Hans Ulrich Obrist asked Virgil Abloh, Grace Wales Bonner, Arthur Jafa, Torkwase Dyson, and Francis Kéré to describe their ideal metropolis at Design Miami/.

One of the most anticipated talks during Art Basel in Miami Beach was at Design Miami/ on December 6, when Therme Group hosted a talk titled Back to the Body: Human-Oriented Forms in Art, Design, and Architecture in architect and Kanye West collaborator Francis Kéré’s communal talk space at the design fair. Curator and artistic director of Serpentine Galleries Hans Ulrich Obrist moderated the talk, which featured multihyphenate Virgil Abloh, artists Arthur Jafa and Torkwase Dyson, designer Grace Wales Bonner, and Kéré. The group discussed the role of design, architecture, and fashion in our daily lives. Obrist had a particularly interesting question for each panelist. “I went some years ago with Norman Foster to interview Oscar Niemeyer, the late Oscar Niemeyer, who designed Brasilia,” said Obrist. “We talked about the idea of inventing a city from scratch…How do you imagine a city to be?” Here are their answers:

Backstage Louis Vuitton Men’s Spring/Summer 2019, photography by Alfredo Piola.

Virgil AblohIn my mind, even in my practice, it’s just as I was investigating and learning, I always wondered why the existing world was so off basis, what is the commonality that most people could agree upon? There’s building codes, there’s laws, legislation that draws lines in the sand. I wondered just why our existing world wasn’t built like the human bodies relate to each other, in a more organic way—buzzwords that are cool now, like a marketing ploy, but it’s just a premise…that there’s actually collaboration, like this conversation. I want to reconfigure my practice to collaborate as much as I conversate and make things with a balance. If you and I have a conversation or meeting, our words are structured in a way why I love collaboration as a tangible result that something is on the table. It’s not just words that evaporate away, and I think an adoption of collaboration means that a team would work, get more tangible objects that they can interact with.

Grace Wales Bonner—I’ve been thinking about communal places to understand the world we live in, and exercise behavior. I’ve thinking about places that have beauty and nature.

Arthur Jafa—I was always amazed, growing up in Mississippi and going to different places, how you would see the kinds of parts that people would build by hand, so to speak. I remember the first time I went to South Africa and they took me to this, what they call an informal settlement, and it’s called Orange Farm. They were saying that energy of Soweto has now shifted to this other place called Orange Farm. The thing that I noticed was that every house was like Frank Gehry’s, you know, when he did his first early houses…it was really clear that shit was futuristic, and it seemed to be some kind of connection between people operating outside of training of a certain sort, operating free of certain constraints. Every time I see something that seems really fresh—I once was having a conversation with a friend and I was seeing something extreme, I just said if I do this, that’s white. And they just burst out laughing. It’s absurd statement. And then when I said, but if I do this, we know that shit is black, straight up because we know that fundamentally…blackness is a thing, it’s a certain ontological relationship to freedom. We know, like not to disparage anybody, but Larry Bird—he gets points by putting the ball in the hole. He gets two points. Where as you get Julius Erving, he would go up and he was doing all this stuff before, but he would get two points for that.He would get the same points. On some level fundamental level, the way expressivities happen is not coming back to the level of manager and values…It’s not accepting boundaries. When we say street, what you’re basically saying is not in the academy, not according to regulations, and that’s what blackness is all about, systematically moving outside of regulations.

Torkwase Dyson—I was thinking about following the way black women make things bend, whether it’s a piece of wood, whether it’s concrete, whether it’s mud, black women make bend. So in my mind, thinking about how a city would look, would be to think ontologically and follow the ways in which black women bend things and overlap things, so I’ll probably start there and how that would look in any form of building, and any form of landscape architecture, so if I were to think about black women bending ground, and to think about ground levels and water levels within the hands of a black woman—what would that look like? Because you know it’s going to be interchangeable, you know it’s going to be modular, you know it’s going to be built with the logic of, not sustainability, but how we continue to make a thing, do a thing, after it fails, and that’s what I want to think about.

The secondary school in Dano, Burkina Faso, designed by Francis Kéré. ©GandoIT.

Francis Kéré—I think my city would be very complicated. I want to keep building. My dream city would be to tear down everything, and of course, start with zero. I envision this city to go to bed in Gando, and wake up in the middle of Beijing, to feel like wow it’s great here. I envision a city without boundaries. I envision cities with no struggle to find energy. I envision city to wake up and know that there are no guns inside, so that the kids can walk around and be taken care of. That is the city that I want to do. I want this city to be like a young girl in Gando. A young girl in Gando will leave the family and trust a young boy and go to marry him. You know why this is dramatic? This young boy has nothing. He will go to friends and borrow the bicycle, and the girl will say, oh he has a bicycle, if we have young kids we can go to the doctor. What she doesn’t know is that this guy owns know bicycle, so after the wedding she will realize, oh I got a loser. But the thing is she will stay and how I see a city is to trust ourselves like this young girl that trusts someone that has nothing to build up a future. We have to abandon our habit. It is like love, it’s wonderful, but it has a pain. We have to accept this pain to build greater cities.