As I write this, Twin Cities architects are hurriedly completing their submissions (due Wednesday) for Bearden Place: A Housing Competition in the Artists' Core. If you're hearing about this for the first time, it's probably too late to enter, but I'd love you to follow our progress as we re-envision vacancy in Minneapolis. In the meantime, I thought a little background might be interesting.
The Competition is a natural outgrowth of my interest and recent work in creating situations where architects are challenged to engage creatively, yet differently in the social, political and cultural forces that shape our environment and impact our work.
I had been a consultant for the Family Housing Fund and had been spending time with the Willard Homewood neighborhood group guiding them in efforts to visualize the housing situation in their immediate neighborhood using GIS mapping techniques and graphics. The housing crisis was in full throttle, this neighborhood was very committed to rebuilding itself, and there was a dearth of new ideas coming from the usual suspects. I would drive by this vacant site on the corner of Plymouth and Sheridan Avenues North and think what a great opportunity this would be for a project that would demonstrate all the best intentions of the many people and groups I had come across who were working so hard to combat the housing crisis. This group included architects, and it was not a great leap to think what might happen if a design competition was held and dozens of architects had the opportunity to bring their collective skills and creativity to bear upon the site and the conditions that allowed such an important piece of the neighborhood to remain empty.
My motivations and intentions with this competition are as numerous as the disparate parties involved, which include the City, the Builders, the neighborhood, and the design community. However, each in their own way shares an overriding desire to support a project that demonstrates the possibility of great, affordable and sustainable housing design that would serve as the benchmark for future inner city development efforts. Finding the magic balance among the design submissions that most likely allows for the construction and successful sale of all units will be the charge and duty of the jury.
I'm particularly interested in whether a process defined by partnering, collaboration and identification of shared goals can deliver something superior to the traditional development process, where architects and the community are asked to respond directly and specifically to a single development proposal and it's goals. While we are very good at this, I believe architects are called upon in too limited a manner and circumstance. I want architects at the table where policy making discussions occur and in other public situations that could benefit from design thinking and problem solving.
I hadn't heard of Romare Howard Bearden (1911-1988) before this competition, so I was pleased to be introduced to his work and history. We were seeking a name for the competition that wasn't too dry, too literal, or too much like a bad TV sitcom. It had to reflect the passion and hope of the residents who were trying to rebuild their neighborhood, who had branded it the "Artists' Core" and were hoping to attract young, vibrant, arts-oriented people to come purchase and revitalize the solid housing stock that still existed.
Romare Bearden was suggested as the appropriate namesake and whose most noted works are his large collages, the most notable being "The Block" which graces the pages of the Competition Program. His legacy is represented by the Bearden Foundation and fortunately they have given us permission to use his name and images for this project and are very interested in the outcomes. You can see his multifaceted work and find out more about this influential African American artist, educator, scholar, and social activist at the Bearden Foundation website.
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