USA Literature Panel for 2011

Elizabeth Alexander

Professor of African American, Studies and Chair of the African, American Studies Department, Yale University, New Haven, CT

Doug Wright

Playwright, Screenwriter, and USA Donnelley Fellow, New York, NY

Kyoko Mori

Writer and Professor of English, George Mason University, Washington, DC

John Biguenet

Robert Hunter Distinguished, University Professor, Loyola University, New Orleans, LA

Deborah Treisman

Fiction Editor, The New Yorker, New York, NY

Statement by Kyoko Mori.

USA Architecture and Design Fellow Greg Lynn once articulated critical differences in design intentions between his generation and the generation of immediately preceding architects like Peter Eisenmann and Rem Koolhaas, among others. Lynn said: “We’re not afraid of holistic concepts. My buildings should be as harmonious as classical architecture was. But I don’t want their rigorous order, but more of a movable, interactive structure. Because order becomes visible in harmony, as does beauty. And that’s what architecture is about—order and beauty.”

Lynn proposed that creating architectural harmony might be thought of as akin to the preparation of fine food—ingredients must be carefully integrated through a precise process to produce a harmonious, and, one hopes, delicious whole. Lynn’s comments pointed to significant shifts in focus between architects and designers who utilize computer software and integrated interfaces to discover new forms of beauty and those with more craft-based practices. However, designers who create handcrafted glass, ceramics, paper, and textiles are increasingly finding new ways to integrate digital craft processes into their work. Through technology, these designers seek to expand their output using hybrid generative digital processes that allow them to customize what would be mass production and rethink the possibilities of the public consumption of craft. These computational craftsmen provide resounding new evidence,over a century later, of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famed 1901proposal for a true “Arts and Crafts of the Machine.”

Just as designers in the nineteenth-century Arts and CraftsMovement were dedicated to social and political change, so, too, are many in this digital Arts and Crafts age engaging flexible computer technologies to address issues of social equity, urban identity, race, class, national identity, and ethnicity. Using computational tools these designers document and map existing conditions and present the edited distillation of their findings through new and innovative interfaces. They seek design solutions for the housing and public services needed after natural disasters or the abuses of oppressive political regimes, among other difficult questions, and use digital practices to gather and disseminate information on communities, the environment, sustainability, and social conditions. While the work is often politically challenging and socially transformative, it displays the hallmarks of a synthetic internal harmony influenced by digital tools.

Computational Arts and Crafts, produced from holistic design concepts and a search for harmony is not to be confused a specific design aesthetic. If earlier generations of architects and designers used the digital realm to describe designs they conceived to be intricate and disjunctive, the most successful current practices likewise use the computer to discover new and complex harmonies. They integrate traditional crafts,material investigations, scientific and humanistic explorations,environmental stewardship, and social justice into practices that challenge our assumptions about the physical world and question our place in it. We can call this the more movable and interactive structure of the future of architecture and design,which is amply displayed by the impressive work of this year’s USA Fellows in Architecture and Design.