A testament to community-driven design: “Workshopping the Chattahoochee” opens at the Biennale Architettura 2023

May 19, 2023

This week, we joined designers and collaborators from across the globe for the opening of “The Laboratory of the Future,” the 18th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, curated by Lesley Lokko and on view from May 20–November 26, 2023.

As part of the “Dangerous Liaisons” exhibition in the Venetian Arsenale, SCAPE was invited to create an installation exploring and collapsing architecture’s preoccupations with boundaries and borders—including between design fields, collaborative practices, and the communities our work directly impacts on the ground.

“Workshopping the Chattahoochee,” our installation, is a testament to the difficult and essential work of community-driven design, explored through the lens of a decades-long planning process along the Chattahoochee River in the Metro Atlanta Region.

Building on over 50 years of grassroots environmental advocacy and community planning, the Chattahoochee RiverLands is a generational effort to reimagine the region’s relationship with the river—stitching together over 100 miles of public and private land through accessible greenways and blueways, parks, bike paths, and more, ultimately connecting over a million residents within a 15-minute bike ride of the river and each other. Today, the vision is already inspiring regional policy and moving site by site toward implementation under the leadership of the Trust for Public Land, drawing on input from well over 200 public events and counting.

“We’re blown away by Lesley’s visionary curation and honored to participate alongside such inspiring co-exhibitors. SCAPE’s humble contribution to The Laboratory of the Future strips back the market-driven gloss of contemporary landscape design to highlight what it takes to transform a region: people on the ground, decades of incremental repair, and the hard work of stitching together fragmented places, communities, and ecosystems,” said Kate Orff, FASLA. “Public landscapes in the future require a wildly inclusive mode of design that bridges policy and action and really invests back in communities.”

Rather than present a polished vision, the installation embraces the generative clutter of collaborative design, repurposing tools and artifacts gathered from throughout the planning process—patchworked river maps overlaid with layers of acetate on which community members drew greenway alignments, aspirations, and memories; a hand-painted model dotted with flags from open houses; albums of film photos from “River Rambles” with a local youth center, and another focused on accessible trail design and sensory engagement with individuals living with physical and mental impairments.

Together with ecological and cultural relics from the river’s edge—an album of native plants; jars of murky river water and mud; a brick from the site of the former Chattahoochee Brick Company, now being reimagined as a memorial to victims of convict leasing—“Workshopping the Chattahoochee” centers process rather than product, barely scratching the surface of stories told, investments made, histories unearthed, and work that remains to be done along the river in decades to come.

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