Mar 9 | Elisa Silva: “Pure Space: Expanding the Public Sphere”

M+M Program in Media and Modernity presents

Elisa Silva
“Pure Space: Expanding the Public Sphere through Public Space Transformations in Latin American Spontaneous Settlements”
[interlocutor: George Baird]

Tuesday, March 9, 2021 @5pm
Online Event [register here or stream here]

City making in the Global South has been notoriously characterized for its simultaneous, although differing modes of operation: a formally planned and legal one that meets the needs and buying power of the wealthier part of the population, and an unplanned, illegal one, caused by the unmet demand of the remaining part. As a result, self-built homes and spontaneous settlements have emerged, and represent a large portion of the built environment, albeit a very compromised and unequal one. 

For several decades, cities in Latin America have made significant investments to reverse this trend. However, improvement efforts alone have not been enough to lift the negative stigma from these territories. Recognition of barrios, villas, and favelas as parts of the city is a task still pending. 

In a critical review of upgrading interventions, the presence of public space emerges as a key transformative element. Pure Space: Expanding the public sphere through public space transformations in Latin American spontaneous settlements is not intended to serve only as a catalogue, guide, or manual on how to produce public space in spontaneous settlements. Rather, it goes beyond the aims of an index of best practices. It is intended, instead, as an empirical base for a critical and theoretical engagement with the problematic of development, social inclusion, public investment, (in)formal settlement, civil society, and the public sphere. The publication argues to expand the agency of architects and urban designers and creatively find ways of justifying, financing, and building public spaces in communities – spaces that have a catalytic effectiveness in achieving significant urban and social transformation.

Elisa Silva is principal and founder of Enlace Arquitectura and Enlace Foundation, established in Caracas, Venezuela. The two entities work in tandem to advance the integration of cities including informal settlements through participatory design processes and cultural programs. Their work has received awards in numerous design competitions and international architecture and urban design biennials. The San Juan María Vianney Church in Media Legua, Venezuela was awarded in the XI BIAU 2019 and the project Integration Process Caracas in the barrio La Palomera is part of the XVII Venice Architecture Biennial 2021. Elisa received the Rome Prize from the American Academy in 2005, the Wheelwright Fellowship from Harvard in 2011, Graham Foundation Grant 2017, the Lucas Artist Fellowship 2019 and grants from the US, Swiss and French Embassies in Venezuela. She is co-author of CABA: Cartography of the Caracas barrios (2014) and Pure Space: Expanding the Public Sphere through Public Space Transformations in Latin American Informal Settlements (Actar, 2020). Elisa is Visiting Assistant Professor at Princeton University School of Architecture, Sessional Lecturer at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto, Associate Professor at FIU, and past Design Critic at the GSD and the Simón Bolívar University in Caracas, Venezuela. Elisa grew up between St. Louis and Venezuela.

George Baird is Emeritus Professor and former dean of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto, and founding principal of Baird Sampson Neuert Architects in Toronto. His publications include (with Charles Jencks) Meaning in Architecture (1969), Alvar Aalto (1969), The Space of Appearance (1995), Public Space; Cultural/Political Theory; Street Photography (2011), and  Writings on Architecture and the City (2015). A collection of essays and interviews devoted to his work The Architect and the Public,  edited by Roberto Damiani, was published in 2020. Baird has received the Gold Medal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (2010) and the Topaz Medallion of the American Institute of Architects and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (2012). In 2016, he was invested in the Order of Canada.