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Image courtesy of Philip H. Lewis Jr. (FASLA) and the author.
Is the marketplace just an infrastructure?

M a t t h e w     S k j o n s b e r g 

The question is loaded – on one hand, it seems dismissive of infrastructure, ‘just’ in the sense of ‘only’ being to minimize, and on the other it suggests the possibility that anything should have a singular purpose. It is true that ‘infrastructure’ has largely been regarded by urbanists in a manner consistent with a tendency towards colonialism – in which rural settlements are regarded as ‘hinterlands’ and rural inhabitants as ‘peasants’ – resulting in problematic projects like Addis Ababa’s truly mono-functional east-west highway, linking sites of resource extraction with ‘the marketplace’ while creating a barrier that ruthlessly bisects every community in between. Lacking even rudimentary pedestrian crossings, one witnesses grandmothers, children, and everyone else dangerously climbing over highway barriers and dodging traffic just to cross the heavily trafficked 8 lane commercial route.

            Contrary to this, I believe ‘infrastructure’ is necessarily multifunctional, and I have come to see it as comprised of a dual rural urban network consisting of ‘natural patterns’ and ‘cultural patterns’ – the geometry of which is contextually derived, natural patterns being given precedence. (see illustration above) The role of the marketplace, and of infrastructure generally, can be characterized as broadly serving ‘communication’ – of which ‘commerce’ is just one special type. Clearly marketplaces collectively are but one of many infrastructural elements that cohere within this overall dual network. In this way marketplaces, playgrounds, schools, and cultural institutions are often found clustered together along pedestrian and bicycle circuits within continuous park systems as civic design.*

            The premise that infrastructure serves communication is consistent with historic interpretations. When asked at the end of his life about worthwhile community initiatives, Frank Lloyd Wright advised founding ‘little papers’ and ‘little forums’ allowing neighborhood communities to take a hand in their own destiny. Marketplaces further those civic exchanges, too.


*While motorized transportation, utility corridors and post-colonial economic interests are historically championed by urban design.

This response makes reference to Matthew's recent essay, Do It Yourself: From Individual Sovereignty to Civic Design, written in the context of the exhibition Unpacking the Archives: Frank Lloyd Wright at 150, for which he was a guest curator:

Matthew Skjonsberg, architect and urban designer, recently concluded his doctoral dissertation 'A New Look at Civic Design: Park Systems in America' at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology-Lausanne (EPFL), where he is a founding member of the Laboratory of Urbanism (LAB-U) - a new academic chair directed by Prof. Paola Viganò and Dr. Elena Cogato Lanza. He previously studied at Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, and at ETH-Zurich. He founded collab architecture in 2001, and from 2007-2012 he was a project leader at West 8 in New York and Rotterdam. He was recently a guest curator at the Museum of Modern Art (New York) for the exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright: Unpacking the Archives (June-October 2017), and was a contributing researcher to Towards an Open City: The Quito Papers and the New Urban Agenda (Sassen, Sennett et. al. 2017) for the United Nations-Habitat III. He is currently curating the exhibition Park Systems: From Lausanne to Los Angeles at Archizoom (EPFL). /

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