Sunday, December 14, 2008

Architecture as Bailout

I want to indulge on a sideline that may or may not ultimately be part of my thesis.

I am looking at this context because I truly think that architects can bring particular thinking and expertise that can help the informal, but I am also looking for an education. I think that informal contexts are uniquely capable of providing that education as they make the processes necessary for building (and architecture?) apparent in a way few other contexts can.

The issues I see as plainly evident in my context are:
-methods - how a structure grows overtime and the labor systems
-materials - a consideration of: availability (global vs. local), function, and effect
-residential programs and their relation with public programs
-ownership models

As you can see there is nothing in that list that different than housing projects in other places all the world. The type of materials and labor processes may change but they are concerns in every project. However, in some contexts one is not always forced to think about ownership models, although usually a silent pressure on the design.

Now that I set the stage on to my sidebar:

Ownership and the Bailout

I was very happy to see my old boss and mentor Ed Mazria be among the first architect to produce a proposal to President-elect Obama on how to best spend the money his administration is already thinking of using on upgrades and new additions to the government's building stock. This proposal puts architecture in the context of its material, labor, financial, and effectual networks.

And why not? I mean aren't we in this problem because of (a)rchitecture? I know that it is a stretch to call tract housing architecture (even with lower-case a), but they are part of the built environment and thus something architects can and perhaps SHOULD seriously handle.

It is thus that I rejoice in the second piece of good news this week: Obama tapped Harvard GSD alumnus Shaun Donovan as secretary of HUD. Architects and architecture are now knee deep trying to get the U.S. out of this economic malaise.

(12/13/08 Weekly Video Address by then President-elect Obama)

Even with all these moves, I get a sense that we are not pushing this as far as we can. We are today rethinking capitalism and architecture and architects are in the middle of the discussion. As I said above although I think that architects can bring a lot to informal contexts, we can also learn a lot. Perhaps one thing we can learn is how ownership can be rethought to place value on things that usually go without. The traditional model of individual lots and single houses on those lots is not really working, perhaps the non-formal can teach us what can.

Even if you don't see it this way, or it somehow makes you uncomfortable, endulge me as I ask this question: do new ownership models require new architectural articulations?

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