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HEALTH – Present Predicaments in Architecture and Urban Planning

September 20, 2013 at 9:00 am - 6:00 pm

Friday, September 20, 2013
Helmut Stern Auditorium
University of Michigan Museum of Art
9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

HEALTH is the fourth installment of a series of conferences exploring present predicaments in architecture and urban planning. This conference will focus on the relationships between architecture, planning, and issues of health and the health industry while exploring the social impact of design decisions.

A diverse group of experts who actively shape the public opinion of architecture and planning will respond through informal discussion to a series of five “provocations.” These free-ranging conversations will underscore the complexities and contradictions inherent in each provocation as well as suggest potential solutions to such predicaments. Open discussion at the end of each session encourages the audience to take part in the conversations.

Continue the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #taubmancollege.


CHRONIC URGENCY: Considering Health from the Perspective of Spatial Discourse

Health – an obsession, a political hotbed, a meaningless rubric, a term that invokes every cultural issue from dietary concerns to environmental policies. Where do the many aspects of health intersect with spatial practice? How can the architect, urban designer, and city planner advocate for spatial, architectural, urban and environmental models of health and its many spheres of influence?

This conference is predicated upon the belief that design has the capacity to step in and defeat the monoculture of urgency that has come to dominate the discourse and practices of health. Through the disparate influences of science and scientism, governmental policy, environmental research, and medical standards and practices, health is currently undergoing a conceptual flattening. Though it once harbored connotations of bodily wellbeing, moral and mental soundness, as well as wholesomeness and salubrity, health is currently relegated to reductive understandings of national economies and bodily efficiencies. Gone is any holistic understanding of the enterprise. In its place are fictitious problems and ersatz solutions. What agency do the creative practices of design have in this context?

This conference challenges the emergent monoculture of the health industry. It leverages spatial practice as a lens through which to confront the homogeneity of health concerns, in order to promote a more holistic and fulsome understanding of its cultural potential. If the concept of health is currently usurped by narrow definitions of ‘fitness,’ then what might creative spatial practices contribute to expand this understanding? If spatial experience is the visceral substrate to the knowledge, practices, and policies of health, then what can spatial discourse contribute to health’s cultural framing and representation?

Organized according to scales of operation, the conference begins at the micro-level of particulate matter with the panel Air Apparent: Towards Atmospheric Health. Next, through the lens of the mediated body, Autogenic Bodies of Control emphasizes the productivity of disability culturally At the scale of buildings and institutions, the third panel, Feedback, Challenging the Systemic, anticipates the intersection of medical standards and design practices. The fourth panel, Collective, examines health from the larger scale of the policies through which local communities, city governments, and national bureaucracies facilitate societal change. Lastly, Aesthetics and Biopolitics operates at the macro-scale of the ethical, refusing the traditional segregation of aesthetics and politics. Each of the five panels considers health through the question of its urgency, and all of the other ‘gents’ this entails – emergent practices, intelligent design, divergent interests and constituencies, cogent policies, and proactive agents of design.

The HEALTH conference coincides with the inaugural year of Taubman College’s Master of Science concentration in Design Health. The MS_DH posits the design of buildings, spaces, cities, and regions have powerful consequences on our fitness and well-being. The program examines the impact of the built environment on the human body across multiple scales. The curriculum promotes critical assessments of existing design practices, while seeking to catalyze new opportunities for design and architecture to positively influence health. The impact of urban design will be a particular focus of the concentration in examining how planning choices affect human health. The program also examines new avenues of practice for designers and architects around issues of health through interdisciplinary approaches working with experts from medicine, social sciences, and the humanities.


  • 8:30 a.m.
  • Doors open; continental breakfast served

  • 9:00 – 9:15 a.m.
  • Introduction: Dean Monica Ponce de Leon

  • 9:30 – 10:30 a.m.
  • Provocation 1: Air Apparent: Toward Atmospheric Health
    Amy Kulper, Moderator


    – Monika Bakke, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland – PDF
    – David Gissen, California College of the Arts – PDF
    – Sandra Kaji-O’Grady, University of Queensland, Australia – PDF
    – Sean Lally, Weathers, Chicago – PDF

    From its particulate constitution to its ubiquitous presence, the health of air has both micro- and macro- articulations and implications. As Luce Irigaray so poignantly observes, air is the given condition of our existence, the medium in which we operate. Air’s instrumentalization, or explication (the term used by Peter Sloterdijk), cultivates an awareness of our environment as ersatz “life-support,” while reifying and problematically objectifying the medium in which we maneuver as substance or resource. From the nineteenth-century discourse on hygiene to the City Beautiful and Garden City movements, the histories of architecture and urbanism are rife with curative remedies for the incursions of industry and air-born contaminants on city air. Similarly, contemporary policies, movements, and designs addressing the “health” of urban air often target a dominant logic, proffering universal “curative” claims, thus relegating air to the dubious domain of the monoculture. Steven Connor’s framing of atmospherics as a condition that fosters interference, confusions, interprenetrations, and unpredictable mutations skillfully maneuvers the conceptualization of air away from the dominant logic and universal claims of an environmental monoculture. Given the “apparent” nature of air in our contemporary circumstances, this panel will consider how the discourses surrounding the built environment can advance toward atmospheric health.

  • 10:45 – 11:45 a.m.
  • Provocation 2: Autogenic Bodies of Control
    Robert Adams, Moderator


    – Vito Acconci, Designer, Brooklyn, New York
    – Francesca Lanzavecchia, Lanzabecchia + Wai Designers, Milan and Singapore
    – Tobin Siebers, University of Michigan
    – Hunn Wai, Lanzabecchia + Wai Designers, Milan and Singapore

    From the individuality of self-possessed, mediated bodies docked to hand-held devices to asynchronously organized political bodies taking down state actors, the disparities between bodies of control and embodied minds are increasingly networked under a perpetual state of construction. If one accepts that our individual bodies are distributed across processes of making and unmaking, then the concept of a singular, anthropocentric understanding of the self in the world is disrupted. The body is at once actor and object. Cascading in the ephemera of media, these knowledge-producing bodies arrest conventional structures of power and expand the types of work available to intellectual, creative, and productive life.

    This critical conversation on body develops a correspondence around the conception of a 21st century polyvalent body within a complex neuro-chemical, bio-mechanical and geo-political network of mutually constructed practices and spaces. The autogenic body claims disability, or to be termed disabled, a profoundly creative drive that produces unique types of knowledge and radically alters structures of the social body. In contrast to the predominance of health debates within a medical model, the motivation of this dialogue promotes a social construction of health in order to detect emerging types of communication and interfaciality, aesthetics and constraints, and the augmentation of the body as a basic human right – which among many, is to differ.

  • 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Provocation 3: Feedback: Challenging the Systemic
    U. Sean Vance, Moderator


    – Mohammed Ayoub, HDR Architecture
    – Abigail Clary, HDR Architecture
    – Robin Guenther, Perkins and Will Architects
    – Diana Hernandez, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University
    – Sam Zheng, Siemens Corporate Research and Tsinghua University

    Is healthy design, healthy citizenship? In the traditional definition of health, the establishment of an individual’s state of health mirrors the influence of governance on the criteria for defining the same. The objective criticisms of health in a civic sense are seemingly endless, and therefore lack the criticality to define and categorize the boundaries of its designation. However, the duties of the architect warrant some degree of responsibility in regards to health, wherein even the most pure tectonics of the craft possesses an effect on the physiology of space. The premise that architecture is both an institutional infrastructure and physical presence by which events happen, are spatially embodied, and thereby responsive to an atmosphere that is not solely defined by the body of the object, signifies the role of health in architecture as an issue of civic infrastructure based on the unbound continuity of occupation. The articulation of architecture, as an investigative feedback system, autonomously justifying conditional assessments and restructuring itself by deployable devices, modifies the traditional interpretation of the role of surveillance in defining the state of health.

  • 1:00 – 2:00
  • Lunch

  • 2:15 – 3:15 p.m.
  • Provocation 4: Improving Collective Health by Design
    Lesli Hoey, Moderator


    – J. Ricardo Guzman, Community Health and Social Services Center, Detroit
    – Rebecca A. Heidkamp, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
    – Cathy Nonas, New York City Health Department
    – Jeremy Shiffman, American University

    The recent emergence of “translation science” acknowledges that much of the bench-side science we have amassed takes too long to get to patient bedsides, if it ever arrives. This effort to link health science more intentionally to practice, however, does not go far enough, often remaining focused on the clinic setting, guided by particular paradigms of what the “gold standard” of evidence constitutes, and aimed at finding the magic universal, curative bullet. Often unacknowledged is that much of our understanding of “health” is a social construction or that experiential knowledge is critical for resolving complex public health problems. Most of the attention is usually placed on the individual rather than corporations or policies that shape our environments and the supposed “choices” we have to prevent poor health. If we begin to think beyond the reactionary, curative medical model, how might we reshape our built environment, re-engage government, re-engineer health care delivery, or rethink our food systems to prevent obesity, undernutrition, and other chronic illnesses? This panel will examine the tensions and divergent public health design strategies emerging at the neighborhood, city government, health system, and national policy level in the U.S. and around the world.

  • 3:30 – 4:30 p.m.
  • Provocation 5: Aesthetics and Biopolitics
    Joy Knoblauch, Moderator


    – Annmarie Adams, McGill University
    – Giovanna Borasi, Canadian Centre for Architecture
    – Gina Greene, University of Pennsylvania

    Spanning many scales, from the interior to the city, the panel presents the political implications of a new aesthetic and biological mode of governing focused on the life and health of human populations. Topics include hospital environments, human/machine interfaces, pharmaceuticals, and food markets. The panel on Aesthetics and Biopolitics addresses the overall conference theme of monocultures by refusing the traditional categorization that separates aesthetics from politics. Instead, the conversation focuses on design scholarship that examines connections between the two modes. More specifically, in the context of health, the panel will discuss a range of environments — from specialized, high technology medical spaces to everyday environments – as clear evidence that health, aesthetics, and power are inseparable.

  • 4:45 p.m.
  • Concluding Remarks: Associate Dean Milton S. F. Curry



September 20, 2013
9:00 am - 6:00 pm
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