In response to the current political climate of our nation, I asked TxA web editor Alyssa Morris to write this issue’s Editor’s Note. — Aaron Seward
Architecture does not exist in a vacuum. How could it? The process of creating a building relies on so many factors, from design to community. As such, architecture cannot help but be impacted by our current political moment. Indeed, architecture students at Yale and Texas Tech, among other schools, have already installed statements in their windows: We won’t build your wall.
Architecture can provide a canvas for communicating with the world. Will architects take advantage of this opportunity?
Saturday, January 21, an estimated 50,000 women and their allies marched from the Capitol through downtown Austin in support of equality both in the U.S. and abroad. Right in the middle of their path was The Contemporary Austin’s Jones Center, recently updated by LTL Architects and now featuring a striking — and strikingly relevant — installation by artist Jim Hodges.
“With Liberty and Justice for All (A Work in Progress)” was completed in 2014 and unveiled atop the Jones Center’s roof on December 17, 2016. The work spells out the title in seven-ft-tall letters along the museum’s parapet. The letters are iridescent by day and lit by night, impossible to miss from the street.
On that Saturday, the installation took on even more significance, keeping watch over what may have been the largest protest in American history. As marchers filed past, many paused to take pictures of the work, appreciating it in its most appropriate context.
As I walked with an energized crowd, full of an optimism that has been mostly absent in recent American politics, I experienced downtown Austin and the Capitol in a way I never had before. The streets felt activated by the people of the city, the installation putting into play ideas about persuasive architecture that Richard Buday, FAIA, expressed in the January/February 2017 issue of TA: “An architecture of meaningless voids (‘spaces’) is forgettable,” writes Buday, “but humans never forget a ‘place’ filled with emotions — real or manufactured through storytelling.”
The project served as a reminder of the power of architecture and an amplifier of the protest’s underlying message, thriving in its context.
In the past few weeks, I’ve heard the phrase “now more than ever” more times than I can count. But in a time of increasing polarization, when political involvement feels more vitally important than at any other time in our nation’s recent history, architects would do well to remember the potential power of their work. Buildings can tell stories, unite communities, improve access, and more.
Returning to the Capitol as I have a few times since the march, I am reminded of the power of architecture to facilitate discourse and conjure awe. The shadow of Texas’s monumental pink granite Capitol dome looms, inspiring us as both citizens and architects to be better. Architects of all political stripes stand for equality and human rights, and so, by extension, should their work.
Alyssa Morris is web editor of Texas Architect