Today and tonight two Portland State University Department of Architecture classes are offering public presentations of their projects at the Unitus Building (2121 SW Fourth Avenue, Third Floor). The 'Architecture and Human Action' group presents from 1-5pm, but I know a little bit more about the second group, called "T[h]reading the City" thanks to some correspondence with PSU architecture professor and keen chap Clive Knights.
Instead of paraphrasing what Knights told me in his letter (I actually got a letter in the mail - how quaint!), I'm going to pass on some of it directly (after some laborious retyping) because I think it's fascinating:
Students have been asked to consider the identity of the city, this city, Portland. They are exploring identity not as a single definition or absolute but as a multitude of myths embedded in the landscape, buildings and unfolding human drama of everyday life.
The project speculates on the contribution of the act of walking in interpreting urban space, architecture and cultural meaning...Quite literally, they have been asked to walk in somebody else's shoes (acquired from thrift stores) and over the past several weeks have explored the city on foot.
Simultaneously, they developed a character study inspired by the shoes using narrative to generate a fictional 'other' whose detail developed in parallel with the unfolding of the city. Students then developed stories that interlaced these characters with a particular route and destination. These stories, and the walks that unfold within them, were then creatively transplanted into the form of hand-made books, a hybrid of literature and map, each of which can accompany and guide the reader across the city in unique ways.
It took me a little bit of time to get this whole concept. When I got Knights's letter in the mail, it came with one of the aforementioned hand-made student books, and a long explanation about five-fold the excepts above. But eventually it clicked with me, and I love what they're doing: combining disciplines of architecture, fiction writing, planning, cartography and social needs in one project, and in a very hands-on way.
Apologies for the short notice on today's student presentations. It'll be interesting to see the narratives they come up with. In the hand-made book I was sent, there are collections of small moments. In one, for example, a woman on a sidewalk outside Saks looks through the store's display window at the expensive merchandise and then sizes up herself in the reflection, wearing cheaper clothes. Instead of feeling inferior, she's empowered.
And this begs the additional question: What fictitious narratives might the rest of us invent? There could be the street preacher in Courthouse Square, the vinyl record hound perusing Jackpot and 2nd Avenue Records, the middle-aged woman coming out of a salon with her little dog. It's not about stereotyping, I'd say, but imagining how others use the same city we do.