Urban Think Tank

Urban­Think Tank (U­TT) is an interdisciplinary design studio dedicated to high ­level research and design at a variety of scales, principally concerned with contemporary architecture and urbanism. Founded in 1993 by Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner, the practice has maintained a strong investigatory and educational component as it has explored challenging urban conditions throughout the world.

Several themes emerge in their work:

First, an emphasis on the informal, and the self ­built. U­TT argues that 21st century architecture represents a stark departure from 19th and 20th century models inasmuch as cities are already quite built up. That leaves opportunities for open space, urban acupuncture, transitory projects, etc. It increasingly excludes older ideas of centralized master planning and developer ­driven development. U­TT’s work, therefore, focuses on systems by which people can begin to participate in the construction of their own built environment at multiple scales.

Second, an exploration of the vertical in addressing dense slum conditions and urban neighborhoods. To residents of New York, or Tokyo, the notion of going vertical is a familiar urban concept. However, in many slums/barrios/favelas around the world, builders lack the heavy equipment or capital to arrange their neighborhoods in a such a way. In the twentieth century, Modernist ideas of organizing low ­income neighborhoods in vertical towers proved to be a general failure. Thus U­TT’s work looks at verticality in a new light – one in which residents are the organizers of their space, and that those space remain open to constant modification. Verticality becomes a tool of the community to create new spaces, open up space for new businesses, new recreational facilities, etc.

Since 2007, Brillembourg and Klumpner have taught at Columbia University, where they founded the Sustainable Living Urban Model Laboratory (S.L.U.M. Lab), and since July 2010, they hold the chair for Architecture and Urban Design at the Swiss Institute of Technology, ETH in Zurich.

Their work across the globe, both in practice and in teaching, has provoked significant questions about how we see informal communities and the strategies available to foster safe, sane development.

We had a chance to have an amazing two ­part discussion with Alfredo and Hubert on Social Design Insights. Hear their talk on July 6, 2017 and July 13, 2017.

Urban Think Tank

Zurich, Switzerland
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