The CCA presents…Actions: What You Can Do With the City

The Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) presents Actions: What You Can Do With the City, an exhibition of 97 actions that instigate positive change in contemporary cities around the world. Seemingly common activities such as walking, playing, recycling, and gardening are pushed beyond their usual definition by the international architects, artists, and collectives featured in the exhibition. Their experimental interactions with the urban environment show the potential influence personal involvement can have in shaping the city, and challenge fellow residents to participate.


On view from 26 November 2008 until 19 April 2009, Actions: What You Can Do With the City is curated by CCA Director and Chief Curator Mirko Zardini and CCA Curator for Contemporary Architecture Giovanna Borasi. The exhibition and its accompanying publication present specific projects by a diverse group of activists whose personal involvement has initiated vital transformation in today’s cities. These human motors of change include architects, engineers, university professors, students, children, pastors, artists, skateboarders, cyclists, pedestrians, municipal employees, and many others who address the question of how to improve the urban experience. Their actions push against accepted norms of behaviour in cities, at times even challenging legal limitations. The individuals and groups presented in the exhibition employ a range of approaches, from skating and parkour to dumpster diving and urban foraging. Some engage architecture directly by finding new uses for abandoned buildings, while others create tools for guerilla gardening. In their individual critiques of urban modes of production and consumption, these actors share a conviction that the traditional processes of top-down civic planning are insufficient, and new approaches and tools must be developed from the ground level upwards.


“The exhibition gathers up but a minimum of the new actions we find with increasing frequency in today’s urban environment. They reveal the existence of a world rich in inventiveness and imagination, alien to our contemporary modes of consumption,” said CCA Director and exhibition co-curator Mirko Zardini. “These actions propose alternative lifestyles, reinvent our daily lives, and reoccupy urban space with new uses.”


Actions: What You Can Do With the City features international contemporary architectural projects, design concepts, and research conveyed through a range of materials including architectural drawings, photographs, videos, publications, artifacts and websites. The 97 distinct actions presented in the exhibition are drawn from a larger number identified by the curators. They include projects related to the production of food and urban agriculture; the planning and creation of public spaces to strengthen community interactions; the recycling of abandoned buildings for new purposes; the appropriation of urban sites into terrain for play, such as soccer, climbing, skateboarding, or parkour; the alternate use of roads for walking or rail lines as park space; the design of clothing to circumvent urban barriers against loitering or resting on benches; and many others. The exhibition places particular emphasis on the activists’ tools, which comprise unusual materials ranging from large-scale inflatables and fruit-collecting dresses to seed-bomb rocket launchers and wheelbarrow-bicycle hybrids. Included are masks disguising children as horses, or sneakers customised for sliding along railings.


The design concept for the exhibition is by Andrea Sala, Milan, and the graphic design including display brochures is by Project Projects, New York City.


Actions: What You Can Do With the City is accompanied by a book of the same title, which presents original research and writing that further examines the exhibition’s exploration of how the design and experience of contemporary cities can be shaped by human actions. International in scope, the 30 essays are published for the first time and include personal observations by a range of activists alongside scholarly reflections on the positive impact these individual initiatives have on the city. The texts are interspersed with 34 specific actions drawn from the exhibition.


Introductory essays by the editors Mirko Zardini and Giovanna Borasi provide historical perspective and establish the curatorial framework for the exhibition and publication. Original essays are contributed by Jochen Becker, Vikram Bhatt, Katrin Bohn, Brendan M. Brogan, Coloco, Henk Döll, Fergus the Forager, Omar Freilla, George J. Grella Jr., Fritz Haeg, Tali Hatuka, Dan Hill, Sarah Hill, Ocean Howell, Hans Ibelings, Momoyo Kaijima, David Ker Thomson, Zoe Laughlin, Sonia Lavadinho, Nina-Marie Lister, Alejandra López, Thomas Leo Ogren, Emily Rauhala, Richard Reynolds, Debra Solomon, Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, Jeroen van Nieuwenhuizen, and Andre Viljoen.

Co-published by Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal, and SUN, Amsterdam, the catalogue is designed by Novak, Amsterdam. The 240-page, soft-cover book includes 70 colour and black and white illustrations, and features a folded poster as cover wrap. The volume is available as of December 1, 2008 at the CCA Bookstore in English and French editions for $42.95 CAD/USD (ISBN: 978-0-920785-82-9).


The exhibition is also accompanied by the website, which presents a toolkit to inspire actions in the city. This databank of individual actions featured in the exhibition can be sorted and browsed in multiple ways, including by the type of tool employed in the action or the curatorial organization of the exhibition. The website features photographs and video resources, and challenges users to respond by posting their own thoughts or initiatives on how to improve the city through individual action.