The Vera List Center for Art and Politics at the New School has—under its director Carin Kuoni—been an instigator in drawings links between artistic and design practices and the real world of politics. The Center sponsors symposia, lectures, and exhibitions that draw links that are often crucial and obvious but not discussed by professionals and academics in the design professions. Once again it is highlighting such an issue with a series of discussions, Who Builds Your Architecture?, that connects construction and labor.
This project emerged in part from two ongoing initiatives: Who’s Building the Global U? by NYU faculty and students and Who’s Building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi? by a coalition of international scholars and curators. The second discussion in the series, WBYA 2.0, was titled Sustainability and Sustaining Human Life took place at The New School on Monday April 12 and featured an engaged panel that included: Phil Bernstein from Autodesk; Yale professor and dean Peggy Deamer; Ed Mayer, Senior Associate at FXFOWLE; Reinhold Martin, Columbia Associate Professor of Architecture; Walid Raad, Cooper Union Artist and Associate Professor; Brad Samuels, Pounding Partner at Situ Studio; William Sharples from SHoP Architects; Raphael Sperry, President, Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility; Columbia Planner Smita Srinivas; and Nisha Varia, a Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The designers in the group tried to make connections between their work and that of those that build what comes off their drawings boards. Sharples, for example, showed images of his firm’s new technology campus in Africa and described how the design is driven by a desire to have it manufactured and built by local African labor rather than by foreign contractors and builders.
Whatever the reality of this project ends up being it did compel panelist Reinhold Martin to ask architects and designers to enlarge their notion of sustainability to include issues like labor rather than just focussing on technology and material issues as is most often the case in this country.
Peggy Deamer who was one of the first architects to raise the issue of labor and architecture in writings like Practicing Practice brought the issue back home and pointed out that architects don’t even think about labor practices in their own offices let along in far flung building sites in Africa and the Middle East. Architects, she pointed out, don’t see themselves as laborers and this must change before they recognize the reality of actual design and construction.
The event was organized by the Vera List Center in collaboration with Kadambari Baxi (Barnard+Columbia College, Architecture), Mabel O. Wilson (Columbia University GSAPP), curator and writer Beth Stryker, and Jordan Carver (Columbia University GSAPP) whose goal is to jumpstart a conversation that will lead to longer term solutions.