Human lives are stories; from old, painted worlds with mystical beings to the flying cars of the Jetsons, lives are formed, informed, altered and enacted with characters and narratives.

Roland Barthes states, “Narrative is present in every age, in every place, in every society, it is simply there like life itself.” His essays claim the built environment is filled with symbols and signals that mold characters to think and enact a certain way in the large theatrical set of the city.[1] These environments led to speculations of the world. These realities intersect as artists and designers in the literary, the visual, and the built alike think through issues and opportunities of futures.

At the peak of urban unrest and pandemic of the world, how do we begin to construct the built environment through unfolding the narratives of the day to day performances that occurs around us. How do we include them in our processes and delivery of projects? Thus, considering the possibilities of making, developing, and designing by populating, drawing and speculating on those environments. Imagine characters that move through the world of goodness, from rooms, to plans, to architecture, to blocks, to cities, to countries, the world and the universe. These characters form the making and transitioning -topias, the everyday ordinary places.

This realization questions the understanding of ordinary spaces, and why it matters to architects, designers, or the ordinary people? Understanding the complexity of ordinary places such as sidewalks, corners, porches, train platforms and more allow us to see the social worlds that are constructed. A good explanation comes from Elijah Anderson, who claims that streets and sidewalks are inherently embedded into our social worlds that allow us to leave the house each day with some degree of confidence. [2] A great example, an individual can walk outside of their home, use the sidewalk, and have no secondary thoughts on it. The act of walking and looking in becomes an embedded practice of many people using the space. It also gives us knowledge of how communities are created and how certain practices informs those communities. Not only does the sidewalk acts as a way of transportation, but the sidewalk is also a new public where people socialize and work. The sidewalk may become a various of spaces, such as a marketplace, bedroom, bathroom, and playground according to the users: crowds of people pass by each other, and local vendors sell fruits, burgers, and incense. To someone who is new to the area may see it as an odd way to use the sidewalk, but for many of those who knows the neighborhood understand the value of the sidewalk space as a flexible form of the public. Using the sidewalk then is an embedded act of commerce, transportation, play, and work.

Such illustration provokes the design pedagogies, making, and drawing of the constructed environments. Therefore, the practice of design must become interdisciplinary and take on other forms of dissemination. Comic Books, Pod Casts, Stories, Animations, platforms that allows a nuanced understanding of futures and tactics that are driven by the stories and site. The act of design becomes an act of agency along with the collaboration of community members, organizations, and other form of stakeholders.

– Unfolding -Topias, Tommy Yang

[1] Barthes, Roland, Semiology and Urbanism (1971): 412-418
[2] Anderson, Elijah. Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City / Elijah Anderson. First Paperback ed. 2000.

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