• Curating the City: Activism, Aesthetics, and the Representational Spaces of Democratic Practice
    Michael Rios

Michael Rios, Spontaneous Interventions exhibition, Chicago Cultural Center, 2012, Chicago, IL.

Public-interest design is gaining visibility, as evidenced by exhibitions at major art institutions. These developments are part of a growing aestheticization of the city to promote a particular assessment, production, and use of public space focused on social entrepreneurship, civic activism, and small-scale interventions. This research critically engages these works by analyzing the normalization of public-interest design and how exhibitions mediate and structure architectural discourse about democracy, participation, and citizenship for public audiences. Key to this analysis is a focus on aesthetics and how representations determine what is seen and unseen in the city, including the sensibilities of multiple publics and citizens. The project makes a contribution by analyzing how communities of practice are introduced and represented in institutional spaces, the affects of these practices, and the tensions between aesthetics, design practice, and different imaginations of the city.

Michael Rios is associate professor of landscape architecture and environmental design at the University of California, Davis. Drawing from architecture, human geography, and urban planning, his research and writing focuses on the intersection of public space, politics, and the social practice of design. Critical essays have appeared in The Informal American City: From Taco Trucks to Day Labor, Insurgent Public Space: Guerrilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities, Beyond Zuccotti Park: Freedom of Assembly and the Occupation of Public Space, and Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism. Michael received his PhD in geography from Pennsylvania State University and his MArch and MCP degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. He is past president of the Association for Community Design and was the inaugural director of the Hamer Center for Community Design at Pennsylvania State University.