Sasaki's collaborative design approach is strengthened by our ongoing exploration and exchange of ideas; fresh ideas push our collective practice forward. To continually expand our knowledge base, we host an ongoing lecture series featuring guest speakers who range from specialists at the New England ADA Center to branding experts at IDEO.
Sasaki recently hosted Dan D'Oca, co-founder and principal of Interboro Partners—an award-winning, New York-based planning, architecture, and research firm that he runs with Tobias Armborst and Georgeen Theodore. Interboro describes their work as a "subtle aesthetic of social activism, based on actively observing urban phenomena and ﬁnding the neglected, the underserved, or even the abhorred as openings for architectural possibility." A specialist in the politics of the contemporary built environment in America, Dan shared some insight into his practice and collaborative approach to design.
Q: Interboro's sensitivity to the human element of design is evident is all of your work. How would you describe your collaborative process?
A: Architecture for architecture's sake is a phantom: when architecture gets out of the studio and into the world, it inevitably influences—and is influenced by—non-architectural things. To believe otherwise is to doom architecture to irrelevance. Ours is an architecture that plays well with others. We try to understand how architecture influences "non-architectural" problems to identify opportunities in which architectural interventions can influence outcomes for the better.
We're also just extroverted and enjoy talking to people. Work for us is an opportunity to get away from the computer for a little while, to get outside and see what's happening.
Q: Your collaborative, participatory process has a refreshing quality of social activism.
A: In our own way we try to use design to serve the underserved. Our commitment to using planning and architecture for social justice will always be at the forefront of what we do.
Q: The issue of social justice is strong theme in your upcoming book. What else can you tell us about it?
A: We have been working on the book for five years. It's called The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion. It's a book about accessibility and the built environment that begins with a very basic question: who has access to where? In the United States, a substantial amount of legislation is in place to promote access to, and the accessibility of, our cities and suburbs—think the First Amendment, the Fair Housing Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. But it sometimes seems that for each accessibility-promoting policy, there is an accessibility-restricting one. For example, we have "blood relative ordinances" that prevent people from renting a home from anyone save a blood relative, co-op communities that require would-be tenants to secure a letter of recommendation from a resident, and community care facilities ordinances that ban people who have completed inpatient drug treatment programs from sober-living homes. Not to mention exclusionary zoning codes that prescribe minimum lot sizes and house prices that are too big and too expensive for most people. The book examines 150 or so "weapons" used to wage this war between inclusion and exclusion, both the forces of WIMBY (welcome in my backyard) and NIMBY (not in my back yard).
Q: Tell us about the graphic approach of the book. The colorful cartoon illustrations are fantastic!
A: We have been working an illustrator, Lesser Gonzalez. He is an amazing artist and we have been collaborating with him for a couple of years now. The book is very serious but we still want it to be fun and interesting. There are lots of photographs, maps, and things, but Lesser's makes these amazing colorful drawings that appeal to a broad range of people. So if you are a scholar, or a college student getting introduced to cities, you can get something out of it, but if you are a kid, you'd just love the colorful cartoons. That's what we often try to do with our work. We try to build in lots of different things into the project for lots of different people.
To learn more about The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion, visit this blog.
Interview by David Borden.