The content of the show tracks closely with a preview presentation held last September at PS1, MoMA’s contemporary annex. The participating teams—headed by architects Jeanne Gang, Michael Bell, Andrew Zago, partners Amale Andraos and Dan Wood (of partnership WORKac), and Hilary Sample and Michael Meredith (MOS Architects)—have taken real tract developments, in locations across the U.S., and turned them into theaters for conceptual intervention. Using models, renderings, and videos, the group leaders and their co-designers demonstrate how creative real estate contracts and innovative architectural solutions could combine to forge a revitalized suburbia, one inoculated against the kind of economic shocks that precipitated the current real estate crunch.
"Most architecture shows go out and find something to endorse," noted Bergdoll, who contrasted that approach to the kind of generative exhibitions, like "Foreclosed", that have brought new work and new ideas into the Modern in the last several years. The current exhibition belongs to a sequence at the museum (including 2009’s "Rising Currents", on urban responses to climate change) that shows MoMA taking on topical issues with original work by top-tier designers. Columbia University Associate Professor of Architecture Reinhold Martin, whose research paper, "The Buell Hypothesis," was the prime theoretical germ for the "Foreclosed" proposals, praised the museum’s open, civic-minded curatorship. "MoMA has always had a certain porosity," he said.
Of the proposals on view, perhaps the most appealing is Nature-City, WorkAC’s inventive re-imagining of the modest Portland feeder town of Keizer, Oregon. A surprisingly urban vision for a relatively remote locale, the design boasts a wide variety of housing typologies, all of them arrayed around a municipal complex whose tumulus-like forms suggest a connection to nature fully qualified by the development’s eco-friendly features. As with the Zago group’s plan for Rialto, California, and Gang’s for Cicero, Illinois, Nature-City puts a premium on communal space and services, not only as a means to foster community but as a hedge against the mercenary commercialism that gave us the late housing boom and bust. And to the special credit of Andraos, Wood, and their academic and engineer collaborators, the Keizer scheme avoids the trap (into which Michael Bell’s proposal, Simultenaous City, slips all to easily) of rehearsing the problematic motifs of 20th century social housing, creating instead a novel and lively template for the future of American life.
Writer and critic Ian Volner has contributed articles on architecture and design to New York Magazine, Architect, The Paris Review, and Interior Design, among other publications. He lives in Manhattan.