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Petra Kempf

Petra Kempf, PhD, is an educator, architect, and urban designer. She works closely with the Center for the Humanities on The Divided City initiative at Washington University and has most recently joined the Alberti Program—Architecture for Young People, where she led the curriculum for the summer workshop.

Kempf has worked at institutions within the public and private sector, including the NYC Department of City Planning, the Project for Public Spaces, and Richard Meier & Partners. She has taught at schools throughout the United States and Europe, including the Rhode Island School of Design, Columbia University, Cornell University, Parsons School of Design, Pratt Institute, and the University of Dortmund, Germany. Kempf earned a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Fellowship, the Architectural League of New York’s Young Architect Award, and a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. She is the founder of Urban Transits, an interdisciplinary research initiative focusing on the transient nature of cities. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and institutions in the United States and Europe and has been featured in multiple publications. She is the author of You are the City (2009) and (K)ein Ort Nirgends, Der Transitraum im urbanen Netzwerk (2010).

Her research focuses on how urban citizens confront current forms of urbanization while coming to terms with and contributing to the production of “commoning” by revealing their political potential in forming a constantly emerging body of interactions. A large-scale drawing based on this is currently on exhibition at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale, named Space Time Existence by the European Cultural Centre.

Confront(ing) Urbanization: The Interactive Tissue of Urban Life Pro [log]ue

Large-scale diagram of bright teal, green, pink, and mauve icons of various architectural structures arranged in a pattern on a dark background.

Confront(ing) Urbanization, 2021

Large-format diagram of small, floating lilypad clusters interspersed with falling pink umbrellas, arranged in a pattern.

Confront(ing) Urbanization, 2021

Venice Biennale: Time Space Existence
European Culture Center - Venice
May-November 2021

CONFRONTING URBANIZATION - The Interactive Tissue of Urban Life Pro [log]ue investigates how urban citizens confront current forms of urbanization while coming to terms with, and contributing to, the production of “commoning” by revealing their political potential in forming a constantly emerging body of interactions.

Midway, in transition life unfolds. As across the globe different forms of matter bounce between an unaccounted number of devices and time zones, the urban condition today is dominated by an operative mesh of mediated flows and stoppages. Fueled by an ever-expanding formation of visible and invisible conduits functioning as anchor points for predominately privately governed enclosures that are strategically positioned in clusters within this vast field of urban expansion, the urban construct enables continually generic conditions without any connection to its ground. Fenced in and guarded with diligence, these contained clusters are the guarantors for the smooth exchange of data, materials and currency. While millions of smart phones, shopping malls as well as logistic centers expand into the urban terrain, a different urban creature has come to fore — a multi-faceted and data driven urban individual who operates in various realities through the lens of a hybrid, yet privately operating realm. Armed with information and equipped with the latest technology, these individuals consume goods and data through various means and channels to feed the universe—self-revolving without a beginning or an end.

Detached from the ground, these urbanites feed the infinite condition of urbanization, as well as the invisible lines that sub-divide the earth surface into distinct inside-outside conditions, through which these ferocious consumers have become separated from one another as well as from the ground they assume they so firmly stand on.

However, as these urbanites, celebrate and consume their global connectivity on exclusive terms, a growing doubt towards present economic practices, main stream politics and public polity has been on the rise for some time now. In the midst of ongoing ecological and economic uncertainties, intensified conflicts between governments and urban inhabitants, as well as refugees seeking asylum, a growing unrest within certain branches of society has become prevalent. Whether they are working on overthrowing encroaching governments, or demonstrating against current economic and ecological practices, these uprisings exemplify an undeniable change in attitude towards established protocols.

Bound towards a ground of belonging and care, these most recent acclaimed citizens are in the process of creating a plural text written by a multitude of participants that articulate themselves through political actions – actions which unfold between the control and management mechanisms of governing agencies public and private alike. As these established entities continually exercise their politics, the unfolding body of multitudes position themselves within a field of changing relations forming a society that stands firmly on a pluralistic ground.

Confronting Urbanization Symposium Events

Got Umbrella

November 4
Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice, Italy

Got Umbrella takes on the challenge to create a pluralistic common ground—informed and imagined by many people at a time. By playing various roles and wearing different masks, urban inhabitants create provisional counter-configurations through which different social constellations arise. The collaborative performance by Kempf and graduate architecture students Tara Weng and Min Lin is open to all.

Tabula Urbaine

November 5-7
Palazzo Michiel, Venice, Italy

Over the course of three daily sessions, participants will engage in both the exchange of knowledge—introducing the work they are currently engaging—and the production of knowledge—working together to discuss and develop a new vocabulary/language to help narrate current processes unfolding within urbanization. Participants include Kempf and associate professor Zeuler Lima.

Black Box

Exploded view diagram of a framework plan on a black background with grey and teal linework.

Black Box, 2015-2019

A large, darkened room, featuring a lit series of two rows of adjoining tables with drawings and models on them, and people viewing them.

Black Box exhibition

Drawing Attention
Exhibition 1: March 2019, Carnegie Museum + Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
Exhibition 2: September 2019-March 2020, Roca Gallery, London, UK

BLACK BOX is based upon the representation of pathways that form a journey in which a site is constructed by the collective—a site that reflects on the ongoing conversation around the intricate process of experiencing the object and subject as an intertwined reality through which the line between self and other is erased.

Diving into the cosmos of crossing lines, the act of drawing sets out to record passages through space and time to construct place—pathways that form a journey in which a site is constructed. Snapshots are taken, negotiations are conducted, measurements may turn into facts, material surfaces, and connections are being discovered—a line is put into action as another one is overdrawn, and fades away: a new storyline emerges.

In a vortex of silence, life on site turns inside out as rays from an inner cosmos begin to transmit into the uncharted—to form yet another world to be discovered.

As no impositions or intentions are projected, Black Box in this light reflects on the ongoing conversation around the intricate process of experiencing the object and subject as an intertwined reality through which the line between self and other is erased. Through this lens, the act of creation becomes an inclusive process of world making in which self is as much imbedded in the other as the object is imbedded in the subject.

You Are the City - Observation, Organization, and Transformation of Urban Settings

Cover of You Are the City

You Are the City

Packaging for You Are the City opened, with the book being pulled out of a translucent folder.

You Are the City

Set of printed materials for You Are the City set on a table, including an open spread of the publication and a map graphic with a translucent background on top.

You Are the City

YOU ARE THE CITY is an interactive mapping tool that creates a framework for understanding the continually changing configuration of the city. As we engage with cities, we create places through which we perceive and construct our own city.

This publication allows one to superimpose various realities in diagrammatic layers to build new urban connections. It consists of 22 transparent sheets that are divided into four categories. One moves through the book in exactly the same way one gets into any city: with no specific order. You can arrive by a main street or a secondary road, you may fly in a plane, drive a car or be in a ship, you can move by walking or use public transportation: the perception of the urban framework is always different, but the whole may be always the same.

There are as many interpretations of cities as there are people. It is therefore our participation and engagement that form places in cities. You are the city-the city is you!

Lars Mueller Publishers
ISBN 978-3-03778-159-3

Selection of Books & Journals Kempf Has Contributed To

Cover of the book City Limits

Cover of Emerging Urban Futures in Land Water Infrastructure

Cover of Theory for the Sake of Theory

Cover of OZ

Cover of Human Cities: Celebrating Public Space