I recently attended a symposium at Yale entitled “Rebuilding Architecture.” Students, educators, practitioners, media professionals and members of the public gathered for 2 ½ days of highly charged presentations, analysis and debate. The symposium explicitly called for alternative narratives and modes of practice to redefine architecture. Panelists delivered piercing critiques and inspiring stories about their work that stirred emotions ranging from euphoria to despair, and resulted in a palpable sense of community and solidarity the likes of which I have rarely experienced. Below, I highlight four select presenters that I found especially provocative and inspiring.
Panelists delivered piercing critiques and inspiring stories that stirred emotions ranging from euphoria to despair, resulting in a palpable sense of community and solidarity.
Jeremy Till stated that architectural education is deeply conservative and perpetuates a structure that is unwittingly self-defeating for architects and their profession. Through a series of rituals, codes and systems in architecture schools then in the profession, a model of the master architect is established such that students and young architects are encouraged to worship the “master” architect and seek to become that master after decades of work as a doting apprentice. Mr. Till’s critique then turned to alternative approaches, which he suggested can serve to transform architectural education and the profession. The answer, he argued, lies in the collective, rather than strict adherence to isolation, independence and elitism. Through the sharing of knowledge, the empowerment of others and through an expansion of the field of architecture, he claimed, the profession of architecture will be liberated and empowered.
See Jeremy Till’s website to access his articles and learn more about him.
Indy Johar picked up the mantle of empowering architects through outreach and through the empowerment of others. He described his London based practice being on the forefront of technological, social and economic innovation. Mr. Johar passionately exclaimed that we are embarking upon a new industrial age that will be led by open source platforms through which design and technology can proliferate. He further claimed that decentralized modes of fabrication and construction will create heightened levels of collaboration, connectivity, and broad ranging economic benefits to previously disenfranchised professionals and craftsmen.
See Indy Johar’s website to learn about learn about him and the work of his studio Zero Zero.
Phil Bernstein spoke about the combined arrogance and resignation of architects, stating that architects position their interest in the business of architecture and the related financial opportunities, as beneath their dignity as passionate creators. Mr. Bernstein strongly asserted that this commonly held posture of architects needs to change, and argued for the creation of agency for architects through proactive interventions in projects and contract structures. Mr. Bernstein stated that architects allow themselves to be commodified, and should no longer allow this. He cited shocking statistics, including an average profit margin of 13% for U.S. based architecture firms.
Phil Bernstein is an architect and technologist who teaches at Yale University. He was formerly a VP at Autodesk.
Katherine Darnstadt spoke about her community driven approach to architecture, asserting that we are citizens of the spaces we create and inhabit. Ms. Darnstadt told charming and self-departing stories of her alternative modes of practice that were formed out of necessity, both her own need to survive, and her desire to execute challenging projects that faced cancellation or compromise had she not stepped into atypical roles. She became a contractor and developer, an activist and JV partner, a grant writer and graphic designer in order to execute her projects. The result of taking on these alternative roles, she found, is meaningful empowerment at levels she is convinced would not be possible within strict and conventional bounds of architectural practice. She encouraged us through her stories to take risks, break conventional bounds and empower ourselves and our communities.
See Katherine Darnstadt’s website to learn more about her and the work of her studio Latent Design.
I would like to extend deep appreciation to Peggy Deamer for organizing the Rebuilding Architecture symposium, and bringing together an extraordinary group of educations, practitioners, media professionals, and a captive audience. I also want to thank Deborah Berke, the dean at Yale School of Architecture, for making this symposium possible.