A situation room, installed by the authors at Columbia University Avery Hall in December of 2010 to monitor and deploy urban failures. All images courtesy of the authors.The Atlas of Failure imagines caricatures of contemporary urban fables like Mumbai, India; Juarez, Mexico; and Detroit, Michigan; and mobilizes them as new urban proposals. Existing failuresExisting failures
state of exception
become testable hypotheses for future urbanisms. The cartoon becomes a valuable tool for diagramming cities. As these cartoons are assembled in the context of history and geography, it becomes clear that cities themselves are not failing; their drivers of change are merely superseded by new ones in the face of crisis, only to fail again in more interesting, exciting ways. Failure is almost never an end, but a hinge. The Atlas uses failure as a productive portal, sometimes flipping the architecture into a new order, and at times revealing the logic of inherent mitigation techniques.The Atlas is a qualitative complement to Buckminster FullerBuckminster Fuller
and John McHale’s World Game (and the supporting World Resource Inventory), which supposed that world resources could be evenly distributed across the globe and end the need for conflict.
A page from the Atlas charting global trajectories of urban failure.The Atlas supposes that recombinations of existing urban ideologies could also be evenly distributed throughout the globe in order to generate resilient architectures for supporting existence amid conflict.A concrete definition of “failure” remains elusive, but several typologies emerge after looking at the histories of cities in crisis. Points of inflection in the growth rates of these cities characterize how each city reacts to disaster, inequity, and political unrest. The fallout of these decisions, strategies, successes, and failures is not tied to geography or trade alone. Failure is fluid, constituted by a network of complex interwoven forces.
A page from the Atlas comparing 3-D representations of population growth and associated world crises in our test cities.The Atlas draws form from reactions to failure. We have found that a majority of catastrophes are urban; architecture can neither predict nor account for them at the scale of a single site. Our fixation on crisis is not a grim one; rather, we wish to expose how contemporary architecture might anticipate reactions to impending upheaval.We have developed a genealogy of failure using the venerable Choose Your Own Adventure book series as a model for simulatingsimulating
multiple hypothetical urban failures on a specific urban site. From this we have developed a codex of possible responses to a few of the contemporary paranoias that turn hostages into hosts. These alternative futures are simultaneously critiques of contemporary socioeconomic and geopolitical attitudes and proposals of new architectural tactics that find their inspiration from unexpected sources. And now, for a fun gamegame
, the hypothetical development of a site in the tri-state area:
This project was initiated by Kyle Hovenkotter and Trevor Lamphier in a studio taught by Laura Kurgan at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in the fall of 2010.
Kyle Hovenkotter is a designer and strategist in New York City. Currently, he is working with nbbj to design experimental, future-flexible workplaces for the tech and healthcare industries. He is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia University GSAPP and a Visiting Assistant Professor at Pratt Institute. His independent work focuses on the impacts of globalization on cities at their breaking points. He holds a Masters of Architecture from Columbia University, and a Bachelors of Arts from the University of Washington.
Trevor Lamphier is an architectural designer in New York City working with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, contributing to both their art and architecture practices. His work co opts the familiar and redeploys it as an instrument of both design and critique. Previously he has worked as a Teaching Assistant at Columbia University GSAPP. He holds an Masters of Architecture from Columbia University, and a Bachelors of Design from the University of Florida.