Cadaster is a design office focused on real property, existing fabrics, and environmental change.





Real property


Mutable Minima: Undoing the Minimum Lot and Building Ordinance in North American Suburbs


Various cities, US, 2022
Design


Presented at the What Next with Mom’s and Dad’s House? The Transformation Potential of the Single-Family House International Symposium at Politecnico di Milano (organized by Martino Tattara and Federico Zanfi)

In subdivision, perhaps no zoning regulation plays a more governing role than what is known since the early 20th century as the minimum lot size: a spatial prescription that prevents the creation of any lot smaller than a given area. Tracing the history of minimum lot subdivision and its adverse social and environmental implications, this projects proposes of a set of design strategies to produce a more fine-grained and responsive lot fabric in existing suburbs.

Property as Practice: The Collective Landholding Practices of Black Churches


Houston, US, 2014–Present
Research, advocacy


Published in Urban Space Unsettled: Routines, Temporalities, and Contestations, Sabine Knierbein, Elina Kränzle, and Ed Wall, eds. (Routledge, 2022).

In the aftermath of the American Civil War, freedpeople exercised their newly-granted right to landhdolding by building churches across the American South. Despite the discrimination they faced, freedmen built a regional network of rural churches — the freedmen churches — that embodied a radical form of landholding based on collective practices.

The Spatial Coordination of Community Land Trusts


Minneapolis, Atlanta, Tampa, New York City, US, 2021–2022
Research, advocacy


Collaborators: Clare Coburn, Xiaohan Gu

Whereas real estate-driven development tends to invest in singular and concentrated sites, resident-led development thrives in scattered patterns. The properties of community land trusts (CLTs) – one of the foremost models of resident-led development whereby land is claimed and used by a community without landlords – are almost always dispersed in a context where every property line is a potential obstacle to development.

Virtues of Proximity: The Benefits of Strategic Dispersal


Various cities, US, 2020–Present
Design


Collaborators: Clare Coburn

To appreciate the potential of the community land trust model, one must observe the way that a trust’s land is spatially dispersed in a city. What they lack in terms of economy of scale is compensated for by virtues of proximity. This project explores the design potential of position, proximity, and terms of use.

Designing Real Interests


Various cities, US, 2019
Design


Collaborators: Clare Coburn, Reed Miller, Victoria See

This set of projects demonstrates a design approach based on the concept of the “land interest” that seek to contend with the property infrastructure. These are tangible means for the architectural imagination to confront challenging political realities. These five proposals operate at the level of the “interest” to taken on carbon economies, the geography of migrant workers, gerrymandering, housing, and property taxation.

The Interval of Territory


The University of Michigan, 2019
Exhibition


Collaborators: Clare Coburn, Reed Miller, Victoria See, Jordan Voogt, Mick Kennedy, Edward Falkowski, Karun Chughasrani

Drawing from ten case studies in the development of property and in particular the formation of property in the 19th century in the US, this exhibition articulates the basic spatial and material implications of a territory ordered — physically and socially — by land division.

“The Architecture of Real Property”


The Berlage (TU Delft), 2020
Lecture


Often understood as an abstract legal and economic category, property tends to draw hardliners — it is either to be abolished at all costs or upheld as a marker of freedom. This talk suggests a more nuanced point of view: that property is an infrastructure of information and relation that is inherently spatial, material, and territorial, and therefore a subject of design.

Whole Property: A Circular Spatial Ecology


Backnang, Germany, 2020
Competition (IBA 2027)


The reformulation of property for IBA 2027 holds that property entails rights, but also obligations. Here, this means that environmental and social duties must be met in-situ, instead of externalizing them. This form of care means that all the infrastructures normally outside the city (landfill, wastewater treatment, power plant, farms) will be re-accommodated on the parcels of property. By multiplying the possibility for neighbors to cooperate across their lots and units, they can more easily meet the obligations of ‘Whole Property.’




Existing fabrics


Church Circuit: Rehabilitation of Saint John Missionary Baptist Church


Houston, Texas, 2014–Present
Design, advocacy


In collaboration with Saint John Church


The intervention for Saint John is designed to facilitate neighborly engagement with the site by rehabilitating the historic chapel and activating the plot’s ground surface. A circuit linking various gathering spaces runs along the lot perimeter and connects to a new sidewalk, offering unencumbered access to the church’s extra-territory and rehabilitated historic chapel.

Retrofit of 1960s developer house


Saint Paul, US, 2020–2021
Design, construction


The commissioning landholder acquired this developer house on the outskirts of Saint Paul, Minnesota with the intent to retrofit the structure. The design provided enhancements to the energetic performance, indoor air quality, and spatial flexibility. By carefully removing walls in a way that maximized the span of the standard wood framing members, the floor plan provides new versatility of use, while maintaining separation from one room to the next. The envelope of the lower floor was upgraded, and all openings and finishes were replaced.

Ruins Under Construction


Jaffa/Tel Aviv, 2012–2014
Academic project (DAAR, advisors)


This media archaeological project examines the last remaining building on the beach of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, providing a counter-narrative with architectural documents. It argues that a purported historic preservation project of the 1980s actually contributed to the partial demolition of the building and a falsification of history. Jaffa, once the cultural capital of Palestine, is a media reality whose remnants are embedded mainly in photographs. It is a city mediated by the lenses of travelers, administrators, amateurs, and filmmakers. This project zooms into the grains and pixels in an attempt to find in them the traces of the built.


Patio, Barrio, Ciudad


Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2011–2012
Academic project (Flavio Janches, advisor)


Collaborators: Rizki Supratman

This proposal aims is to augment public space and social agreements present in the self-built neighborhood of Independencia. At the patio scale, the proposal elaborates the parcel arrangement into both private and shared patios. For the barrio, interactions between the groups that inhabit the barrio find a new location in the “patio de la manzana,” or block patio. At the city scale, rearranging the neighborhood’s links to surrounding areas may bring about a change in the image of Independencia.




Environmental change


Land, Foodways, and Kinship in Sites of Territorial Conflict: The Case of the Palestinian Enclaves


West Bank, Palestine, 2022–Present
With support from the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy


Collaborators: Jakob Mahla

Palestinians have historically established a region rich with agriculture and foodways rooted in smallholding and foraging. Today, this ecocultural foundation faces hardships from environmental change and  territorial conflict with Israel resulting in a shrinking land base. This project aims to employ Palestinian kinship, food production, and smallholding practices as tools of resilience in the face of climate change and political conflict.

Headwater Lot


Quebec City, Canada, 2017–2019
Design competition: First Prize


In light of Quebec City’s extensive road network and deteriorating river conditions, this project focuses on how to repurpose redundant streets, creating versatile spaces that thread through the city and its four rivers. The repurposed roads — ‘headwater lots’ — create axes for urban agriculture, active transit, stormwater infiltration, and more. Each leads to the river edge, connecting inland neighborhoods to the waterways. The newly created, monumental axes are composed of shorter interconnected segments, which can each be developed according to the adjacent conditions and neighbors’ input.



Preemptive Watershed


Kansas City, US, 2016
Design competition: First Prize


Using watershed boundaries as a module of territorial formation, this proposal outlines a series of preemptive trails along the creeks in a way that will influence future patterns of urbanization. The likely exurban development may hemmed in by the incremental, watershed-centered system, while the trail network predisposes the territory for active forms of mobility.

Occupation Ecologies: Rawabi Stone


West Bank, Palestine, 2013–2015
Research


This project follows the material, territorial, and political implications of the cladding stone used in the largest new development in the West Bank: Rawabi. Using a number of socio-financial tools previously nonexistent in the West Bank, Rawabi’s developers are financing a masterplanned neighborhood heavily reliant on collaboration with the Israeli economy and government. Using a typical apartment and wall section as a lens, the study reveals how Rawabi’s claim to sell independence is more complicated than a typical mortgage.

Private Citizenship: Imagining Real Estate in Palestine


West Bank, Palestine, 2013–2016
Academic project, research


The manifestation of global real estate in the West Bank has taken three forms of ‘imagining’: masterplans, marketing campaigns, and contracts. These devices are common to real estate around the world, but they are unique to Palestine and have specific repercussions due to the absence of the nation-state. With the promise of middle class community, there is a promise of political stability, openness, and access to a world open for business and modernity. Real estate projects thus normalize an apolitical existence, providing the foundation for a simulated transnational citizenship.





Teaching


Local Nonlocal: Watersheds of Minnesota


University of Minnesota, 2021–2022
Design studio


This design course is concerned with spatial interactions that occur at a distance, a phenomenon known as “nonlocal” interactions. Focusing on the territorial entities that best exemplify such interactions — watersheds — the studio is tackling environmental conflicts present across Minnesota’s hydrological territories. Due to the fact that any waterbody is impacted by activities in the greater watershed, however remote, these territories are a helpful starting point in defining how architecture can play a role in addressing environmental and climate change.

Student work 

Urban Reconfiguration: Neighborhood Commercial Districts of Minneapolis


University of Minnesota, 2022
Design studio


‘Reconfiguration’ prompts designers to alter the underlying systems that govern architectural form, urbanization, and places, looking toward new and more just cultural values and practices. Dealing with what already exists will be our take on architectural practice this semester. The neighborhood commercial districts of Minneapolis are lots within the residential areas zoned to provide easy access to commerce within a single neighborhood. While they are often occupied by private small businesses that do not directly benefit the daily needs of residents, they represent a potential to reintegrate vibrant public environments within the residential blocks.

Frontier Transitions: The Urban Fringe of Minneapolis


University of Minnesota, 2021
Design studio


The urban frontier is a complex, globally-inflected process involving speculative finance, law, material commodity flows, risky encounters with more-than-human life, regulation and deregulation, cultural values, a variety of hard and soft infrastructures, and in many areas, a degree of lawlessness. Accordingly, urbanization urges architects to interpret the environment from the perspective of process, uncertainty, risk, contingency, and inequity. Over the term, we will ask, how are our immediate surroundings shaped by frontier processes? What spatial patterns, ecocultural relations, and financial-legal arrangements could disrupt urbanization?

Student work

Tazlina Homeland Recovery


University of Minnesota, 2020–2021
Seminar


Collaborators: Indian Land Tenure Foundation, Native Village of Tazlina

Students: Joshua Brellenthin, Malcolm Brom, Sheng Dong, Madelyn Gulon, Megumu Jansen, Madeline Juve, Jakob Mahla, Manuel Mendoza, Thomas Negaard, Jesus Martinez, Caitlyn Riese, Yiyuan Shao, Jordan Strickland

In collaboration with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, this series of courses supported the land rematriation campaign of the Native Village of Tazlina (Alaska). The result of this community-engaged project was a fundraising video presenting the history, present opportunity, and future vision for the land in question. Developed through geospatial and archival analysis, interviews with Tazlina, and architectural visualization, the video highlights Tazlina’s connection to the land and the importance of its decolonziation.

Student work

lowercase-a


University of Minnesota, 2021
Workshop


As a result of the traditional distinction between architect-designed structures, on one hand, and environments shaped by other actors and forces, on the other, spatialities beyond the strict design of buildings are often overlooked. Catalyst 2021 opens onto a wide range of spatial, material, and organizational activities and dynamics, attuning students to opportunities for engaging with spatial justice and environmental dilemmas in ways that customary templates may fail to capture. Guest tutors include Lacol Arquitectura Cooperativa (Barcelona), HECTOR (Newark), CLUSTER (Cairo), and Société d'Objets Cartographiques (Paris).

Stock Rehab as Urban Process: The Public Asset of Minneapolis Housing Stock


University of Minnesota, 2021
Design studio


The Twin Cities residential property market has reached unprecedented levels. While corporate builders continue to meet the perennial demand for new single-family suburban houses, about 40% of the structures in Minneapolis are 100 years old or older. However, despite overarching plans for housing and development, building rehabilitation and reconfiguration — activities that have substantial potential impact on domestic life, the qualities of the city, and environmental goals — is mainly left up to individual landholders and investors. This design course takes the approach that the housing stock is a public asset, one which can play a transformative role in households as well as the city's transformation as a whole.

Strictly Infrastructural: Property and Community in Minneapolis


University of Minnesota, 2020
Design studio


The premise of this studio is that urban design is concerned with the design of the site. Rather than directly designing features onto a site, we will operate in the realm of infrastructural conditions — which are in fact already designed, although rarely by architects. To this end, the focus of this studio will be property: the institution of land division. While property is often described as exclusive, immaterial, and state-driven, we will presume the inverse: that it is—and ought to be more—inclusive, material, and organized through socio-ecological customs and neighborly coordination.

Student work

’Exist, Flourish, Evolve’: Designing with the Rights of Nature


University of Minnesota, 2019
Design studio


Winner of Columbia GSAPP 2020 Course Development Prize in Architecture, Climate Change, and Society

This studio is concerned with imagining and articulating how architecture, as a discipline, practice, and material reality, can help uphold the Rights of Nature. Exploring the emerging paradigm of “exist, flourish, and evolve,” the studio will produce concrete manifestations of the ethics of care embodied in the recognition of nonhuman rights. Our multi-faceted subject will be the Mississippi Headwaters watershed, whose ecological communities and dynamics will figure as protagonists in our studio. We will study how the ‘Great River’ propelled Minnesota’s modern productivity, and explore what role it, as a potential rights-bearing entity, might play in reshaping socio-ecological and spatial relations today.

Student work

Land Cultures


University of Minnesota, 2020
Design studio


Although it is often characterized by the term “owning,” land is a relational spatial glue that transcends individuals, binding people and territories in nuanced and unequal ways. Land creates relations, and by extension, relatives. With this approach to land, we will partner with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation and Rondo Community Land Trust, organizations focused on land and how it plays a role in supporting belonging in Indigenous and African-American communities. Both ILTF and Rondo CLT are distinctive in that they respond to systemic injustices with systemic interventions, an approach we will aim to learn from and support.

Color of Title: The Architecture of Property and Belonging (Albuquerque)


University of Michigan, 2019
Design studio


This studio is based on the premise that architecture concerns not only individual building artifacts but the totality of spatial, material, and organizational conditions that constitute the environment. Focusing on the context of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the studio has investigated how the city’s complex legal geography—consisting of indigenous reservations, federal conservation lands, and market-oriented development—can be a prompt for architectural production and advocacy.

Student work




Publications


"Virtues of Proximity: The Spatial Coordination of Community Land Trusts," Footprint Delft Architecture Theory Journal, 29 (2022): 23–44.

"Property as Practice: The Collective Landholding Patterns of Black Churches," chapter in Urban Space Unsettled: Routines, Temporalities, and Contestations, Sabine Knierbein, Elina Kränzle,and Ed Wall, eds. (Routledge, 2022).

"Pandemic Territories," in Paprika!, 6, 10 (March 2021), Gustav Nielsen, Diana Smiljkovic, Jack Rusk, and Rachael Tsai, eds.

“Cadaster” in Architectural League Prize: Objective (New York: Andrea Monfried Editions, 2020).

“Imagining Citizenship: Real Estate Practices in Palestine,” Trialog: A Journal for Planning and Building in a Global Context, 129 (2018): 48–52.


“Private Citizenship: Real Estate Practices in Palestine,” Humanities6, no. 3 (2017): 68–71.

“The Freedmen Churches: Renewing Collectivity from the Margins of the City,” OASE Journal for Architecture, 96 (2015): 91-97.

“Ruins Under Construction” in Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth, Forensic Architecture, eds. (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014), 144–151.

“A Portrait of Three Houses” in Architecture After Revolution, Decolonizing Architecture Arts Residency (Sandi Hilal, Alessandro Petti, Eyal Weizman), eds. (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2013), 68–83.



About

Cadaster is a design office focused on real property, existing fabrics, and environmental change. Our work involves grounded and speculative design projects, research, advocacy, and teaching. We reorient the templates of architectural and urban design in order to respond to spatial disparities and the pervasive structures that govern environments. Our attentiveness to social and ecological interdependencies informs our commitment to defining design’s role in advancing struggles for spatial justice.

Team


Athar Mufreh (she/her) is a Palestinian designer and educator. She received a Bachelor of Architecture from Birzeit University (Ramallah, Palestine) and Master of Integrated Urbanism and Sustainable Design at Stuttgart University (Germany) and Ain Shams University (Egypt). Athar worked as a designer and researcher at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency, and the Bethlehem Center for Cultural Heritage Preservation. In 2018-2019, she was a lecturer at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Athar is presently a lecturer at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture. Athar is currently working on multi-generational housing, kinship relations mediated by landscape ecologies, and emerging modes of citizenship.

Gabriel Andrés Cuéllar (he/him/él) is a Colombian-American architect, urban designer, and educator. Gabriel completed studies in architecture and urban design at Carnegie-Mellon University (Pittsburgh) and the Berlage Institute (Rotterdam). He worked in the offices of Gramazio & Kohler (Zurich), Philippe Rahm (Paris), Anne Holtrop (Amsterdam), CDR Studio (New York City), and Enter Architecture (Houston). His writings have appeared in publications by Sternberg Press and Routledge. Gabriel has contributed to projects exhibited in the Canadian Centre for Architecture, the Netherlands Architecture Institute, the House of World Cultures, The New School Parsons School of Design, and the University of Michigan. Gabriel is a member of NOMA, The Architecture Lobby, and AIA. He was the Oberdick Fellow at the University of Michigan in 2018-2019, and is currently a Professor-in-Practice at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture. Gabriel’s current design-research focuses on the spatial implications of real property, design approaches for contemporary environments, and the role of architecture in land relations.

Recent collaborators


We are grateful to have collaborated to date with Clare Coburn, Edward Falkowski, Xiaohan Gu, Karun Chughasrani, Mitchell Lawrence, Jakob Mahla, Reed Miller, and Victoria See.

Contact


We would love to hear from you, please contact us here. 

Recent news


2022

November 17
Cadaster launches its Youtube channel, archiving past projects and  student work from our academic courses.

November 11
At Columbia University GSAPP, Cadaster presents a lecture titled “Property as Practice,” discussing recent work that tackles real property from a design perspective.

November 8
Cadaster contributes to Places Journal’s Field Notes on Design Activism series, urging designers to consider their work in terms of action and implementation.

September 9
Cadaster introduces a new project at the international symposium, What Next with Mom’s and Dad’s House? The Transformation Potential of the Single-Family Houseat the Politecnico de Milano.

June 15
Gabriel introduces and joins in conversation Citygroup and Departamento del Distrito as part of the 2022 League Prize lectures.

June 1
The Lincoln Institute for Land Policy has awarded Cadaster with a $10,000 research grant to study and propose interventions with agricultural village enclaves in the West Bank, Palestine. The project aims to deploy kinship, food production, and land-based smallholding practices to contend with environmental change and political conflict.

February 7

Cadaster organize the University of Minnesota School of Architecture lecture series for spring 2022. The talks are centered on the theme "existing to remain," bringing together critical approaches to retrofitting, circularity, and the surveying of existing conditions.

2021

December 2
Gabriel joins The Architectural League Young Architects + Designers Committee with Tei Carpenter and Luis Beltrán Del Río García. See the League Prize 2022 Call for Entries centered on the theme “grounding.”

July 1
Cadaster is invited to collaborate with 1+1+ in the Detroit Month of Design (September 1–30). Stay tuned for more info.

March 15
Gabriel joins Beatriz Colomina, Aristide Antonas, and Sophie Hochhäusl in conversation for the latest issue of Paprika!, the Yale School of Architecture student journal. The issue is edited by Gustav Nielsen, Diana Smiljkovic, Jack Rusk, and Rachael Tsai.

March 8
Cadaster organize the University of Minnesota’s annual Spring workshop, catalyst. Learn more here and tune into the lecture series Monday, March 8 and Tuesday, March 9.

2020

November 27
The Berlage Center for Advanced Studies in Architecture and Urban Design invites Gabriel to lecture on “The Architecture of Real Property” as part of the school’s “Architectures of Speculation” seminar series. Watch back the lecture here.

July 30
Cadaster participates in a curricular workshop organized by The Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture for the “Green Reconstruction” research program.

February 10
Columbia University’s Temple Hoyne Buell Center and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture award Gabriel with the 2020 Course Development Prize in Architecture, Climate Change, and Society. Learn more and see the awarded syllabi here.

2019

June 11
The City of Quebec invites Cadaster to a design workshop for the Rêvons nos rivières project.

March 26
Gabriel takes part in the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning 2018–2019 fellows exhibition, “Things Around Us.”

2018

June 21
As part of the Architectural League Prize 2018 exhibition, Cadaster lecture at The New School’s Parsons School of Design. Watch back the lecture here.




© Cadaster 2022