UNIVERSITY
OF
MINNESOTA

SCHOOL 
OF 
ARCHITECTURE



The University of Minnesota’s Master of Architecture annual week-long event, Architecture as Catalyst, brings new ideas, conversations, and expertise to the school by inviting guests from around the world to run experimental workshops with graduate students and give public lectures on their work. Each year, the week before spring break, first and second year graduate architecture students engage with the guests and host faculty in intensive five-day workshops, each focused around a unique set of ideas and techniques. The primary goal of Catalyst is to raise the level of discourse about design and to provoke leaps in perception of what architecture can do. The workshops serve as intense, rigorous, transformative and creative sparks within the spring semester, and participants then re-engage their peer groups able to share new ways of thinking, communicating, and acting. Catalyst guests have ranged from experienced educators to practitioners to artists, both within and beyond the discipline of architecture. Workshops span a wide field of topics, such as urban research, geopolitics, computational modeling and fabrication, smart materiality, food science, film making, sound recording, book arts, stereotomy, and photogrammetry.
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Catalyst 2021 is concerned with lowercase-a architecture, that is to say, spatial-material practices beyond capital-A Architecture. As a result of the traditional distinction between architect-designed structures, on one hand, and environments shaped by other actors and forces, on the other, spatialities beyond the strict design of buildings are often overlooked. Departing from the stance that the presets of capital-A are increasingly ill-suited to contemporary conditions and injustices, this workshop endeavors to articulate and capitalize on lowercase-a matters. Accordingly, Catalyst 2021 opens onto a wide range of spatial, material, and organizational activities and dynamics, attuning students to opportunities for engaging with spatial justice and environmental dilemmas in ways that customary templates may fail to capture. The workshop is thus directed to inquiries that help to define forms of architectural study and action beyond capital-A. What does it take to transpose political and ecological conflicts into questions of spatial-material agency? Through which relationships and formats can spatial practitioners contribute to social movements? How can architects help challenge the conditions that underlie environmental relations? Underscoring those prompts, Catalyst 2021 makes the case for architecture that is — drawing from the work of this year’s guests — grounded, habitable, cooperative, and accountable.

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Organized by Gabriel Cuéllar
Assistant Professor-in-Practice
Cadaster
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PUBLIC LECTURES

Catalyst week launches with public lectures from each of this year’s guest tutors. All lectures are online, free, and open to the public. To tune in, click the Youtube streaming links below. While live captioning is unfortunately not available, the lectures will be captioned and made available here shortly after the events.


Monday
March 8, 2021

CLUSTER

“Towards Grounded Urban Practices”
Omar Nagati
9:00am CST / 16:00 GMT+1 / 17:00 GMT+2
Lecture recording



SOC — Société d'Objets Cartographiques

“Terra Forma, investigating the Critical Zones”
Alexandra Arènes
10:30am CST / 17:30 GMT+1 / 18:30 GMT+2
Lecture recording


Tuesday
March 9, 2021

Lacol

“Logics of Cooperation”
Cristina Gamboa, Carles Baiges
9:00am CST / 16:00 GMT+1 / 17:00 GMT+2
Lecture recording



HECTOR

“Accountable Architecture”
Jae Shin & Damon Rich
Newark
12:00pm CST / 19:00 GMT+1 / 20:00 GMT+2
Lecture recording
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CATALYST WORKSHOPS

Catalyst is organized around workshops led by internationally prominent practitioners and thinkers, who bring their inquiries, convictions, and design approaches to the school during an intensive week-long course. Each workshop offers a unique perspective on this year’s theme. Students are invited to indicate which workshop they are interested to join for the duration of the week.


Contestation of public space: Tactical design as urban diplomacy


Workshop tutor:
CLUSTER
Omar Nagati


UMN host faculty:
Julia Robinson

Cities in both northern and southern hemispheres may have more in common that is often acknowledged. Neoliberal policies and gradual deregulations have resulted in an urbanization of injustice manifest in social polarization and geographical segregation; public space being a site of contestation and conflict. Like other cities in the Global South characterized by dysfunctional urban governance and prevailing informality, Cairo may offer lessons to cities with more regulated urbanism and structured participatory planning. This workshop introduces methods and tools to map and engage stakeholders in a process of urban diplomacy. Spatial interventions are used as sites for negotiation between competing interests and frames of reference. Building on CLUSTER’s track record of stakeholders’ approach to tactical interventions in public space, students will explore specific sites for their analysis and design propositions in the city center, suburban malls, urban parks and interface zones.


Mapping the Critical Zones


Workshop tutor:
SOC
Alexandra Arènes


UMN host faculty:
Gabriel Cuéllar

The term Anthropocene refers to our time when humanity has become a geological force, triggering climate change, causing irreversible environmental damage and the extinction of biodiversity while accelerating injustices between human communities. The Critical Zone refers to the area of the Earth where the conditions of these living beings, the habitability of the Earth, are threatened by the effects of the Anthropocene. These two notions will be developed during the lecture. The workshop will work from this reality and will ask students to imagine other ways of mapping and describing places, territories, cities or landscapes disturbed by the Anthropocene. A model, a map framework borrowed from the book Terra Forma, manual of potential cartographies, will be provided to the students to carry out this experimental practice. The resulting map of the workshop will be problematised and will represent an Anthropocene phenomenon that has an impact on a chosen location. This Anthropocene effect will be reinterpreted in a particular mapping framework, a specific grammar and notation, which will be nevertheless based on a precise and extensive corpus of data.


This could be a housing coop


Workshop tutors:
Lacol
Cristina Gamboa, Carles Baiges

UMN host faculty:
Athar Mufreh

Climate change, housing emergency, aging population, discrimination, socio-economical inequalities... Across the globe many cities are facing the common and major challenge of transitioning towards social, economic, political and environmental sustainability. How can architectural practice engage societal transitions? The workshop proposes to use architecture as a tool to intervene critically in the local environments, while experimenting  the different roles design experts can have in cases of social innovation: facilitators, activists, strategists and cultural promoters. The workshop will focus on the cooperative housing model, its characteristics and singularities, based on the learning from Lacol’s experience in Barcelona. Each team of three will focus on a different neighborhood of Minneapolis and a specific challenge, to respond to the local housing needs. One of the main efforts in the implementation of new models is the communication, for that reason, as output the workshop aims to produce graphic and visual materials that can help the discussions on alternative forms of housing in the city (maps, posters, zines, diagrams, images…), and generate imaginaries.


Accountable Architectures of Minneapolis


Workshop tutor:
HECTOR
Jae Shin, Damon Rich


UMN host faculty:

Jennifer Newsom

If we want more interesting and just architectures, we need systems to make design and building activity more accountable to different people than currently dominate the process. In this workshop, we’ll conduct a rapid audit of accountable architectures in Minneapolis: laws, procedures, government agencies, and private organizations that structure the conflicts between property and democracy to decide what gets built and how. We’ll examine accountability in at least two senses: politically, as in responsible, and narratively, as in explainable.

Students will test their powers of visual explanation by creating an illustrative panoramic drawing of what these systems of accountability look like in physical form, from private banking suites and planning commission hearing rooms to outdoor tenant protests and building inspector offices: the Accountable Architectures of Minneapolis. By providing a baseline for imagining how all architecture interacts structurally with the promise of public benefit, we hope to discuss how today’s movements for economic, environmental, racial, and gender justice might further renovate these spaces that determine the quality of all other spaces, and how we as designers and architects might contribute to reshaping the conditioning of our own production.