Posts tagged with "The Architecture Lobby":

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Critics speak out over the draft federal architecture mandate

Everyone from critics to commentators to professional organizations came out swinging this week in reaction to President Trumps draft executive order to impose a neoclassical style (now publicly available) on all future federal architecture. AN reported yesterday that the American Institute of Architects (AIA) released a statement strongly opposing a uniform style, and according to Contract, the organization had prior knowledge of the draft and expressed concerns over it during a mid-January meeting with James Sherk, a top policy aid in the White House In a statement published today by Contract, the AIA issued a letter to Trump after news broke about the leak, asking the president to “ensure that this order is not finalized or executed.” At the time of the aforementioned meeting, the AIA said it believed the draft was not moving forward. “We were shocked and disappointed to hear that it is still in circulation,” the organization wrote in the letter.  The AIA isn’t the only top-level advocacy group in the industry to speak up so far, but it is one of the main avenues for those interested to take action against the draft order, outside of cold-contacting the White House Below, AN broke down highlights from the AIA’s letter to Trump, alongside responses from other major players in the industry:  American Institute of Architects  “The draft we have seen also attempts to define ‘classical architectural style’ to mean architectural features derived from classical Greek and Roman architecture with some allowances for ‘traditional architectural style,’" wrote the AIA in its letter. "Given that the specific type of architecture preferred in the order can increase the cost of a project (to up to three times as much), we would hope the GSA, Congress and others would take pause. Since these costs would have to be borne by U.S. taxpayers, this is not an inconsequential concern… “President Trump, this draft order is antithetical to giving the ‘people’ a voice and would set an extremely harmful precedent. It thumbs its nose at societal needs, even those of your own legacy as a builder and promoter of contemporary architecture. Our society should celebrate the differences that develop across space and time.” The Architecture Lobby  (T-A-L) “Seizing on architectural styles is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes,” wrote The Architecture Lobby in a statement. “The particular appeal to classical architecture often uses the nostalgic appropriation of style by fictionalizing national heritage and manufacturing an ideal subject to marginalize and other while simultaneously claiming moral superiority. The Lobby wants to draw attention to the larger ideological implications this implies, implications that go beyond a conservative approach to style or limitations to freedom of expression. Neoclassicism in the US is directly related with the construction of whiteness. It was whiteness that was sought after in the many plantations houses that chose the style, justifying it as an emulation of ancient Greek ‘culture’ to separate themselves from the Indigenous peoples whose land was stolen ad the enslaved African people forced to build and work in them. Thomas Jefferson’s excitement with the work of the Beaux-Arts school in Paris was motivated by a desire to make America ‘European,’ and white... “Privileging historicist architecture is a common tool of the capitalist class in the United States as well. This tactic is used in planning codes and by homeowners associations to favor traditional aesthetics under the guise of human-centric design, but whose true purpose is to continue the legacy of red-lining by preventing the densification and diversification of neighborhoods. The ultimate goal is to inflate property values and maintain the racial and class segregation of our cities, to create an environment fo capital to continue the destruction of communities through gentrification.  The ‘Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again’ executive order is a reformulation of these local aesthetic strictures at a national level and a blatant attempt to leverage aesthetics in the service of white supremacy.” National Trust for Historic Preservation While the National Trust values—and protects—traditional and classical buildings throughout the country, to censor and stifle the full record of American architecture by requiring federal buildings to be designed, and even altered, to comply with a narrow list of styles determined by the federal government is inconsistent with the values of historic preservation,” wrote the National Trust in a statement. “The draft order would put at risk federal buildings across the country that represent our full American story, and would have a chilling effect on new design, including the design of federal projects in historic districts…We strongly oppose any effort to impose a narrow set of styles for future federal projects based on the architectural tastes of a few individuals that will diminish, now and for the future, our rich legacy of federal architecture.” Vishaan Chakrabarti, Founder of PAU Studio “Like the fundamentalists who desecrated Bamiyan and Palmyra, it is only the most insecure, arrogant and petty of leaders who attempt to remake the world in the delusions of their dominant image,” Chakrabarti said in a statement provided to AN. “Once again the Trump administration is making their hatred of our diversity clear, a hatred we must fight to defend the pluralist idea of America that most of us hold dear. Make no mistake, this is artistic censorship, and censorship is yet another step towards the fascism that clouds our land.” National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) “Diverse cultural influences on the creative expression of our collective built environment is vital to the strength of our society and paramount to our freedom as Americans,” wrote NOMA. “Given the historical significance of NOMA, rooted in the African-American experience, we are especially cognizant of the notion that for many of our members, such buildings in certain contexts stand as symbols and painful reminders of centuries of oppression and the harsh realities of racism. As architects, we are called to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. We have a duty to advocate for design that reflects the values of the people we serve: ALL of the people. The proposed Executive Order, if enacted, would signal the perceived superiority of a Eurocentric aesthetic. This notion is completely unacceptable and counterproductive to the kind of society that fosters justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. Freedom of architectural expression is a right that should be upheld at the highest levels of government.”  The Architectural League of New York The Architectural League fundamentally opposes the imposition of a “preferred” style—whether classical or any other—by diktat as the enforced representation of the American people and their institutions,” wrote Paul Lewis, president of The Architectural League NY, and Rosalie Genevro, executive director. “Such a policy would be anathema to the idea of a free, diverse, and inclusive society. “Architecture that represents the American people must be created in response to specific sites and specific needs, responsive to local communities and conditions, drawing on the skills of the country’s most talented architects.” American Society of Landscape Architects  “The American Society of Landscape Architects has profound concerns about a proposed executive order that would impose uniform style mandates on federal building projects,” said Wendy Miller, president of ASLA. “Our nation’s design professionals are admired around the world for their creativity, innovation, and diversity of thought. Designers of the built environment should not be confined by arbitrary constraints that would limit federal building projects to a single style.  ASLA believes that the public interest is best served by a collaborative place-based process that continues to produce federal projects that reflect the unique needs and values of each community and its citizens.” Docomomo US “The draft executive order which states, “the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style’ would roll back Federal architectural policy by nearly sixty years and set a dangerous precedent for how we value our nation’s architectural diversity and history," said Todd Grover, the vice-president of advocacy, at Docomomo US. “We, along with our colleagues at the American Institute of Architects (AIA), oppose this change in policy to promote any style of architecture over another for federal buildings across the country. This decision could create long-standing issues with new and also existing facilities that have achieved significance since the 1960s.”
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The Architecture Lobby calls for pledges against designing detention centers

The Architecture Lobby (T-A-L) and Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) are once again calling on architects to boycott the design and construction of immigration detention centers and deterrence infrastructure.  Both groups issued a joint statement in April of last year condemning the U.S. Justice Department’s zero-tolerance immigration enforcement policy, and are now asking architects to sign a pledge saying they refuse to participate in projects that have anything to do with border walls, Border Patrol stations, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices, detention facilities, or juvenile holding centers. The pledge also encourages architects and affiliated industry professionals to speak out against the reportedly atrocious conditions of these facilities and to organize in their individual workplace or educational institution to combat any involvement.  “These violent and racist policies are designed to cause fear and chaos,” said T-A-L and ADPSR in a joint press release. “[They] target those seeing asylum and refuge, and weaponize the built environment against immigrants.” According to both advocacy organizations, architects have the responsibility to “uphold the public’s health, safety, and welfare,” and because of this, they must stand up against such human rights violations. Not only is T-A-L trying to get more architects on board via this pledge, but it's also offering services to firms, universities, or groups that need help organizing in the workplace or creating divestment campaigns.    You can read the growing list of pledge supporters here and sign on yourself. This call comes on the heels of the American Institute of Architectsrecent release denouncing the conditions of detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border. Per its Code of Ethics, AIA members are also urged to “uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors.” It said its members must support government policies and regulations that enhance transparency on the issue, as well as fight for the creation of standards that improve the health, safety, and welfare requirements of all buildings. The AIA also called for building inspectors to ensure that structures are in full compliance with current building codes and that any violations regarding health and safety be fixed immediately.  Though these leading architectural organizations believe that socially-responsible architects should be in no way involved in reforming immigration detention centers or similar buildings, there are some architects that think the opposite. Last summer, when CityLab reported on T-A-L and ADPSR’s initial call to boycott, it highlighted the opinion of one designer at Gehry Partners who believed design professionals “should take the lead and devise alternative environments to house immigrants with dignity.” Instead of staying silent, architects should advocate for facilities with natural light, ample space, good ventilation, access to the outdoors, and privacy, she said. It seems, however, that the most pressing architectural issue here is not the creation of new detention centers that are designed in a healthy way, it's that the ones currently being used weren't programmed for housing hundreds and thousands of migrants in the first place. Last July, AN published a piece on the brief architectural success of the Tornillo-Guadalupe International Bridge near El Paso, which opened in 2016 and was anticipated to support a slew of traffic. Though the structure was highly-lauded as a “collaborative binational security effort,” wrote Erseal Kripa and Stephen Muller of AGENCY Architecture, it was a failure due to lack of an economic engine. The site became a census-designated tent city known as Tornillo, where it held thousands of migrant children until it was shut down in January. U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced it will reopen the site this week to house adults instead due to overcrowding in nearby Texas detention centers.  These situations and calls from both sides of the aisle raise the question of whether architects should step in to revamp the current conditions by offering their design services, or should they instead use their voices to urge political lawmakers to end the detainment of migrants altogether? Is this a black and white issue? Is it ethical for architects to do both?
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The Architecture Lobby issues official statement on the Green New Deal

The Architecture Lobby (TAL) has come out in support of the Green New Deal, the sweeping piece of potential legislation that’s aiming to transform the U.S. economy and help combat climate change and economic inequality. In an official online statement, TAL called on architects, designers, and allies within similar disciplines to support the resolution through four points of action: by reforming practice, redefining resilience, reassessing technology, and re-empowering labor.  “In order to tackle decarbonization efforts more effectively, the way we work and the way the profession is structured must change,” TAL argued. “Architects must reject the current model of practice as a service profession responding rapidly to private capital... Architectural work for the Green New Deal must not become another conduit for accumulating wealth at the top.”  In other words, architects must look beyond design and at the bigger picture by becoming activists in the industry for smart and equitable collaborations that benefit all. TAL wrote that architects must also refuse to work with clients, manufacturers, or any company whose values “do not support a transformative redistribution of power.” This includes rejecting groups who utilize unfair labor practices, and holding government agencies accountable by both participating in civic processes and policy development, as well as demanding a uniform contact and fee schedule from municipalities. The principles outlined by TAL also encouraged architects to “advocate for carbon neutral affordable housing for all” and help configure new ways to finance such projects other than private development dollars. Additionally, architects must understand that, in the fight against climate change and social injustice, “technology is not neutral,” and it’s important to recognize the power structures behind its development.  In the same vein, TAL urged architects to recognize that advances in technology will inevitably change the way the built environment is designed and constructed, so it’s key to “be deliberate about automation in the profession” and make sure any jobs lost are replaced by reskilling, “so that solving one crisis does not cause another.” According to TAL, “there can be no sustainable world without sustainable labor practices.”   TAL’s statement on the Green New Deal comes months after the American Institute of Architects issued its support. Around that time, AN spoke with a handful of architects across the country to detail their reactions to the draft legislation and what goals they have for achieving a carbon-free economy, social equality, and more. For TAL’s full vision of architects’ role within the Green New Deal, read more here.
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Junya Ishigami cancels MIT lecture over unpaid internship pushback

The fallout over Junya Ishigami’s use of unpaid intern labor continues, as the Japanese architect canceled a lecture originally scheduled for April 18 at MIT over the issue. In March, it came out that Ishigami, who had been chosen to design this year’s Serpentine Pavilion, was recruiting unpaid interns to work 13 hour days, 6 days a week. On Instagram, Adam Nathaniel Furman revealed that prospective interns were also expected to supply their own computers and software, and that the firm would be unable to help prospective interns relocate to Tokyo for the 8-to-12-week internship.
After facing harsh blowback online, the Serpentine Gallery stepped in to announce that it was unaware of the practice at the time of Ishigami’s selection and would require Junya Ishigami + Associates to pay anyone working on the pavilion. The news quickly sparked a discussion over unpaid labor, and a number of other studios defended their decision not to pay interns, or to admit their culpability. Ishigami + Associates has stayed silent on the matter and refused a request for comment when the news originally broke. According to Archinect, students and faculty at MIT had viewed the lecture on April 18 as a chance to ask the firm about the controversy and wanted to schedule a separate event to discuss the issue. The studio demanded that there be no Q&A session at the original talk, which was to have been an account of its work, and declined to participate in a secondary discussion. Ishigami + Associates ultimately canceled the original event. On April 25, the Architecture Lobby released a statement on unpaid internships to Archinect. “Meanwhile,” the open letter reads, “as recently reported by Dezeen, Karim Rashid insists that unpaid internships are a ‘fork of furthering education.’ Rashid offers a four-month unpaid internship in his office, justified by his claim that ‘an intern can learn in three months more than a year or two of education, and education in USA is costing that student $60,000 to $100,000 a year,’ making universities, in his view, ‘far more’ exploitative. “There is no lesser evil in worker exploitation and a prohibitively expensive education system, and there is plenty of work to be done in fighting to change both.” The full statement can be read here.
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What do architects want from a Green New Deal?

As the scale of climate change has accelerated and grown direr in recent months, upstart politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York have made addressing the issue a central part of their political platforms. Talk of a Green New Deal (GND) has picked up since November's elections, reflecting a major shift in how Americans discuss climate change. But what is the Green New Deal and how might it impact architects?

The impetus behind the GND is simple: Because the threat of anthropogenic climate change is so fundamental, only a government-led, war-like industrial and economic mass mobilization effort can potentially transform American society quickly and thoroughly enough to avoid global catastrophe.

There are plans to unveil the first round of draft legislation at the federal level this week, but as of yet, no official set of policies has been agreed upon by legislators and activists. But various elements of a supposed GND have been touted for years (see here and here for thorough explainers).

Generally speaking, GND proponents have three specific and wide-ranging goals:

First, activists are calling for the wholesale decarbonization of the U.S. economy. That means eliminating all carbon emissions across every industry in the country, including in vital sectors like energy production, building design, construction, and transportation.

Second, this transition would include a federal jobs guarantee backed by the large-scale deployment of new public works projects. A job guarantee, which, generally speaking, would provide anyone who wanted work with some form of federal employment, would allow people currently working in carbon-intensive industries to leave their jobs for publicly-funded green-collar work. The guarantee, supporters argue, would create a vast, fairly-paid workforce that could get to work transforming American society right away.

Third, activists pushing the GND generally agree that the transition to a carbon-free economy must incorporate socially-just practices that rectify past practices that have exploited certain communities. Such reforms include finding ways to house people displaced by climate change, countering the long-term effects of redlining and the racial wealth gap, and making sure that unlike the original New Deal, the benefits and jobs created by any GND are enjoyed by people of color and other historically marginalized groups.

The initiative would go beyond simply greening the country's energy grid or incentivizing a shift to public transit and electric vehicles; the GND envisions a top-to-bottom reworking of the U.S. economy. Likely, the effort will involve densifying existing cities, building new ones from scratch, and perhaps most importantly, retrofitting and upgrading nearly all of the country’s existing building stock. Architects will be vital to the effort and are likely to benefit from a potential GND through new commissions and opportunities to provide input and expertise across a range of projects and scales.

In an effort to help spur discussion among architects on a potential plan, The Architect’s Newspaper asked designers from around the country to share their wish lists for what a potential GND might include. The responses span a range of issues that touch on the built environment, project financing, building codes, and environmental regulation, among other topics.

For some, creating incentives to reuse and retrofit existing buildings could be a key component of the deal. Karin Liljegren, principal at Omgivning in Los Angeles said, “I’d like to see how legislators can reassert the importance of the federal government’s Historic Tax Credit Program (HTC). The HTC incentivizes developers to rehabilitate iconic and viable old buildings, but it has recently been under threat after decades of stability. Enshrining these incentives in the legislation would send a massive signal to clients like ours.”

But, of course, focusing only on the most iconic historic structures would likely send many buildings to the trash heap. To address “less iconic structures or ones that require an approach that is more adaptive than restorative,” Liljegren suggested “a program of economic incentives that helps developers prioritize the broader reuse of existing buildings. Reusing a structure can certainly be more challenging than building new, but the payoffs are enormous—less embodied energy and waste is only the beginning. In terms of texture, form, and spirit, existing buildings enrich our identities and communities.”

For other architects, increasing the scope of public transportation options in parallel with boosting density is the way forward. Vishaan Chakrabarti, founder of PAU in New York City, said, “A Green New Deal should include what I called the 'American Smart Infrastructure Act' in my 2013 book A Country of Cities. In that proposal, I call for the elimination of existing subsidies that encourage sprawl like highway funding, the mortgage interest deduction, and low gas taxes.” Chakrabarti argued for applying this new revenue toward building a national high-speed rail and urban mass transit network that can serve new investments in affordable transit-oriented multi-family housing and low-cost office space. The funding, however, “should only go to municipalities that discourage single-family housing density, like Minneapolis recently did,” Chakrabarti added.

Of course, the overarching network of regulatory policies, like environmental, structural, energy, and seismic codes, that shape the built environment could be improved, as well.

Anica Landreneau, director of sustainable design for HOK in Washington, D.C., pointed to the recently-adopted Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act, which she helped craft, as a potential guide for creating a “self-improving threshold” that requires building owners to retrofit existing structures above a certain size according to rigorous energy performance standards. The plan, set to take effect in 2020, seeks to align the energy performance of existing buildings with the steadily-increasing performance metrics crafted for new structures, like LEED certification and Energy Star ratings. The plan will peg the performance standards for existing buildings to the median Energy Star score for all buildings of the same type in the District of Columbia. As the overall energy efficiency of buildings in the District improves over time, the thinking goes, periodic post-occupancy reviews will help create a self-improving target that will compel building owners to upgrade their structures to avoid fines.

In addition to improving incentive programs like the HTC, changes to the way projects are financed more broadly could also help bring to life many of the GND's transformative new projects.

Claire Weisz, principal at WXY in New York City suggested the government “require banks to invest a required minimum 40 percent of their loans in building construction and projects that have sustainable longer-term benefits and proven investments in training and hiring for green jobs.”

David Baker, principal of David Baker Architects in San Francisco, advocated for increased funding for affordable and urban housing projects overall. Baker said, “A major limiting factor on beginning to solve our affordable housing crisis—and the associated climate impacts—is simply money. We have many affordable projects ready to go but currently delayed by a lack of funding.”

Peggy Deamer of The Architecture Lobby wants to make sure that the rights of workers—and the right to work, in general—are not left out of the conversation amid talk of green infrastructure and shiny, new projects. Deamer said, “It is too monothematic to go after environmental solutions without the larger economic structure into which both the effort unfolds or the new carbon-free world functions. If the tech industry’s effort at automation leaves most of us without work or income, who wants to live in that green world?”

In conversations with architects, the issue of affordable urban housing came up often, especially in relation to the stated aims of the GND’s main backers, which include increasing social equity through the program. Because America’s urban areas contain 85 percent of the country’s population and are responsible for 80 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, it is likely that the GND’s effects will be most profoundly felt in cities.

That’s important for architects concerned with racial and social equity in the field. With a rising cohort of diverse young designers—as well as many established firms helmed by women and people of color— it’s possible a potential GND could engender a surge of important projects helmed by diverse practitioners. That possibility, when coupled with the existing diversity of urban residents and potential clients, could transform how architecture is practiced across the country.

It’s a realm where Kimberly Dowdell, president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), thinks her organization can have an impact. “Black architects have a unique opportunity to take the lead in shaping the future,” Dowdell said. “In under-resourced urban communities, which are often majority Black, there is a great need for a new approach to design and development that fully embraces the quadruple bottom line: social, cultural, environmental, and financial.” Dowdell added, “NOMA members have been doing this kind of work for generations. Now, with the Green New Deal, this experience is especially relevant.”

With a “quadruple bottom line” approach at the center of a potential GND, professional architecture organizations pushing for increased equity among their ranks, and demographic trends leading to greater diversity, the architectural profession is poised for significant change that could be accelerated by a GND.

As the potential changes begin to take form, inclusion will likely remain a top priority for designers. Dowdell explains: “In general, everyone needs to have a seat at the decision-making table as it relates to shaping our collective future on this planet. With such a high concentration of minorities in cities, it is absolutely critical that a truly diverse set of minds and voices are empowered to implement the best of the Green New Deal.”

Infrastructure: The Architecture Lobby National Think-In

Day 2: T-A-L Sessions Saturday, 6/23, 10a.m.-7p.m. At Javits Center, NYC This Think-In is divided into two parts over two days: active engagement with relevant session at the AIA National convention to ensure substantive dialogues on professional issues on Friday, June 22; and Think-In panel discussions on Saturday, June 23 at Prime Produce that examine the theme of Infrastructure. Infrastructure is the network of systems necessary for an organization to function. When those systems are degraded enough, the defining functions of the organization fail. The Architecture Lobby has selected this theme for its first National Think-In to generate a way forward and rebuild our discipline’s infrastructure. Check this space for more details soon!

Infrastructure: The Architecture Lobby National Think-In

Day 1: AIA Sessions Friday, 6/22/ 7a.m.-7p.m. At Javits Center, NYC This Think-In is divided into two parts over two days: active engagement with relevant session at the AIA National convention to ensure substantive dialogues on professional issues on Friday, June 22; and Think-In panel discussions on Saturday, June 23 at Prime Produce that examine the theme of Infrastructure. Infrastructure is the network of systems necessary for an organization to function. When those systems are degraded enough, the defining functions of the organization fail. The Architecture Lobby has selected this theme for its first National Think-In to generate a way forward and rebuild our discipline’s infrastructure. Check this space for more details soon!
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A new initiative targets fair labor practices for architects

The Architecture Lobby, Yale School of Architecture’s Equity in Design, and Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Women in Design have collectively launched a new accreditation program to promote fair labor conditions in architecture firms called JustDesign.Us. The consortium cites the “rise of massive student debt, stagnating wages, and an overabundance of skilled applicants coming out of professional schools” as the impetus for such a service. Operating from an eponymous website, the project seeks to provide a platform for architects and designers to vet the labor practices of potential employers serving as a new industry tool for more transparent employment. 
“The project aims to provide potential employees with a robust tool for gaining a sense of which firms will treat them fairly, with respect, and support their development as architects, while giving certified JustDesign firms an edge in attracting the best possible designers.”
Planning to release its inaugural list in December of this year, the organization will deploy its operation in two phases; first, solicit nominations online from employees themselves, then certify that the nominated firms comply with “best labor practices.” The initial employee nominations will survey issues such as "labor conditions pertaining to flexibility, agency, fair pay, salary transparency, employee diversity, and family-friendly policies." While the website and its associated documents are light on the specific methodologies to be employed in phase two of the process, or indeed who will be evaluating the firms, the ambition of this program is to cultivate a field that is symbiotically beneficial to workers and employers alike. JustDesign.Us is endorsed by a handful of groups, mostly academic in nature, however has not yet recruited professional organizations such as The American Institute of Architects and The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. The nomination process is not meant to be punitive and will only review positive employee questionnaires, celebrating firms that excel in fair treatment of their employees not shaming companies that underperform in this regard. Nominations for the first round of review are due by July 15.