part of their workday in the paid labor force, intense resentment arises. Hayden (1980) argues that creating a new model for the house, the community, and the city is the only solution to this issue. For instance, a good neighborhood is typically identified based on shopping centers, schools, and perhaps public transportation, instead of additional working parent community services, such as nursery or overnight clinics. This leads to questioning how architects, urban designers, and landscape architects could unite with governmental programs and supportive agencies to bring justice to women in a broader sense and ensure them a better life to achieve the Ideological, inclusive, and gender-free city.

During the Advanced V studio on Childcare, I had two questions: “How can architecture offer access for a healthful and equal lifestyle considering children, working parents, and care workers?” and “How can architecture organize different scales of community engagement over different demographics?”

Site Analysis
These questions served as my starting point for The City for Childcare project proposal located in Flushing, Queens, a neighborhood with significant forms of racial and gender variety. The proposed design merges various prototypes that are seamlessly incorporated into what is called a community unit. The concept seeks multiple design alternatives for daycares that respond to every children’s age group, including home nurseries, a co-working space attached to it, and a co-living area (a more affordable living option). My goal was creating an architecture that gives residents the care they need, embraces their abilities, and acknowledges their differences, by providing job opportunities, affordable housing options, and of course, childcare facilities.
The Home Nursery is for an apartment that includes a multi-functional area that can be used as a babysitting space, office space, or dressing room. The space is connected to both the living area and the bedroom to make it easier to watch babies. This provides an opportunity for residents as a source for extra income, and provides parents with an affordable childcare facility.
The Co-Working Space hosts a community of freelancers, part-timers, work from homers, moms and dads, and their kids, providing them with networking opportunities. The visual and physical connectivity and access between the co-working space and the childcare area fosters the concept of a parent-led cooperative model of childcare, which offers affordability for parents who contribute time and skills to the nursery’s management.
The Childcare area consciously brings in some of nature’s intriguing aspects to design thinking. Nature is by far the best learning ground for children; which encourages children to move in countless ways and helps them fully explore their physical and cognitive abilities.
The Co-Living design creates a genuine alternative within the rental market of New York City. It includes a range of flexible, program-rich spaces, including apartments, rentable workspaces, and shared-service areas that will enable maximum personal flexibility and optimum use of space.
Refan is a student in the MSAAD program at GSAPP. She feels that her mission in life is to seek equality and justice. She is a multi-directional person; her passion ranges from design to storytelling.

Fitz, A., Krasny, E., & Wien, A. (Eds.). (2019). Critical care: Architecture and urbanism for a broken planet. MIT Press.

Hayden, D. (1980). What would a non-sexist city be like? Speculations on housing, urban design, and human work. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 5(S3), S170-S187.

Recent zoning fights on the commune issue have occurred in Santa Monica, Calif.; Wendy Schuman, ‘The Return of Togetherness,’ New York Times, 20 Mar. 1977, reports frequent illegal downzoning by two-family groups in one-family residences in the New York area.

The Ladies’ Room: The Role of Public Toilets as a Barrier
to Marginalized Groups Entering Mainstream Society

Throughout American history, there have been many waves of resistance to new groups of people moving into the public sphere and needing accommodation. Beginning with women in the nineteenth century, the focus of this resistance has often manifested itself spatially in the public bathroom (Mars, 2020, 1:00:27). Tacit and formalized building codes enforced sexist ideologies, ultimately leading to the separation of public toilets by sex. This pattern has repeated itself throughout history, with public restrooms becoming the epicenter of marginalized communities, most recently trans individuals, prevented from entering the public sphere freely. However, with upcoming provisions to the building code, therein arrives an opportunity to break the chain. By reframing the argument surrounding trans individuals accessing public restrooms to reject the binary definition of space as for men or for women, architects, in accordance with the new building code, have the opportunity to create shared public bathroom spaces that incorporate the needs of historically overlooked populations, while simultaneously safeguarding other marginalized groups from facing future discrimination in the public sphere.

There is no evidence that indicates early American privies were sex-separated. Up until the middle of the nineteenth century, most people in the urban context, with the exception of the extremely wealthy, used outdoor singleuser toilets collectively among their neighbors (Kogan, 2007, p. 35).

Shared Single-User Toilets outside of a tenement building in New York City, 1902. Source: Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library

In response to the nineteenth century “Separate Spheres” ideology that separated the social roles and spatial domains on the basis of sex and the growing role of autonomous women in society, architects began to introduce sex-segregated spaces into the public realm to protect women from the stresses and dangers of the male public sphere (Kogan, 2018). The Tremont House, designed in 1829 by Isaiah Rogers in Boston, was one of the first urban establishments to be designed to open up its public space to women. By explicitly defining programs and spaces by gender, Rogers transformed the tacit architectural code that separated the private sphere from the public sphere into one where both men and women could exist, albeit separately, in the public (Kogan, 2018).

Notably, the Tremont House was the first major public building in America to incorporate indoor plumbing. However, unlike the other rooms, the eight single-user “privies” were not separated by sex, suggesting that in the first building to transcribe the “Separate Spheres” ideology into an architectural plan, there was no association between the perceived need to designate separate women’s spaces and the need to separate the toilets by gender. As the construction of luxury hotels proliferated over the middle of the nineteenth century, advances in technology increased the amount of indoor toilets allocated per building, ultimately leading to the separation of these spaces by sex, as they were attached to already gendered spaces (Kogan, 2018). There was no formal code dictating the practice until the end of the nineteenth century, when sanitarians turned to factories to regulate workplace conditions. Massachusetts adopted the first law mandating that “water closets” in factories and other workplaces be separated by sex. New York enacted a similar law two months later, and by 1920, 43 states had adopted similar legislation that limited the hours that women were allowed to work among other labor restrictions (Kogan, 2007, p. 39). These laws were symbols of a broader anxiety over women competing for jobs traditionally held by men within the public realm, discriminatory measures disguised as protection.

Shared single-user toilet stalls among sex-separated social spaces in the Tremont House Hotel, 1830.
Source: Stalled!

As women entered the workforce and further into the public domain, the perceived necessity to protect them through a designated bathroom served as an obstruction to free navigation. Yet, the public restroom and its associated building codes have proved to serve as a barrier to still other marginalized groups entering mainstream American society. Jim Crow laws enacted in the South explicitly restricted Black Americans to separate restrooms among other places, while the panic associated with the emergence of openly homosexual individuals and HIV in the latter half of the twentieth century served as an implicit barrier for queer people in public toilets. The lack of comprehensive building codes created a physical barrier for the disability community up until the 1990 signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which has only scratched the surface of mandating provisions to accommodate bodies of all types safely in the public realm. While these groups have been formally accepted into public space and public restrooms through legislation or social acceptance, questions remain on the efficacy and longevity of the damage, as social stigmas and implicit segregation still endure throughout the American social context to this day.

Over the last decade, the debate around public toilets has reignited around the inclusion or exclusion of trans individuals. To comprehend the issue, one must first understand the distinction, and the origins of said distinction, between sex and gender. Historically, the academic use of the word ‘gender’ was mostly confined to grammatical categories. However, the term was co-opted in the 1950s by psychologist and sexologist John Money as a tool to reconstruct the sex binary and avoid the outright acceptance of the existence of intersexual babies, or babies of sexual organs that could not be immediately identified as male or female (Preciado, 2017). This definition took on a more modern form in 1968, when psychologist and author of “Sex and Gender” Robert Stoller used the term ‘sex’ to pick out biological traits and ‘gender’ to define the amount of femininity and masculinity a person exhibited, beginning to explain the identity of trans individuals, in which the sexual and gender identities of an individual do not align (Mikkola, 2019).

This distinction between sex and gender and trans identity has emerged as the basis of the latest debate over the separation of public restrooms. In March 2016, as a response to a non-discrimination city ordinance passed in Charlotte, North Carolina that allowed the right to access the bathroom best matching ones gender identity, North Carolina drafted House Bill 2 requiring, among other provisions, people to use public toilets that correspond with the sex stated on their birth certificate (H.B.2, p. 2). By restricting trans individuals from using the bathroom that matched their gender identity, House Bill 2 alienated their rights and threw them into the center of a national culture war. While a compromise was eventually reached in North Carolina, the mark of House Bill 2 remains as the repeal did nothing to advance the rights of LGBTQ individuals within public space.

The outstanding conflict between the opposing sides of this litigation, and the national discussion that continues today, is a direct consequence of the sex-separation of public restrooms dating back to the discriminatory “Separate Spheres” ideology of the nineteenth century. Still, in crafting their opposing litigation strategies, all parties accepted the existing model architectural configuration of the sex-separated public restroom as a given, unaware or unwilling to reckon with the role of architecture in the organization of bodies, and therefore sexuality and gender, within space. By advocating for individuals to use one of the two options of public restrooms that most closely align with ones gender identity, adhering to the longstanding codified division of public restrooms into two, normative sex-separated spaces, the sexgender binaries are reaffirmed, leaving large groups of non-conforming trans individuals unprotected (Kogan, 2017, pp. 1222-27).

An inclusive multi-user restroom prototype design for Gallaudet University
Source: Stalled!
As such, the key to this debate returns to the code. If multi-user public restrooms in the future become all-gender, the central debate raised over the criterion for restroom usage in the North Carolina House Bill 2 would dissolve. Intersectional bathroom equity groups such as “Stalled!” have worked to reimagine the public bathroom as a space not only to liberate trans individuals, but everyone — from those with medical issues, to parents with young children of a different gender identity, to people needing a space to practice religious rites, or people with a physical disability not accounted for in the American Disabilities Act. In 2018, thanks to the work of “Stalled!” among other advocates, the International Plumbing Code was amended to not only require that single-user toilet facilities no longer be designated by gender markers, but to also allow for the adoption of all-gender multiuser restrooms in public buildings (Luckel, 2019). While the changes will officially take effect in 2021, state jurisdictions are typically slow to adopt new releases until they add their own provisions, so widespread implementation may not be seen for years. Further, governing bodies at the city and state level could purposefully choose to ignore the particular update and continue to design public restrooms based on their nineteenth century precedents and current implementation of the code (Mars, 2020, 1:00:27). Thus, it is left to the architects to advocate for the social, and potentially economic, benefits of the combination and designation of all-gender multi-user restrooms in the public buildings of the future. By rejecting the binary definition of spaces, the argument surrounding trans individuals accessing public restrooms can be reframed. In accordance with the new building code, architects have the opportunity to create shared public bathroom spaces that incorporate the needs of historically overlooked populations, while simultaneously safeguarding other marginalized groups from facing future discrimination in the public sphere. In doing so, rather than creating overly specific spaces that segregate and isolate bodies according to their differences, the public restroom could be a shared space that accommodates, welcomes, and refuses to frame the occupant as they interact within public space.
Alek Tomich is an architecture student in his final year with the M.Arch program at Columbia University GSAPP. He is a designer and maker interested in materials, visualization, perspective, equity, and the environment.

Kogan, T. S. (2018). Code: History. Stalled!.

Kogan, T. S. (2007). Sex-Separation in Public Restrooms: Law, Architecture, and Gender. Michigan Journal of Gender & Law, 14(1).

H.B. 2, 2016 Second Extra Session. (N. Carolina 2016).

Mars, R. (Executive Producer). (2020, September 8). Where Do We Go From Here? (412) [Audio podcast episode]. In 99% Invisible. 99pi.

Mikkola, M. (2019). Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender. In E.N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.

Preciado, P. B. (2017, November 2). The Architecture of Sex. Benno Premsela Lecture, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Image Credits:

Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library. (1902 - 1914). Two women & man in front of outhouses; one woman getting water Retrieved from

Eliot W. H. (1830) Tremont House Hotel Main Floor Plan. Annotated by Kogan T. S. for Stalled! Retrieved from

Stalled! (2018). Gallaudet University’s Field House Inclusive Facilities Prototype.

The Gig Economy and Architecture: an Interview with Peggy Deamer

Peggy Deamer is professor emeritus of architecture at Yale University and has spent years researching and writing about the relationship between subjectivity, design and labor. She is the founding member of The Architecture Lobby, a group that advocates for the value of architectural design and work. I recently asked her to speak with me about how gig work—a genre of labor organization typically characterized by short-term recruitment of workers through digital platforms—could map on to architecture.

The speed, scope and pervasiveness of computation and digital media is remaking the organization of labor for designers across the globe. Architects are now also programmers, digital engineers, robotic-manufacturing experts and, in some cases, managers of outsourced workers, all of which blurs the distinctions around authorship and architectural creativity.

Professor Deamer and I spoke in February about these issues, including the current state of labor discourse in architecture. Here is our interview, slightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Mariana Riobom: I wanted to start with your activism and work with The Architecture Lobby. You often have described architects as precarious workers. How do you think gig work fits into your thesis?

Peggy Deamer: Small architectural offices – which are the majority of architectural offices – have always been part of the gig economy, as in, be your own entrepreneur. Make it on your own. Compete against other people. Self-employment is in some way what the gig economy is, so we’ve suffered under that rubric for a long time. So, it’s interesting and good that gig work and the criticisms that come with it are coming to the fore; it brings a certain selfconsciousness that we’ve lacked. And, obviously, I think we’re all precarious workers in that larger tradition of gig work.

Your overarching thoughts on outsourcing architectural work enters into the conditions surrounding large firms and the rubric of rote work people in large offices often do versus creative work they aspire to. Or, at a more general scale, the type of work many firms in the US feels is properly their domain – being problem solvers, being talented designers, being form givers, being creative – versus those that don’t necessarily have those skills, just merely expected to follow instructions, implement working drawings, or do renderings. That general division – being creative vs. being merely technical or rote – is problematic. I think eradicating that mental division would be helpful in not encouraging the farming out of responsibility.

MR: Some of the models you’ve written about— workers cooperatives, and even national professional architectural associations—are quite local and limited to particular geographic or national areas. As digital technology allows for outsourcing and these shortterm labor interactions that can be fulfilled by anyone anywhere on the globe, is there a need to rethink organizing strategies?

PD: I don’t think it is the case that cooperatives work only at the local level. There are many examples outside of architecture of cooperatives that work across state lines, and work internationally. And certainly, digital technologies allow those forms of communications at the non-physical, or non-institute level. The same overall technology that allows for people in different locations to organize their documents, to organize their finances together, work as well for cooperatives as they do for farming out of labor.

MR: As work gets optimized and removed from central workplaces and people work short term on contracts, do you think that architects should stop placing our work in rarified air but instead seek solidarity with all workers, gig and otherwise?

PD: Your original question about the platforms that allow the division of labor and outsourcing to cheap labor, is very much related to this question. I think part of what I was trying to suggest in that problematic mental division between the techies and the real designers can be alleviated if we deprofessionalize. I think the need to describe what you do if you’re not put into that label of “architect,” if you’re not held within a system of licensure that dictates doing certain things and not others or associating with certain people and not others, clients will begin to ask the serious questions” What expertise do you bring to the table? Who do you have in your firm? Who might you associate with?

MR: Due to the pandemic, many architects have been able to work from anywhere. What do you think will be the consequences for office organization? And do you think that this scenario will lead architecture employees being increasingly gig and freelance workers?

PD: I’m optimistic about what distance work does, and what we’re discovering about how well it works. I tend to think that distance work is equalizing the labor force. Firm owners have to give workers a certain amount of trust and tasks that really carry responsibility; I’ve seen it as working against the traditional division of labor. It’s offered workers the opportunity to be more in control of their schedule more which comes with labor, leisure, and family time awareness. And then I think that a lot of workers in firms where they feel that they’ve been forced to go back to work too earlier and in unsafe conditions, have developed a labor consciousness that wouldn’t have been there if they hadn’t had this opportunity to get out of the 9 to 5 norm that works for the boss but doesn’t work for the laborer.

MR: I wonder, however, what is the incentive to employ someone when one could be using gig platforms and outsourcing labor to other countries.

PD: I think it’s a smart observation. The firm owner’s choice becomes, why should I pay for health benefits when I can make everybody a contract worker? But my feeling is that those displaced workers, who used to have a salary and now forced to be contract workers, will themselves organize. I’m optimistic that they’ll recognize the injustice of this and I think we have greater awareness of how to organize against these unjust, unsustainable, and anti-worker neo-liberal practices. It might be how deprofessionalization happens. First the thesis: salary work in a supposedly prestigious profession; then antithesis: independent contractor just like other less prestigious workers; synthesis: a workerforward discipline that understands its worth. The profession’s gone, but being organized, we are economically astute and socially relevant.

MR: What could be the mechanisms that we could use to organize across borders while our realities are so different?

PD: It’s such a good question. That is one that I do wonder about. In my work on different countries’ architectural professional organizations, and recognizing how nationally bound they are, how radically different they are, and how difficult it is to import positive worker-forward initiatives from one country to another - it just makes me wonder why there’s not an organization that organizes internationally. There is the Union of International Architects, but its main concern is the portability of licensure from one country to the next. If you have a license in Portugal, does it equal a license in France? The organization’s purpose is totally for firm owners and how they can get as much work as possible without evaluating the conditions or relevance of that work.

MR: I wanted to talk more about authorship and creativity and the terms that architects use to describe themselves in the context of labor, as many are fascinated with the idea of immaterial labor and how it has shifted over the years.

PD: I think the concept of immaterial labor is very productive. It’s helpful to get architects to think that they’re working within the economy, that their immaterial labor is part of capitalism, and has come through economic paradigms of manufacturing, then service, and now knowledge work; it’s helpful in that historical context. There’s a lot of controversy around the idea of immaterial labor: immaterial labor is still material - some insist; or what we call ‘knowledge’, more broadly, isn’t actually new. My feeling is that it is good to keep alive the particularity of immaterial labor in terms of its workerist, autonomous origin which embraces a huge spectrum of workers - domestic, technical, managerial, etc – that in its radical rhizomatic nature makes it so powerful. It resists the division of labor, resists the division of status, makes one conscious of our sisterhood with caregivers, to doctors, and engineers. While I recognize that the term is controversial, I think it is very useful.

MR: How can university, as a place, and as an entity can help us understand changes in the economy and organization of labor?

PD: The Architecture Lobby is offering a summer school that is trying to address the question. It’s supposed to be a beta test of what the model of an ideal education is. And part of that is putting the role of the economy and understanding architecture as a profession on the table; we would be unlearning capitalism, rethinking what design is, and relocating architecture in that unlearning.

Mariana Riobom is an architect originally from Portugal and a graduate of the Yale School of Architecture. She is based in New York and is involved in teaching, writing and research projects. She has also practiced architecture in France, Italy and Japan.
Collective Learning: Networks of Labor and Care in Architecture
      What does an architecture centered around a
      theory and an ethics of care look like?
      Is it possible for architecture as a professional
      discipline—born of a market-oriented,
      colonial logic—to restructure itself according
      to the values of repair, maintenance, and
      other forms of reproductive labor?
      Can the architect serve as caregiver?
In the first weeks of 2020, the three of us were invited to participate in the 2020 Venice Biennale under the theme of “Talking Trees”. The beginning of the endeavor found all of us employed in full time jobs in architecture, urban design, and museum work, embedded in the existing, rigid system of production and trying to survive within the softer enclosures of the socio-economic neoliberal apparatus. Our conversations were shaped by the disappointment and dissent we felt toward the exploitative models of work we chafed against in our professional lives. Our research was driven by our need to engage with alternative modes of working, knowing, and existing. We began by reading widely.
“Until quite recently no one seriously explored the possibility that plants might ‘speak’ to one another…. There is now compelling evidence that our elders were right—the trees are talking to one another…. There is something like a mycorrhizal network that unites us, an unseen connection of history and family and responsibility to both our ancestors and our children.” (Kimmerer, 2013)

There were innumerable, branching possibilities that the theme “talking trees” offered, but one direction resonated with us most: considering the tree as a member of an interconnected and interrelated network. We found that over the past few decades in the West, ecologists demonstrated that older trees within a forest will often transfer water and nutrients through root systems to neighboring younger trees, even to those of different species; that leaf canopies sometimes form microclimates to protect saplings; or that chemical secretions from one tree warding off disease or predators can warn other trees to defend themselves (Simard, et. al., 2012; Wohlleben, 2016). More resilient, healthier forests tend to be those that encourage communication and cooperation. Pushback to these findings, which has been considerable in certain academic fields, seems to be rooted in a worldview that demands that organisms be considered discrete and self-interested actors within an unforgivingly competitive universe.

We are not forestry experts, yet we choose to believe that trees, like humans, do not stand alone. Unsurprisingly, strands of this basic idea have existed within the collective knowledge of various Indigenous American cultures for generations, where they serve as an explanation or observation of how the natural world works and, therefore, as a normative proposition for how humans ought to act within the world. Extrapolating from the behavior of arboreal networks might then provide a model protocol for the exchange of information and resources among humans — one that is predicated on the embrace of gift economies, communalism, and social responsibility.

1. Ngurrara Canvas II.jpg
The Ngurrara Canvas II, painted by Ngurrara artists of Australia, was created to serve as evidence of historical land tenure in Australian court. The painting depicts communal water holes across the landscape. K. Dayman (Ngurrara Artists and Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency), Adrian Lahoud, 1997
“The currency of a gift economy is, at its root, reciprocity. In Western thinking, private land is understood to be a “bundle of rights,” whereas in a gift economy property has a “bundle of responsibilities” attached.” (Kimmerer, 2013)

The pandemic arrived and our working method remained the same: individualized research with periodic video check-ins. Yet as the pandemic unceasingly unfolded and the fabric of our daily lives stretched and frayed, we began to rely on these virtual meetings for comfort, airing anxieties, and making observations on the inadequate support structures in our social and professional lives.

The calls evolved into episodes of collective learning, inextricable from the personal support they provided, and in searching for the form this protocol could take within an architectural space, we saw that it existed already among young architects and students. In order to access prohibitively expensive but necessary resources and facilitate propagation of their work and ideas, a collective network of friends and colleagues has evolved into an underground shared economy that is governed by many of the same principles of the forest. When participating in this network, we are commoning enclosed resources, taking care of our community and forming relationships of mutual aid and responsibility with each other.

We characterise commoning as a relational process—or more often a struggle—of negotiating access, use, benefit, care and responsibility. Commoning thus involves establishing rules or protocols for access and use, taking care of and accepting responsibility for a resource, and distributing the benefits in ways that take into account the wellbeing of others.
A model for collective learning began to emerge:
      Collective learning is commoning.
      We create a community that builds knowledge by interrogating
      the manifold limitations imposed by existing systems
      of oppression and inequality.
      Learning becomes an inextricable part of the practice of commoning
      and a form of sustenance that bonds us together.
As our weekly video calls became open forums for discussions of equitable work practices, we inevitably interwove comparisons of our own experiences with speculative ideals. We acknowledged the ways in which academic programs glorify a “no breaks’’ lifestyle and condition students to accept overexertion and exploitation for the sake of pursuing their creative passion, while marginalizing and undervaluing the structures of care required to sustain this ethic. We recognized an ethos of terminal individualism that pervades our discipline–the unrestrained genius, siloed in their obsession with realizing a singular, uncompromising vision.
“Historically, architecture, as we have seen, was at the very center of forming the independent genius-subject. This clearly posited the architect and his work outside of care. Care thinks of subjects “through connectedness with others,” on the ontological level as much as on the political one. […] While independence, both as a philosophico-political concept and an economicmaterial reality, has defined the subject position of the architect, the philosophico-political idea of interdependence and the economic-material reality of dependence have shaped the subject positions of care workers.” (Krasny, 2019)
Still from Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Outside by Mierle Laderman Ukeles, in which the artist methodically cleans the Wadsworth Atheneum as a performance. Ukeles’ work draws attention to the feminized maintenance infrastructure invisibly supporting the contemporary art industry, Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, 1973.
“The Death Instinct (“separation, individuality, Avantegarde par excellence, to follow one’s own path to death, do your own thing, dynamic change”) and the Life Instinct (unification, the eternal return, the perpetuation and MAINTENANCE of the species, survival systems and operations, equilibrium”).” (Ukeles, 1969)
Our work is grounded in care and imagination. We acknowledge the systems of support and care that — despite being rendered invisible under a capitalism-promoted ideology of independence — are necessary both for the production of life and the production of knowledge. We allow these systems to surface; we strategize with care and mobilize with imagination, working toward a practice that envisions radical and sustainable alternate futures.
It is unsurprising that this mentality is perpetuated in the professional world, both in the labor practices and in the wages paid. Young employees, who often graduate with exorbitant amounts of debt, expect to be overworked and underpaid and they begrudgingly or proudly accept their precarious work conditions. Advocating for higher pay and a 40 hour work week is antithetical to the ethos of practicing architecture, where the balance of adequate remuneration and the societal benefit of the work is often posited as a zero-sum proposition.
“Architecture isn’t a career, it is a calling!’ What? How had we fallen into the same ideology that Christianity used to make the poor feel blessed for their poverty? How could architecture have become so completely deaf to the labor discourse that it could so unselfconsciously subscribe to the honor of labor exploitation?” (Deamer, 2015)
A practice that is equitable and horizontal. Rather than reproducing structural inequalities and hierarchies that pervade our current socio-economic and academic system, we seek to distribute power horizontally, share knowledge and perform in collectivity, by forming reciprocal relations of rights and responsibilities. The horizontal distribution of power allows for equal access to participation and decision-making, but it extends beyond the limits of the group, to the humans and other-than-humans to whom we are bound and connected.

Architectural work outside of professional firms operates within this logic as well. The international biennale circuit is an extension of the dominant pedagogical and professional system undergirded by free labor, which values result over process and innovation over wellbeing. Maintaining the invisibility of labor permits the continued fetishization of the architectural object whose meaning and agency is fixed upon an arbitrary market value.

An architecture that is predicated on subjugation and exploitation will only perpetuate those values in its output. Instead, reproductive labor (from housework and childcare to infrastructure maintenance and repair) needs to be recognized as central to the production and reproduction of the commons.

3. Architecture Lobby.jpg
Members of The Architecture Lobby read the organization’s manifesto advocating for equitable labor practices in architecture and a reconsideration of the value system underpinning the discipline.
Source: www.

“All activities, including those that we think of as political, involve a caring dimension because in addition to acting we need to sustain ourselves as actors.’’ (Tronto & Fisher, 1990)

“No common is possible unless we refuse to base our life and our reproduction on the suffering of others, unless we refuse to see ourselves as separate from them.” (Federici, 2019)

As we reflect on our role within the structures of professionalized architecture, we inevitably also question the ramifications of our work within the biennale economy. Does sustaining a system that depends on our free labor further undermine its value and the possibility of building equitable work structures in the future?

It is because of questions like these that we have described the contours and direction of our collaboration over the past year. In doing so we attempt to claim our own framework and agency by exposing the process of mutual care and collective learning that took place between us.

The collaborative educational process that we have inhabited over the past year is a distillation of the ways in which all learning takes place, in which objectives and priorities are constantly shifting, in which the idea of “completion” is rarely sought or achieved, and in which moments of levity, anxiety, and insight arrive unexpectedly, occasionally in sudden flashes and, at other times, slowly and furtively.

We work to do away with the current structuring of practice and learning around the manufactured scarcity of material wealth and we re-imagine an architectural environment centered on an ethics of care, where collaboration becomes a form of meaningful sustenance, of bonding and connecting to others. We work to sustain a space for recognizing each other, becoming recognizable and, through acts of experimentation, arriving at a common vernacular. We iterate on this vernacular by gathering, reading, making connections, arranging and rearranging, on our pathway to find a collective voice and to construct meaning together.
Stella Ioannidou, Ryan Leifield, and Hasbrouck Miller are recent graduates of Columbia University working in the fields of architecture, urban design, and museum work. They were recently invited to participate in a methodological experiment as part of the Korean Pavilion’s Future School program for the upcoming Venice Biennale centered around the theme of “Trees”. They are currently based in Athens, Los Angeles, and New York.

Akbulut, B. (2017, February 2). Carework as Commons: Towards a Feminist Degrowth Agenda. Resilience.

Deamer, P. (2016). Introduction. In P. Deamer (Ed.), The Architect as Worker: Immaterial Labor, the Creative Class, and the Politics of Design. Bloomsbury Academic.

Federici, S. (2019). Women, Reproduction, and the Commons. The South Atlantic Quarterly, 118(4), 711-724. Gibson-Graham, J.K., Cameron, J., & Healy S. (2016). Commoning as a postcapitalist politics. In A. Amin & P. Howell (Eds.), Releasing the Commons: Rethinking the Futures of the Commons (pp. 192-212). Routledge.

Gu, J. Y. (2020). Formats of Care. Log, 48, 67-74.

Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Milkweed Editions.

Krasny, E. (2019). Architecture and Care. In A. Fitz & E. Krasny (Eds.), Critical Care: Architecture and Urbanism for a Broken Planet (pp. 33-41). MIT Press.

Simard, S. W., et. al. (2012). Mycorrhizal networks: Mechanisms, ecology and modelling. Fungal Biology Reviews, 26, 39-60.

Tronto, J. (1995). Care as a Basis for Radical Political Judgments. Hypatia, 10(2), 141-149.

Tronto, J. & Fisher, B. (1990). Toward a Feminist Theory of Caring. In E. Abel & M. Nelson (Eds.), Circles of Care: Work and Identity in Women’s Lives (pp. 35-62). SUNY Press.

Ukuleles, M. L. (1969). Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969! Proposal for an exhibition: “CARE”.

Wohlleben, P. (2016). The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World. (J. Billinghurst, Trans.). Greystone Books. (Original work published 2015)