We have an advocacy component. For example, we did a project with Fair Share Housing Center, and also with Poverty and Race Research Action Council, where we did some federal legislative advocacy around the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program. Our students did some work in response to a guidance issued by the treasury department regarding LIHTC, and then also some legislative advocacy, drafting portions of a bi-partisan bill.
I always tell my students to imagine their favorite places in New Haven… It is entirely likely that if they burned to the ground, we would not be able to rebuild them. That's just not the way our zoning code works.
There is a Westville village Main Street Organization that is interested in historic preservation at the town level, and they realized they needed to do something about their code. They wanted it to be easier for people to build the kinds of things they wanted built. Our students did interviews in Westville and are now working on drafting a new zoning district for the city. This will be a new business district that maybe other neighborhoods will want to use as well.
I always thought I was a designer, and having that role presented to you at school in a very clear and unquestionable way is somehow very beneficial. There is no room for an existential crisis about the value of what you do and why you do it.
We train everybody to be Frank Gehry, but there is only one Frank Gehry. So, maybe we need to filter it upstream a bit further and again, start with the world and work backwards. What is the demand for starchitects out there?
Why would you start with a single family home?
Here's a question for you. Shouldn't this conversation be part of an architectural school?
A lot of architects say to me, "you know, architecture can't do everything." No one ever said it could! I mean, everything? You gotta be kidding. What they can do is a lot. But it can't be just that. It can't be just lawyers, or just sociologists, or just political scientists. You need to have all these people. This is the ultimate interdisciplinary topic.
Sometimes I'll do a sketch that sets the parti for a project, sometimes I'll write a two-page essay, and that sets the parti for the project. That's a more open process, because it's not just about slavishly following the sketch, but more saying, this is a frame for thinking about this issue. I want to bring back the power of clear, concise, powerful English into use for architects.
For some reason, from the late 1980s into 2000, it became very fashionable for architects to speak in terms that were purposely obfuscating, or have websites that are purposely obfuscating. That obfuscation is all about playing an inside game. It's all about architects talking to architects saying, "Look, we know the code, we know the secret sauce." I'm less interested in that, and more interested in what clients and communities think about what we are doing. To do that, we have to have a clarity of voice.
I don't think everything is about provoking society, [but rather lies in] proving that there is a quality, a sensibility, and a role for architects in these places that have long been ignored by a lot of architects for a long time. I think that is more of a provocation to the field, not to society outside of it.
Facts are important: we live in a time when the very nature of facts is under assault from the highest powers of the land. I really believe that we are living in a moment where the Enlightenment itself is under question. The last thing architects should be doing, in that environment, is rejecting the importance of facts.
And we actually have to be pretty good at taking large amorphous collections of vague urges, desires, and constraints and generating theories of alternatives.