CHRISTOPH a. KUMPUSCH
Head Forward-slash ( / ) Architektur; Co-Founder Mutating-Cities Institute for Advocacy+Activism; Dir. Extraction Lab+Faculty ARCH⋂RED, Columbia GSAPP.
Christoph a. Kumpusch is a New York-based architect and the Head of Forward-slash ( / ) Architektur and the Co-Founder of the Mutating-Cities Institute. He teaches design studios and visual studies courses in the Architecture and Real Estate programs at Columbia GSAPP, where he also directs the Extraction Laboratory.
Kumpusch is the director of Forward-slash, a multidisciplinary practice founded in 2008, and the head of Back-slash, the experimental arm of Forward-slash, investigating technology and material effects on humanity, form and tectonics. It grounds its work in a concentrated research program focused on architectural details and the spawning of new buildings from the smallest parts outward. A theoretical project runs parallel to this work, identifying historical and cultural contexts triggered by detail and societal innovation. The office is both a design and publishing outfit, producing essays, books, exhibitions, installations, podcasts, performances, films, and buildings.
Kumpusch was a Leonardo da Vinci Fellow and a Rudolf M. Schindler Scholar, MAK Center Architect in Residence, USAA Scholar, National Collegiate Engineering Award-winner and a 2013 and 2015 Graham Foundation Grantee. Kumpusch is co-author of System Wien ; editor of I DEA(u)topsy; IDEA(L); Built Ideas; The Light Pavilion ( Lars Müller Publishers, 2013); Urban Hopes – Made in China (Lars Müller Publishers, 2014); Detail Kultur – If Buildings Had DNA ( English, Chinese) (AADCU, 2016) and D etail Kultur – If Buildings Had DNA (Arabic) (Dongola, Stelka, 2021).
Christoph Kumpusch coordinated the Core I Architecture Studios at Columbia GSAPP from 2015 to 2018. He has previously taught at the Cornell University’s AAP, Cooper Union’s Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, MIT, Ohio State University, Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture and the Department of Humanities and Media Studies, and SCI-Arc. He has been an invited juror at Harvard University, Yale University, USC, The Architectural Association, Bartlett and Greenwich University in London, HKU University of Hongkong, the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture in Marseille and MEAL – Middle East Architecture Lab in Dubai, and he serves as an external examiner at the Architectural Association’s PhD colloquium.
In 2010 Kumpusch co-founded the Institute of Mutating Cities with Youmna Chlala. In 2012, Kumpusch completed his Ph.D. on “Detail Kultur – If Buildings Had DNA: Case Studies of Mutations” at the Universität für Angewandte Kunst – Wien. Recent projects include an elephant playground and reserve in Patong, Thailand; the headquarters for V-2’s Variability Hub for Humanity & Cultural Equity in Hackney, London and a feasibility study for a theater and casino in Kathmandu, Nepal. The Light Pavilion at the Sliced Porosity Block in Chengdu, China, one of several projects spanning a decade of collaboration with Lebbeus Woods, was recently completed.
The second of several storefronts for the gender-fluid non-binary fashion brand VERV.London is currently under construction in Hackney/London. This Fall, two exhibitions, one at the MAKCenter in Los Angeles “Salt Works”, and one at the ACFNY in New York “Fluid Details” opened. The construction of an Equity & Ecology Center including an artist and engineer in-residence program at the intersection of Austria-Slovenia-Hungary broke ground in August 2020.
Forward-slash ( / ) was the winner of an international competition to build the first ever hub and theater-space for Performa 15 – a world-renowned venue for performing arts in New York’s Tribeca. In 2018, the office competed and was shortlisted in the Burning Man Temple competition. This summer, Forward-slash’s recently won masterplan competition for an ecology resort in the Himalayas, Nepal, will be implemented.
EQUITY . ADVOCACY . ADAPTABILITY . VARIABILITY . SUSTAINABILITY
STATEMENT ON DIVERSITY
The main goal of my professional and academic career has been, and continues to be, building a bridge that connects Real Estate Development (RED) to the inquiries of Architecture to urbanism and Real Estate Development (RED). In building this bridge, I focus on five focal points or pillars:
1. Equity – What is socio-economic equity in the built form? How is this represented in terms of architecture, urban environments and property economics? What formations are emerging (currently in Europe) that integrate these dimensions of social equity and ensure their relevance to the needs of their communities?
2. Advocacy – How do environmental and social challenges inform a way of design as activism? How can the economic resources and processes of production combine with form to advocate for improved outcomes, rather than continue as instruments of repression?
3. Adaptability – Given the dramatic changes imposed on the use of space, and the speed at which human endeavors are reprogramming the function of the built form, how can we build systems that are adaptable despite their required specificity?
4. Variability – How can we create urban space to have variable elements—buildings with parts that can change and adapt, economic structures serve various stakeholders, and a public realm that is as diverse as its human and non-human inhabitants? How must the traditional intersection of built form and real estate finance be restructured to serve these new demands on form and time?
5. Sustainability – How can we envision the built environment as a perpetual and sustainable process by which socio-economic equity is achieved and maintained, yet still advocating for change and improvement, and by which diverse functional needs are met while remaining sufficiently flexible to respond to rapid change in social and economic conditions?
Using these pillars to investigate, evaluate and innovate the “making” process, or the process by which spatial experiences are created in capitalized form, is critical to the achievement of a more equal, inclusive, cohesive and sustainable built environment. My professional and academic approach is to use these pillars as points of departure for engaging with the local community and with students to ensure the inclusion of all stakeholders across racial, cultural and socio-economic lines and to foster the exchange of diverse ideas that are equally valued and represented.
Having taught at Columbia GSAPP for 10 years, I am excited by and committed to the ongoing efforts to address systematic racism and other forms of inequity and by GSAPP’s mission to foster an environment with a diversity of programs and approaches, utilizing the breadth of perspectives, backgrounds, and stories of students and faculty. My own design education was geographically and pedagogically disparate, which I believe was imperative to my approach that crosses disciplines and ideological silos. I studied architecture across Asia, Europe, the Americas, and Africa, culminating with a doctorate thesis undertaken at Universität für Angewandte Kunst Wien. Before my formal architectural education started, one of the most forming month took place in Nu Pora, a tiny village at the intersection of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina where I had the chance to contribute to building a community center in the forests of Iguazú with found materials, found land, and manual tools. This small project triggered my interest in community driven design and development that can be undertaken more creatively and effectively than many mainstream, clichéd approaches to social equity.
Recently, my professional practice, Forward-slash ( / ) received design approval on an exciting urban redevelopment project in the Himalayas of Nepal. SWO:Nigha, a 17-acre eco-complex in the outskirts of Kathmandu is a net zero energy project that reimagines off-grid living and working through spaces that are in direct conversations with the climate of the Himalayas. With five different typologies of 52 homes, SWO:Nigha will be operated under a trans-disciplinary financing structure that allows for several options of ownership, promoting socioeconomic and demographic diversity while providing long-term employment and other economic benefits to the community living in the margins of the capital city.
Another Forward-slash ( / ) project, V-2, a Variability Hub for Humanity at the headquarters for VERV.London, the largest gender-fluid retailer in Europe, is under construction after receiving funding from the Mayor of London this year. The Variability Hub is a community and creative space for the LGBTQ+ community in East London – its architecture being able to take on fluid programming in a matter of minutes – with a particular emphasis on providing services and safe spaces for transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming individuals.
On the more local front—in the East Village of Manhattan—Forward-slash ( / ) has also been working on HDFC 534 Co-Living, Co-Working & NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities), which focuses on the social, technical, and typological desegregation in housing and working. The project began with a close study of the HDFC and HPD make-up of the vicinity, alongside a detailed study of the racial and ethnic make-up of the neighborhood.
By proposing several spatial interventions that advocate for adaptability within housing, zoning, and planning contexts, HDFC 534 becomes a new model of housing and economic equity in the East Village.
These professional projects are generated in parallel to my academic focus in the MSRED and M.Arch programs at Columbia GSAPP. Not only do they share and reflect the core values, but they are also curated through a reciprocal relationship, as I aim to expand the MSRED program’s capacity to develop and advocate for a more socially and economically equitable built environment through an intense collaboration with architecture and the value of design. Most recently, my GSAAP studios have focused on architecture and advocacy. In Core studios, we considered designs for a School for Outsiders and a Library of Illiteracy in which we focused on empowering those in the community that were often unfairly forgotten. Additionally, a joint-taught bridge studio between RED & ARCH with Prof. Kate Ascher tackled climate change and social equity as we explored strategies and proposals around the concepts of “living with water” in Amsterdam, Upstate New York, while also researching “room for the river” implementations in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands.
The new Development and Design Joint position in the Masters of Architecture (MARCH) & Masters of Science Real Estate Development (MSRED) Programs presents an exciting opportunity to draw connections between environment, form, performance, policy and politics to create a more inclusive and diverse built environment and to address social, racial, cultural and economic inequities. My RED ∩ ARCH [and] approach will consistently embrace the following:
Community Empowerment through modes of operation that engage and celebrate the local community;
Commitment to a socially just built Environment with the initiation of collaborative and transparent projects, which are driven by the different approaches and inputs from students and community members of diverse cultural and generational backgrounds;
Creation and Support of economically robust and resilient Communities by challenging the existing standards of housing policies and practices, and proposing radically new, anti-racist, and anti-classist models of housing equity and affordability;
Cultivation of environmentally sustainable and responsible Communities through design developments that are based on extensive research and profound local engagement.
My ambition is to make human actions and interactions with our natural and built environments as responsible, equitable, and energy conscious as possible. The anticipated result of the integration of RED and Architecture is the effect that is greater than the sum of its parts. The process will embrace social equity, cross-cultural momentum, and non-binary positionality as it frontloads the diverse body of the students’ interests and research on the intersection between RED and Architecture. Their creative proposals will, in turn, lie beyond this intersection with exciting unpredictability and innovation.