Sunday, January 25, 2009

Today begins a short series of guest writer appearances for cause of the week, each of whom has a role in the new book Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism. Published by Metropolis Books, they introduce the text as follows:

Expanding Architecture presents a new generation of creative design carried out in the service of the greater public and greater good. Questioning how design can improve daily lives, editors Bryan Bell and Katie Wakeford map an emerging geography of architectural activism that is rich in its diversity of approaches. More than thirty essays by practicing architects and designers, urban and community planners, landscape architects, environmental designers, and members of other fields present recent work from around the world that suggests the countless ways that design can address issues of social justice, allow individuals and communities to plan and celebrate their own lives, and serve a much larger percentage of the population than it has in the past.

Azure Magazine calls Expanding Architecture "the Barack Obama of books... a story about the change we need in the fields of architecture and urban design, professions that have lost their way, easily seduced by wealthy clients."

Co-editor Bryan Bell is our first guest to cause of the week. If you haven’t heard of Bryan you're probably not running in architecture circles or reading design magazines. He worked at the Rural Studio with Sambo Mockbee in the mid-80s, and has since led over a dozen of the design/build thesis projects including the Greensboro Children’s Center and the Mason’s Bend Community Center. He founded Design Corps in 1991 with the mission “to provide the benefits of architecture to those traditionally un-served by the profession.” He collaborates annually with a university or non-profit to produce the Structures for Inclusion conference which exposes new professionals to alternative forms of community-based and socially-conscious practice. SFI 9 will be in Dallas this March. (I worked with Bryan on SFI 7 in Charlotte). Finally, an interview with Bryan can be found by clicking here.

In addition to his entry that follows, Bryan suggests two courses of easy action.

1. Go to and vote for his suggestions regarding sustainable policy (and to see a lot of other great activist work in progress).


2. Get the latest info on SFI 9 in Dallas and go to the conference to join the chorus of voices discussing progressive forms of conscientious practice.

And I will add a third, taken directly from his text that follows. Consider your vision of yourself, of how you practice in this world and what you hope that practice will contribute (and I mean 'practice' in the largest sense of the word). Lead as an activist and an advocate, regardless of your task at hand.

A big thank you to Bryan for kicking this off. Here is Bryan Bell's entry for cause of the week:

Architecture has so much unrealized potential.

The benefits of design could do so much more for so many more.

Design can play a role in addressing the most critical social, economic and environmental issues that we face.

Architects have been absorbed in what we can accomplish technically, structurally, and aesthetically. We have recently made great progress in what we can accomplish environmentally. Where we have failed, is to show what we can accomplish socially and economically.

The process of creating can allow communities and individuals to define and celebrate their lives. It can also help solve their struggles by reshaping their existence, recovering from disasters as well as meeting day-to-day challenges. This is an exciting time, not just for designers but for everyone who can potentially benefit from our greater role.

The expansion of design is a transformation of our identity, not just our vision of ourselves but a transformation in the collective consciousness of how design can make a positive difference in the world today.

This is not something proposed for the future, a master plan hatched in a few minds. It is already happening with real projects helping real people, face to face encounters on the streets and in the fields. Some are large and many are quite small. We have documented these In 30 essays, capturing a shared spirit and best practices while not limiting the richness of the great diversity of the work.

This expansion is happening in three ways:

• serving more of the public
• taking on a greater scope of issues
• offering a greater range of services

The first expansion –- serving a larger segment of the public -- has gained attention recently: that the current practice of design serves only the few, the elite, the wealthy and the powerful. I have used the statistic that 98% of new home buyers work without architects. Paul Pollack suggested the term the Cooper Hewitt used for it’s show that 90% of the world's designers focus on only 10% of the world’s population. But regardless of the statistic, the point is being made. That design could serve more.

The second expansion is design taking on a greater range of issues. Perhaps the worst limit we currently have is what is seen as design-related issues. We have limited ourselves by this narrow definition and we must ask the question again: what are design issues?

The third way this expansion is happening is in providing a wider range of services and approaches. As we embrace these new roles, we become activists engaging in action for the public good. And as the definition of activism suggests, we take intentional actions to bring about positive change. We can become activists in so many ways. I’d like to highlight a few of these mechanisms from examples in the book.

This work doesn’t have to be in another country, cost a lot, or take a major commitment. It can take place as equally through a guerrilla group of artists in Croatia or in a New York neighborhood. It can be a life-time commitment or a quick weekend project using salvaged materials. Lest anything here seem overwhelming, just remember that helping others through design is the goal and can be simple.

The concept of Expanding Architecture, of expanding all the design professions, is to move from our current limited role and realize our greater potential. We need to change our vision of ourselves first, in the goals we set for ourselves. Only then can we hope to change the public perception of what we can contribute. As these projects show, this is happening. The collective consciousness of designers role is changing, both for the professions and of the public, giving us not just an opportunity to do some good work, but to make a permanent change in our collective future.

We need to fix this idea into the collective consciousness of the general public. This is not going to happen by supernatural forces. It will only happen by many being activists; being advocates.
What we hope is that this is moving from the margins of practice to the mainstream of practice, where the needed resources and energy are available.

Our potential is waiting to be realized.

The need is undeniable.

The only thing stopping us, is us.

Now is the time to show what we can do.

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