Urban Determinants: Examining the relationship between governance, policy, and space.

Ryan Companies A+E Urban Determinants
Jul 09, 2020

“The new generation of designers will challenge how we approach space in ways we can’t imagine. I am inspired by this University of Minnesota team’s desire to see architecture beyond its physical dimensions and highlight our responsibility as place makers to create inclusive and meaningful urban environments.”   - Alena Johnson, National Director of Healthcare Architecture

Viewing our urban fabric without a critical eye, it would be easy to conclude that there is something inevitable or neutral about how things were built and organized. It is easy to assume that where a freeway, a grocery store, a housing project or a police station are situated within our city has resulted from a system of entrepreneurial spirit and natural community building. However, while these forces do have a way of shaping our cities, other, more nefarious forces are also at play. These spatial conditions that decisively shape peoples’ lives are Urban Determinants. These determinants are long lasting, designed and affect nearly every aspect of our daily lives. They shape where we live and work, and they manipulate our access to justice, healthcare, education and wealth. Using the tools of architectural representation, this project aims to make these determinants visible, re-presenting the familiar landscape of Minneapolis as a shocking and perhaps unfamiliar record of racist and exclusionary action. 

This project is about a current, active operation with powerful, historical roots that continue to influence policy and disproportionately impact communities of color, most intensely impacts black communities, in Minneapolis and across the U.S. These systems are not only written into our laws, incentivized by our financial system, and reinforced by our judicial system, but are stamped on the land by urban spatial planning. 

Urban Determinants seeks to critically examine and expose the relationship between governance, policy and space. This project uses historical analysis and architectural representations to visualize how issues of housing, criminal justice, health and the economy overlap in the built environment, resulting in systems of oppression that privilege some over others. Examining historical policies like the 1934 Housing Act, the FHA’s Underwriting Documents, redlining maps, and layering these historical documents on one another reveal important spatial consequences that every designer must recognize and respond to. This project represents these policy studies at the city scale in Minneapolis and is coupled with human-scale stories of neighborhoods, houses and people who are impacted.


Urban Determinants is a Master of Architecture thesis project led by MacKenzie Kusler, Ryan A+E Designer, and three University of Minnesota team members: Ashleigh Grizzell, Erin Kindell, and Adam Rosenthal. It seeks to critically examine the relationship between governance, policy, and space using historical analysis and architectural representations in order to visualize how issues of housing, criminal justice, health, and economy overlap, resulting in systems of oppression that privilege some over others. They were recognized with the 2020 Richard Morrill Final Project Award from the University of Minnesota. Learn more about Urban Determinants here: urbandeterminants.com or join AIA St. Paul for a Virtual Food for Thought event on July 29. Register here: https://www.aia-mn.org/event/food-thought-july/.

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