Architects Push Back Against Cultural Appropriation Concept Creep

Safe Space architecture diversity

 

While some professions seem to be capitulating to the mores of millennial fragility and safe space culture without a shot being firedincluding some of the industries once thought least likely to go soft – it is good to see at least one group pushing back.

Sensing a looming threat from a Guardian Op-Ed which seemed to suggest that every irritating aspect of modern buildings is due to a lack of diversity in the profession, editorial director Paul Finch responded in Architects’ Journal:

If, therefore, it is ‘inappropriate’ for a non-Latino person, let alone a non-Puerto Rican, to take a singing role in West Side Story, how long will it be before we are told that only architects with a particular nationality, or better still ethnicity, should design buildings in certain places? A foretaste of possible debate to come appeared in The Guardian recently, where Christine Murray speculated as to whether cities would be better if they were designed by mothers. Not just women, but women with children.

Finch rightly distinguishes between the need to criticism and improve obviously bad and inconsiderate design, which is still prevalent in many new buildings, with the idea that the only people qualified to do so are those who personally possess the specific physical characteristic which needs to be accommodated:

There are all too may example of this, where architecture is commissioned to satisfy one particular group, possibly or sometimes inevitably at the expense of others. Thus, shopping centre design is skewed towards retailers not shoppers; hospitals are designed for doctors, not patients and visitors; and office design focuses on corporate tenants, not office workers.

This happens where clients are mentally lazy and/or their architects are not up to the job. It is about quality of thought and little else. That is why it is a meaningless question to ask whether cities would be better if mothers designed them: it would depend not on their being mothers, but on being good designers.

Finch’s conclusion:

A plague on the houses of the cultural appropriation brigade, with their increasingly shrill and unpleasant zealotry. In the world of architecture, borrowing, stealing, inspiration and design miscegenation have been an essential part of its evolution for millennia. Long may this continue.

A hearty amen to that, but one wonders if it is wise for someone of any prominence within the creative industries to push back against progressive dogma so publicly. Brave, certainly, but also risky. Watch this space for the likely groveling apology and hasty retraction to come…

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On Lego Architecture

Although it is not brand new, the award for Best Thing Of The Day has to go to a discovery that I only just made – the Lego Architecture Studio set.

Best Thing Ever - Lego Architecture Set
Best Thing Ever – Lego Architecture Set

Apparently it retails for around $150 USD and looks to be worth every darn penny.

Wired.com reports that the set comes with no instructions for constructing any one specific building, but rather with a hefty user manual that walks you through different architectural styles and practices, enabling the lucky owner to experiment with their own interpretations:

Architecture Studio, a new set from Lego, comes with 1,210 white and translucent bricks. More notable is what it lacks: namely, instructions for any single thing you’re supposed to build with it. Instead, the kit is accompanied by a thick, 277-page guidebook filled with architectural concepts and building techniques alongside real world insights from prominent architecture studios from around the globe. In other words, this box o’ bricks is a little different. Where past Lego products might have had the happy ancillary effect of nurturing youngsters’ interest in architecture, here, that’s the entire point.

Seventy-three different kinds of bricks are included in the set. But bricks are easy to find. It’s the guidebook that’s truly new. Its pages offer accessible overviews of basic architectural concepts, along with illustrated exercises for exploring them in Lego form. Pages on negative space and interior sections, for example, encourage budding builders to think not only about how their miniature creations look from the outside but also in terms of what sorts of spaces they contain within them.

What a brilliant idea. I was already impressed with the initial sets in the Lego Architecture series, such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Fallingwater” house, pictured below:

I would love to live there, but would settle for the Lego model
I would love to live there, but would settle for the Lego model

But even here the user is only following the preordained instructions transcribed from the original architect’s design. With the Lego Architecture Studio set, one is given all manner of different blocks, a thoroughly detailed and useful guide to help get into the architect frame of mind, and a blank slate on which to play. Brilliant.

Definitely one for the Christmas list.