Critical Spatial Practices: A Trans-scalar Study of Chinese Hutongs and American Alleyways

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Issue Vol. 4 No. 1 (2021)
Published Jan 29, 2021
Section Articles
Article downloads 656
Submitted : Feb 28, 2020 | Accepted : Nov 26, 2020

Gregory Marinic Rebekah Radtke Gregory Luhan


Across time and cultures, the built environment has been fundamentally shaped by forces of occupancy, obsolescence, and change. In an era of increasing political uncertainty and ecological decline, contemporary design practices must respond with critical actions that envision more collaborative and sustainable futures. The concept of critical spatial practice, introduced by architectural historian Jane Rendell, builds on Walter Benjamin and the late 20th century theories of Henri Lefebvre and Michel de Certeau to propose multi-disciplinary design practices that more effectively address contemporary spatial complexities. These theoretical frameworks operate through trans-scalar means to resituate the built environment as a nexus of flows, atmospheres, and narratives (Rendell, 2010). Assuming an analogous relationship to the contemporary city, critical spatial practices traverse space and time to engage issues of migration, informality, globalisation, heterotopia, and ecology. This essay documents an interdisciplinary academic design studio that employed critical spatial practices to study correspondences between Chinese and American cities. Here, the notions of urban and interior are relational. Urbanism and interior spaces are viewed as intertwined aspects in the historical development of Beijing hutongs and Cincinnati alleyways. These hybrid exterior-interior civic spaces create sheltered public worlds and socio-spatial conditions that nurture people and culture.

Keywords: critical spatial practices, hutongs, alleyways, design, preservation

Article Details

How to Cite
Marinic, G., Radtke, R., & Luhan, G. (2021). Critical Spatial Practices: A Trans-scalar Study of Chinese Hutongs and American Alleyways. Interiority, 4(1), 27–42.
Author Biographies

Gregory Marinic, University of Cincinnati

Gregory Marinic, PhD is an architectural theorist, scholar, educator, and practitioner. He is Associate Professor in the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning where he leads Urbania, a funded research lab speculating on metropolitan futures. His current Mexico City-based research focuses on informal settlements and Brutalism in Latin America. His award-winning architecture and design work has been recognised by the American Institute of Architecture, Seoul Metropolitan Government, and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. He has been widely published in peer-reviewed journals and books including AD JournalJournal of Architectural Education, Design Issues, and the International Journal of Architectural Research.

Instagram: @urbania.lab

Rebekah Radtke, University of Kentucky

Rebekah Ison Radtke is an Associate Professor and the Interim Director of the University of Kentucky School of Interiors. She earned a Master of Architecture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design at the University of Kentucky. Her research investigates how design enables social change by applying boundary-spanning pedagogical approaches rather than discipline-specific processes. Her multi-scalar projects produce better living-learning environments and healthy communities. Her collaborative work, all funded by national entities, includes preservation projects in rural China, design-build projects in Brazil, community-activated art interventions in Appalachia, and education-based design initiatives in Lexington, Kentucky.

Gregory Luhan, Texas A&M University

Gregory Luhan, PhD is the Ward V. Wells Endowed Professor of Architecture and the Department Head at Texas A&M University. Dr. Luhan is a nationally-recognized, award-winning architect, scholar, author, professor, and academic leader whose work investigates how design, emerging digital technologies, critical theory, pedagogy, practice, and academic-industry partnerships intersect. The NSF, NEA, DOE, Graham Foundation, and Robert Woods Johnson Foundation fund his research, and the IFCCA used his virtual models in its Design of Cities Prize Competition. He earned his Bachelor of Architecture (Virginia Tech), Master of Architecture (Princeton University), and Doctor of Philosophy in Architecture (Texas A&M University).


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