Friday, June 17, 2011

D center @ MAP

Tonight marks an important turning point for D center Baltimore. Conceived in 2009, and official founded as a non-profit last year, D center represents a broad cross-section of disciplines and individuals invested in improving and encouraging design, in all its iterations, in the Baltimore region. Until now, the organization has been without a physical home (though they have sponsored monthly design conversations and regular events throughout Baltimore). That changes this evening with the official opening of D center @ MAP.

Now through early next year, D center will take over a 2,000-square-foot storefront gallery at 218 West Saratoga Street, formerly the Maryland Art Place building. The gallery space is funded by one of the Downtown Partnership's Operation Storefront grants, which support creative uses of vacant commercial space in the city center. D center’s mission is to "create a nexus for interdisciplinary design, collaboration, and creative conversations."

That nexus begins this evening with the opening celebration for the center's inaugural show, the Open City Challenge Exhibition. The Open City Challenge is a joint project of D center Baltimore, Urbanite, the year-long Exhibition Design Seminar at Maryland Institute College of Art, the Maryland Transit Administration, and the Baltimore City Department of Transportation. The competition offers a winning entry $10,000 in prize money, provided by the MTA, for the chance to implement their solution to a pressing city issue: the quality-of-life issues brought about by the construction of the city's Red Line.

D center @ MAP
Exhibition opening and official launch party for the new space.
5-8 PM
218 West Saratoga Street

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Baltimore: Open City Catalog

This past academic year, students of Maryland Institute College of Art’s Exhibition Development Seminar invited scholars, activists, community-based organizations, local artists, and visiting artist Damon Rich to create a series of installations, workshops, and other public programs that investigate the ways in which Baltimore is and is not an open city. The result was the exhibition Baltimore: Open City. For the exhibition's catalog, I was asked to write a short, 500 word essay in response to the question: How can the physical design of urban spaces influence the way we relate to each other? Here's what I had to say.

I have come to believe that humanity’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness are one in the same: it is our ability to connect the dots and to draw conclusions. The human brain is unique in its ability to analyze and understand the world around it and to order information in a way that makes sense, developing along the way a philosophy of existence.

This intellectual process is intimately tied to observation. Humans are inherently experiential mammals and until we go through something directly, we can only try our best to grasp it. Our childhood fantasies of falling in love are likely different from the actual experience of feeling romantic love for the first time. Our idea of marriage rarely matches the truth of being married. As an expectant mother, parents constantly tell me: “Just wait. You have no idea what you’re in for.” And they are right, I don’t. I can only imagine.

We all understand the world through our limited experiences and over time, our limbic brain creates a kind of roadmap to living, a set of values and assumptions that filter our way of seeing. Neuroscientists call this path dependence. We frequently base the future on what we know and understand of the past and these heuristic biases influence our decision making, whether consciously or unconsciously. This means that we tend repeat ourselves.

Take public housing in America as an example. Executed primarily by those who never directly experienced the need to live in such housing, the experiments of the past resulted in a guessing game of what might work best. We tore down houses and rowhouses to build apartment towers. A few decades later we tore down those towers and replaced them with what had been there before: houses. In her seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs notes that those outside the community attempting to “fix” the perceived chaos within via different housing models just weren’t seeing the truth. “There is a quality meaner than outright ugliness or disorder, and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of pretended order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling to exist and to be served,” she writes.

At present, the human mind cannot fully comprehend where the American city is heading. Many of our experiences from the past—economic, ecological, social, cultural—have shifted as we embark on a new era of urbanity. Cities like Baltimore and Detroit will simply never be what they once were and yet, we frequently apply the same processes, the same architecture, the same public policy to this unknown scenario rather than embrace the beauty and potential of exploration and invention. This is terra incognito and we must treat it as such.

It’s high time we challenge our path dependent thinking about cities and strive to connect the dots in new ways. We can begin by developing tools for communication and collaboration among designers, residents, policymakers, etc. that allow us to supplement our own experience and understanding with the perspectives of others in order to develop a new architecture for urban living. It is time, in other words, to stop looking to the formulas of the past and embrace the truth of what is in front of us: a new order that is struggling to exist and to be served.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Design Convo Tomorrow Night!

Another great design conversation coming to you from D Center Baltimore.

Design Conversation 31: Demonstration
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Windup Space, 12 W. North Ave

Where does the foundation of artistic learning begin? Demonstrations—the quickly drawn gestures, models, and diagrams made by teachers in the classroom—are the basis of dialogue for this month's convo. Come out and learn how the practice of teaching art is shaping our contemporary model of art, design, and culture.

This event is free and open to the public. Curated by Rachel Valsing.

Design Conversations are a monthly series of events loosely curated by a group of volunteers, focusing on rotating topics that are timely and engaging. These events are always free, always at the Windup Space, and now on the first TUESDAY of every month! Cash bar, AV hookup available for spontaneous presentations.

Design Conversations are encouraged by the generous support of D center Baltimore and Baltimore Community Foundation. For more information, please visit the D center Baltimore Web site.

Also: Mark your calendars for the opening of D Center @ MAP and the opening of the center's first exhibit at their new space. Save the date: June 17th.