Superblock and the Idea of the City
Harry der Boghosian Fellowship 2020-2021,
Syracuse School of Architecture
CULTIVATED IMAGINARIES is the culminating exhibition of Boghosian Fellow Liang Wang’s year-long research project devoted to the study of the superblock. The results of Wang’s studio and other courses taught over this last year are catalogued and published in two large volumes which are part of the exhibition. They feature 41 superblock projects redrawn from initial research produced in the seminars and studios, which delineate the existing discourse of the superblock. But those materials tell only part of the story. Wang and his students also set out to discover why “superblock,” as a term, concept and reality has been so central to discussions of the contemporary city despite the fact that even today it has no agreed upon definition. What they discovered is that “superblock” is not so much a term, concept, or reality, but is instead the name for an ambition, shared by the architect and the urbanist alike, to “see all,” to represent, name and thus comprehend the seemingly incomprehensible complexity of the contemporary city.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a very large model of multiple scales—urban, architecture, interior—that come in and out of focus depending on how and from what vantage point we view the model itself. Indeed, depending on the vantage point, the scales appear not only to be multiple, but indeterminate, or rather the model allows us to move between scales, and accede to the of ambition of “seeing all.” The large model is painted white and filled with copper-colored interior furnishings visible through the frame of what, upon entering the Marble Room through the center doors, appears to be a large white building. As we approach the white building frame, the interior spaces of the building do not conform precisely to the expected scale. Indeed, when viewed more closely, the scale of these three levels with furnishings gets larger as our eye moves vertically up the model. Also, as we move in closer to the model, tall buildings arise beyond the copper furnishings from the center of the white, framed building. Walking around the model enables a more “cinematic” view that allows us to see through and past the interior frames and furnishings where we can make out, though not see in full, an urban block in what would by convention be called the “building’s” atrium.
Views of the urban scale are thus upon initial approach framed through the white building, and then as we move closer, by the multiple-scaled interiors and then more fully—though not entirely—by way of a more kinetic view enabled by walking around the “building.” Access to a full view of the urban scale—to “see all”—is foreclosed, however, by the height of the model itself. Something approximating this full view is enabled, however, through the eye of a video camera placed above the model which provides a continuous video feed projected onto one of the room’s marble walls. And yet even this more conventional plan view, which allows us to see the urban, architecture and interior scales all at once, does not enable us to “see all.” Ultimately, and this is the conclusion drawn by Wang and his students, this full view can only ever be imagined and made possible through a rigorous and inventive curation, narration, and cultivation of multiple points of view such as the one offered here in this exhibition. Further, Wang and his students help us to understand that even this fictive, imagined view offers only a single, cultivated imaginary, only one among many possibilities. And in this they have answered the ambitious call to “see all” invoked by the superblock, acknowledging, simultaneously, the impossibility of success and the necessity of the effort.
This exhibition is made possible by the Harry der Boghosian Fellowship Program at the Syracuse University School of Architecture, and it is the result of a truly collective and collaborative process. Special thanks to Michael Speaks, CULTIVATED IMAGINARIES curator and dean of Syracuse University School of Architecture; Julia Czerniak, professor and associate dean of Syracuse University School of Architecture; all the colleagues and friends who have contributed to this research along the way; and all the students enrolled in the fall 2020, spring 2021, and summer 2021 Boghosian Fellowship seminars and studios.
Exhibition Curator: Michael Speaks, dean of Syracuse School of Architecture;
Harry der Boghosian Fellow: Liang Wang, Syracuse School of Architecture;
Exhibition Production Team: Emily Hu (B.Arch ’22), Miguel Roman (B.Arch ’22), Lu Zhang (Payette);
Exhibition Publication Team: Wendy Li (B.Arch ’23), Romi Moller (B.Arch ’23), Roy Zhang (B.Arch ’23);
Exhibition Research Team: Hanzhang Lai (B.Arch ’21), Phang Lim (B.Arch ’21);
Exhibition Graphic Design: Common Name (New York);
Exhibition Photographer: Hector Yu (B.Arch ’23);
Syracuse Architecture Fabrication Shop: John Bryant, Michael Giannattasio, Robbie Weaver;
Syracuse Architecture IT Services: Andy Molloy, Thuc Phung.