News: Distinguished Visiting Professors Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo Join Architecture for Winter 2014

Award-winning Spanish architects Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo have joined the faculty of the Portland State University School of Architecture as the 2014 Distinguished Visiting Professors of Urbanism. In connection with the pair’s appointment at PSU, Jose Luis Vallejo will give a lecture entitled “Urban Social Design,” on Thursday, February 27, at 6pm in Shattuck Hall Annex on the university campus; the talk will be free and open to the public.

Fresh from their teaching engagement at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, Tato and Vallejo bring their innovative, systems-based urban design methods to PSU, where they are co-teaching a Winter term first-year graduate studio course entitled “Networked Urbanism.” The class will challenge students to look at urban design from a new perspective—one in which the architect addresses issues that arise in the contemporary urban setting through network design thinking. 

Prior to their engagement at Portland State University, Tato and Vallejo most recently taught classes in urbanism at Harvard Graduate School of Design, as visiting professors in 2010, 2012 and 2013. The couple follows notable predecessors at PSU: Teddy Cruz, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Cross-Cultural Architecture in 2012 and 2013, and Will Bruder, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Urban Architecture in 2010 and 2011.

The pair’s award-winning Madrid-based practice, ecosistema urbano, specializes in design within the fields of urbanism, architecture, engineering and sociology and has designed and implemented projects in multiple European countries and in China. They describe their approach as “urban social design,” focusing on the design of environments, space and dynamics as a way of improving self-organization of citizens, social interaction within communities and their relationship with the environment. Since the firm’s formation in 2000, ecosistemaurbano has received more than 30 awards in national and international architecture design competitions and during the last four years their work has been covered by more than 100 media outlets (national and international press, television programs, and specialized publications) from 30 countries, and their projects have been exhibited at multiple galleries, museums and institutions.

In their teaching engagement at Portland State University, Tato and Vallejo are introducing Master of Architecture students to the art of network design thinking as a means of addressing urban issues such as hunger, food accessibility, disconnected neighborhoods, air pollution and urban wildlife protection. Network design thinking allows the architect to draw on the energy and wisdom of the collective citizenry and spark their ability to participate in new responses to pressing issues within the urban environment.

The class encourages students to develop initiatives that generate spontaneous transformations and set up conditions for change rather than delivering a completely finished product. In this way, the students are exploring the new role of the designer as an activator, or mediator, of social processes in a networked society in which citizens have shifted from being passive receivers of design initiatives to active producers of change through design. This class is being co-taught by Professor Rudy Barton and Adjunct Assistant Professor Brent Young.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for our students to be exposed to European modes of addressing diverse social issues,” commented Rudy Barton. “Jose and Belinda, through their experience in working with communities ranging from Norway to Italy, are offering our students fresh insights and innovative methods for responding to complex social issues when designing in the public realm.”

The class’s progress, research, creative work and design proposals are being frequently posted to the following web site for public view:

Members of the public are invited to attend Jose Vallejo’s lecture, “Urban Social Design,” 6pm, Thursday, February 27, in Shattuck Hall Annex at SW Broadway and Hall Streets. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Photo credit: ecosistema urbano. Energy Carousel, Dordrecht, The Netherlands 

School of Architecture