SpontaneousInterventions: design actions for the common good was first presented as the exhibition of the U.S. Pavilion at the 13th International Venice Architecture Biennale (Fall 2012). It documents the nascent movement of designers acting on their own initiative to solve problematic urban situations, creating new opportunities and amenities for the public. Provisional, improvisational, guerrilla, unsolicited, tactical, temporary, informal, DIY, unplanned, participatory, opensource—these are just a few of the words that have been used to describe this growing body of work.

Spontaneous Interventions frames an archive of compelling, actionable strategies, ranging from urban farms to guerilla bike lanes, temporary architecture to poster campaigns, urban navigation apps to crowdsourced city planning. These efforts cut across boundaries, addressing architecture, landscape, infrastructure, and the digital universe, and run the gamut from symbolic to practical, physical to virtual, whimsical to serious. But they share an optimistic willingness to venture outside conventional practice and to deploy fresh tactics to make cities more sustainable, accessible, and inclusive.

The Venice Architecture Biennale is the most prestigious architecture event in the world. Now in its 13th edition, the Venice Architecture Biennale was formally established in 1980 and is held every other year (alternating with the Venice Art Biennale, which was first held in 1895). For the 13th edition, held in 2010, 55 countries participated in the Biennale, which was attended by 170,000 visitors.

The 13th edition took place from August 29 to November 25, 2012, and received 178,000 visitors. British architect David Chipperfield was the curator of the main exhibition of the Biennale, themed Common Ground.

The U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale is presented by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State (ECA), which supports and manages the official United States participation at selected international exhibitions. Following the recommendation of the Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions (FACIE), convened by the National Endowment for the Arts, the U.S. State Department selected “Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good,” proposed by Cathy Lang Ho teamed with the Institute for Urban Design, to be featured in the U.S. Pavilion. The U.S. representation at this global event ensures that the excellence, vitality, diversity and innovation of the architecture in the United States are effectively showcased abroad, and provides an opportunity to  engage foreign audiences to increase mutual understanding.


Commissioner and Curator: Cathy Lang Ho is an independent architecture critic and editor based in New York. She is a contributing editor to Architect magazine and founding editor- in-chief of The Architect’s Newspaper. She has published hundreds of articles in publications worldwide. She is a member of the board of the Institute for Urban Design.

Co-curator: David van der Leer is the assistant curator of architecture and urban studies at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the curator of the BMW Guggenheim Lab, a mobile laboratory for urban experiments and public programs traveling to nine major cities worldwide over six years (New York 2011, Berlin and Mumbai, 2012).

Co-curator: Ned Cramer is the editor-in-chief of Architect magazine, the official magazine of the American Institute of Architects and the media sponsor of the U.S. Pavilion. Previously, he was the curator of the Chicago Architecture Foundation and executive editor of Architecture magazine.


Paola Antonelli is a senior curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Her writing has been published widely and she has lectured on design and architecture throughout the world, at such prestigious forums as the TED Conference, Davos, and the World Economic Forum.

Anne Guiney is the executive director of the Institute for Urban Design. She was previously the editor of the New York edition of The Architect’s Newspaper and senior editor of Architecture magazine.

Zoe Ryan is the chair and John H. Bryan Curator of Architecture and Design at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she is building the museum’s first collection of contemporary design. She was previously the senior curator at the Van Alen Institute (VAI) in New York. Her writing has appeared in design publications worldwide.

Michael Sorkin is the founder of the Michael Sorkin Studio in New York City, founder and president of Terreform, and distinguished professor of architecture and director of the Graduate Urban Design Program at New York’s City College (CUNY). He has authored and edited 15 books, including most recently Twenty Minutes in Manhattan (Verso, 2009) and All Over the Map (Verso, 2011). Sorkin is the president of the Institute for Urban Design.

Erik Adigard  (see M-A-D bio below)


FREECELL: Freecell is a Brooklyn-based design studio founded by Lauren Crahan and John Hartmann. Their rigorous search for innovative solutions is strengthened by their drawing, modeling, prototyping, and fabricating skills. Their site-specific installations that question the use and perception of space have been  exhibited at SFMOMA, Henry Urbach Architecture, and Artists Space. Their recent work includes the completion of “Point to Line,” a public art commission at the University of Akron, and custom furniture for the fashion designer Alexander Wang. Lauren  will teach an interdisciplinary design studio at Parsons New School in September. John is on the board of Superfront, a nonprofit  supporting architectural experimentation.

M-A-D: M-A-D is a Berkeley-based interdisciplinary communication design studio founded by Erik Adigard and Patricia McShane. They focus on the convergence of cultural, economic and design concerns. In recent years, M-A-D conceived large media installations for the Paris, Lisbon and Venice biennales. Their work has been recognized in international exhibitions, film festivals and publications, such as the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum, SFMOMA, the Sundance Film Festival, and Meggs’ History of Graphic Design, and by the Chrysler Award for Innovation in Design.  Erik is a lecturer at the California College of the Arts and a member of Alliance Graphique Internationale. More: m-a-d.com


INTERBORO: Interboro Partners is a New York City–based office of architects, urban designers, and planners. Led by Tobias Armborst, Daniel D’Oca and Georgeen Theodore, the firm strives to improve cities through innovative, experimental design ideas. Interboro has been honored with many prestigious awards including the MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program, the AIA New York Chapter’s New Practices Award and the Architectural League’s Emerging Voices and x Young Architects Award. http://www.interboropartners.net/


Project managers: Gordon Douglas, Mimi Zeiger. Team: Justin Allen, Mina Chow, Brendan Crain (social media), Giulia Cugnasca, Lee Ann Custer, Alex Fortney (web programming), Nathan John, Andreas Jonathan, Stéfan Jonot, Sarah Kantrowitz, Katherine Koh, Andrea Soffientino, Alexandra Sutherland-Brown, Alexandra Tell, Samantha Topol (event programming), Julia van den Hout. Film: Kelly Loudenberg (director) with Louie Metzner (assistant editor).


Program director: Samantha Topol is a writer, editor, and artist based in Chicago. She is currently the programmer-in-residence at threewalls in Chicago, and recently curated a four-part event series including performances, video screenings, lectures and installations. She is co-founder of Original Features, a project-driven collaboration that supports multiple forms of artistic and discursive production. Her writing has appeared in The Believer, Art Lies, and The Architect’s Newspaper.

Project researcher: Gordon Douglas is a writer and researcher based in New York. As a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Chicago, he studies issues of local cultural identity, urban development, and people’s interactions with the built environment through “DIY urban design” contributions. His articles and photographs have appeared in Architect, GOOD, Urban Studies, Sociological Perspectives, and Streetsblog.

Additional support: Anne Guiney, executive director of the Institute for Urban Design (administration); Michael Sorkin, Sorkin Studio, Terreform and Institute for Urban Design (advisor); Toni Griffin, director Bond Center for the Just City at City College New York (advisor); Stéfan Jonot, partner of CLHoffice (advisor); Kelly Loudenberg (film); and researchers Justin Allen, Anne Quito, Kyle Ryan Riley, and Matt Shaw.

Millennium Park Pop-up Chicago

MAS Studio: MAS Studio is a collaborative architecture and urban design firm directed by Iker Gil. MAS Studio takes a multidisciplinary approach to its work, inviting collaborations with architects, urban designers, researchers, graphic designers, and photographers among others, in order to provide innovative and comprehensive ideas and solutions. The studio develops its work with an emphasis in research, built work, publications and exhibitions. Gil worked with Andrew Obendorf, Julie Michiels and Andrew Clark on the design of Spontaneous Intervention’s “outdoor living room” in Millennium Park. MAS Studio’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in venues such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, WUHO gallery (Los Angeles) and pinkcomma gallery (Boston).

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP: SOM is an American architectural and engineering firm that was founded in Chicago in 1936. Today it is one of the largest firms in the world, with offices in 10 cities including New York, London, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, and Mumbai. Benton Johnson and Dave Horos of SOM’s Chicago office collaborated on the design of the Millennium Park pop-up and exhibition banner structures.

Dilettante Studios: John Preus is a Chicago-based artist and builder whose work explores the overlapping territories of craft, art, and community life. Through his workshop Dilettante Studios, he designed and built the seats in the Millennium Park pop-up and Chicago Cultural Center exhibition workshop/reading room using reclaimed materials. His work has been exhibited at Documenta 13 (Kassel, Germany), the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), and the Portland Museum of Contemporary Craft (Portland, Oregon).