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Petra Kempf

Petra Kempf, PhD, is an architect, urban designer, and educator. Her creative practice and research speculate on how the assemblage of collective living has been influenced by urbanization. Her investigations are centered on regenerative ways of living, based on reflective, responsive, and reciprocal relationships, to confront the pressing challenges to the environment as well as the changing life parameters of urban citizens living in an urban environment today. Kempf introduced the methodology of game-making into the pedagogy at the Sam Fox School as an emerging syntax in the exploration and approach to urban life.

Kempf has worked at institutions within the public and private sector, including New York City’s Department of City Planning, the Project for Public Spaces, and Richard Meier & Partners. She has taught at schools throughout the U.S. and Europe, including the Rhode Island School of Design, Columbia University, Cornell University, Parsons School of Design, Pratt Institute, and the University of Dortmund. She earned a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Fellowship, the Architectural League of New York’s Young Architect Award, and grants from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and the Mellon Foundation. She is the founder of Confront(ing) Urbanization, an interdisciplinary research initiative.

Her work has been exhibited at venues such as the Venice Biennale and Chicago Biennale, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Pink Comma Gallery in Boston, and Roca Gallery in London among other galleries and academic institutions in the U.S. and Europe. She has published a series of articles and is the author of You are the City (2009) and (K)ein Ort Nirgends, Der Transitraum im urbanen Netzwerk (2010).

To(wards) Common Ground

A section of a drawing with dark blue background and light coral figures and buildings, and thin outlines of a city plan.

To(wards) Common Ground (detail), 2023

Venice Biennale: Time Space Existence
European Culture Center - Venice
May-November 2023

TO(WARDS) COMMON GROUND explores scenarios around the creation of a common ground – a common ground, which is informed and imagined by many people at a time. Situated in a field of changing relations, the emergent configurations are not just a form or a product through which social interactions unfold, but a perpetual generator for emerging configurations – configurations that are also conflicting in nature.

Shaping Urban Commons

Black and white photo of people watching a presentation

Black and white photo of people looking at a model of a city

Black and white photo of people playing a game

ACSA 111th Annual Meeting: IN COMMONS April 2023
In collaboration with Hadi El Hage, Folco Soffietti, Leah Fontenot, Lucia Pedrana, and Jesse Price

Through the application of an interactive game developed by the team, this workshop explored socio-spatial configurations towards commoning that surface within today’s urban reality. St Louis was our frame of reference towards shaping urban commons unfolding in situ. Community members from St. Louis, as well as visitors to the city and part of the conference, participated to explore and reveal urban commoning and future potentials of commoning that shape the city of St. Louis. As the game board populated our discoveries, we initiated a first dialogue and debate to develop patterns and opportunities of commoning for St Louis. 

Confront(ing) Urbanization: The Interactive Tissue of Urban Life Pro [log]ue

Large-scale diagram of bright teal, green, pink, and mauve icons of various architectural structures arranged in a pattern on a dark background.

Confront(ing) Urbanization, 2021

Large-format diagram of small, floating lilypad clusters interspersed with falling pink umbrellas, arranged in a pattern.

Confront(ing) Urbanization, 2021

Venice Biennale: Time Space Existence
European Culture Center - Venice
May-November 2021

CONFRONTING URBANIZATION investigates processes of urbanization unfolding in an ever-expanding and contracting mesh of flows and stoppages mediated by infrastructure through which predominately free market forces are channeled, accumulated, and disputed. In this context, urbanization has produced a spatial configuration that is comprised of an ever-expanding formation of visible and invisible conduits functioning as anchor points for predominately privately governed enclosures that are strategically positioned in clusters within this vast field of urban expansion, the urban construct enables continually generic conditions without any connection to its ground. Fenced in and guarded with diligence, these contained clusters are the guarantors for the smooth exchange of data, materials, and currency. While millions of smartphones, shopping malls, and logistic centers expand into the urban terrain, a different urban creature has emerged — a multi-faceted and data-driven urban individual who operates in various realities through the lens of a hybrid, yet privately operating realm. Armed with information and equipped with the latest technology, these individuals consume goods and data through various means and channels to feed the universe, self-revolving, without a beginning or an end.

Confronting Urbanization Symposium Events

Got Umbrella

November 4, 2021
Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice, Italy

December 10, 2021
Millennium Park-Cloud Gate, Chicago, Illinois

April 12, 2022
Danforth Campus, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri

June 18, 2022
Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice, Italy

Got Umbrella takes on the challenge to create a pluralistic common ground—informed and imagined by many people at a time. By playing various roles and wearing different masks, urban citizens create provisional counter-configurations through which different social constellations arise.

Tabula Urbaine

November 5-7, 2021
Palazzo Michiel, Venice, Italy

Over the course of three daily sessions, the objective of Tabula Urbaine was to develop alternative methods to narrate current processes unfolding within urbanization – an urbanization that is fueled by an ever-expanding and contracting network of infrastructures through which predominately free market forces are being channeled, accumulated, and disputed.

Black Box

Exploded view diagram of a framework plan on a black background with grey and teal linework.

Black Box, 2015-2019

A large, darkened room, featuring a lit series of two rows of adjoining tables with drawings and models on them, and people viewing them.

Black Box exhibition

Drawing Attention
Exhibition 1: March 2019, Carnegie Museum + Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
Exhibition 2: September 2019-March 2020, Roca Gallery, London, UK

BLACK BOX is based upon the representation of pathways that form a journey in which a site is constructed by the collective—a site that reflects on the ongoing conversation around the intricate process of experiencing the object and subject as an intertwined reality through which the line between self and other is erased.

Diving into the cosmos of crossing lines, the act of drawing sets out to record passages through space and time to construct place—pathways that form a journey in which a site is constructed. Snapshots are taken, negotiations are conducted, measurements may turn into facts, material surfaces, and connections are being discovered—a line is put into action as another one is overdrawn, and fades away: a new storyline emerges.

In a vortex of silence, life on site turns inside out as rays from an inner cosmos begin to transmit into the uncharted—to form yet another world to be discovered.

As no impositions or intentions are projected, Black Box in this light reflects on the ongoing conversation around the intricate process of experiencing the object and subject as an intertwined reality through which the line between self and other is erased. Through this lens, the act of creation becomes an inclusive process of world making in which self is as much imbedded in the other as the object is imbedded in the subject.

You Are the City - Observation, Organization, and Transformation of Urban Settings

Cover of You Are the City

You Are the City

Packaging for You Are the City opened, with the book being pulled out of a translucent folder.

You Are the City

Set of printed materials for You Are the City set on a table, including an open spread of the publication and a map graphic with a translucent background on top.

You Are the City

YOU ARE THE CITY is an interactive mapping tool that creates a framework for understanding the continually changing configuration of the city. As we engage with cities, we create places through which we perceive and construct our own city.

This publication allows one to superimpose various realities in diagrammatic layers to build new urban connections. It consists of 22 transparent sheets that are divided into four categories. One moves through the book in exactly the same way one gets into any city: with no specific order. You can arrive by a main street or a secondary road, you may fly in a plane, drive a car or be in a ship, you can move by walking or use public transportation: the perception of the urban framework is always different, but the whole may be always the same.

There are as many interpretations of cities as there are people. It is therefore our participation and engagement that form places in cities. You are the city-the city is you!

Lars Mueller Publishers
ISBN 978-3-03778-159-3

Selection of Books & Journals Kempf Has Contributed To

Cover of the book City Limits

Cover of Emerging Urban Futures in Land Water Infrastructure

Cover of Theory for the Sake of Theory

Cover of OZ

Cover of Human Cities: Celebrating Public Space