About Joseph Altshuler
Joseph Altshuler is cofounder of Could Be Design, an award-winning Chicago-based design practice, and an Assistant Professor in the School of Architecture. He is also the director of the Architectural Companionship Laboratory, a design research collective that works at the intersection of architecture, public art, creative placemaking, and tactical urbanism. His teaching, practice, and scholarship explore architecture’s capacity to build lively audiences, initiate serious play, and amplify participation in civic life.
Could Be Design’s work has been exhibited at Art Basel | Miami Art Week, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Elmhurst Art Museum, and the Detroit Month of Design. In 2023, Could Be Design was named a contributor to the Chicago Architecture Biennial’s fifth edition, selected as a University Design Research Fellow at Exhibit Columbus, and named one of the six winners of the 2023 Architectural League Prize for Young Architects + Designers, awarded by The Architectural League of New York. In 2022, Could Be Design was spotlighted in Metropolis magazine’s “New Talent” feature and named #15 in Newcity magazine’s Design 50: The Fifty People Who Shape Chicago. The practice was also featured in Architect magazine’s “Next Progressives” series.
Joseph’s first book, Creatures Are Stirring: A Guide to Architectural Companionship (Applied Research and Design Publishing, 2022), prompts readers to develop more intimate friendships with architectural companions through a collection of essays, flash fictions, and case studies that illustrate solidarity among humans, nonhumans, buildings, interiors, and the broader environment. Joseph has authored book chapters and contributed essays to a wide range of international publications, and he is the editor-in-chief of SOILED, a periodical of architectural storytelling positioned between a literary journal and a design magazine.
- Master of Architecture, Rice University (2015)
- Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2009)
Research and publications
Ongoing and upcoming research
Chicago Sukkah Design Festival
Joseph is the founder and Artistic Director of the Chicago Sukkah Design Festival, an annual public art and architecture exhibition of outdoor pavilions that celebrates cultural heritage and build solidarity. The Festival amplifies cross-cultural celebration and social justice by initiating meaningful design collaborations among diverse designers and social service organizations in the Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. After each annual Festival, the pavilions are relocated and permanently re-installed at the facilities of the community organizations that co-designed them, as vibrant new program spaces. The first annual Festival launched in October 2022 featuring 3 collaborative sukkah design/build teams. The second annual Festival will launch in October 2023, showcasing 6 sukkah design/build teams.
Joseph is co-PI for the design research project Supergraphic Landscapes, which was awarded by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’s Call to Action to Address Racism & Social Injustice Research Program 2022–23. Supergraphic Landscapes is an interdisciplinary project at the intersection of architecture, graphic design, and landscape architecture that explores the role of urban-scaled graphics and creative placemaking that amplify identity, access, and belonging in public spaces. Challenging the industry’s term “environmental graphics,” Supergraphic Landscapes pushes the power of graphics beyond information (wayfinding) and into realms of space, place, and community-building (worldmaking). In the 2022, the city of Gary, Indiana commissioned Could Be Design to design and realize a set of new pedestrian crosswalks informed by this design research. The project, entitled Gary-goyles: Crosswalk Camaraderie addresses existing deficiencies and historic racism embedded in the city’s public transportation network, integrating strategically located pedestrian access with joyful placemaking tactics that enhance the urban streetscape.
Architecture Animacy & Companionship
This body of design research explores the formal, organizational, and social ways that architecture behaves like an animate “creature,” offering an expanded capacity to build identity, relationships, empathy, and companionship. In response to this research, the Siebel Center for Design commissioned Joseph’s team at Architectural Companionship Laboratory to design and build a series of installations that activate their new building’s interior public spaces with intimate pockets of personal programming. Each installation provides specific programmatic platforms and landmarks including a welcome desk, a gateway arch, a mobile amphitheater backdrop for lectures/performances, and a mobile exhibition display kiosk that has wandered away from the pack. The creatures of the Animate Arcade embody animated characteristics like personality, posture, facial expressions, charisma, and attitude that collectively initiate companionship with you, their human visitors, in order to prompt interactive encounters. This way of seeing the world provides an opportunity to redefine our own human personhood, and to acknowledge all that we have in common with other creaturely companions of the built environment.
Altshuler, Joseph and Sedlock, Julia, Creatures Are Stirring: A Guide to Architectural Companionship (Applied Research and Design Publishing, 2022).
Altshuler, Joseph and Sedlock, Julia. “Intimate Inhabitation: Toward an Intercourse of Creaturely Urbanism,” ed. Gregory Marinic, The Interior Urbanism Theory Reader (Routledge, 2024).
Altshuler, Joseph and Sedlock, Julia, “Creaturely Plans: Reorienting Ground and Subject” eds. Martin Søberg, Anna Hougaard. The Artful Plan: Architectural Drawing Reconfigured, (Birkhäuser, 2020): 276–295.
Altshuler, Joseph and Sedlock, Julia, “Creatures Afield: Drawing the Dioramatic Caricature,” eds. Laura Allen, Luke Caspar Pearson. Drawing Futures, (London: UCL Press, 2016): 162–168.
Altshuler, Joseph and Morrison, Zack. “Architecture Performing Live,” MAS Context #33 (Chicago: MAS Studio, 2021): 30–51.
Altshuler, Joseph. “Op Ed: The Thompson Center: a Retrospective from the Future,” Chicago Tribune (June 4, 2021).
Altshuler, Joseph. “Character Plotting,” MAS Context #32 (Chicago: MAS Studio, 2020): 68–77.
Altshuler, Joseph and Morrison, Zack. “(Re)Animated Arcade,” The Architectural League of New York, 2023. One of six installations for the digital exhibition by winders of the 2023 League Prize.
Altshuler, Joseph and Morrison, Zack with Lizi Breit. “The Stumbling Stairs,” Chicago Architecture Biennial, 2021. Short film commission, featuring a puppet performance that propels architectural “characters” into lively locomotion, teaching spatial concepts while entertaining audiences of all ages.