Molly and James Enos are activist architects, which might make a little more sense if you've seen The Periscope Project, the two-story shipping-container studios and gallery on 16th Street near J Street in East Village. Besides looking cool, it serves as a nonprofit educational center dedicated to urban issues affecting Downtown; through community workshops and student service programs, the organization sparks social art projects that speak to big problems—like blight, homelessness, over-development and gentrification—that affect the use of public space.
One such endeavor was Creative Public Address, in which Preuss School students wrote messages about homelessness on the fences that surround vacant lots Downtown. "Home" and "Who is this for" were spelled out, photographed, made into post cards that described the situation and distributed to the public so they could send it along with their thoughts to the San Diego City Council "as a way to flood the political process," says James Enos, director of The Periscope Project.
The Periscope Project is part of a growing movement in urban areas and is currently featured in the 13th annual Venice Biennale exhibit Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good.
"What we really saw a lot of was centered around people feeling like their needs weren't being addressed by the top down, so they created these bottom-up, micro-interventions," says Molly Enos, Periscope's executive director, of the like-minded organizations in the Biennale. In Italy, the Enoses were among 124 national case studies in which architects and designers are using activism to resolve urbandevelopment dilemmas.
The organization is glowing from its participation in the Biennale as it gears up for its next project, Building Blocks: Investigating the Prohibitive/ Potential Scale of Redevelopment. It's part of the San Diego edition of Living as Form (The Nomadic Version), an international exhibit curated by the New York-based public-arts group Creative Time. Building Blocks opens at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, at UCSD's Art Gallery. Along with Agitprop, Cog*nate Collective, There Goes the Neighborhood and Torolab, The Periscope Project was commissioned to create a cultural work that encompasses art, politics, everyday life and changing social norms.
"Building Blocks is a didactic installation; it's a video piece, a sculpture, and it's a public performance in terms of us getting these interviews with the people that built San Diego the way they built it," James says. "So, we're interviewing folks that brought or facilitated the [Centre City Development Corp.], and we're really trying to understand [the legislation that] squashed redevelopment at the state level." It's a provocative piece that's meant to de-mystify city planning, he says.
Part of the project will comment on stalled developments Downtown. "So, what we're trying to say by doing this," Molly says, "is—look—you have these massive lots that you want massive buildings on, and that's not really serving the needs of what people are looking for right now. So, you need to look at smaller parcels, subdividing those lots and changing the way the zoning and the city works."
She says a lot of people don't know how redevelopment works or how it affects them. James adds, "We're trying to understand how do we have a more engaged, informed citizenry that can respond to what's happening in their own town."