Elena Manferdini introduces Gretchen Wilkins, who studied and taught at the University of Michigan, RMIT’s program in Ho Chi Minh City, and, in April, was appointed head of the architecture department at Cranbrook.
Wilkins begins by profiling three cities currently undergoing radical transformations: Detroit, Melbourne and Ho Chi Minh City.
In Detroit, she uses the site of the former Hudson’s department store to discuss the city’s early 20th century boom, subsequent depopulation, and current redevelopment. She asks if there is a way architecturally to resist broad brushstroke development that creates less difference, less accessibility?
Wilkins describes Melbourne in terms of China Miéville’s novel The City & The City, in which two distinct realities coexist in the same space, contrasting Melbourne of “the world’s most liveable city” with the emerging Melbourne of homelessness, unaffordability, and congestion.
Wilkins describes the small-scale density of Ho Chi Minh City created by ubiquitous “Tube house” types, typically fronting a “Hem,” network of narrow alleyways. She notes how all these spaces are accessible via motorbikes, which create a sense of continual movement and intense proximity. However this small-scale local urbanism is potentially being erased by large-scale global megacity developments. She cites William Gibson’s distinction between “uncooked” cities where you can weld on the sidewalk and “cooked” cities where you can’t.
Wilkins discusses her research into the relationship between making things – manufacturing – and making cities – urbanism. She structures this according to three questions:
•“How do you make in the city? Exploring the spatial impacts of new technologies, the ease and nimbleness of newer processes, and the attempt to reintroduce manufacturing into cities dominated by service industries. She discusses “Making Viet Nam,” which surveyed the spatial impact of manufacturing in Ho Chi Minh City, abstracted tropes and types to propose interventions. The “Future Factory” design competition proposal for Storefront for Art and Architecture explored ways of externalizing what’s happening inside factories to engage the city outside.
•“How do you make from the city?” Exploring ways repurposing waste byproducts of manufacturing.
•“How do you make the city?” Exploring ways of visually representing urban design. Wilkins describes her collaborative drawing “Passport,” composed of proposed urban construction documents by designers in different places and different disciplines.
Wilkins concludes by describing the architecture program at Cranbrook as an attempt to engage in research as the seed to an innovative form of practice.