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Dawn Gilpin

University of Michigan

Architecture in Spaces of Crisis

The Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning awards the Wallenberg Scholarships each year in honor of Raoul Wallenberg, B.S.Arch.’35. Wallenberg is credited with single-handedly rescuing over 100,000 Jews from Nazi persecution in Budapest, Hungary, during World War II. The traveling scholarship, established by the Bernard L. Maas Foundation in 1986, acts as a reminder of Wallenberg’s courage and humanitarianism and is aimed at reflecting his ideals. The award gives undergraduate students the opportunity to broaden their study of architecture to include work in distant locations. The Wallenberg Studio honors the legacy of one of Taubman College’s most important alumni through an overall studio theme focused on a broad humanitarian concern, explored through propositions put forward by studio section faculty. Each year we ask: what is architecture’s relationship to the humanitarian; how does architecture take up a position in the world?

The 2016 Wallenberg Studio topic, REFUGE, was offered against the backdrop of the contemporary refugee crisis, as hundreds of thousands of individuals and families from the Middle East seek refuge in Western Europe, North America, and elsewhere. This crisis has received the ongoing attention of the media and activists but is one of many dire refugee situations historically and globally. The most obvious work of the architect in global issues of natural disaster, conflict, war, and oppression, is the provision of long- and short-term shelter. Architects such as Shigeru Ban, Charles Lai and Takehiko Suzuki as well as larger organizations and corporations such as Habitat for Humanity and IKEA, have designed temporary housing for earthquakes, floods, and displacement due to war, violence, or other capitalist-driven events that remake the established urban fabric in a very short amount of time. Many architects and activists, such as Eyal Weizman and Ai Weiwei, are working within the discipline of architecture and are contributing directly to global issues by dealing with more generally, constructed space.

Given the seemingly similar circumstances of global politics and education today and in the 1960s-70s, THE RADICAL AND THE PREPOSTEROUS: MIND THE GAP considered the discipline of architecture and engaged in discussions that assume the architect is responsible for all constructed space. This assumption drastically changes the definition of the role of the architect in global discourse and how the architect is educated in the 21st century. To launch these conversations we relied on Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, as referenced by the 2015 Wallenberg Medalist and Russian-American journalist, author and activist Masha Gessen. Conversations of architectural education drew upon Radical Pedagogies, the most recent work of professor of History and Theory of Architecture and director of the program in Media and Modernity, Beatriz Colomina.

Reliance on these two conversations, in conjunction with the introduction of work by Ai Weiwei, Rem Koolhaas, Noam Chomsky, Eyal Weizman and others, served to prompt students to develop deep and meaningful proposals and projects that addressed the all-studio prompt, REFUGE.

[Image produced in the studio, courtesy Dawn Gilpin.]

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