USA Architecture & Design Panel for 2008

Monica Ponce de Leon

Principal, Office dA, and USA Target Fellow 2007 Boston, MA

Brooke Hodge (Chair)

Curator of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA

Mark Robbins

Dean, Syracuse University School of Architecture, Syracuse, New York, NY

Mabel O. Wilson

Associate Professor of Architecture, Columbia University, New York, NY

Rick Valicenti

Owner/Principal, Thirst, Chicago, IL 

Statement by Mabel O. Wilson

The best architects and designers creatively utilize ideas and techniques to solve problems. They skillfully apply knowledge—scientific or a esthetic—to create the objects that we use and the spaces that we inhabit. This is why the design fields once fell under the rubric of “applied arts.” As we have become more interdependent, connected by links that now reach into global and virtual domains, we depend on others for all the things that structure and make possible our daily routines: where we sleep, what we wear, what we sit on, where we work, the utensils with which we eat, the signs that guide us, the mediums that enable our communication, the lighting that illuminates our rooms, and the landscapes through which we travel. This intricate web of connections not only constitutes our social relations but also tethers us to ecological cycles as we extract raw materials and deposit waste. How to make use of these finite resources wisely so that we can lead a more sustainable existence is the key challenge facing designers and architects across the United States, as well as around the world.

The practitioners selected as this year’s USA Fellows in Architecture and Design train their intellectual and creative capacities on ways to transform and enhance how we live. Today’s cutting-edge practices have opened up new aesthetic categories that advance beyond pragmatic concerns to experiment with novel forms, new materials, and inventive methods of fabrication. As we have witnessed, digital technologies have recalibrated the character of design practice, particularly how designers conceptualize their work. This new intelligence can be found on the design end of the equation in how architects and designers adapt and invent methods of design, production, and construction. These pioneering practitioners collaborate with computer programmers, community boards, corporations, NGOs, artists, students, and engineers to introduce new ideas. New intelligence can also be found on the user end of the equation. Innovative designs inform inhabitants and users, transforming mundane places and quotidian things into new experiences, which over time change how people go about their daily lives. Good design compels and enlightens.

The design disciplines have spent the past 30 years incorporating new technologies into all facets of education, practice, and production. This year’s USA Fellows aptly illustrate how the need to address urgent ecological, social, and political matters can mobilize this new knowledge base toward surprising ends. This year’s spirited recipients have taken on the thorny issues and problematic sites that shape our millennial existence: remediation of postindustrial landscapes, experimental energy sources, hybrid craft and industrial techniques, social spheres of networks, and Rust Belt urbanism. Their experimental ethos has opened new avenues of research in their own fields and across other disciplines. This group demonstrates that we need to be in a problem-solving mode in order to transform how we go about doing things, but they also remind us that we cannot abandon the need for design to provoke poetic, intellectual, and aesthetic responses. The role of design is not simply to facilitate use; through meaningful engagement it should also change how we perceive and act in the world. This year’s USA Fellows show us how to make a better world. The time to make that change is now.