oil:water as architecture:politics

what we’re talking about here is “why architecture and politics don’t mix” in case some of you don’t remember your analogies.  I know already many of you may be thinking “oh crap here we go on some crazy political rant (anyone who knows me is mostly right – the rest of you should be surprised).

So let me start, first and foremost, by defining myself in political terms *slaps sticker to top of forehead*: I am a registered (but not gun toting) Republican, but more specifically a Conservative.  I believe in the limited and limiting power of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as outlined by our founding fathers as ordained by God (who knew God had his own website?….sweet).

Ok, now that that is out of the way, let’s get down to business.

No matter what side of the political spectrum you fall in, you know you’re right; no one is going to tell you any different, least of all me.  Your policies are the only smart ones and we should all just fall in line, pinko!

Now, the advocacy arm of the AIA will tell you that Architects should immerse themselves in political debate because political policies greatly affect our profession.  While this is true to a large degree (political policies affect all of us, naturally, especially in today’s political climate), but architecture as a profession does not lend itself well to the political process and here’s why: Architects and Architecture work for the greater good of all mankind, not just a select few who happen to be lucky (read “rich”) enough to have a few thousand lobbyists in their pocket.

The profession of Architecture is, or was at one time, a more altruistic calling to use building as a way to better the experience of life.  We all remember the late night drunken philosophical discussions about the utopian architectural ideal from third year…blah blah blah. 

Obviously there are Architects out there who practice simply for their own greedy, megalomaniacal interests or for world domination or whatever.  But I know, lurking deep down inside the pit of their stomach, is that same doe eyed architectural idealist we all began as before the “practice” of architecture beat it out of us.

All of this is not to say that Architects should NOT be part of the political process, just to outline why architects/architecture and politicians/politics are at odds with each other at a basic level.  Case in point – currently there is a lot of talk about rail funding and the latest cast of republican leadership dragging there feet on how these monies should be spent.  And in this I disagree with a lot of the talk that is going on out there, putting me at odds with my own political party because of my professional allegiance to the profession, and practice, of architecture.  The politics of social services aside, mass transit is something that can, and does, make better cities as well as act as a catalyst for economic development around rail stations/hubs.  This is the “if you build it they will come” mantra made flesh.

The moral of this little tale that I am trying to spin is that Architects and designers must put political allegiances aside in favor of advocating for those policies that are in line with a true greater good of our cities and for the citizens of this country: an increase in mass transit infrastructure, regulations to reduce sprawl and increase vertical density, and a more streamlined process from education to licensure just to name a few.

Now that I’ve rambled on for a good bit, how do you feel about mixing politics and architecture?  What are the issues that you stand on, how do they affect the profession and what can architects do to bring about positive change, irrespective of party affiliation, in our cities?

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About Jeremiah

Birth: April 6 - Upstate New York Education: Savannah College of Art and Design Bachelor of Fine Art - 2003 Masters of Architecture - 2003 Member AIA National since 2004 Member AIA Florida since 2004 Member AIA Jacksonville since 2004 Member Emerging Design Professionals Jacksonville since 2006 Emerging Design Professional President 2009-2010 View all posts by Jeremiah

3 responses to “oil:water as architecture:politics

  • La Femme Architecte

    Interesting post but I have to say that since architecture is a service oriented profession, I don’t see how it can mix politically. I don’t think it does. Architects will design and build whatever their clients want, whether they are rich individuals who is not interested in higher taxes, or the government who wants to stir up the country’s economy by investing in it’s various infrastructure.

    No architect is going to turn down a job because of politics or policy, or begin to debate a client who has opposing political allegiances. If anything, the client will seek out the “proper” architect by doing their own research, which may include your political allegiances.

    Whatever your political views are, it should not interfere with how you practice professionally. An architect is hired to provide a service, not deliver a lecture laced with politics and religion. Your political views are your own, not your professional responsibility.

    • Jeremiah

      I agree, and your comment is at the heart of my point of why architects/architecture and politics don’t mix. But, like religion, politics does influence how and why we make decisions as individuals both personally and professionally. These are two of the Big Three never to be discussed in bars (politics religion and money), and for very good reason. More to my point is that we as Architects need to put aside our personal political allegiances in order to advocate as a profession for the best interests, or greater good, or our cities and our country as it pertains to architecture and construction. I tried explaining this in my post and perhaps I failed.
      And while I agree that our profession and politics don’t mix (hence the post), I also think that we have to, just as any other profession should, that is effected by policy (i.e. doctors, lawyers, dentists, veterinarians, street sweepers, the guy that changes out the urinal cakes). Like it or not politics and policy effect us all and the general public is not going to be on the up and up when it comes to policy decisions that would have an effect on our industry. I believe that it is our professional responsibility to advocate for our industry. This, in my not so humble opinion, is part of the service that we provide our clients to ensure that projects can be built safely, effectively and economically. If we’re not advocating, then who is? Who should?

  • La Femme Architecte

    I agree whoever is leading our society and policies effect our profession as with any profession although I think it is interesting that you raise the issue that architects should lobby on behalf on our clients to design and build safely, effectively, and economically. I think effective and economical is subjective and I don’t believe it can be governed. I also think it defeats America’s capitalistic mantra. I agree that we should design and build safely but there are many moments where the client doesn’t want that. Not many architects have the guts to object to the client’s wishes.

    I think what you are suggesting is difficult without it causing conflict of interest.

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