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Van Alen Sessions

Photo: Daniel Kulinski

Van Alen Sessions is an online short-documentary series highlighting current debates about urban infrastructure.

Van Alen Sessions takes viewers on revealing trips through a city’s internal workings, documenting conversations with urban planning practitioners and city dwellers. The series brings together the analysis of experts and the experiences of ordinary people.

The third season of Van Alen Sessions launches in fall 2017. Register for the world premiere at the Architecture & Design Film Festival.


Season One

The first season of Van Alen Sessions, Tunnel Vision, directed and produced by artist and journalist Kelly Loudenberg, leads viewers through massive tunnel transportation infrastructure projects. With behind-the-scenes research provided by graduate students in design and public policy, this focus serves as a lens for understanding how large-scale interventions impact the way we move in, around, and between cities every day.  The three episodes document what it takes to create the transit networks that shape our routines and relationships.

Episode One of Tunnel Vision illustrates the $20 billion Gateway Project, a high-speed rail corridor designed to alleviate the bottleneck along the Northeast Corridor. The video offers new vantage points into ongoing tunnel construction, offset with first-hand accounts from New Jersey Transit and Amtrak commuters. Interviews with Petra Messick (Amtrak) and Tom Wright (Regional Plan Association) provide insight onto the current transportation crisis due to outdated infrastructure and deterioration caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Episode Two offers backstage access to the technology lab working on a prototype for Hyperloop, a $6 billion high-speed transportation system connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco. Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for The Los Angeles Times, frames the project within the larger context of high-speed rail initiatives in California and the debate surrounding private versus public investment in infrastructure.

Episode Three brings viewers deep inside Seattle’s new U Link rail stations before they open in March 2016. Transit activist Jon Cracolici provides personal commentary about this 20-years-in-the-making event, while Sound Transit representative Kimberly Reason and construction outreach manager Gary Bruce explain in clear terms how Seattle is not just a center for information technology, but infrastructure innovation.

Season Two

Power Lines, the second season of Van Alen Sessions, explores the relationship between energy infrastructure and communities. Episodes spotlight the outdated systems that currently put millions of city dwellers at risk, and reveal ambitious ideas for tomorrow’s electricity networks.

Directed and produced by artist and journalist Kelly Loudenberg, with research conducted by students in the masters program in design research, writing, and criticism at School of Visual Arts, this new season broadcasts the voices of people powering oftentimes invisible energy infrastructure, and an up-close examination of the cities, landscapes, and regions in three corners of the U.S. impacted by major shifts in the electric grid.

Episode One highlights the shift underway among citizens of Los Angeles from energy consumers to producers as they channel solar electricity from their homes and onto the grid. Graham Richard (Advanced Energy Economy) explains the enormous potential of solar energy in sun-soaked California, which now employs nearly three-times as many people in clean energy than in film and television industries. The episode takes us to an installation site on a rooftop in Watts, where women in a training program tell the stories of how they’re bringing power to the people—and empowering themselves.

The second segment of Power Lines departs from the metropolitan hubs of past episodes, taking viewers to the boom-and-bust towns of South Texas that are part of the Eagle Ford natural gas field. The population influx that came with the arrival of shale drilling in 2008 has collapsed with oil prices—Texas lost 72,000 oil and gas jobs in 2015—leaving cities with half-built infrastructure and desolate “man camps”. Viewers will hear from a gas pipeline inspector, the chamber of commerce manager of Dimmit County, an RV park supervisor, and an industry journalist, all of whom are asking if their region has witnessed its final surge of petroleum-fueled prosperity.

Episode Three of Power Lines takes us inside the Pilgrim Nuclear Reactor in Plymouth, Mass., where a planned 2019 shutdown has locals struggling with impending economic turmoil, toxic waste storage, and the dilemma of meeting lower emissions standards while letting go of the zero carbon footprint of nuclear energy. A plant safety inspector, local environmental activists, and Plymouth’s economic development manager offer first-hand insight on what the energy future holds in one of the nation’s first cities.