Community: The American Way of Living

We curated the American wing of the 2009 International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, whose theme was "Open City: Designing Coexistence."


International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam

Rotterdam, Netherlands

Project Team: 

Tobias Armborst, Daniel D'Oca, Georgeen Theodore, Matthew Clarke, Adrian Forney, Suzannah Gerber, Urs Kumberger, Ben Lindner, Ondine Masson, Eric Schwartau, Rafael Soldi, Samu Szemerey, Pedro Torres, Thumb Projects

Interboro was invited to curate the American wing of the 2009 International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, which opened at the Netherlands Architecture Museum in September, 2009. 

Interboro produced three installations for the exhibition, each of which dealt with the 2009 IABR theme, “Open City: Designing Coexistence.” Defined as a place where everyone feels welcome, regardless of wealth, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other way of dividing people into categories, the open city is an ideal urban condition that has inspired architects and planners for centuries. Taken together, our installations make the argument that while there is truth to the popular idea that the open city has not fared well in the United States, where a preference for what some call “purified communities” has produced a landscape of homogeneous, walled privatopias where very few feel welcome, contemporary suburbia offers many surprising examples of the characteristics we seek in the open city. 

The three installations are:

People Sort Themselves Out For All Sorts of Reasons 

This 100’-long mural depicts an imaginary road trip through radically homogeneous communities in America. Its purpose is to suggest that while when given a choice, most Americas choose to live in a homogeneous community over a more mixed one, when one looks closely at the everyday, suburban landscape of semi-public spaces that exist in between these homogeneous communities, one can see that it is sprinkled with “spaces of encounter” where diverse social and ethnic groups coexist, interact, and generate complex relationships and networks. 


This leporello-style visual dictionary collects 101 “weapons” that architects, planners, policy makers, developers, real estate brokers, community activists and other urban actors use to restrict or promote access to urban space. Currently in production as a book, it includes minor, seemingly benign things like “NO LOITERING” SIGNS and BOUNCERS, but also big, headline-grabbing things like GATED COMMUNITIES and EMINENT DOMAIN. It includes policies like INCLUSIONARY ZONING and RENT CONTROL, but also physical things like BOMBS, FENCES, and those ARMRESTS that they put on park benches to make sure homeless people don’t get too comfortable. Some of the things in the Arsenal—like HALLOWEEN, FAMOUS PEOPLES’ HOUSES, and JURY DUTY— are probably things you didn’t know had anything to do with cities at all, let alone this war for what Henri Lefebvre might call the “right to the city.”


This selection of architectural projects that attempt to “open” the city by fostering access to urban space asks: what if architects reframed the open city as something simpler, lighter, and more everyday? What if, instead of striving to cook it up with ancient recipes like Jane Jacobs’s “generators of diversity,” architects strived to single out the open, inclusive experiences that people have in the course of their everyday lives, and then thought up ways to multiply and enrich those experiences? Could the Open City be subtly slipped into a suburban commute? A trip to the supermarket? The projects are represented by architectural models, artifacts, and a movie that explains what the project is and how it “opens” the city.