The Face of Architecture

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Similiar to the gender issue in the field of architecture, race is also an issue in the field. In school and in the professional world, there are large emphasis on white architects and their success, few on asian architects, and almost none of the black.

In an article titled “Do Schools Ignore Non-White Architects?”, Sunand Prasad, the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) said that the British curriculum was a barrier to ethnic minority participation in the profession. He follows by saying “In schools of architecture you get very, very little teaching about architecture and design from other parts of the world,” Prasad said. “Mostly you study white architects and white architecture.” Chris Nasah, a member of the Society of Black Architects agreed but added that the school curriculum was only one dimension of addressing diversity and that “there are few staff in schools who have an ethnic minority background either.” The problem may not only be in the curriculum but also the make-up of the profession. “Teaching today… would be greatly enriched by a wider focus — but it’s not a barrier to participation,” said Yasmin Shariff, partner at Dennis Sharp Architects and lecturer at the University of Westminster. “What needs to happen is a recognition of the diverse influences that have contributed to British culture and architecture.”

In another study titled “arhchitecture and race: a study of minority ethnic students in the profession, it was clear and identified that there are indeed fewer black and minority ethnics (BME) in school and the profession. As a result, this study attempts to explain why this is. The study shows that white students are four times more likely to obtain first class architecture degrees than BME students. White stuends in architecture are more likely to come from social class 1 (‘professional’). Also data shows that there are fewer BME students at the advanced levels of  part II and III of architectural study, compared to part I. This suggests that BME students are more likely to drop out from Part I than white students.

BME students appear to have a higher chance of dropping out when studying architecture and there are numerous possible reasons:

– Unclear about what was expected of them during their training
– Unfamiliar with the system
– Longer period of education (5-7 years) raise restrictive cost implications
– Difficult to get financial aid in architecture school
– Feelings of isolation due to lack of students from the same ethnic background

Like Sunand Prasad said, a “little change” can benefit the profession greatly and perhaps the place to start would be the educational system.

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Do Buildings have Genders?

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This blog post is less relavent to politecture, however, I found this interesting and rather fun to read therefore I wanted to write about it. In an article called “Architecutre and Sex”, Jackie Craven makes an argument that buildings. Although it may seem absurd to ask yourself “do buildings have genders?”, many serious architecture scholars are researching the relationship between architecture and human anatomny and sexuality.

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Certain architecture critics say that sharp, forceful, and tall buildings, such as the Empire State building express a sense of masculinity, and therefore it would be male. However, in order to be a male building, one does not have to have phallic representations. According to critics, the Herbert Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University is also male, but for different reasons. According to critics, the heavy, robust, and rigid buildings are considered male too.

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The Singapore Esplanade, with its curvacious and patterned form suggest it’s a female. Curves in architecture are normally suggestive of a womb. However, to be considered female does not necessarily mean it has to be delicate.For example, the Sydney Opera House is also catergorized as feminine even with all its sharp corners, critics may call it expressing a bold female energy.

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However, there are also androgynous architecture, where a building can embody both male and female characteristics. Whether buildings have gender or not, building designed by a female architect will not always be female and buildings by male architects will not always be male. Afterall buildings do come in all shapes and forms, just like people.

Lincoln Center of Performance Art – Robbing (the neighbor)Hood

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Although Licoln Center nowadays is known for its magnificent shows, before the 1950s, residential buildings once stood where the Licoln Center stands today. A consortium of civic leaders and others led by, and under the initiative of John Rockefeller III, built Licoln Center as part of the “Lincoln Square Renewal Project” during Robert Moses’ (of course) program of urban renewal in the 1950s and 60s. There were a total of 18 ethnic tenement residential blocks that were demolished through eminent domain and forcing 7,000 families to relocated. Eminent domain is an action of the state to seize a citizen’s private property with monetary compensation, but without the owner’s consent. This is a perfect example of illustrated the divide of social classes and how the wealthy abuse their power just because they can. The property the state forcefully attained from the poorer class ethnic residents was then given to John Rockfeller III (white and rice) to develop. There were plenty of other spaces available for development and building the Lincoln Center at the time, however, similar to the Hyde Park London situation, the wealthier whites wanted to drive away the less waelthy non-whites.

Pruitt-Igoe

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Pruitt-Igoe was a large urban housing project in St. Louis, Missouri conceived in the early 1950s, and it is an example of how politics and architecture merge together and using architecture to police the public. Pruitt-Igoe was first occupied in 1954, however, living conditions began to decline soon after all 33 buildings were completed in 1956. By the late 1960s, Pruitt-Igoe was internally infamous for its poverty, crime, and segregation. The project was triggered by a white flight, where middle-class, predominantly white, residents left the city and the vacant homes were occupied by low-income families. Black and white slums of the old city were segregated and explanding, threatening to engulf the city center. Pruitt-Igeo was suppose to be the solution, however, the density of people encourages crimes and segregation. It’s 33 buildings were town down in the mid-1970s and the project has become an icon of urban renewal and public-policy planning failure.

Fences

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Image: Proposal by Eric Owen Moss

In June 2006, NYTimes released an article called “A Fence With More Beauty, Fewer Barbs.” The content of the article was about a new fence being proposed for the 2,000 mile border between the United States and Mexico in order to increase national security while decreasing illegal immigrantion. The New York Times decide to ask 13 architects/firms to participate in a design challenge in rethinking the fence, however, the answer from one of my favorite architecture firm was troubling to me. As a classic design challenge, The New York Times asked 13 architects and urban planners to devise the “fence.” Several declined because they felt it was purely a political issue. “It’s a silly thing to design, a conundrum,” said Ricardo Scofidio of Diller Scofidio & Renfro in New York. “You might as well leave it to security and engineers.”

As a architect in training and will be entering the work force in less than a year, I find it troubling that a role model for many architects to be would address such a project full of political issues to be “silly”. His statement raises many questions about the profession of architecture. Should we avoid political architecture? In my opinion, architecture itself is embedded with politics whether we want to believe it or not, in some project it is more easily mediated than others, nonetheless, it is always present. I believe as architects, we cannot save the world, but we have the responsibility to take a political stand point in our design. 8 out of the13 architects and urban planners that were asked by NY Times decided not to take part, however, my thought is that if the firm does not believe in the idea of the wall, perhaps propose a design that reflect such an ideal instead of turning their backs on it and not do anything. By proposing an idea, it can help to generate dialogue and make changes. At the end of the day, the politial issue at hand is very much architectural. Whether we want it or not, the government plans to build a huge physical wall, and an architect could propose something that would question the government to reconsider whether the wall is necessary.

One People with One Lung

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During the nineteenth century, American’s were divided more deeply by class due to rapid industrialization. The upper classes began seperating themselves physically and culturally from the lower classes, especailly in the city where bourgeois attitues flourished. This separation was seen in theaters, concerts, parks and even through language by referring to their profession differently – instead of calling themsevles “merchants” or “iron manufacturers, they embodied the title of “business men”.

Federick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park and Prospect Park as well as other prominent parks in New York City saw that as an issue. As a result, the design of Central Park reflects Olmsted’s social consciousness and commitment to egalitarian ideals. Influenced by Downing (Olmsted’s mentor) and his own observations of social class in England, China and the American South, Olmsted believed that common green space must always be equally accessible to all citizens. Therefore, Central Park and his other parks are vechicles to eradicate divides between social classes, he believed that the landscape could be the mediator between different social classes and different races. Olmsted is also known as the grandaddy of American landscaping and coining the term “Lung of the City” as the park he creates helps bring the city to life.

Architect Barbie

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Barbie dolls have always been a contraversial toy amongst parents. Some parents feel that barbie dolls’ anatomically suspect proportions distort girls’ self-image. However, Mattel Inc., the toy company who manufactures Barbie dolls have recently started a new line of dolls called the “I Can Be…” dolls. This line of dolls is aimed to aspire girls aged 3-11 to pursue a career they want at an early age. Among that line of dolls, Mattel decided to release a Architect Barbie, dressed in stylish clothes, equiped with a hard hat and a breifcase of blueprints. Not to be a pessimist, but the odds for this Barbie is stacked against her.

According to statistics, although 40% of architecture graduates are women, only 17% of them carry on to join the American Institute of Architects, the discipline’s primary professional group. Despina Stratigakos, an associate professor of architectural history at the University of Buffalo, says “There’s been little in the way of research to determine why women aren’t able to make that transition.” I personally believe it has to due with the challenges of motherhood and the profession. However, if that is the case, in this day and age of gender equality, men should take up some of the responsibility in caring for the child and conseqeuntly allow more females in the profession. However, Ms. Stratigakos is unwilling to lay the blame on motherhood and argues “Not all women who leave architecture do so to have children, and not all women who have children leave architecture.”

This complex problem of females in the architectural profession reminds me of the article “The Computer Race Goes to Class” by J, Sterne. Perhaps the lack of females in the profession is similiar to why there aren’t many non-whites in the STEM field. In his article, Sterne argues that there are very little non-whites in the profession because there are many well known non-whites figures/role models in the STEM field. Similarly, in the architetural field, there are very few well-known female architects. As a fifth year architecture student, off the top of my head I could only name one female architect, Zaha Hadid, the only female Starachitect out of 10. This is also reflected in the educational system. Looking at the faculty list at the architecture school, the male faculty outnumber the female by 3:1.