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Infrastructure and the Future

Assessing the Architect’s Role

21 November 2009 – 21 January 2010
Northeastern University
Amanda Lawrence

Infrastructure and the Future: Assessing the Architect’s Role is the first conference in a series organized by the School of Architecture at Northeastern addressing real-world issues facing architects today, particularly issues that span the academic and the professional realms. Our larger aim is to question, and hopefully broaden, our understanding of the role of architecture in addressing issues that are facing the contemporary city.

In the lead panel, “Civic Infrastructure,” moderated by The New Republic’s architectural critic Sarah Williams Goldhagen, panelists Bob Culver, Hubert Murray, Byron Stigge, Marcel Smets, Marilyn Taylor, and Guido Hartray focused on political issues surrounding the creation of civic infrastructure, particularly the importance of providing more than simply the “necessary” infrastructure, the significance of the public will and body politic, regenerative government funding, as well as the symbolic significance of civic infrastructure. Concluding discussion stressed the necessity for architects to embrace civic responsibility as a key component of both training and practice.

“Systems Infrastructure” proved one of the most interesting topics of the day, if also the most difficult to define. A wide-ranging discussion, led by BSA Director Tom Keane, covered everything from “Smart Cars” to information design to cell phone towers. Panelists Kazys Varnelis, Michael Jones, Will Lark, Jason Schrieber, Beto Lopez, and Clare Lyster considered where the architect can meaningfully contribute to the question of systems infrastructure, whether through maintaining/improving quality of life, mapping information or becoming more directly involved in politics. The question of 18th and 19th century systems in relation to today’s systems figured prominently, including the role of distributed systems and questions of efficiency.

In the final panel, Northeastern Professor and Utile Principal Tim Love led a more focused discussion on the role of the architect and landscape architect in addressing green infrastructure, focusing on key projects and the role of various team members including engineers and landscape architects. Pedagogical questions in regard to the framing and teaching of landscape and in particular the role of landscape urbanism were paramount, as was the question of performance versus visualization or “data versus design.” A final discussion on “agency” versus “advocacy” offered a useful framework for thinking about the architect’s role not only for green but for all infrastructural involvement.


Robert Culver, Mass Development
Byron Stigge, Buro Happold
Marcel Smets, Professor of Urban Design/State Architect to the Flemish Government
Marilyn Taylor, Dean, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania
Guido Hartray, Rogers Marvel Architects
Moderator: Sarah Williams Goldhagen, Architecture Critic, The New Republic

Kazys Varnelis, Director, Network Architecture Lab, Columbia University
Michael Jones, Partner, Foster and Partners
Jim Gordon, President, Cape Wind
Fred Salvucci, Senior Lecturer and Senior Research Associate, Center for Transportation & Logistics, former Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation
Clare Lyster, Assistant Professor, UIC
Moderator: Tom Keane, Executive Director, Boston Society of Architects

Charles Waldheim, Chair of Landscape Architecture, Graduate School of Design
Jerry Van Eyck, Partner, West 8
Martin Felsen, IIT/Archeworks
Hubert Murray, Architect, Boston, former Chief Architect of Boston’s Central Artery Project
Daniel Barber, Oberlin College, Ph.D. Candidate Columbia University
Moderator: Tim Love, Northeastern University/Utile