Losing Land

My friend Amanda Armstrong can’t come on campus anymore, unless she’s there to study or teach. Unless she’s there, in the words of the Alameda County DA who charged her four months after their police beat her as she linked arms with her fellow protestors to protect an encampment put up on November 9th of last year, on “lawful business.”

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direct: Occupy at Cal, uploaded by MilesMathews


Come to think of it, it’s not only this Berkeley campus that she and twelve others aren’t supposed to step foot on, but any property owned by the University of California. Apparently, this is to stop her—and anyone else who was suddenly charged at the beginning of March, arraigned on criminal charges four months after she was videotaped having batons jabbed into her ribcage—from protesting at events like Regents’ meetings (where they generally approve massive tuition hikes) or participating in protests at other campuses. What ends up happening, though, is an absurd Orwellian world in which she can’t go to People’s Park, an enclave five blocks from campus that’s currently—and has been for the last thirty years—occupied by the homeless of Berkeley.


In an open letter (link here) published on Berkeley Nov 9, a blog devoted to covering the aftermath of the events of November 9, 2011, in which Alameda County police attacked and beat students who had formed a circle around a tent in order to protect its occupants from eviction, from the public grounds of this public university, three of the arrested students pointed out the following:


“The stay-away-order-plus-exception effectively distills our lives as students and workers from all other trivial or superficial aspects. We are reduced to mere academics, without political or social lives, whose sole purpose is to work and study and return home. We cannot attend a lecture on campus. Or meet with a friend for coffee. Or stop to talk with a former student. And we most certainly can’t attend any protest.”


It’s this stay-away order, this control of access to public ground, that is one of the most distressing elements of this entire, very distressing series of events. And it sheds light on the most basic of architectural and landscape questions. Whose land is this? Who decides who gets to go on it? And what does it mean when you are suddenly not allowed to place your body on a parcel of grass or concrete that, just a few days before, were public, and therefore yours?


I’ve been reading a lot of environmental history in a seminar with the historian Kerwin Lee Klein, and one of the first books that we read was about forests in England and France, and about who got access to those forests. We had to walk our way through to the answer as Klein pushed and pushed and pushed us to figure out why the peasants couldn’t get onto the king’s land. Forests were defined not in the way we colloquially define them now—as groupings of trees often with nice walking paths—but solely to delineate hunting grounds on which the king and his guests could prey on deer. Citizens who weren’t among the king’s invited guests weren’t allowed into the forests.


It wasn’t so that they wouldn’t accidentally get shot or shoot someone else. It wasn’t so that they wouldn’t take the deer that were meant for the king. It was so that they wouldn’t get access to weapons.


And that’s what this stay-away order feels like. The weapons that we have now are our bodies and our speech, and it is clear that the administration is afraid of the way in which we’ll use both. I almost wrote “wield” them, but then I realized the violence in that word, and this is not about us being violent.


I wasn’t there on November 9th, on the day that everything happened, but I was there a few days later when hundreds of students gathered on Sproul Plaza to find ourselves facing a phalanx of armed riot police. I almost wrote “cops,” but that’s the thing about Occupy here at Cal, when what we can use is our words: every single word matters so much (it always does, of course), as does, it seems now, every single square of occupiable (pun intended) land. One of the questions that night was about tents or no tents, about whether we should try to formally occupy the space once again by using this symbol of the larger occupy movement, or whether we should simply informally occupy it. One of us proposed that everyone simply lie down, and occupy this ground, which should be our ground, not with tents but just with limbs and fingers and the backs of our skulls. The body had become the landscape of protest: the reason my friends were beaten, the reason my friend Zak’s finger was broken and Amanda’s ribs were bruised, was that the university had seen their behavior as “not non-violent.” The university saw their linking of arms as a sign of attack, as their own phalanx, and so for the next few days images of Martin Luther King linking arms with supporters popped up on doors and walls and cork boards around campus, particularly those in Wurster, the architecture building, where we felt a sense of even larger responsibility.


embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direct: Floating Tents Occupy Cal, uploaded by redstartstudio


It was the landscape students that took charge, and it was the landscape students that floated tents above Sproul Plaza one amazing day last semester. They had designed their way around the restrictions the university had placed on our abilities to occupy, and with it came the idea to just lie down on the ground. Tents became such a lightning rod issue, seemed almost to bait the administration, but here and there people began to propose the idea of occupying the space without tents, simply with bodies. And last semester, as the temperatures lowered and protesting fatigue set in, a few remarkable people slept on the steps of Sproul, warmed only by sleeping bags and their desire to be seen.


I’ve been proud to be a part of the Wurster community and there’s been a sense around Wurster, the building that houses the College of Environmental Design, that we are some of the ones who have to speak up, that we are the ones who need to use our understanding of space and place and how important it all is to help push the conversation forward. Our dean, Jennifer Wolch, sent out an email before the March 5th Sacramento protest saying that she hoped to see us on the buses. There’s a way in which our activism feels like we can come at it from an angle, from a seeing of space.


I’m thinking, and very seriously, of leaving school after this year. It’s a combination of factors, some of them general and cliché, some of them that feel so specific that they must be cliché. My mother wrote to me the other day after I sent her an email thanking her for supporting my decision. She talked about the cynical approach to scholarship I’ve found, the lack of financial support, the way in which I feel as though the thing I’m supposed to do—write, with enthusiasm—is seen as secondary to the path of being trained to be a professor. But she also knows that deep below those very real concerns is the desire not to be a part of a university that will stand behind the removal of its own students, that will keep away the people who contribute to its intellectual life.


I walked through campus yesterday and I thought ahead to this fall, when I don’t know if I’ll be coming back on campus for classes. And part of me was already sad, already nostalgic for this moment that I knew I’d look back on. I talked to a friend of mine about my decision to leave. “Nowhere else can you have this kind of community of people doing amazing things” he said. “Are you sure you want to go?”


I’m not sure, and in part because there is an amazing community of people. But there’s also the truth that part of this community of people doing amazing things is no longer being fostered by the university. My friend Amanda is smart, and thoughtful, and deeply involved in finding what’s right and then fighting for it. The fact that the University of California, Berkeley, does not see fit to recognize her for it, sees fit instead to stand behind the actions of an increasingly aggressive and vindictive police force, means that this community of people doing amazing things is perhaps physically on top of the ground that they stand on, but no longer occupies it in the way that they should. This land was our land. Now, it’s lost.



Shortlink http://q.gs/ERqNl


  1. Kirill Medvedev in the London Review of Books, 23 Feb. 2012, page 14:

    In November some students, inspired in part by the US Occupy movement, disrupted the 300th-anniversary celebrations at Moscow State University to protest against the university’s unionization policies. They were rounded up by the police on their own campus.

    > Reply

> Submit

Select filter(s):


In amber morning light I boarded a vaporetto and floated down Venice’s Grand Canal. Bit of a switch from Dallas.


> Read More

Shortlink http://q.gs/ERpe5

The Art of Assemblage


“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.”


-Richard P. Feynman


We enter a fabric womb, a cave-like space of soft stalactites that brush against us, shifting and pooling us into groups. We’ve stumbled into the world that is Give, an installation by artists Bird Feliciano and Juliana Raimondi.

> Read More

Shortlink http://q.gs/ERpe4

Contributor Profile: Arianne Gelardin and Jacob Palmer


Arianne Gelardin and Jacob Palmer are co-curators for StoreFrontLab‘s Season 2: City Making Series.

> Read More

Shortlink http://q.gs/ERnNg

Invisible Urbanism

Ian Quate at the opening of the summit. (Photo: John Parman)

How do you make yourself at home in a cauldron filled with demons? I’m quoting the founder of Soto Zen, but the question was also posed at a recent San Francisco summit. > Read More

Shortlink http://q.gs/ERph4

Contributor Profile: Leah Nichols


Leah Nichols is a San Francisco-based urban designer and art activist. She currently works at SITELAB urban studio, implementing public realm possibilities within a range of scales, from 28-acre mixed use developments to chain-link fence installations.

Urban Symposium No. 1

The first Urban Symposium event, as a part of StoreFrontLab Season 2, kicked off with a full room of people, each with a party hat on and margarita in hand. > Read More

Shortlink http://q.gs/ERpvY

TraceSF launches City Makers salon

This month TraceSF introduces City Makers, a new salon series at StoreFrontLabHosted by Amanda Loper of David Baker Architects and Emily Gosack of Jensen Architects, City Makers grew out of a desire to hear more from the women at the forefront of City Making. John Parman, a founding editor of TraceSF, spoke with Amanda and Emily about the series, which opens on October 28 with  Laura Crescimano, a principal of SITELAB urban studio.

> Read More

Shortlink http://q.gs/ERrH3

Contributor Profile: Michael Willis

Michael Willis is a well-known Bay Area architect.

Shortlink http://q.gs/ES02d

Knowledge City: Rethinking Heidelberg

Berlin architect Professor Michael Braum led off the first day’s session. Photo: Michael Willis

Heidelberg, one of Europe’s oldest university towns, is looking at its future. Here’s a firsthand account of what’s ahead and what it might means for university towns here. > Read More

Shortlink http://q.gs/ERsCH

Carlo Scarpa In Person

“Carlo Scarpa, Berkeley, California, 1969,” photo courtesy of the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.


When one turns the page of an architecture magazine and the work of Carlo Scarpa appears unexpectedly, a quiet inner thrill is felt. Since his passing in 1978, we seem increasingly moved by Scarpa’s caress of material, his strange but faultless sense of placement and proportion, the contemplative nature of his details. These appreciations are heightened by the knowledge that his output was relatively limited. > Read More

Shortlink http://q.gs/ES1P3

Contributor Profile: Max Levy


A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley (1970), Dallas architect Max Levy, FAIA, established his studio in 1984. He is best known for designs that connect people with nature in both rural and urban settings. > Read More

Shortlink http://q.gs/ES4vp

Planned Growth or Unplanned Strife?


Will San Francisco follow through on its carefully laid plans to accommodate a growing population, or will it continue to fight the same battles time and time again?

> Read More

Shortlink http://q.gs/ERpoL

Contributor Profile: Mark Hogan


Mark Hogan AIA, LEED BD+C is a licensed architect in the states of New York and California. His primary interests lie in housing, sustainable urban design and in enhancing digital design workflows. > Read More

Shortlink http://q.gs/ERlTA

Urban Activation Device & TXP

Spanish art & architecture collective Todo Por La Praxis is seeking collaborators and participants for their experimental research on activating the urban void. > Read More

Shortlink http://q.gs/ERrG9

When Cities Fall: Urban Histories and Political Memory

Destroyed city of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995. Photo by Thom Hoffman.

Our experience of the present is shaped by our understanding of the past. By ignoring the urban narratives of  monuments, structures, city parks, memorials…what messages are we missing for the present?  > Read More

Shortlink http://q.gs/ERrH1

Save SLO County!

Heading into Paso Robles from the west, 2013


Will San Luis Obispo (SLO) County remain predominantly agricultural, or will it sink into the same morass of rural sprawl that took out Orange County? It could go either way, but there’s still hope if we act now. > Read More

Shortlink http://q.gs/ERpxO

The Living Newspaper: Extra Extra

Image courtesy of Southern Exposure

Southern Exposure is launching a public art program, The Living Newspaper: Extra Extra, the first West Coast performance project by the artist Liz Magic Laser and her collaborators, the actors Audrey Crabtree and Michael Wiener. > Read More

The Floods in Budapest

Eyes on the River. Photo by Christopher Herring.

The stone banks alongside the river contain the city. Despite them, here is the river, rising.  Silently, swiftly the waters swarm downstream; the swell of water does not much alter the river’s appearance.  You know there is more of it now only because benches, parks, and the bike road are being submerged.  It has not yet risen to the main city wall, about 20 feet higher; three more days of flooding expected.  

> Read More

Shortlink http://q.gs/ERqlf

Contributor Profile: Elizabeth Snowden

Photo by Christopher Herring.

Elizabeth Snowden is a Berkeley-based writer and editor. A graduate of Bard College, she has edited catalogues raisonnés on Picasso and Gris for Wittenborn Art Books in San Francisco.

Shortlink http://q.gs/ERsMI

Mr. Waka’s Dog House

Joseph Kosuth reviewing plans for the art installations at the Dog House. Photo by pm cook.


“Get out at the Sakuragaoka post office. Turn around and you’ll see a Lawson’s. Walk to it and then turn left. Walk up that street and you’ll see the Dog House on the right.” Typical Tokyo directions from the art impresario and entrepreneur Joni Waka. > Read More

Shortlink http://q.gs/ERrHe