Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

Dimensions of Citizenship, the theme of the US Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, co-commissioned by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and the University of Chicago, challenges architects and designers to envision what it means to be a citizen today. As transnational flows of capital, digital technologies, and geopolitical transformations expand, conventional notions of citizenship are undermined. How might architecture, then, express, and engage with today’s rhizomatic and paradoxical conditions of citizenship?

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“Armrest” appears early on in The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion (Actar). The encyclopedic volume by Tobias Armborst, Daniel D’Oca, and Georgeen Theodore with Riley Gold (plus contributions from a host of architecture, urbanism, and planning notables) begins with “Accessory Dwelling Unit” and ends with “Youth Curfew,” but it is the armrest placed on a public bench to ward off unsanctioned sleeping that most efficiently summarizes what’s at stake throughout this 459-page book: access, control, and space.

As the three partners of Interboro—a Brooklyn-based architecture, planning, and research collective—Armborst, D’Oca, and Theodore are well versed in the contentious history of urban design and policy in U.S. cities. They manage to strike an editorial tone that is forthright but not strident. If anything, it is a bit self-effacing in regard to the legacy of urbanism’s discourses past and present. “For many nascent urbanists, this is where it all begins, with an excerpt from Mike Davis’s City of Quartz and an ensuing epiphany about space and power,” they write in a sidebar to the “Armrest” entry, all too aware that their example could be, in their term, “hackneyed.” Still, the trio stays with the lesson. Read More …

Images of the havoc that natural disasters wreak upon the built environment are part of our cultural consciousness. They have been since the birth of photography. Yet the past decade or so has seen a worrisome convergence: the parallel increases in the ubiquity of media technology and the number and severity of devastating storms, which are arguably linked to climate change. Katrina: drowned New Orleans freeways and neighborhoods (the latter re-created in Beyoncé’s 2016 “Formation” music video). Sandy: a darkened Manhattan shot by Iwan Baan. Harvey: Houston’s graybrown floodwaters captured by drone photography. Irma: cell phone footage of a battered port town in the British Virgin Islands.

The degree to which the two are connected—and the importance of that link—was most acute when Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, cutting out power and destroying telecommunications infrastructure. The Washington Post even attributed the Trump administration’s delayed response in part to not seeing the wreckage. Read More …

Ed Rosenthal grows weed. He has for decades. The Oakland, California-based horticulturist, author, and activist is the go-to expert on home cultivation. He’s written more than a dozen books on the subject and the policies that surround medical marijuana and legalization. Their titles fall somewhere between what you’d see in your local nursery and your corner head shop: The Big Book of Buds (volumes one through four), Marijuana Garden Saver, and Marijuana Pest & Disease Control.

“Growing is addictive,” Rosenthal says with a laugh, and then quickly clarifies that the drug is not. “Given the right conditions and a sunny backyard, marijuana can be grown almost anywhere in California.” He speaks poetically about marijuana’s diverse morphology: It has male and female plants. Some are tall, some wide, and there are different strains like indica or sativa that range in color—like heirloom tomatoes—from absinthe yellow–green to maroon and deep purple. To cultivate cannabis for its THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and psychoactive properties, only the female plants are grown. The male plants look a bit like wild mustard; the female plants are the ones that produce buds for consumption. “With humans and cannabis, the female is considered more beautiful,” he explains. “I have a bunch of marijuana plants growing, and they all look different, like six different varieties of a dahlia. Each plant is an individual.” He compares homegrown marijuana to homegrown tomatoes. “The person who grows the best marijuana is the person who is growing at home. Everybody loves their own produce.”

It’s a vision of cannabis production that is far different from what the public imagination associates with marijuana: the resource-heavy hydroponic “grow house,” which makes high demands on labor, energy, and water. Or the news reports of thousands of plants seized and destroyed on illegal grow sites on U.S. Forest Service land. Read More …

IN THE DAYS following the 2016 election, as a percentage of the US population partied and another reeled in disbelief, a flood of poll data poured in. Analysts and journalists sifted, categorized, and created slick infographics coded in blue and red. A trend emerged: the polarization of urban and rural America.

The Washington Post reported that “[t]he majority of counties with populations greater than 500,000 — where roughly half of Americans live — swung further to the left.” (Even in stalwart red states like Texas and Georgia.) Small and midsized counties, on the other hand, shifted right. Yes, despite our digital interconnectedness and the seeming ubiquity of globalized commercial culture — a.k.a. a Starbucks on every corner — the city and the country are still divided, splintering the American Dream. Read More …

When photographer Lynn Saville was a child, her parents had a cabin in rural Vermont. Fascinated by the dark, she’d stand on the back porch and stare into the dense woods. The bright pool of light created by a single porch light would gradually fade into the trees, until darkness eclipsed the view. “To see the one light source was … a refuge,” she recalls.

Today, Saville roams cities on foot between twilight and dawn in search of the perfect shot. Equipped with a couple of digital cameras (a Nikon and her new favorite, a Sony mirrorless A7r II outfitted with a Zeiss 28mm lens) that she tucks under her loose-fitting jacket, she searches for the uncanny quietude and sense of wilderness that comes overnight, when most people are asleep. Read More …

In early January, I visited the Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University in Houston, designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture (MMA), on the first day the new building opened for classes. Students searched for their assigned rooms as the final stages of construction unfolded around them. An orange traffic cone in front of a pair of glass doors signaled the entry to the 52,000-square-foot building.

It was a quiet afternoon for this self-proclaimed “transdisciplinary lab for creativity,” which will be far less subdued when it opens to the public on Feb. 24. The Moody Center is a hybrid, both in its mission and its architecture. An education space (with 4,000 square feet of classrooms) and maker spaces (including wood and rapid prototyping shops), the building will also be a cultural arts hub, with a theater and galleries. “Academia has gotten quite siloed,” Alison Weaver, the center’s executive director, told me. “How can we cross-pollinate again? Our goal is to be less a cabinet of curiosities and more a conversation.” Read More …

The Chicago Athletic Association excitedly welcomes Petra Bachmaier to discuss her dynamic collaborative art practice which has captivated the eyes and minds of Chicago and beyond. And Mimi Zeiger, a Los Angeles-based Critic, Editor, and Curator to moderate this conversation.

“For more than 10 years, Luftwerk have created art installations that merge elements of light and video with facets of architecture and design. Their 2010 commission to create a new media exhibit for the centennial celebration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House helped them discover a deeper resonance with architecture and pursue and a growing interest in how experiences of space and site are augmented through light and sound. With immersive works at sites such as Fallingwater, Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, Tampa’s Kiley Garden, Chicago’s Millennium Park, the Garfield Park Conservatory to name a few, their artwork blends history, architecture, and contemporary media to open new aesthetic conversations within public spaces. Projects to date have been featured in periodicals such as Architectural Record, Dwell, The Creators Project, design boom, and more. Recent awards include an Endorsement Award for Innovation from Surface Magazine, a Media Art Award from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and featured projects honored by the American for the Arts Public Art Network (PAN). Petra Bachmaier, originally from Munich, works collaboratively with her partner Sean Gallero. The duo met during studies at SAIC and formed Luftwerk in 2007.” – David Zivan

It’s hard to believe that it was only last month that Robert Ivy, executive vice president and CEO of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), pledged the national organisation and its membership to working with president-elect Donald Trump.

Issued just days after the election, the tone-deaf timing of the obsequious memo provoked reactions from The Architecture Lobby, critic Michael Sorkin and Equity in Architecture (among others), who rejected the AIA’s stance as politically representative of professional architects. Read More …

Los Angeles, being the inclusive city that it is, developed in opposed directions at the same time: the downtowns, Wilshire Boulevards, and Century Cities grew along late modern lines, while the peripheries went their own heteromorphic way. This sixties split established what has now became two architectural codes: Mies of the classes, and hetero-architecture for the masses.”- Charles Jencks, 1996.

The collision of Real Estate speculation and political friction makes Los Angeles one of the most volatile development arenas in modern urbanism. Yet, after a half-century of under-building and spot zoning, an infusion of speculative capital, coupled with a dearth of available land, is driving Los Angeles to grow up, instead of out. Present debates about homelessness, housing affordability, and urban density suggest that L.A. could embrace vertical density in a decidedly different fashion than Chicago or Manhattan- cities which adopted skyscraper development primarily as a response to technological innovation or financial speculation. While L.A.’s metropolitan context largely consists of what architectural theorist Charles Jencks once referred to as “heteromorphic architecture,” its growth upward signals the potential to give birth to a new urban form of spatial democracy, eschewing a city of iconic towers in favor of sectional and programmatic complexity instead.

Join us for a Panel Discussion centered on L.A.’s future density led by Archinect’s Amelia Taylor-Hochberg and featuring architects Scott Johnson, Jimenez Lai, John Southern, Peter Zellner, and journalist Mimi Zeiger.

The panel coincides with John Southern’s exhibition, Hot on the Heels of Love: Sensational Speculations– Now on view at the Jai&Jai Gallery.