Practicing ArchitecturePracticing Architecture
Architecture for People
By Robert Ivy, FAIA
Architecture serves people. While our chosen profession combines ideas, craft, science, imagination, pragmatic analysis, calculation—and occasionally art—ultimately, our built projects provide shelter. And if, during the early days of this new century, our media attention shifted to computer-fed formalism with a kind of “Gee whiz, look what we can make!,” the pendulum has swung back, with force, to the social compact that grounds us all and underscores everything we architects do. The concern for people never really left us.
Socially conscious design is as old as the profession. It’s been around since we constructed the Khirokitia on Cyprus in the Neolithic era. Jump to the last century, and what we revere as the International Style emerged as a simpler way of making worker housing in Europe. In the 1960s and ’70s, architects launched a storefront movement, placing offices in proximity to the people and communities they serve. In 1993, Sam Mockbee, FAIA, and D.K. Ruth launched Auburn University’s RuralStudio, where students engaged real clients in Alabama’s poorest county and met their needs with compassion, creativity, and hammer and nails.
Today, practically every architectural school boasts a hands-on, socially propelled and energized class. A new generation of architects has taken up the challenge, with a spirit of service flavored by a desire to work collectively. If becoming a sole practitioner, the hero-genius embodied by Frank Lloyd Wright, had been the norm in the 20th century, by the century’s end that goal had shifted to collaboration—with other architects, with professional colleagues, with clients and communities—sometimes toward newly conceived, socially inspired goals in design fields like housing.
At the same time, people are redefining how they choose to live. Today, architects are finding creative solutions for new social norms. We have all read about the changing role of families today. In real projects, architects listen, understand, and then respond to the communities they serve in projects like the exciting Via Verde housing spotlighted in this special issue of AIArchitect. The results are dramatic and rich, with affordable housing for sale and lease combined with people’s desire to work near their neighborhoods, including opportunities for childcare, healthcare, and urban gardening. Don’t miss the fact that this success story came about as the result of a collaboration of our New York City chapter AIA New York and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
Whether locally or nationally, the AIA is pleased to join with other agencies and organizations that offer our members chances to help. Many of you are aware of our partnerships with Architecture for Humanity (AFH) and Public Architecture. In the former, AIA members will join with AFH members to provide communities with resilient solutions following natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. To tie our two organizations together, we’ve launched Architects Rebuild, a grant competition website linking AIA components and AFH chapters.
During Greenbuild this week in San Francisco, I was thrilled to participate in an AIA/Public Architecture Summit, where we discussed why pro bono service should be an integral part of architectural practices. It’s not about giving away traditional services, but creating more value for architects. Pro bono just makes good business sense.
With Public Architecture, a new partnership matches non-profits looking for design services with AIA members who can provide them, after architects pledge to spend 1 percent of their time on pro bono projects, making new connections, widening their potential client base, and giving back to their communities.
Architects obviously do so much more. Every line we draw, every late-night meeting we attend, and every struggle over payroll carries our collective desire and will to help improve this society by the force of our skill and imagination. We may not give ourselves credit frequently enough, but architects care. We prove it every day.