Cooper Hewitt exhibit depicts the act of peacemaking


create peace
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
2 East 91st St
New York, New York 10128
Open until September 4th

create peace advocates peace as a verb: the plot is “not simply the absence of war, but a dynamic process” that emphasizes “communication, iteration, and an understanding of context” to reduce human conflict. Curators Cynthia E. Smith and Caroline O’Connell put this claim into action, exhibiting 40 projects from 25 countries divided into five sections: Root Causes, Truth-Seeking, Confrontation, Truth-Seeking, Environments, and Transitional States.

Located on the exhibit-friendly third floor of the former Carnegie Mansion, the exhibit’s designers had relative freedom in arranging its content. In close collaboration with the curators, Boston architects Höweler + Yoon organized the exhibition along a central axis flanked by smaller galleries; This promenade is defined by a sculptural exhibition platform that simultaneously suggests a canoe with refugees, a peaceful waterway, a border wall or the middle passage of enslaved Africans. Each is revealed as we circle the surrounding galleries and return to the prow of the metaphorical boat we occupy together in the exhibition.

Installation photo of Designing Peace. (Photo: Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution)

So how can peace be achieved? Projects range from micro (apps) to macro (interplanetary extraction) and from terrestrial (toilets) to ethereal (data-driven mapping). Some components are adapted from other exhibitions, which poses a creative challenge: works from larger rooms either take up a disproportionately large area or have been edited at the expense of clarity. The diverse projects include several architectural works, including some that attempt monumental gestures. Within these architectural projects, the most compelling reflect a contemporary interest in small-scale, locally-focused approaches that emphasize critical engagement and close observation of human behavior.

fake plam trees against blue tiled wall
Installation photo of Designing Peace. (Photo: Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution)

Scale symbolism is represented by the New World Summit Rojava by the Democratic Self-Government of Rojava (West Kurdistan) and Studio Jonas Staal. Intended to incubate collective self-expression in a tense political landscape, the open-air dome is made up of moveable sections layered on a steel frame, all decked out with ambitious statements and imagery. Symbolic structures tend to be ephemeral, but as a long-lived, minimally programmed pavilion in an underground environment, this persistence can endure.

Reconfigure the studio Recoding of post-war Syria represents a more contextual and iterative approach, building habitable spaces into the shells of bombed-out buildings, integrating local building practices and using endless rubble as a starting point. The process involves open-source 3D scanning and modeling of existing wartime buildings—“as built”—which in turn feed historical documentation into the rebuilding process. If successful, this approach could find global applications, organizing and raising awareness of the incremental, decentralized, anonymous local labor that enables survival in the world’s many new ruins.

blue model house
Installation photo of Designing Peace. (Photo: Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution)

Visitors learn that exactly 77 square meters (roughly 2,700 cubic feet) are dedicated The murder of Halit Yogzat, a meticulous installation by the multidisciplinary investigation team Forensic Architecture in collaboration with several other organizations. This is the scene of the crime: Yogzat’s family’s internet café in Kassel. Upon entering a 1:1 floor plan, a grim story unfolds in the detailed timeline and videos lining the walls: Yogzat’s murder involved a neo-Nazi group, the complicit local police, and the German version of the CIA. The intent may be immersive, but the comparatively large gallery space overwhelms the intricate timeline and fine-grained evidence on display, resulting in a distanced effect. Other projects by the prolific team were perhaps more message-focused, such as Beirut Port Explosion, a crowd-sourced, open-data timeline and a model demonstrating the group’s mastery of data collection and digital modeling in the service of representing truth.

Model building in exhibition
Installation photo of Designing Peace. (Photo: Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution)

The project most critically concerned with emergency construction assumptions is BLUE: The architecture of UN peacekeeping missions by architect and researcher Malkit Shoshan. Examining the imposing design of the emergency architecture through multidisciplinary observation of Camp Castor in Gao, Mali, Shoshan advocates considering the full life cycle of these sites and designing for economic and cultural impacts during and long after the mission. Articulated with poignant detail and wit, Shoshan’s study is particularly noteworthy because it draws on observations from a variety of participants, including journalists and construction workers. The installation would benefit from a clearer explanation of the existing standard for UN camps, as models show fences and suggest gravel-covered infrastructure, but convey little sense of a basic settlement. A few photos from the catalog designed by Irma Boom would suffice.

Several landscape architecture projects focus on natural and cultural contexts. For example, Korea remade, the product of a Harvard Graduate School of Design studio taught by Niall Kirkwood, Jungyoon Kim and Yoon-Jin Park, reimagines the Korean Demilitarized Zone. The exhibition helpfully emphasizes the contradictions inherent in the rehumanization of topography confiscated for confinement and surveillance. My ancestors’ garden, by Hood Design Studio in association with Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, also reveals a chilling story: Gadsden’s Wharf, where nearly half of the enslaved Africans in North America were forcibly disembarked, is now part of the International African American Museum in Charleston. There, a water feature below the building is covered with near life-size abstractions of the dehumanized figures depicted in infamous slave ship diagrams. The project will open in January 2023.

Forensic Architecture charts and diagrams
Installation photo of Designing Peace. (Photo: Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution)

Leaving the show in our metaphorical boat, one feels that the human body and human behavior remain the raw material for the shaping of peace. This is illustrated viscerally by the body mapping project, a community initiative in eastern Congo. Gathered around a 1:1 outline of a child character, former youth fighters and their families, with the guidance of presenters, write and describe their experiences, attempting to understand psychological territory that can elude even the most sophisticated data mapping tools. projects like body mapping Translating peace into effective action.

Jennifer Tobias is a scientist and illustrator based in New York City.


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