↑ top


RISK: Present Predicaments in Architecture and Urban Planning
Friday, March 30, 2012, Rackham Auditorium

RISK, a conference that highlights present predicaments in architecture and urban planning, will explore the intersection between entrepreneurship and practice, taking risks in design, coopting strategies from other disciplines to advance architecture and planning, and in general not being afraid of change.

A dynamic group of speakers will engage the topic in 15-minute presentations, followed by faculty responses to provide commentary and provocations on themes such as personal risk; professional risk; environmental risk; risk of investing in the central city; and design as risk.


March 30, 2012
Rackham Auditorium, 915 East Washington Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Time: 10 AM – 6:30 PM, Doors Open at 9 AM

Click here to watch the rest of the videos.

The conference is organized around the following topic sessions to be addressed by speakers and a faculty respondent(s):

The Risk of Investing in the Central City (10:15 AM)

For much of the twentieth century, investing public or private dollars into any major U. S. central city was not much of a risk. In global or regional powerhouses such as New York, Seattle, or Chicago, this is still true. Yet, even in these cities, some neighborhoods or sectors may suffer major social and economic problems and thus not be as competitive as others. Some other cities pose an investment risk for almost anywhere within their borders; this is particularly true for "legacy cities," those which have lost major portions of their population and commerce over the last few decades and experience high vacancy levels. This panel will consider the spectrum of risk in public and private investment issues in such cities. It will include the "long view" of redevelopment and its historical effects on Baltimore in "risky" areas; the challenge of convincing residents in declining areas to accept the "risk" of redevelopment, as illustrated in two redevelopment areas in Philadelphia, and ways planners can overcome such skepticism; the ways that the public sector and developers have overcome challenges of investment in cities such as Detroit and Flint over the last few decades; continuing challenges of such investment and ways to overcome them while meeting goals such as sustainability and equity; and design principles that might govern future development in "legacy cities."


  • Debbie Becher
    Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Barnard College, Columbia University
  • Lynette Boswell (MUD '04)
    Division Chief, Research and Strategic Planning, City of Baltimore Department of Planning
  • Howard Luckoff
    Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP; Legal Counsel to Rock Ventures
  • Brent Ryan
    Assistant Professor, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Dayne Walling
    Mayor, City of Flint, MI
  • Melvin Washington
    President and CEO, Phoenix Communities Inc.

Response by: Professor June Manning Thomas

World At Risk (Noon)

The panel seeks to address the interrelations of risk and the environment in a society increasingly defined in terms of heightened threats, environmental degradation, and climate change. Away from scenarios of "ecological apocalypse" and "natural disasters," both of which flirt with a naturalization of the political, the panel highlights the interrelations of nature, expertise, and power in the construction of risk and explores the agency of representation and design in the making and unmaking of such uncertain worlds.


  • Stephen Cassell
    Principal, Architecture Research Office
  • Dilip da Cunha
    Lecturer, The University of Pennsylvania School of Design
  • Scott Gabriel Knowles
    Associate Professor, Department of History and Politics, Drexel University
  • Michael Osman
    Assistant Professor, Architecture and Urban Design, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Christian Salewski
    Senior Assistant and Lecturer, Professorship for Architecture and Urban Design, ETH Zürich

Response by: Assistant Professor Rania Ghosn

Professional Precarity (2:15 PM)

Professional risk has come to assume considerable significance for nearly everyone in today's uncertain economic climate. Unemployment statistics are regarded with the anxiety of sporting wagers, dominated by relentless speculation. Hazards abound and reactionary caution has become the status quo.

Despite, or better yet, in spite of this prevailing attitude, the members of this panel have dared to operate. In a time when the notion of job security has become an outmoded concept, these individuals have endeavored to re-define industries and boldly occupy unfamiliar territory. Their respective practices have eschewed the easily codified. They have turned their backs on the purported security of conventional modes of working for what can be described as a new kind of professional risk-taking. What is this phenomenon? How does one set benchmarks and define their role within a practice for which there are no models or categories? What are the metrics of success when no one-to-one competitor exists? Is 'success' even relevant? Not only will the speakers on the panel address these (and more) pressing questions in detail, but they will also begin to speculate upon the implications of their intentionally precarious professional endeavors for the future of the industries within which they work.


  • Sharon Davis
    Principal, Sharon Davis Design
  • Michael Lehrer
    President, Lehrer Architects LA
  • Catherine Seavitt (B.S. '91)
    Principal, Catherine Seavitt Studio; Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, The City College of New York
  • Coren Sharples
    Principal, SHoP Architects
  • John Spittler
    Owner and Managing Principal, Spittler Strategic Services LLC

Response by: Lecturer Teman Evans

Objective Uncertainty (3:45 PM)

We live in an age of objective uncertainty, which is to say that we are objectively certain that these are precarious times. What we may be uncertain about – against a backdrop of environmental anxiety, financial crisis, and socio-cultural unhinging - is the architectural object's ability to do something about it. The stakes are high. If architecture is to re-establish a fundamental and critical relationship to existing political, economic, and cultural orders, if it is to take on a transformative agenda, then the conventional visual and formal tropes of prominence, continuity and monumentality may well need to be reconsidered. The question is, how? This panel will consider transformative design procedures – both risky and optimistic – that challenge accepted formats and redefine the parameters of architectural engagement. In trading programmatic determinacies for adaptability, finish for progression, or polish for opportunistic imperfection, does architecture expand its operating field and gain legitimacy as an instrument of change? Or is the acceptance of the architectural object's authoritative insolvencies too perilous a tactic in the contemporary environment?


  • Ole Bouman
    Director, Netherlands Architecture Institute
  • Merrill Elam
    Principal, Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects
  • Giuseppe Lignano & Ada Tolla
    Co-Founders and Principals, LOT-EK
  • John Ronan (B.S. '85)
    Founding Principal, John Ronan Architects; Associate Professor, College of Architecture, Illinois Institute of Technology

Response by: Assistant Professor Anya Sirota

Design Vulnerability (5:05 PM)

From the perspective of design research, the laboratory is a model for investigating urban scenography, interstitial space, transient icons, and the political economies which shape architecture and the city. The lab is not, in this model, the hygienic space portioned from the world to afford a distanced observation; the lab is instead a platform for embedded forms of inquiry, intervention, speculation, and experimentation. These precarious forms of practice are affirmed through design strategies that embolden our experiences of vulnerability at the level of the city, the social, and the ecological. These practices do not attempt to erase vulnerability through design but instead leverage design research and performative experimentation by collaborating with and among various vulnerabilities. The panel considers how practices of accumulating vulnerability offer new models of courage and conviction for post-heroic architecture and design.


Response by: Walter B. Sanders Fellow Etienne Turpin

RISK Gallery

Plan Your Future
Housing, Community, and Economic Development
Land Use and Environmental Planning
Physical Planning and Design
Transportation Planning
Global and Comparative Planning