For the next phase of the ongoing Suddenly project, curator Stephanie Snyder and writer Matthew Stadler have organized a five-day symposium continuing the collaborative investigation into the emergence of a new kind of urban landscape, marked by an erosion of the boundaries between rural and urban, resulting in a decentralized sprawl. Interestingly, the symposium not only features the architectural perspectives of Thomas Sieverts and Portlander Brad Cloepfil, but also individuals approaching the issue through writing and art, such as the poet Lisa Robertson, the artist Fritz Haeg, and Aaron Betsky, director of the 2008 Venice Biennale of Architecture. By populating the discussion with such disparate voices, the symposium endeavors to suss out answers using everything from anthropological study to a screening of Robert Altman's Nashville at Milepost 5.
MERCURY: What drew you to the particular participants in the symposium?
MATTHEW STADLER: These are people who have made projects or essays or artworks that excite us, so we really want to talk with them. More narrowly, we're drawn to people who have been able to write or make art about human settlement in the built environment without recourse to the ideas of "city and countryside."
Many of the participants are artists and writers. How does the production of art influence a place?
STADLER: We're trying to make a better city, but, as Thomas Sieverts points out, the challenges we face cannot be solved by architects and urban planners alone. If we ask them to continue building our lost ideals of city and country, they can only extend the grim pleasure of our tragedy. We need a better imagination—an ability to articulate new patterns—which is something art and literature should be able to help us with.
I love that you're hosting these events in less-than-usual spaces, from an abandoned parking lot in Beaverton to a "forested glade" on the Reed College campus.
STADLER: As Thomas Sieverts points out, "There is plenty of everything in the landscapes where we live now." We don't need to build a new city. We need to recognize the huge, flexible city that already exists, largely underused, and learn how to live in it.