It wasn’t only urban experiences that were hacked this semester! In parallel with other course assignments, students engaged in the hackage of “Stranger Experiences” – a short series of interactions that provided the student with a deeper understanding – through close observation, written reports and spontaneous encounters with strangers – in how real people use real space and produce the messy, overlapping urban realities that exists all around us. Designing and building within existing public spaces is a great responsibility, one architects have always responded to with varying levels of dismissive contempt and unsatisfactory urban schemes, but here the students were challenged to develop the capacity to learn from and adapt with the intangible qualities of history, texture and rhythm that make each block in New York City unique. Ultimately, the exercises were intended to allow the students to sympathetically embrace and deeply understand the qualities of particular urban situations that facilitate engagement with people as they pass through in the business of their daily lives – and meet some people in the process.
Images shown here are from Stranger Experience 02 – in which students, working in teams of two – posed as tourists and asked random strangers to draw them a map to a well-known neighborhood campus landmark. Here, Bernard Tschumi’s Lerner Hall built in 1999 was used, a student center known on campus for it’s glass atrium and series of kinetic zig-zagging ramps. The building also made for a fitting destination point, as Tschumi described the building as a “concept of architecture as a generator of events.” There was some debate about the relevance of this assignment, of which the jury may still be out, but there were a few interesting conclusions: the student’s got a sense of the ease of receiving personal, helpful interactions in public space, as well as pushing the boundaries of acceptable social conventions. For instance, no stranger hesitated to draw a map for a student, but calling or texting for follow up questions and directions seemed to be pushing it. The maps also provided a document to confirm or compare how people in and around the area visualize common space, in a Kevin Lynch-esque manner of nodes, paths and landmarks. As expected, the stairs around the central plaza, Low Library, and the Alma Mater statue were key landmarks that centered the maps. Lastly, since the directions were originally given as a set of verbal cues – only after that were the strangers further asked to draw a map (under the guise that the student was “more of a visual learner”) – it is interesting to see the fidelity of ideas as they translate from audible directions into a physically real map.
All other student work here: http://hackingtheurbanexperience.tumblr.com/