prompted by Chris Hassig & Derrick Velasquez
Rethinking Space: Architecture, Land, & Democracy
This topic and prompt arose during a late-night conversation in Carbondale where co-prompter Chris Hassig mentioned he was the lone dissenting public speaker at a city trustee meeting. A bank planned to vacate its location which was built in 2008 for a brand new structure with the same purpose 2000 feet up the road. I felt smacked in the face. Being so Denver-centric I hadn’t thought about similar issues surrounding urban and suburban development that could happen in a mountain town like Carbondale (which has a precarious relationship with Aspen) and the ability for a single resident to halt superfluous construction. As cities and towns in the West have been facing an influx of new inhabitants before and during the pandemic, we contemplate what to do with precious pieces of land that might have the opportunity to enrich the spirit of how we live. Admittedly, the title of this discussion throws together some hefty words that are complicated when standing on their own. We hope that when combined it crystallizes what you might imagine as a diverse human-centered city block, neighborhood, or town.
Before we go any further, it’s important to acknowledge our current crisis point surrounding land. It is part of the earth and any conversation touching on ownership falls squarely at the doorstep of the United States’ bleak past of colonization and the new frontierism that is currently sold and bought. New colonization occurs in gentrification but I see something just as imposing—rapid extractive development in the form of massive buildings on surface-level parking lots created during the urban renewal of the 1960s and 1970s. Akin to eastern European housing blocks plopped within growing American cities, they create undemocratic and singular visions for large plots of land being sold as luxury while squeezing out maximum profits in the form of rent. This denies the potential for an organically grown community.
Speculative development, which Marx had already identified as a driving force in the capitalist city, produces “a misuse and consumption of people without result.”1 What is our reality within the fervent growth that is our idea of The West? A lack of diversity exists within these buildings – nineteen plus stories of faux modern uniformity illustrate the dangers of functionalism. Diversity needs to be implemented within new spaces (houses, buildings, city blocks) as both social and architectural. A neighborhood cannot be created in one fell swoop but how can anyone who cares about the human-centered growth of a city express their desire for the planning of our cities to create opportunity for diverse development? This is to say an obdurate building occupying two square downtown blocks has no opportunity to change over time and they tower over and affect our psyche.
There is beauty in imperfection, uneven growth, and risk. That risk is perhaps not having to make 30 percent profit on a development or build the space all at once. Does any kind of housing crisis outweigh the desire for more interesting and organic creation of affordable housing? Will there be any political will to allow any space to be developed by multiple smaller creative entities? Must citizens, inexperienced in the form of development, gather their own money and take a risk to build for actual need and not speculation? Wherever this conversation goes we want you to ponder and propose your feelings and care for where you live. When you move through your environment and see the architecture and the vacant spaces where future buildings might go, how can tangible democratic input and architecture come to fruition?
1 Ludwig Hilbersiemer, Metropolis-architecture, Die Baubücher, Bd. 3 (Stuttgart: J. Hoffman, 1927)
Suggested Background Readings & Viewings
About the Prompters:
Chris Hassig is an artist who grew up and currently lives in Carbondale. He holds a B.A. in Architecture and Environmental Studies from Middlebury College and has a passion for sustainable, human-centered design. He is a DJ and Vice President for KDNK, a community radio station serving the Roaring Fork Valley. Chris was recently voted as a city trustee for the city of Carbondale where he aims to respect and protect the environment, help vulnerable members of the community, and create diversity. He shows at Walker Fine Art in Denver, CO.
Derrick Velasquez is an artist and exhibition organizer who lives and works in Denver, Colorado. He was a 2017 recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant for Painters and Sculptors and a 2019 MacDowell Fellow. Derrick has served on the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs and the boards of Denver nonprofits Tilt West, Union Hall, and Minerva Projects. His most recent exhibitions include solo shows at The Herron School of Art and Design, The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, Robischon Gallery, Pentimenti, and The Black Cube Nomadic Museum and group exhibitions at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Carvalho Park and Transmitter in New York, Derrick also runs Yes Ma’am Projects, an artist-run gallery in the basement of his Athmar Park home and Friend of a Friend, a new project space in the Evans School, a mostly vacant schoolhouse in Downtown Denver. He has organized exhibitions at the MCA in Denver, Trestle Gallery in New York, and has an upcoming curatorial project at Galerie Robertson Arés in Montreal.