Submission: 01-Feb-2011 Opening: 06-Apr-2011 Closing: 07-Apr-2011 Organized by Kenny Cupers, Reyner Banham Fellow 2010-2011 School of Architecture and Planning, University at Buffalo

"Before and Beyond: Architecture and the User" explores the question of how architecture and urban design deal with matters of use. Rapid urbanization and the development of mass culture over the past century have only exacerbated the fascination with architecture's "dark side": the unknowable universe of its consumption and everyday use. If there is one figure that has functioned as the principal way of addressing both what informs and succeeds the controllable process of architectural production, it is that of the user. This innocuous category has been crucial to a number of emerging paradigms, from participatory planning and post-occupancy studies to populism, programming, and interaction design. Despite its centrality however, it remains unclear how exactly the notion of the user has shaped the stakes of architecture across the modern and the postmodern.

With contemporary concerns of sustainability in a growing urban world, user-centered design delivers new promises for architecture's social agency - from urban interventions in the favelas of Caracas to the renovation of public housing in the suburbs of Paris. Against the prevailing ideas that such agendas are unprecedented or threaten to usurp the discipline's formal potentials, this symposium asks instead how the user has been a critical source of invention over the past century, prompting us to reconfigure the processes and premises of design.

The symposium seeks to critically examine architecture's search to identify and serve the user in both contemporary and historical perspectives. A group of invited scholars and practitioners will explore how concerns with the user triggered architectural experimentation in the context of changing social models, mass culture, social and political activism, shifting forms of expertise, the ambiguities of state and market, global migration, and the transformations of capitalism.

Application: 20 minute paper abstract (300 to 500 words)

Proposals should be sent via email in WORD or PDF format to Kenny Cupers at by 1 February 2011. Acceptance notifications will follow on 15 February 2011.

Contact: Kenny Cupers



Design with a Cause

It has been a chore of habitually updating myself to what's going around. This time I have come across the website and very impressive Curriculum Vitae of a rather humanitarian architect(of whose name I wouldn't be mentioning for now). Her file says that she's (yup a woman) been traveling around for a while now, winning numerous international prestigious awards the likes of Aga Khan, Archiprix and Emerging Architect Award amongst others.. at a young age of 32 ?! Her obviously killer resume made me ponder: why was she not given the global exposure? and why wasn't she known the same way some are? I go on reading her stuff... She mentioned that her purpose is to 'use architecture as a medium to enhance cultural and individual confidence and support local economies...' , this instantly had put me back in the drawing board to reflect on my current goals and views about architecture. Living and working from Singapore to the U.S had my ideals pointed on pursuing the what I thought is the culmination of design: brilliant, complex and hip.  Keeping myself exposed to great colleagues, mentors and designers ... I knew they have shown me the way.. or not... or have they? Throughout these years, I witnessed starchitects presenting the most original, layman- incomprehensible and cerebral proposals the world has seen yet... I have agreed with their ideas and applauded all these times but frequently found them short of something that I can't really point out ... until now: a profound humanitarian cause.But its always a choice of being a poor but passionate designer vs. a highroller prima donna architect with high profile projects. Anyone up for low-profile commissions? yeah right, I thought so too... Humility isn't really a recipe for success , especially now at present most of us scour for projects for a penny or less.


I have divided Architects into 2 groups: The first one is a group who's advocacy is focused on fashion, concept and mental orgasm, Group X. A race is currently set by these group of elite architects, a race where who gets to design, build and execute the most sophisticated, avant garde and philosophically perfect structure that would demonstrate it's superiority. Indeed these architects have provided solutions with the greatest accuracy,the most complex enhancement to the current circumstance, booster of ego... maybe just a bit more to win the coveted Pritzker Prize. These works are brilliant , but merely pieces of mental exhibition if you ask me. They end up winning statusquo awards...

In the meantime, on the undesirable side of the globe, Group Y have spent their extra time weaving through uncomfortable situations and making it through by executing a rather well designed school using their own hands along with some volunteers, that's right, hand-built, in Bangladesh. Their arsenal: unpaid eager village people and a beacon of hope. They end up winning humanitarian awards. at the end of the day,Guess who makes it to the cover of the Architectural Digest though....

The difference? nothing much. Both solutions are brilliant. Only that the second group had chosen to use their creativity to poorer clients and users; in which by the way, are the  same people left behind whenever the likes of an iconic, towering architectural marvel has been built to make its stand and represent excessive corporate expeditures. Nothing wrong with enhancing a rather decent environment, it is just that oftentimes whenever a development has been made for a certain group, another has been deprived of. Plus the media prefer the more beautiful and the more elegant.

As a conclusion, I say this: Great Architecture should be in its purest state, an all-encompassing gift that doesn't judge and does not tag compensation as a driving force,only the willingness of those who are capable.... But of course ,this is just like how Karl Marx described Communism on its untainted form....... too good to happen. I am left with nothing but admiration to this high-attaining but low profile designer who sets to find brilliant solutions on less abundant lands.

.. like what they say '' design like you give a damn'' :