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Architect and urban designer Liang Wang came to Syracuse Architecture in fall 2020 as the schoolâ€™s fifth Harry der Boghosian Fellow. During the 2020â€“21 school year, Wang has taught an architecture studio and two professional electives focusing on his research project, â€śThe Architecture of the Commons.â€ť By engaging the idea of â€ścommonsâ€ť in relation to the disciplinary knowledge of architecture and particularly through the lens of the superblock development, his research contemplates the role of architecture as both common means for spatial production and common knowledge in conceiving new modes of collective life and the idea of the city.
Adjunct Professor of the History and Theory of Urban Form and Design, Director of Research and Co-Director of the Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative, Harvard University Graduate School of Design
Former Professor, University of Cambridge and London Metropolitan University
Nancy S. Steinhardt
Professor of East Asian Art and Curator of Chinese Art, University of Pennsylvania
Professor of East Asian Architecture, School of Architecture Planning & Landscape, Newcastle University
Cultivated Imaginaries: Superblock and the Idea of the City
Superblock is a term with which almost all architects, planners and policymakers are conversant. Used to describe the building blocks of large-scale urban projectsâ€”ranging from Raymond Unwinâ€™s Town Extension Plan to the housing blocks in the New Frankfurt and Red Vienna, to the mid-20th Century Soviet microrayon, and to the multiplicity of mega-developments that sprung up all over China since the 1980sâ€”â€ťSuperblockâ€ť is a term that is familiar, useful and wonderfully imprecise. Indeed, despite its widespread use, there is no clear, established definition of the term. Why, then, does the term Superblock continue to have such appeal and purchase in discussions about the present and future city? One answer can be found in historian Alan Colquhounâ€™s 1971 essay, â€śThe Superblock,â€ť where he suggests that the Superblock not only describes an urban typology, but also, as a concept, it gives architects license to creatively â€śimagineâ€ť the totality of the city, an authority that was relinquished with mass industrialization and the emergence of ever more sophisticated, abstract and cybernetic forms of capitalist development. As the processes described by Colquhoun in 1971 have quickened, intensified and become more pervasive, the city, in turn, has become ever more complex, abstract and virtual, and creative speculation of the kind described by Colquhoun has become even more important as architects, planners and policymakers attempt to imagine a more equitable, sustainable and humane future city.
In this symposium we will examine the relationship between the Superblockâ€”term, concept and â€śrealityâ€ťâ€”and the present and future city in the West and in China. We propose to do so by addressing two interconnected issues, one representational, and one praxis-oriented. First, we propose to discuss the kind of speculative possibilities of the â€śSuperblock Imaginary,â€ť a scale of urban representation that might help us to better picture, analyze and understand the city. Following on this, we will ask whether the Superblock might also allow us to â€śright-sizeâ€ť the scale of development and focus on a block-scale â€ścommonsâ€ť rather than on the entire city, one perhaps better suited to address the many hidden, structural inequities revealed this past year by the COVID-19 global pandemic and the reckoning with systemic racism.
Conceived as a critical component and a culminating event of this yearâ€™s Harry der Boghosian Fellowship at the Syracuse University School of Architecture, the symposium will conclude the year-long research seminar on the same topic, opening up a broader discussion on the new possibilities that might follow from a rigorous reconceptualization of the relationship between the Superblockâ€”its architecture, urbanism and socio-political processesâ€”and the idea of the cityâ€”in both western and Chinese contextsâ€”through its history, imaginary and representation.