Altruistic Architecture

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    Shifting Design Education for Current Issues

    Ivana Carbajal
    May 3, '21 6:10 PM EST

    Education to Solve Real-World Issues

    As a student who is graduating after this summer semester, I begin to question what my projects outside of the classroom will be. Most of our design curriculum focuses on residential and commercial design and building for a client we’ve made up. But instead of working on projects with limited real-world implications (other than the benefit of pushing our imagination), how can we enhance our training and studies to tackle more tangible issues that affect the communities or sites in which we build our school projects?

    Current Issue We See Today

    We can take a look at Los Angeles as an example. It’s the entertainment capital of the world, home to some of the greatest modernist designs, and a location with amazing year-round weather. However, the city faces an alarming issue with the growing unhoused community. A recent action proposed by the city aims to utilize empty hotel buildings to shelter those currently occupying the street. And while this movement of “sweeping” Los Angeles to get our parks back may seem like a step towards ending homelessness, displacing people to a temporary shelter is not the solution to gain the city’s desirable appeal back. The city’s current strategy — Project Room Key — is an initiative to make use of vacant hotels to shelter the unhoused. But this temporary fix won’t solve the problem, so how can a design perspective contribute to the future of our unhoused neighbors?

    Potential Solution: Use What Is Already Here

    In my commercial design class, we’ve developed the future of luxury hotels and created a desirable getaway for tourists and staycationers. But that project really does nothing to contribute to the issues Los Angeles faces. Now, what if the city of Los Angeles stopped any more new construction of hotels? New construction in California is already an extremely hard game to play. Why are we fighting so hard to build more when there is already so much around us to work from or add to? The lack of travel, for tourism and business, during the pandemic put hotels at an all-time low occupancy rate. Alternative rental methods, such as AirBnb and VRBO, use existing homes to allow for travel in a more familiar, unique, and affordable way while supporting homeowners in the process rather than a hotel-chain conglomerate. Incentivizing home rentals rather than hotel rentals can also benefit the interior and architecture professions as more people would look to restore (not construct) spaces that are attractive and livable for an array of guests, events, and experiences. 

    This is also a more sustainable option. We can reuse spaces we have already to acclimate to the city’s current needs rather than contributing more to the footprint. If buildings were designed for future-use rather than single-use, developers and designers wouldn’t have to initiate an expensive and expansive renovation to retrofit the building for a new purpose. This is especially important in a city like Los Angeles where new businesses emerge constantly.

    A Socially-Sensitive Educational Approach

    The beauty of our education is that for the most part we don’t have limits or boundaries on where our minds can wander. The freedom students get to explore and unravel in our studio classes is what pushes the envelope to generate innovative ideas and processes. But, how can curriculum begin to evenly scale the depths of our curiosity in conjunction with the current social climate of communities or neighborhoods we are involved with or set our project in? We should not only study and reflect on the history of design and what came before us, but also take time to reflect on the current issues architecture and design are contributing to, and use those issues as precedent. 

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