Design studios typically proceed in a step-wise fashion from conception to masterpiece, and they are often organized as an atelier around the work and tutelage of an experienced designer. Yet the work collected in this book was designed within an experimental studio that was run less like a master class and more like a theatrical improvisation class. After the five teams of architects had defined a project and were underway, they received, at several intervals, special envelopes. The envelopes contained messages that, while not dictating criteria, did interrupt the design process by posing new circumstances, obstacles, and opportunities. Each challenge gave the teams a chance to rehearse not only creativity and ingenuity but also reactivity to global political and economic forces.
Political engagement typically comes cloaked in familiar costumes accompanied with scripts about environment, resources, labor, or human rights, among many other things. Design studios with political intent often go directly for these issues, dramatizing them with solemn manifestos or sci-fi dystopias. This studio wanted to take a more subtle approach, to rehearse a more camouflaged political disposition that would indirectly manipulate a situation to achieve the desired results. The moves might appear to be something completely unrelated, innocuous, or banal in the same way that a confidence man needs to find a sly way of looking completely normal. Previous studios had experimented with fictional projections for changes to the world, but this studio wanted to try fiction in another key. The intrusions of the envelopes meant that there could be no single coherent plan or story. Besides, hustlers lead their suckers down the garden path with countless little courtesies and unimportant details that are collectively untraceable but inescapable. Each move must react to how the victim is responding, and each is a distraction from the real intention, which is, of course, never declared. Similarly, the studio hoped to produce, not a dramatic political aria, but a snaking chain of moves designed to worm into a site and gradually ratchet leverage against intractable politics.