The Berlage


The Architecture of Real Property

Gabriel Cuéllar

Can real property be designed? The response to this question depends on one’s conception of land. Often understood as an abstract legal and economic category, property tends to draw hardliners — it is either to be abolished at all costs or upheld as a marker of freedom. This talk suggests a more nuanced point of view: that property is an infrastructure of information and relation that is inherently spatial, material, and territorial, and therefore a subject of design. Referring to North American case studies from Texas to New York, the talk highlights property’s spatial turns and sets the parameters for a design approach that unfolds in contingent ways to tangibly alter spatial-material organizations.

The interest—the legal relation that binds people to each other and to intervals of land—is a key consideration for designers concerned with property. This talk offers several ways of working with such interests, harnessing big data, legal protocols, and materiality. The aim is to transform environmental realities and, in the process, the power relations mediated by property. By taking on real property as an architectural problem, fundamental questions surface: without a commissioning landowner, for whom would an architect work? Without a guaranteed patch of land, where would architecture be situated? If there were no property lines, where would architecture stop?

This lecture is part of The Berlage Sessions, a thematic Friday afternoon seminar series entitled “Architectures of Speculation,” which considers architecture’s historical and contemporary relationship to real estate speculation, from urban developments associated with nineteenth-century London, fin-de-siècle Paris, and postwar Rome; to land ownership, the spatial ordering of property, and buildings as financial instruments. Lecturers will include Gabriel Cuéllar, Patrice Derrington, Florian Hertweck, Forbes Massie, Andrew Saint, Davide Spina, and Alexia Yates.

Gabriel Cuéllar is an Assistant Professor-in-Practice at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Gabriel studied at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam. He was the 2018–2019 Oberdick Fellow at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. With Athar Mufreh, Gabriel directs Cadaster, a design and inquiry practice awarded The Architectural League Prize in 2018. His work and pedagogy focus on urban formations, territorial and preservation practices, and the role of architectural knowledge in struggles for spatial justice. Gabriel has participated in architecture exhibitions at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, the Netherlands Architecture Institute, the House of World Cultures, The New School Parsons School of Design, and the University of Michigan.