Many architects must feel somewhat annoyed. So much of the rhetoric surrounding the profession these days directs them to solve racial, gender, and economic inequality, while at the same time staving off the already-in-progress ecological disaster of global warming. Meanwhile, they find themselves on two hours of sleep, trying to complete a CD set so that, for once, they can get home and see their kids before bedtime. They may ask themselves, “Does the timely delivery of this window detail really have any relevance to social justice or the climate?” Well, no. But yes — sort of. It’s complicated.
Equally annoying is the assumption that all architects share the same values. As anyone lucky enough to have attended the 2018 TxA Conference and Design Expo in Fort Worth last November can attest, there are plenty in the profession who don’t think that all sexes and races deserve equal treatment and who are skeptical about human-generated climate change — if for no better reason than that if they did espouse such beliefs they might be labeled “Liberal,” which would be tantamount to career suicide in the milieu in which they live and work. These racist, misogynist, anti-science architects (or quislings, at the very least) must feel pretty nettled that the American Institute of Architects mandates inclusive practices and ecologically conscious designs in its 2018 Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, going so far as to make them Rules and thus grounds for disciplinary action.
Welcome to America in the early 21st century, where the writing is on the wall, but not everyone can agree on exactly what it says. Sad. Seeing a path clearly through these issues, whether specifically in architecture or in society at large, shouldn’t be so hard. Imagine you have the choice to walk through one of two doors: One says, “Evolve the Enlightenment Values Enshrined in The Declaration of Independence,” and the other says, “Reinforce the Legacy of Slavery and Oppression of Women.” Again, same scenario, but one says, “Engage in The Consensus of International Scientists,” and the other says, “Deny, Because Science Makes Me Feel Bad and May Affect My Take-Home Pay.” Which do you choose?
In his remarks during the conference’s second general session, incoming TxA President Michael Hellinghausen, AIA, made it clear enough where he stands. He started out by calling himself a “messenger” and went on to deliver his message: Texas architects must improve their diversity by reaching out and down and pulling “others up and into the profession.” He continued by outlining the scope of the current climate crisis, which not only poses risks through the increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters, but is also creating mass migrations of peoples and other species toward the north and south poles. “Whether we wish to see it or acknowledge it, this changed environment is causing disturbances that our profession will be called upon to deal with,” he said. “Let us not sit idly by as others step up to deal with, and design for, all of this.”
As Hellinghausen went on to point out, grappling with these issues is not just important ethically; it is essential to the continuing relevance of architecture. Whether we like it or not, our world is changing, environmentally and demographically. If architecture does not change with it, it stands a chance of losing touch with the people for whom it designs. It stands a chance, in fact, of not having any clientele at all.