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New Architectures and Urbanisms of Decentralization
Moderated by Judith De Jong and Marshall Brown
Jul 21, 2016 (6pm)
Panel Discussion

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References to American suburbia typically conjure distinct images of vast, homogenous tracts of post-war residential neighborhoods, filled with white, middle-class families who left the city in search of the “American Dream” of the single-family house and lawn. Yet decentralization is neither new, nor monolithic, nor specifically American; rather, it is evident as early as the third millennium BCE outside the typical Mesopotamian city, where outlying settlement was often focused on commerce and industry. Early American suburbia was likewise often industrial, and developed as distinct municipalities, some of which were annexed by their central cities, others of which faded into oblivion, and still others of which developed into thriving economic hubs. Simultaneously, decentralization acted back upon the traditional city center, forcing a reconsideration of its own forms and qualities.

The contemporary American metropolis is therefore characterized by a wide range of decentralized urbanisms, many of which exhibit formal and spatial patterns that are much more open than in traditional settlement-what Lewis Mumford called “spatial looseness.” Because these patterns are harder to identify, understand, and instrumentalize, and because the architecture is so often banal, these conditions are easily dismissed. There is significant value in understanding them, however, as they not only are the largest and fastest growing parts of the metropolis, but also are evolving extremely quickly. They are, therefore, the primary sites of potentially innovative new architectures and new urbanisms.

This roundtable thus asks: what are the new forms of architecture and urbanism of decentralization in the American metropolis? What are the primary forces being materialized in their making (new and evolving collectives, democratic processes, free markets, new forms of mobility, others)? And what are the opportunities for the future?


Marshall Brown is a licensed architect and principal of Marshall Brown Projects. He is also an Associate Professor at the IIT College of Architecture. He is a Graham Foundation grant awardee, is currently exhibiting in the U.S. Pavilion for the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, and participated as a finalist in the 2012 Navy Pier Centennial Vision competition. He has new projects on view in Chicago during spring and summer 2016 at both the Arts Club of Chicago and Western Exhibitions gallery. Marshall Brown’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit and Western Exhibitions in Chicago.  He has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Architectural Education and has lectured at the Chicago Humanities Festival, University of Michigan, Northwestern University, the Graham Foundation, and the Arts Club of Chicago. His projects and essays have appeared in several books and journals, including Metropolis, Crain’s, Architectural Record, The New York Daily News, Art Papers, The Believer, and New Directions in Sustainable Design.

Robert Bruegmann is an historian and critic of the built environment.  He received his PhD in art history from the University of Pennsylvania in 1976 and since 1979 has been at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he is currently Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Art History, Architecture and Urban Planning.  Among his books are The Architects and the City:  Holabird & Roche of Chicago 1880-1918 published in 1998, Sprawl: A Compact History, 2005 and The Architecture of Harry Weese, 2010.  He is currently acting as editor of a book tentatively titled Art Deco Chicago about Chicago architecture, industrial design, graphic design and fashion c. 1910-50.  His main areas of research are in the history of architecture, urban planning, landscape and historic preservation.

Architect Claire Cahan is Design Director at Studio Gang, an architecture and urbanism collective based in Chicago and New York. Engaging projects of various scales and typologies, Studio Gang uses design as a medium to connect people socially, experientially, and intellectually. The Studio’s research-based approach is coupled with a focus on sustainability to produce built projects that engage with pressing social, political, and ecological issues, such as the recently completed Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College, as well as design proposals for new typologies including Polis Station, which works with community partners to reorient police stations toward the neighborhoods they serve. Claire has led and collaborated on many of the Studio’s most pivotal projects, from the Northerly Island framework plan to a proposal for Cicero, Illinois. Developed as part of Museum of Modern Art’s 2012 exhibition Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream, the proposal transforms the inner-ring suburb into a thriving live-work community. A Chicago native, Claire holds a Master of Architecture from Tulane University in New Orleans. Living and learning in different urban contexts informs her understanding of the challenges facing cities today and reinforces her belief in the essential relationship between built and natural environments.

Judith K. De Jong is an architect, urbanist, and Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago, whose work investigates the reciprocating relationships between architecture and the city, and the opportunities for design innovation in architectures and urbanisms of mass culture. Her book, New SubUrbanisms, was published in 2013. De Jong has received support from the Graham Foundation and the Great Cities Institute, where she was a 2011-2012 Faculty Scholar, and has presented her work in the U.S., Mexico City, Hong Kong, and Israel. She has written for MONU, Land Forum, CITE: The Architecture and Design Review of Houston, and The Journal of Architectural Education, among others, and her proposal “How the Strip Mall Can Save Suburbia” was a finalist in the 2010 Build A Better Burb competition. De Jong received a Master of Architecture in Urban Design from Harvard University, and a Bachelor of Architecture from the Pennsylvania State University.

Andrew Metter is currently Principal Design Consultant at Epstein in Chicago. He holds a Master of Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis. His work has received numerous design awards including Chicago Chapter AIA Distinguished Building Honor Awards. He has been the recipient of Design Awards from Progressive Architecture magazine, as well as the Architectural League of New York. His architectural works have been published in Progressive Architecture, Architecture, Architectural Record, Architect, and 150 Years of Chicago Architecture. His work has been exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Science and Industry Chicago, Institute d’Architecture Francais, Paris; and the Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon. He is an adjunct professor at IIT, and recently served as Co-Chair of the Board of Overseers of The College of Architecture at IIT. In conjunction with his IIT studio, Metter has pursued the study of leveraging existing infrastructure network systems to address the re-distribution of food, social services, and manufacturing in the City of Chicago. He is also past Chair of the Gold Medal Committee of the National AIA Committee on Design. His Serta project, which has been published widely, has received a number of national and international awards, including being named “Best of 2009” by Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune, and a 2010 National AIA Honor Award.

Juan Gabriel Moreno, AIA, is an award winning architect and President/Founder of JGMA (Juan Gabriel Moreno Architects). Mr. Moreno was born in Bogota, Colombia and studied architecture at California State Polytechnic University Pomona. He also lived in Florence, Italy where he studied under Superstudio founders Christiano Toraldo di Francia and Gianni Pettena. Mr. Moreno has been creating provocative works for more than 30 years. His portfolio includes having worked on projects throughout the United States and internationally. These projects represent a diverse portfolio of public and private work in typologies ranging from education, government, research, commercial, urban planning, product design and graphic design. However, in 2010 he launched JGMA with the sole purpose of transforming Chicago’s diverse communities with his architecture. Since then, JGMA has become one of the most highly acclaimed design firms in Chicago. In 2015 was recognized by Architect Magazine as one of the Top 50 Design Firms in the United States. Additionally, JGMA’s work was on display at the inaugural Chicago Architectural Biennial and Juan was invited to several of the Biennial’s panels to share his work and vision with the design community.

Mark Muenzer is the Director of Community Development for the City of Evanston.  Evanston, the home of Northwestern University, is a densely populated urban suburb immediately north of Chicago along Lake Michigan.  Evanston contains a vibrant and rapidly expanding downtown as well as many traditional multi-family and single-family neighborhoods adjacent to local business districts and numerous CTA and Metra transit stations.  Muenzer heads a department of 35 staff members in four different department divisions – Building & Inspection Services, Planning & Zoning, Housing & Grants Administration and Transportation & Mobility.  Prior to his tenure with Evanston, he was with the City of Chicago Dept of Planning & Development and managed the City’s Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals and also served as the Community Development Director for the City of Countryside.  He holds Bachelors in Political Science from Gannon University (PA) and a Masters in Community Planning from the University of Cincinnati.  He resides in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood.

Image:  “How the Strip Mall Can Save Suburbia” by Judith K. De Jong and “Smooth Growth” by Marshall Brown