The decline of the ideological importance of modern architecture as expressed in urban organization is in part the result of the architect’s profound isolation from capitalist development. Passive respondents to the vagaries of development, architects are extremely reluctant to join forces ideologically with the undeniable power and productivity of the system in which we are all immersed.
— Lars Lerup, “After the City”
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, free-market capitalism, or neoliberalism, became the dominant global economic system. With this shift, the ideological crisis of modern architecture, which had been growing at least since the 1970s demolition of the Pruitt–Igoe housing development in St. Louis, settled into a deeper apathy. If architecture couldn’t guide and motivate the successful development of dignified housing for the masses within sanitary and equitable urban environments, what could it do?
Is architecture now merely a service industry oriented around the task of maximizing profits for developers and feeding the vanities of a wealthy clientele? Or is there a way to work through the capitalist framework to achieve progressive goals?
In this issue of Texas Architect, we examine a few examples of architecture’s interaction with neoliberal economics. We check in on Dallas’ attempt to forge a vibrant arts district through public-private partnerships and big-name architects, and we consider the implicit meanings of the now-ubiquitous social stair. We also talk to the world’s most productive and successful rental apartment architecture firm, and we investigate the failure of an Austin-based micro-housing start-up, whose aspirations resembled those of bygone utopian architectural schemes.