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Monthly Archives: June 2009

In my post of a few days ago, The Case Against The Pritzker – The Rare Case FOR Architects, I wrote a sentence with the rather unwieldy construction…

“So we need to foment a movement wherein architects are not disposable in the construction process, and can set the agenda of fairness and sustainability in construction and the conceptualization of the edification of the expressions of modern capital called buildings.”

In case you were turned off by the overwrought phrasing, I am sorry, it was written in haste. Here’s what I meant.
Modern capital is expressed in many ways: in systems, industries, and ideas. One of those expressions is a building, which is shaped by the market forces that bring it into being. In addition to the actual building (edification) of buildings, a very important part of the process is the conceptualization of how they will be constructed. Architects doing their duty are not just a means to making constructions, but also in determining what is the right thing to build, where, and when, etc. We are a channel of those market forces. And it is within our power and should be within our duty to ensure that this is fairly and sustainably done.

I bring this up because I don’t want one poorly constructed idea to be a barrier to getting your input on an issue I think is rather important, and that I am disappointed that my haste may have been a barrier to your feeling free to respond. Now, world – have your say.

Thanks for listening. again.

The linked article is well worth examining thoroughly. I’ve always wondered what’s so hard about this.(via Pruned) Sidwell Friends School in DC has implemented a rainwater recovery and usage system that is highly functional and environmentally friendly. The garden is beautiful, but just as important in this world is the market economics. And by the assertion of the blog post, the system was fairly affordable as well.

To the players in this project, the market logic for preserving rainwater existed in Washington DC – a place with abundant rain. A place where the embodied costs of providing a unit of water are much lower than a more arid climate. Let’s take the example of Los Angeles. In short, official policy since (before) the building of the LA River channel system is that stormwater in its untreated and unchanneled state is a nuisance and a threat to public welfare. Which it is. But the solution was therefore not to treat it, or to deal with it in some way. The solution is to take all of the stormwater runoff – even off of the roofs of private residences – and put it into a system that shunts it as quickly as possible to the ocean. Leaving no surplus water for the extra human population for whom you’ve just provided capacity.

Groundwater recharge is the concept that there is a natural amount of water trapped in the soil that is recharged by rainfall. Even in a modern metropolis, it costs basically nothing. When this, rainwater cachement, and greywater utilization can all be done so easily and cheaply, when they can provide a resource to a city like LA that otherwise has to use massive amounts of energy pipe water for hundreds of miles, and when they can have such beautiful results as the Sidwell Friends School, what arguments against these techniques really hold water?


All Pritzker Prize winners. All named in the Human Rights Watch’s new report on violations of basic workers’ rights in the document The Island of Happiness Exploitation of Migrant Workers on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. One of eight Pritzker winners of all time. They are supposed lions of our industry. They are supposedly shining stars, not mere functionaries of capital. Not just massive corporate juggernauts who are fairly honest in their lack of scruples. These are not architects known for building prisons, animal testing facilities, or cockfighting rings (like a problematic example from another Pritzker winner). And yet the chickens come home to roost on their doorsteps, too.

I certainly cannot cast the first stone. And I’m sure very few architects who build can. But we have to come to grips with this. What we do can make us fat wholly in the service of people who exploit others. Or it can be in service of humanity alone – and with very few exceptions, we will starve. How do we bridge this divide? How can we change the current modes of production that set human rights and profits at odds? How do we, as problem solvers and team-builders take it upon ourselves to push an agenda of not just the pablum “change” – but of reform?

We need to turn every stone. For example, we need do come to terms not just with the environmental impact of the materials we specify, but with their impact on the people who handle them. We need to come to terms not just with slave wages in developing countries, but with the prison industrial complex in our own. Architects are idealists and optimists, even if they won’t admit it or do not seem to be such. So we need to foment a movement wherein architects are not disposable in the construction process, and can set the agenda of fairness and sustainability in construction and the conceptualization of the edification of the expressions of modern capital called buildings. We need novel and groundbreaking solutions, not just incremental improvements.

Please – tell me your thoughts. What are the possibilities of sustaining our monetary livelihoods while enriching the practice of architecture, and in the process bringing the least hurt to the fewest people that we can? I am certain there are ways, I know that we can make doing right a viable free market choice. How do we bridge this gap?

I put my voice out there to try and begin the dialog. I want to hear yours too – architect or not – you have something to say.