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International Symposium to Examine the Role of the User in Architecture

From the design of New York City to the design of the bathroom, how should users shape the spaces in which we live?

Release Date: April 1, 2011

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Experts in the design of the bathroom, cybernetics in architecture and the spatial dimensions of aging will be among speakers at "Before and Beyond: Architecture and the User," a two-day symposium at the University at Buffalo's School of Architecture and Planning.

The event, which features presenters from the U.S., Canada and Europe, is free and open to the public. Panels will take place on April 6 and 7 at 301 Crosby Hall on UB's South Campus. Directions and a complete schedule are online at

As its title suggests, the symposium will explore how architecture and urban design deal with matters of use.

As Omar Khan, chair of UB's architecture department, explains, "If we define people as users of space, it frames architecture and urban design with specific functions, with very particular goals.

"But if we understand space not as something to be used, but as something that we are symbiotic with, we might come to different conclusions," Khan said. "We don't 'use' nature. Some people would say that the concept of the 'user' is inhumane, that it turns people into something more mechanical."

The goal of next week's symposium, Khan said, is to question what the concept of the "user" means in this particular moment in time, in the early part of the 21st century, as sustainability, pervasive computing and other forces are shaping design.

The symposium is being organized by Kenny Cupers, the School of Architecture and Planning's 2010-11 Reyner Banham Fellow, whose research focuses on the role of the user in modern architecture and urbanism.

Teddy Cruz, the university's 2011 Clarkson Chair in Architecture, will deliver a keynote address on April 6 titled "Creative Acts of Citizenship: Performing Neighborhoods."

Cruz, an architect and educator who has researched the transborder urban dynamics between San Diego, Calif., and Tijuana, Mexico, will also lead a public discussion on April 7 titled "Empowering Users, Empowering Architecture?"

Other presenters include Mariana Mogilevich of Harvard University, whose talk is titled, "Opening the City: Landscape and Participation in 1960s New York" and Barbara Penner of the University College London, whose talk is titled, "Redesigning Taboos: Ergonomics, Alexander Kira and the Bathroom."

Jeremy Till, dean of the University of Westminster's School of Architecture and the Built Environment, will present the closing keynote address: "Will the Real User Please Stand Up?"

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