Student Perspective | Jordan Charles | Urban Proxy

We recently interviewed Master of Architecture (MArch) student, Jordan Charles, about his independent studio project “Urban Proxy”. Read our interview below to learn more about this unique project.


Hi Jordan, introduce yourself, what is your background?

My name is Jordan Charles, most of my friends know me as Peezy. I like to consider myself an “architect in training” striving to acquire his Master of Architecture during the day and a superhero at night. I pretty much have the same profile as some other individuals in the field – jack of all trades, master of none. However, I do take pride in my drawing abilities. While they aren’t where I’d like them to be they are good enough to allow me to make sense of my ideas and transfer them from my thoughts to paper.

What studio was this project for?

“Urban Proxy” was my final project for the independent studio I had taken up to fulfill the final requirements for my MArch. I had derived from the typical trajectory for the CUDC’s MArch program due to conflicts with my summer schedule and the required summer studio. So instead of taking the summer studio, I pushed the studio back to the following fall semester which is where it had morphed into an independent studio. However, I am pleased with how the adjustment worked out. I believe the independent studio gave me the freedom necessary to create “Urban Proxy”.

27_560How did you come to choose your topic?

“Urban Proxy” embodies a lot of personal beliefs I have in regards to design and architecture. People are in part defined by their experiences and architecture provides a stage for experiences to occur, so in theory architecture defines people. I wanted this project to provide a stage where positive experiences could occur for individuals that may feel they didn’t have a proper place within the city.

At the root, what is “Urban Proxy” about?

The genesis of Urban Proxy initiated with the intent of devising a scheme that resisted a static nature in search of a proposal that could be primarily flexible. The idea of flexibility sparked a desire to devise a plan to produce both programmatic and architectural elements that were freed from shackles. Change occurs more frequently than ever before and as society (thus the city) change, more should be expected from our environments. To be able to keep up with the changes, adaptability is a trait critical to designs that intend to remain relevant.

Research had led me to “Always Building: The Programmable Environment” from Herman Miller’s creative office. The writing questioned if we could use information as building material, if environments could adapt after being built and overall, could environments become programmable? Much like a digital realm or space, could changes occur on the spot? Could the ‘code’ be edited? The concept of programmability later pushed me in the direction of Cedric Price’s “Fun Palace”, Archigram’s “Instant City”, and another proposal known as “Project Ara” (unrelated to architecture) – all projects utilizing improvisation in real time.

I believe improvisation is the equivalent of programmability in architecture, allowing access to the ‘code’ to be altered. To truly understand improvisation in space I began to look more closely at the users – individual versus generalization. Typically when conjuring a set program for a space, generalizations are made to make the process more straightforward. We use these generalizations to conveniently encompass a set of design criteria needed for a beginning template of sorts. On an individual level space becomes a lot more personalized and to personalize one may have to improvise. In order to reject generalizations and attempt to focus on the individual I began to think of various characters.


I asked myself, “What characters reside in the city that may seem as if they don’t belong?” If I found individuals that didn’t fit within the accepted public etiquette then I could find those that improvised the most. I used myself as a starting point, as I often feel I am “breaking the rules” within the city. I run, climb and vault many features of the built environment for my own enjoyment. To me, using these features are my way of improvising in an organized space, a way to experience the environment in new ways as opposed to simply walking through it. Usually I feel guilt afterward knowing that if I look around to see people observing me they would probably feel that I am doing something wrong. They would feel I am acting out of the norm.

With these feelings of guilt and unusual behavior in mind, a series of characters were eventually created – a skater, a traceur, a dancer, a tagger, and a chef. Each character utilized the built environment in various unique ways that resided outside of the realm of the norm. Each had become accustomed to improvising and this had become the foundation of the Urban Proxy proposal. As the intent for the Urban Proxy proposal grew, it began to include characters from any walk of life who simply felt they didn’t have access to a space that could accommodate their livelihood. Urban Proxy acts as a “middle man” between disconnected users and the city. The term “proxy” is used to describe the intermediary solutions that provide a means for the individual to experience space where improvisation is the norm and isn’t forced.

What do you hope to accomplish with the end result of your project?

In the near future I’m hoping that I can add onto the first segment of “Urban Proxy” and turn it into a series of various design proposals that bridge gaps found between the city and the individuals within the city. By using the comic book medium I hope that more narrative becomes a part of the architecture and design. I also hope that the ideas present in “Urban Proxy” become digestible to a wider audience and perhaps spark interests in individuals that may not have thought about the field/profession.

If interested, “Urban Proxy” can be read and downloaded from Jordan’s site www.unbuiltsurreal.com. If a print copy is desired,please contact him via email at jcharle2@kent.edu.



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