Another Architecture

by Mitch McEwen

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    Transitions of Power

    Mitch McEwen
    Sep 23, '20 11:04 PM EST

    This is not an architectural thought, particularly.  I am writing in regards to the question of democracy and the peaceful transition of power, what it means to have that threatened as it is tonight.  

    In the mid-1990s I accidentally worked at a right-wing think tank for two or three weeks.  It was a summer job that I stayed in for as long as it took for me to figure out that 'non-partisan research institute' didn't mean anything, but also just long enough to get one paycheck.  I might as well share-- it was American Enterprise Institute.  

    While I was there I would lurk around the fax machine to see what was being discussed across offices.  There were exchanges about burying welfare aid in requirements for work and drug testing.  This was one of the efforts that became successful.  But there was also fax machine chatter about efforts that never became well known.  One of them was an outline for legislation to ban rap music.  Ban an entire artform (or genre, depending).  I will never forget what I saw in the fax machine: "We would likely face a 1st amendment challenge."  

    This has stayed with me for decades. I always thought of it as an example of collegial exchange of ideas buffering the tendencies of racism and myopic power, even in a vacuum of rightwing homogeneity. 

    It is only in these past two years that it occurs to me that the caution about the 1st Amendment was possibly not at all one of principle.  It was likely one of cost.  The cost of litigation.  What I saw in those two weeks at the fax machine may be understood as a well-resourced pocket of civil society that deferred to the Constitution not out of principle, but simply out of budgetary discretion.    

    In this past decade, as billions of dollars concentrated in individual wealth and corporate annual profits have virtually no limit in their allocation to political goals, such budgetary discretions have become moot.  What we are experiencing now as a threat to democracy at the level of principles cannot be divorced from the machinations of political funding. 

    Perhaps this does relate to architecture.  I am disheartened every time I see our design ambitions aligned with dictatorships. Does architecture really require a concentration of wealth and desire for authority?  

    We have re-thought our field as planetary.  What would it take to rethink our field as democratic?  

    If we cannot, what will our own transition of power look like? 


    • I tried, and tried, and tried to have a conversation today with a Trump supporter about principles, not specific examples. This person couldn't grasp that what seems good now for their side is, in principle, bad for everyone, because when my side takes power we now have precedent to do the same. 

      Sep 24, 20 9:55 pm  · 
      1  · 

      Donna, if you want to discuss principles with a Trump supporter, for real and not just posturing, I'm your huckleberry. But not here.

      Oct 4, 20 4:41 pm  · 
      1  ·  1

      Dear Mitch,

      Real story.  An inspector from Beta's hood in NJ and I were discussing weird things we'd witnessed in architecture.  This is an architectural application of what you stating above (I'm making your political statement architectural). Like a real life story translation to the profession. I'm not into precise language like those landscapers... 

      Inspector goes - "The architect's drawings noted no baggy pants or hip hop clothes."

      "Really, in the general notes?" - me

      "Architect was from Philadelphia, it noted that on the cover sheet.  Never seen the before." - inspector

      To your point above, baggy clothes, that's an OSHA issue right.  Wording may have been different and should be different if being a professional.

      This also begs the question- "Is the right way to wear clothes occupational or a style or cultural?"

      but "hip hop"!

      my recollection, in Sugar Hill Gang's long ass song Rapper's Delight (15 min song) slight Tangent -  my boy who I made a mix CD for decades ago noted - "We did like four (4)  house parties driving before that song ended." (get it, the dudes played this in the car, got out of car, drank beer, got in car, song still playing, next house party, four (4) house parties...)- good vibe for night.

      Anyway, when this song climbed the charts, people would go into records stores in Harlem and go "I want that song, the hippity hip hop song!" (rolling stone probably wrote that somewhere).

      So as an architect, why would you write "hip hop" in your construction drawings.  Seems to hint at cultural issues and that hace no place in Construction Drawings.  [ban rap music]

      - Chris

      Sep 26, 20 8:56 pm  · 
       ·  2

      In this episode of Sessions Karen Compton discusses her experience as a young engineer realizing that polluters would frequently rather pay a fine than use non-polluting practices. The cost of their business model *incorporated* doing bad things and paying for them rather than doing the right thing.

      Oct 1, 20 4:04 pm  · 
      1  ·  1

      The pollution fines are too low and the rent is too high

      Oct 11, 20 11:04 pm  · 
      1  · 

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Posts are sporadic. Topics span architecture, urban design, planning, and tangents from these. I sometimes include excerpts of academic articles.

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