In an all-encompassing life of research and study of the architecture profession, Robert Gutman (1926-2007) published a continuous critique of the state of that profession in a variety of well-grounded essays. It began with a 1965 research grant from the Russel Sage Foundation to explore interactions between architecture and sociology. This inquiry remains open and unresolved.
Architecture is driven by the “status” associated with design in an advanced capitalist society. It can be described as high or low, quality vs. the lack of it, and as a condition that expands to include entire neighborhoods, new and old, restored and gentrified, diverse or isolated, and most recently environmentally terrified.
Proving the Negative
Why do people demand proof, verified, and vetted facts when it comes to making changes in the quality of life in a community but do not apply similar demands to the ghosts and gods of change? Are these not the most dangerous in the world? Are these ghosts not swirling in the fossil fuel of war and terrorism? These are known forces. Why the lack of will to fill the gap between these ghostly and the general expectation that a better world is possible? Gutman saw the raw subjectivity that insists the builders are doing well and called it false. As Robert Gutman put, there is,
“an unreality of the espoused view of the world of practice is perpetuated by the profession itself, by the schools, and to some extent by the architectural press, and these distortions make it more difficult for architects to deal creatively and constructively with the problems which the profession faces.”Architectural Practice – A Critical View 1988
What is the market for design among people who don’t believe they can afford it and have no respect for it? Are they correct? The provision of design resources is the initial architectural service and the entire built environment by extension. Do we accept that low- and moderate-income people represent an invisible segment in that market? The market exists with personal capital and credit. Others could be served, but only if serious gaps are acknowledged, and new values recognized.
Rarely will community organizations find themselves like a paper in the top drawer of a desk where there is proof can they have the answer to the problems of their community. Instead, a nonprofit institution may find itself responsible for a combination of services meeting the needs of vulnerable families. You will often see them as accountable for producing and managing affordable housing and community facilities. Yet, you may also know them working under poor or deteriorating conditions made tragically complex by meager, sporadic assistance.
To open that desk top, they will need built environment professionals to respond to their needs in a far less autonomous way. Unfortunately, architecture and those who study the structure and functioning of human society remain indecisive associates and silent to the indifference. Gutman, however, countered as a teacher by encouraging a significant segment of future architects to recognize that a form of architectural resistance, regardless of the disturbances caused, can help people demand a better world. These acts create a battle between design as fulfillment vs. corporate practice where the function is all that matters, leaving the work of realization to others.
Sustaining design as a resource for finding complex solutions to complex problems recognizes that design and architecture can lead the way. There will always be projects that have the potential to shift the status of architecture toward comprehensively better places. What is needed is a set of self-renewing political acts and the institutional continuity of a design purpose in a community.
The technique of creating a drawing to envision a future or align intention is one of humanity’s most significant accomplishments. When done well, the design practice formulates what needs doing, and it has been so for thousands of years. In creating environments, whether raw survival or human actualization, the need is increasing among the invisible clients, and like refugees, altering the structure of demand. The entrants to the profession are undersupplied in this sector, often relegated to second-class status within the profession, yet this is the area of greatest need. It is vital to alter society’s perception of the architect as one with short-term relationships in a community. It is time make design a permanent institutional presence in underserved communities and make them as purpose-driven as a public school.
Every urban region’s density and structural complexity are too siloed into rigid regimental structures and components to manage. However, these parts need to be recognized and defined as a whole by a local institution with the primary purpose of structurally understanding all of the connective tissues that make it part of a city. Therefore, this institution needs to be in a community as a permanent entity to ask one question until answers are produced. What is our design? How do we create and renew ourselves?