Providence is all abuzz with "A Better World By Design" this weekend, a three-day conference thrown by students at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Currently in its second year, the conference highlights humanitarian design and design for social change, and features speakers, panels, workshops, and activities. Among the phenomenal lineup of speakers yesterday was celebrated architect and University of California, San Diego professor Teddy Cruz.
In an energetic whirlwind, Teddy Cruz took us through a cross section of the border landscape between Tijuana and San Diego—what he calls the laboratory of his practice. His work centers around these sites of conflict, and examines the politics of surveillance, labor, and migration. "Tijuana's density literally crashes against the border of America," he said. "With a solid steel wall, San Diego is the world's largest gated community."
He presented the audience with a harrowing photograph of the border wall that extends into the Pacific Ocean—the same image shrouded the entry to the U.S. Pavilion at the 2008 Venice Biennale (below). Titled 60 Linear Miles, the large-scale piece illustrates the conflict between top-down development and topography, between large infrastructure and watershed, density and sprawl, and perhaps most critically, the conflict between formal and informal building.
"Not only are people crossing the border," he says, "but so are complete houses." Cruz directed our captivated attention to the improvisational techniques used in immigrant communities to build unconventional shelters. He's less interested in the aesthetics of the product than he is about the actual process of how scaffolding can become a framework that is informally added to over time.
"Designers are not creators of simple products, but translators of realities into new political frameworks and economic systems," he stated. Citing these "living rooms at the border," Teddy Cruz's fervent speech urged us to rethink the roles of certain players for affordable housing on the scale of the neighborhood. The neighborhood nonprofit: a thinktank, temporal city hall, micro-developer, and micro-policymaker. The single-unit land parcel: an economic engine, a mini-social-system, and a unifying neighborhood grassroots pedagogy. He pumped his fist and declared, "We should not be afraid to plug the word "Public" on everything. Housing cannot stand alone!"