This is the first post of, what I hope, will be a series of posts exploring the nature of architecture as it relates to social justice in current design practice. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and if this is of interest to you, you can respond to me here or on twitter -- Matt
Where I sit currently, I can almost make out the scene of what many consider one of the worst man-made disasters in human history; the breaching of the levee in the Lower 9th Ward. Much has been said about that event, but the fact remains: the industry I belong to contributed to the obstacles faced by the residents of the Lower 9th Ward, and not just when the levee broke, but before as well, and in many other communities around the world; Pruitt-Igoe, Cabrini Green, Torre David, redlining practices... the list of transgressions is long.
In Wisdom From the Field, the authors of the report, funded by the AIA Latrobe Prize, begin their executive summary with the following quote from Civil Rights leader Whitney Young before the National AIA Convention of 1968:
You are not a profession that has distinguished itself by your social and civic contributions to the cause of civil rights, and I am sure this does not come to you as any shock. You are most distinguished by your thunderous silence and your complete irrelevance.
What has since followed, and is addressed in Wisdom From the Field, is a call to action for those operating in the built environment. Many fantastic examples of social impact design have emerged. From Sambo to MASS, you don't need to look hard to find practitioners in the field who exude passion for not only the work they do, but also the communities they serve. Unfortunately, at the same time, they are the exception and not the rule.
It is likely true that for most designers, not all will have the same capacity, talent, or success to be the next Rem, Zaha, Frank, or Bjarke. However, with passion for the work you do, and ingenuity in how you design the systems that deliver great projects to people in need, you may be able to join the likes of Bryan Bell, Marc Norman, Emily Pilloton, Teddy Cruz, David Perkes, Jess Zimbabwe, John Peterson, Katie Crepeau, or one of the many others who are leading the charge for practitioners who aspire to serve their communities and not just their clients.
When architects begin to listen to the needs of not only their clients, but also to the primary needs of those their projects affect - and to do so in a manner that is not token participation but instead empowers and educates them to overcome social injustices they may have been dealt - then we may find that the most sustainable form of architecture is found when a design fosters community ownership amongst those it serves.
The practice of Architecture, both the ideals it cherishes & the business model it has gradually adopted, is evolving. Globally, more people live in cities than do not. The 'Future Cities', those bucolic heterotopias we were promised, are not here. Instead, we are growing into a world where shelter, environmental justice, clean drinking water, & other basic human rights are negotiated for. How do we, as architects, plan to address those needs? This blog will explore answers to those questions.