PLAN 72: Article
Red Lines, Death Vows, Foreclosures, Risk Structures

Architectures of Finance from the Great Depression to the Subprime Meltdown

As the subprime meltdown continues its spread, with historical overviews yet to be written, the MIT Museum and the Center for Advanced Visual Studies are presenting an exhibition this fall by urban designer Damon Rich and the Center for Urban Pedagogy that explores the relationship between finance and architecture.

On display at the Compton Gallery through December 21, Red Lines, Death Vows, Foreclosures, Risk Structures: Architectures of Finance from the Great Depression to the Subprime Meltdown aims to broaden and enrich the current conversation about how society finances its living environments.

To expand the impact of the exhibit, members of the MIT community are invited to use the show as a platform for lectures or demonstrations on their own research in the areas of home finance, the mortgage crisis and related topics. Other public programs include a panel discussion with experts from MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the MIT Center for Real Estate, from Harvard's Graduate School of Design and from the National Training Information Center.

Damon Rich is an urban designer working at the intersection of design, policy and the public. His exhibitions use video, sculpture, graphics and photography to investigate the political economy of the built environment. In 1997, he founded the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people understand and change the places they live.

During a recent year-long residence at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, he studied the fundamentals of real estate markets – property law, pro-formas, foreclosures, chains of title, block busting, exploding ARMs and the obscure history of the mortgage (Old French for 'death vow') – and produced the installation of models, photographs, videos and drawings as a way of sharing his findings.

Working with MIT students and volunteers, he traveled to Washington DC to interview representatives of the Mortgage Bankers Association and the Comptroller of the Currency. In Chicago, he worked with Meg Rotzel of CAVS to create a video with the National Training and Information Center about the anti-redlining movement of the 1970s and the reforms it brought to banking. In Boston, he hung out at bars with mortgage brokers. These interviews, photographs, napkin sketches and yellowed clippings provide the material for the work in the exhibition.

In the MIT installation, the head of Frederick Babcock, pioneer appraiser, gazes over a scattered field of diminished houses in Detroit still showing damage from the real estate scandals of the 1960s. Looming behind Babcock, the flicker of a neon sign – BUY LOW SELL HIGH – reveals a barrier shaped by the spikes and troughs of the 20th century's prime rate, the line between borrowers and lenders. Projected videos haunt the gallery with the apparitions of financial engineers, federal regulators and anti-foreclosure activists.

Rich's previous work has been exhibited internationally at venues including the Storefront for Art and Architecture and SculptureCenter (New York City), the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin), Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst (Liepzig), the Venice Architecture Biennale and Netherlands Architecture Institute (Rotterdam).

The projects of the Center for Urban Pedagogy take the various forms of architectural proposals, board games, comic books, exhibitions, films and videos, maps, models, posters, walking tours and workshops. The work is distributed through community-based organizations, education and design institutions, public installations, television shows and free programs. To learn more:

Established in 1967, MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies is an artist-in-residence program and a portal for artists to tap into MIT's resources, facilitating exchange between internationally known and emerging artists and MIT's faculty, students and staff through public programs and residencies for artists and MIT students. To learn more: Visit

CAVS is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the LEF Foundation and the MAP Fund. This exhibition is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Graham Foundation, the LEF Foundation and the New York State Council for the Arts. Special thanks to the Loeb Fellowship of the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

The MIT Museum's Compton Gallery is located at 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Room 10-150, Cambridge MA. The exhibit is free and open daily from 10AM – 5PM.