Image: by Grace M
By Grace M
Day 3: Tell us about something that you think should be improved
I believe that our built environment should be improved and in order for that to happen the makers of our built environment, the architects, urban planners, educators need to consider how design can empower communities and enable a self sufficient future. I was going to write a really long post on how emails should be improved (I feel like I currently spend half my time writing or answering emails). But hearing the news of Architecture for Humanity closing
inspired me to write this post. It is a sad occasion. They like the social visionaries of the 50’s and 60’s practiced and promoted an architecture for the people.
Currently one-third of the population live in slums, yet the architecture profession serves only 1% of the worlds population. The wealthiest 1%. Architects are currently under the thumbs of property developers, pushing for profit. Public spaces are being privatised with the building of shopping malls, offices. Housing is getting smaller and smaller. As architect and educator, Jeremy Till says we live in an age of the capitalist production of space. Where long-term social impacts are sacrificed for short-term economic imperatives.
My Current frustration that almost none of my architect or urban designer friends, talk of the end-user and how they use the space. The main focus is on the aesthetics. The form, the light, the materials. The icon and the image, instead of people. Yet architecture is the only form of art or design that we cannot get away from.
Some say it’s too much to ask. Architect Zaha Hadid famously commented when asked about the worker deaths on the construction sites in Qatar, “it’s not my duty as an architect to look at it. I cannot do anything about it because I have no power to do anything about it.” But that is not enough. Architecture and city-making at its heart a political and a social practice. Therefore we need to understand our political, social and economic responsibility.
At a OMA exhibition a couple of years ago I saw a quote that has stuck with me since
The role of the creative class should be less receiving, rather broader and more faithful and responsive
– economic call
– social necessity
– moral obligation
So how do we change the profession? Firstly we need to get back to the why instead of starting with the what, as Simon Sinek says in his brilliant TED talk. We need to be a profession with vision and extend our concern from just the ‘icon’ and ‘the image’ to wider social, economic and political issues, which affect design yet are often ignored. We need to prioritise process not the product. Architecture students should be encouraged to be proactive instead of reactive. Getting out there and engaging, without waiting for permission. As designers of the built environment we should think like Muhammad Yunus, when we see spatial problem we should design a solution for it, and the best solution might not be a building. Of course it’s not just architects that need to change but those who commission it to. They also need to act as responsible clients and engaged users.
Although I talk about architects, the ideas also extend to landscape architects, urban planners and all the makers of the built environment.
There is hope. Since graduating I have become a trustee of a humanitarian design organisation and the work I’m seeing and learning about is encouraging. The growth in recent years of ideas and movements such as Public Interest Design, Design Thinking, Pop-up urbanism, humanitarian and social impact design show a wider change to long-term social concern instead of short-term economic ones. I truly believe that if we push hard enough we can make our built environment beautiful and empowering for all people in society regardless of their economic circumstances.