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Air Rights Transfer
2012 - Present


My current work/research explores using legal regulations as a means for generating artistic agency. Specifically I have been focusing on how legal processes (controls, restrictions, codes, planning) shape and are shaped by the form of the “political plastic” that is the built environment. I’m interested in using these processes which produce and maintain physical space to explore the boundaries of what public art is and can be. If architecture is constantly interacting with the politics of regulation and standardization, thereby materializing the law, how can art be used to alter and subvert these spatial controls?

Air Rights, a legal concept in land use planning, is the difference between the maximum allowable height of a lot and the built structure. Essentially it’s the “left-over” air which can be developed, but is not due to either budget restrictions or the zoning laws of the time period the building was constructed. The concept first appeared in Medieval Roman law and was popularized in English Common law by William Blackstone in 1766. Air Rights Transfer (TFAR, TDR or the Transfer of Development Rights) refers to a method of transferring the “rights to develop” from one area to another. This process is used for a variety of reasons, but generally to encourage economic growth within a district, protect historic sites, mitigate sprawl by allowing for increased density and occasionally to protect wildlife preserves.

Often assumed to have a predefined spatial configuration, public space, a term used to “support a cruel and unreasonable urbanism” (Rosalyn Deutsche) does not have to be a fixed form programmed to address a fixed audience. Rather the very process by which a space is contested, the struggles which occur to produce and maintain it create the conditions for “publicness”. In an effort to counter the “pasteurizing effect” of urban renewal initiatives (Alex Baker) the public art component of the Air Rights Transfer project aims to literalize the legal process of TFAR by making the air transferred to the receiving building visible, i.e. a void. This absurd and beautifully immaterial process occurs somewhat regularly in most densely populated areas in the U.S. but is invisible to the population and never demarcated or formalized. Often the transferring process aids development projects to reach otherwise illegal heights, the buildings usually large and expensive, required by law to create a “public space” which is generally privately owned. I believe that through exploring possible alternatives for the materialization of this legal process i.e. not treating the transferred air as a passive mass to be developed for economic gain but rather through treating the absence as a presence, space itself can assume “the role of a social actor” (Oliver Marchart).

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Legal Research /  Creative Rights 501 (c) (3) Non-Profit