Niched in downtown Ann Arbor, past the hustle and activity of Main Street, lies the Taubman College Liberty Research Annex, an impressive work and exhibition space currently leased by the University and utilized by the architecture faculty. Infra Eco Logi Urbanism, the current installation in the space, is a multi-year research project-turned-publication-turned-traveling exhibit that highlights a proposal to unite the Great Lakes region in terms of infrastructure and energy resources.

Infra Eco Logi Urbanism

Until February 22nd
Taubman College Liberty Research
305 W. Liberty Street

The project was created by research-based architecture studio RVTR, founded by Kathy Velikov, an assistant professor at the University, and Geoffrey Thün, an associate professor, who both work at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. RVTR has locations in both Ann Arbor and Toronto, but the team is currently working locally to accommodate with the exhibit space.

Infra Eco Logi Urbanism’s research spans over multiple disciplines, including urbanism, ecology and policy. The project is an exploration of the future of megaregions, defined as networks of cities and the sprawl between them, interconnected by topography and environmental systems.

The exhibit itself is composed of several suspended screens, each featuring a different facet of the design process. The color scheme of black, white and fluorescent yellow is simple yet striking, bringing attention to the research more thoroughly than one could interpret just from the research manuscript.

Velikov notes that the Great Lakes region, one of the most diffuse megaregions identified as the sprawl between Toronto, Chicago and Detroit, is rich in the promise of renewable energy, thanks to an abundance of water and wind provided by the lakes. Infra Eco Logi Urbanism explores how renewable resources could benefit the surrounding regions. The project focuses on the Great Lakes megaregion, and analyzes its potential based on a hypothetical United Nations-style agreement between the neighboring areas of Michigan and Canada.

“Questions arise like, who is responsible for the algae in Toledo? Things like that change how we think about cooperation, politics and ecology regionally,” Velikov said. “Our research is, essentially, how can design approach this question?”

RVTR believes the creation of an area of suspended nationality between Canada and the United States would help solve these complicated issues of policy between the megaregion. Part of Infra Eco Logi Urbanism’s research was anticipating policy changes in a time of energy and technological changes.

“A big moment for us was when we decided to incorporate the politics and policy, and how that would effect things. It’s still a question that we keep working out,” Velikov said. “What is the relationship between design and politics and policy, that’s a really important challenge for us. We can conceptualize the new technologies, that’s almost the easier part, but reconceptualizing political situations and how that materializes becomes one of the more challenging questions of design and design exploration.”

What sets Infra Eco Logi Urbanism apart from many other urban planning designs is the focus on the places outside the city that are still heavily impacted by the metropolitan, rather than the cities themselves. These areas, Velikov notes, are equally important to tackle when discussing the urban sprawl.

The process of beginning the exhibit began with analyzing these regions, which involved looking at urban systems as networks. The project involves a host of mapping, a visual resource for visitors to envision what these megaregions look like and how they’re connected. One of the main issues of interconnectedness RVTR tackles is the issue of current highways, which Velikov and her team feel very strongly against.

“The highway is a terrible waste of urban space, it leaves these ‘orphan lands’ and leaves all these vast territories empty and useless,” Velikov said. “If we were looking at it as a space where we could have more modes of mobility, more places where, say, electric vehicles could refuel, these spaces could become something more for the region as a site for new institutions and resources, and could do more for the populations that live out there.”

Taking into consideration how transportation and energy will change in coming years, a bulk of Infra Eco Logi Urbanism is focused on retooling intraregional highways to accommodate ecologically friendly modes of transportation, for example a wind-powered high-speed rail proposed by the project.

Though inching into the utopian, Infra Eco Logi Urbanism does a fantastic analysis into how renewable energy development will change the landscape of urban spaces, and has opened a fascinating discussion.

“What we’ve hoped that the exhibition would do is to open people up to these questions,” Velikov said. “When you put forth a speculative proposal, the goal is to allow people to imagine something different and something that might be possible. For us, that’s a really important aspect of this kind of work. It’s not to say this position itself as a singular solution, but it’s meant to foster discourse and debate.”

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