Monday, June 19, 2006

Political Architecture?

Last week, the NYtimes published the following, which asked architects to consider the US Government's proposal for a continuous wall along the border between the US and Mexico.

What surprised me most was this paragraph:

As a classic design challenge, The New York Times asked 13 architects and urban planners to devise the "fence." Several declined because they felt it was purely a political issue. "It's a silly thing to design, a conundrum," said Ricardo Scofidio of Diller Scofidio & Renfro in New York. "You might as well leave it to security and engineers."

I was bothered by the idea that this issue could be dismissed as a silly thing, as something that architects need not bother with. So, I started a discussion thread over at, to see what other people might think. I found myself in the minority. And I began to wonder, should I reconsider my position?

Are there things that Architects should just not bother getting into? Should we avoid Political Architecture? I personally don't feel that Architecture will ever devoid itself of politics - it's just that, in some design projects, the political issues involved are more easily mediated. Well, simply, compromise is easier to achieve in some situations than others. That's why, at least in my mind, the WTC site is still a disaster. Major political and cultural issues are involved; the investment people have, whether it be monetary, polticial, psychological, make it much more of a delicate process to sort out. And no one has successfully devised something that people from polar positions can feel at least partly satisfied with.

Is it too idealistic to imagine architecture as a potentially influential tool for reimagining the conditions of devisive political issues? Am I a fool for thinking that we can use architecture as an argument for change?

What I value in challenge proposed by the NYtimes is the potential for dialogue, rather than products that the challenge produced. Instead of dismissing the challenge as something architects shouldn't bother with, why not enter into the debate? What is the harm in taking a position and proposing something, even if it is exactly opposite of the original brief? If the firms invited didn't believe in the value of the wall, then why not propose something that expresses that position? At least, by doing so, they would have placed a contrasting design for people to consider - another option that might challenge a person's preconceived notions about an appropriate solution to the issues at hand. That, to me, seems more productive, more valuable. Because, in the end, the solutions for this political issue are Architectural - the government plans to build a huge, physical intervention that will be left for the generations following to deal with. And maybe, just maybe, an Architect, instead of giving the government ideas to make their wall pretty and palatable, would have have proposed something that would have begged the question, do we need a wall in the first place?


Blogger alburt said...

Dealing with similar issues over here -

Architecture as a problem solver? or do they always just think they know best?

4:44 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home