Forms of Content

C-LAB 2005-2011
Exhibition at Yoshioka Library, Tokyo, Fall 2011
In collaboration with RAD, Kyoto, Japan

The work of C-Lab, Columbia University’s experimental urban and architecture think tank, is on display in Tokyo. Conceived as a temporary occupation, the exhibition presents C-Lab’s work alongside magazines from Yoshioka Library’s archive of international architecture journals from the 1960s to today. Images of C-Lab analyses, planning projects, installations, and publications are positioned on the gallery’s shelves next to vintage issues of A+U, Japan Architect, Shinkenchiku, Space, Architectural Review, Domus, Abitare, and Casabella.

The exhibition is the first to survey C-Lab’s entire output and shows how the group gives form to content.  With all the displayed works, design is used to shape disparate facts into architectural speculations, constructing information into findings about cities. Each project offers an urban proposition, the most overt being the master plans for Chengdu, China; Research Triangle Park, USA; and Saemangeum, South Korea. Also displayed are illustrated geographical and cultural case studies, and publications like the book World of Giving, issues of Volume Magazine, and C-Lab’s bootleg edition of Urban China. These projects too are designed to isolate urban conditions and outline planning strategies. Like the master plans they activate spatial relationships through their respective forms, and can be thought of as a kind of architecture.

Accompanying the exhibition is a tabloid-format publication that highlights four underlying themes in the lab’s initiatives. The first involves processing mounds of cultural data to identify unexpected spatial and social patterns. Urban occurrences are harnessed into a visual matrix to convey a hypothesis about the operations of cities. Supporting texts articulate unforeseen consequences affecting urban design and policy.

The second describes the bonding of unrelated typologies into new, practical sensibilities for growth. Conceptual readymades are mashed up into urban morphologies that re-imagine city environments. The familiar shapes of the readymades lend an immediate legibility to the plans, and afford an economy of means for transmitting their emergent character.

The third focuses on the communication of architectural ideas. Every illustration is a unique design that telegraphs a C-Lab insight about the city. The drawings, modified photographs, analytical diagrams, data comparisons, and animations all function as communication instruments that express concepts visually. Typically appearing at the start of a publication, the epigrammatic figure is condensation of the narrative that foretells the story about to unfold in words.

At the same time, each graphic is a construction in its own right. The designs are presented without their accompanying text to feature the logic that went into their making. Collectively, they represent the media used by C-Lab to leak information into the architectural subconscious.

The last method concerns the power of scale. C-Lab believes the architect is most productive in the beneficent sense when he/she understands the power that lies in exercising architectural thinking at all registers of experience. Since architectural thinking is applied to contexts of various sizes (furniture, exhibition, building, district, city, and media landscape), it is valuable to know the power of operating at each one. Sometimes, it may be more effective to achieve an intended result by working at a different scale than the one initially assumed or requested, or by working at multiple scales and leveraging the effects of the forms across them.

In this spirit, the publication itself functions at several scales. It can be read in the standard tabloid format with projects belonging to one category on a spread. Half pages can be joined to make a large image of one representative project from every category. Multiple copies of the publication can be assembled to create even bigger text and image compositions, such as the one arranged at the center of the exhibition that spells out, “C L A B.”


Jeffrey Inaba
Justin Fowler
Bjorn Ehrlemark
Betsy Medvedovsky
Allyn Hughes
Greg Evans

Mitsuhiro Sakakibara
Shinichi Kawakatsu

With the kind support of Shinkenchiku-sha, Tokai Kyodo Printing, and Columbia University GSAPP, New York

Yoshioka Library, 2-31-2, Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo
Hours: 13:30-19:00 Wed-Fri; 11:00-18:00 Sat


Images 1-2: © Shinkenchiku-sha 2011, All Rights Reserved
Images 3-4: © Jeffrey Inaba 2011, All Rights Reserved
Images 5-10: © Columbia University 2011, All Rights Reserved