Newsletter | Sep/Oct 2003

Symposium Reminder: Toward an Engaged Architecture

Saturday, September 13, 2003 8:30am-6pm
Wurster Hall Auditorium UC Berkeley

Our Speakers' Abstracts:

Building & Rebuilding Suburbia

By Dolores Hayden

For almost two centuries, Americans have chosen to live in suburbs marketed around the triple dream of single-family housing, nature, and community. Developers' efforts to transform farmers' fields into millions of wooden houses set in leafy yards have created metropolitan sprawl that can be sorted into seven historic patterns. Borderlands settled by individual families began in the 1820s, while landscape architects began to design picturesque enclaves in the 1850s. Streetcar buildouts for people of modest incomes flourished in the 1870s; mail order and self-built suburbs grew around 1900. Real estate interests persuaded the federal government to subsidize vast sitcom suburbs in the 1940s. In the 1960s, federal subsidies for highways, malls, and commercial real estate stimulated edge nodes. Workers in edge nodes then commuted to rural fringes starting in the 1980s. Through times of boom and bust, the scale of American suburban development has increased, so that by 2000 suburban fabric replaced many older downtowns. Architects, landscape architects, and planners have suggested that neo-traditional towns, advances in digital technology, "smart growth," and "green building" can solve the problems of suburbs through better new construction in suburban locations. Instead, the reconstruction of suburbs requires new kinds of political and economic commitment, as well as physical programs designed to engage seven historic suburban landscapes.

Survival through architecture and its teaching...

By Nasrine Seraji

To build is first to construct a problem. The given aspects of a project cease then to be perceived as constraints; instead they become stimulants, challenges, and opportunities. Looked at from this angle, the site, client program, and the construction process itself become potentials: the limits transform to horizons.
For more than 15 years I have confronted the practice of architecture with its teaching and this in order to design a context in which one may experiment. Each architect in his/her time constructs a platform from which he/she operates. This can, at times, be the singularity by which one recognizes authorship. I have chosen to be a solo architect and to run my studio as I run my teaching studios. Sometimes this presents the clients with certain conservatism very doubtful of ones capacities. The corporate world of architecture will win the biggest commissions, how can architecture resist "glory" and be content with critical work?

Praxis in the Time of Empire

By Ananya Roy

The 21st century started with great hope, with hope that it would be an opportunity for the renewal of our tired planet, for a just reconciliation of the conflicts of the 20th century, for the rise of an energetic civil society the world over. And yet, just a few years into this century, it has become clear that we are faced with a quite different global order: Empire. If in the 1990s, there was great trepidation about the economic inequalities and political disempowerment being wrought by corporate globalization, then such concerns are intensified by America's present imperial ambitions. Today's global order is marked by a paradox: on the one hand, America has engaged the world through a "war on terror" and on the other hand, it has systematically disengaged from all international institutions that create global cooperation and accountability.

It is against this backdrop that I pose the question of praxis: what does engagement mean in a world of missile engagement? What does the practice of architecture and planning mean when the contracts have long ago been given out to Bechtel and Halliburton and when the American military is the main form of governance in "liberated" Iraq? What does it mean to imagine social and environmental justice when alongside militarized violence there is also the everyday violence of poverty in many parts of the world, and when in these regions the only source of hope is often a vicious form of religious fundamentalism?

Much of the recent talk around planning and architecture has been about "rebuilding": rebuilding the towers, rebuilding Afghanistan. But this bypasses crucial questions: who is rebuilding and for whom? According to what priorities? Is it business as usual, or is this an opportunity to do things differently, as various intellectuals have stated in their vision for a "democratic" rebuilding process in New York?
It is a sobering thought to ponder the role of architecture and planning in the time of empire. But I argue that it is also a time of opportunity. This opportunity is not that of "rebuilding." Rather it is the opportunity to enact change in our disciplines, pedagogies, and professions.

Impact of Underrepresented Architects & Scholars

By Kathryn Anthony

The first part of my presentation addresses the impacts that under-represented scholars, writers, and critics have had on scholarship and scholarly activism about architectural and design-related issues. A brief overview of key works will be presented. The issue of 'potty parity' will be highlighted, providing an unusual example of how an awareness of gender issues in design has helped to change laws in several states.

The second part of my presentation addresses the impacts that underrepresented architects have had on the public. A call was sent to members via email to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Diversity Committee, the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), and Chicago Women in Architecture. Members were asked to comment on the following questions: "What kinds of impacts have you made on specific design projects--impacts that would not have been possible had you or another person like you (i.e. woman, person of color, other diverse designer) not been on the design team? How/why were you able to address specific needs of users--in a way that someone else could not? Where was the project, who was it for, and who are you?

Specific cases and responses are highlighted within my presentation. To date, these include Debbie Kent at Pam Hutter & Associates in Chicago; Patricia Saldana Natke, owner of Urban Works, which is also in Chicago; and Paul Taylor of African Architecture, who is also a former University Architect at the University of Maryland.

Signs of our Times

By Eleni Bastea

I take the position that neither globalization nor widespread exploitation of populations and resources are unique phenomena of our times, unprecedented as they might be in scale. Throughout history, empires have always striven to control their subjects, both militarily and economically, imposing a unified culture on their geopolitical domains. Nevertheless, this control has not gone unchallenged. Again, throughout history, we encounter numerous examples of successful resistance and subversion of the master's paradigm. And finally, all empires do come to an end. I believe it is imperative to recognize the imperial ambitions of this country and others, as Ananya Roy powerfully demonstrates, but also to realize that we, as citizens of the world, are not without power and agency.

In the realm of architecture, specifically, I would like to underscore pockets and movements of resistance that should not go unnoticed, as their collective effect has the potential to challenge and change the status quo. This resistance has been taking several forms, some of which are examined in this symposium. Yes, there is widespread suburbanization, as urban historian and architect Dolores Hayden expertly shows, but there are also smaller, yet significant efforts to revitalize the downtown districts throughout this country. As Hayden has shown in one of her earlier books, The Power of Place, engaged, grass-roots activism can successfully reclaim and commemorate the multi-ethnic history of our cities.
There is the increasing corporatization of the architecture profession, no doubt experienced by everyone in the audience and the academy, but there is also the on-going, stubborn and engaged resistance to preserve architecture as a critical practice, as we see in the work of architect and academic Nasrine Seraji. It takes patient research work to document the impact of minority design firms in this country, and architectural scholar Kathryn Anthony has been passionately pursuing this research for years.

This grassroots momentum towards an engaged architectural practice is finally being spotted by the media, as well. Not only is the latest issue of Metropolis magazine devoted to issues of education and sustainability, but also a recent article in The New York Times (Aug. 28, 2003) profiled most favorably the four-year-old advocacy work of Architecture for Humanity. Architecture for Humanity is run by Cameron Sinclair, a 29-year old architecture professional from the UK, who is urging his colleagues to "design like they give a damn." As all of the symposium speakers demonstrate, they are not alone.

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