forA Questionnaire
A Congregation Around Possibilities

John McMorrough
8 Nov 2021

1.  What is the most thrilling urban situation that you have ever experienced?

The most exciting urban experiences are those in which the generic and the particular (either as geometry or situation) are contrasted. For example, arriving in a new city by subway if possible, so as to not spoil the surprise.

2.  How would you define “the urban” at this moment in time?

Historically, the urban has been defined by the energies afforded by density, but we may now be past the point of maximum congregation; a peak city era (like peak oil) where previous availabilities may only diminish. What remains is the urban as a practice and the procedures by which to come together, or apart, either by force or by allure, physically or virtually.

3.  What is the most urgent and relevant issue regarding that notion of the urban, both today and in the future? How would you approach it in terms of existing—or not yet existing—methods of analysis, discussion, and action?

The myriad economic and environmental issues we face today supersede the narrow possibilities of individual causes, both their origins and their advocacy. Still, at the same time, these issues all find some instantiation in the “urban,” as the summation of the forms of organization that preceded it (architecture and other product design), and which it precipitates (as global manifestations). This means that for the urban, in its creation and continuation, the coordination of emerging exigencies is an ongoing effort that points to the continuing necessity of design.

4.  Choose the three notions of most significant interest to you from the forA on the urban open call keywords* and define them concerning the urban.

Drawing a statement of the urban from this collection of keywords, the most significant concept is embedded in the words preceding the open call to contribute, as it represents the possibility of the urban being subject to individual definitions. The urban is an invitation to interpret.

Architecture/Urbanism—The two keywords with the highest tally (the most responses for all individuals offering the same answer) are split between “architecture” and “urbanism.” In a model of consensus, with the most mentioned being the most important, the urban is defined as maximum overlap. The urban is a congregation around possibilities.

Alternative Evidence Scenography Resources—A third concept, by caveat categorically limited to the collection of keywords as given, is an assembly of the most idiosyncratic of terms (those least mentioned) into an expression of my own particular urban enthusiasm. A belief that fiction, vision, viewpoint, and ideology are all conditions of an “urban” that preceded and followed any literal city. The urban is a collection of stories we tell ourselves.

John McMorrough is an architect. He is currently a principal at studioAPT and an associate professor at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. He has taught at the Yale School of Architecture, the Ohio State University, the University of Applied Arts Vienna, and the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, among others. His writing and design work have appeared in Perspecta, Log, Volume, Praxis, Threshold, MAS Context, and Flat Out.