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Uneven Growth: Tactical urbanisms for expanding megacities

Museum of Modern Art, New York Through May 10, 2015

Few would question that this exhibition has its heart in the right place. A collection of six very different studies for six very different “megacities”— Mumbai, India; Hong Kong; New York City; Lagos, Nigeria; Rio de Janeiro; and Istanbul — the schemes each respond to some aspect of the unbalanced economic distribution that has characterized urban growth in recent decades. Dense with infographics, broad statistics, and ambitious statements, the show aims to be both encompassing in its global reach and precise in its responses. 

As part of MoMA’s “Issues in Contemporary Architecture,” the curators asked six architect teams to create projects for these cities. Like the shows that preceded it in the series — Rising Currents in 2009 and Foreclosed in 2011 — the success or failure of the exhibition is that of the commissioned projects. But unlike the exhibitions that preceded it, Uneven Growth is an overly broad prompt. While the curators acknowledge these varying contexts, one has to question whether Hong Kong and New York City belong alongside Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro, since the political, economic, and historical pressures in each city trigger such vastly divergent responses — a whimsical utopian scheme in Hong Kong, an examination of housing policy in New York City, a resourceful small construction in Mumbai, and a catalog of improvised construction methods from Rio de Janeiro. 

Although these projects are each earnest engagements, they don’t make much sense together. Certain issues reappear in several projects — centrally, the problem of the finance and construction of housing for poor and middle-class residents — but the overall effect is disjointed. Certain responses are modest and emulate (or fetishize) “bottom-up and informal” techniques; other projects attempt to reprocess massive structures of growth and development. Overall lessons are hard to come by because each city presents a unique array of challenges. Uneven Growth is, well, uneven and would have done well to narrow its global ambitions.


 

URBZ, a research collective in India, worked with Ensamble Studio (Spain) and MIT-poplab (Massachusetts) to envision Mumbai’s live-work and public Infrastructures moving upward to relieve pressure on the land. Courtesy: MoMA