Students: Mirroring Disparity: New Concepts for a Monolithic Community



Washington University in St. Louis, MO (USA) / Instructor: Pablo Moyano (2015)

Disparities exist between race, class, and socio-economic subcultures, but design community in the United States has until recently ignored these issues and made architecture a monolith: a large impersonal political, corporate, social structure regarded as intractably indivisible and uniform. Architecture has refused to acknowledge the disparities that exist within its own subculture forcing design of spaces and communities to solely exist between those who are fortunate enough to “sit at the table.” But at what point do the social, economic, and racial disparities that exist within the architecture and urban design communities render our design powerless? We are not artists with an unresponsive medium but effectors of society. When will designers view socially conscious design not as a subset of architecture but as a founding principle?

Architecture has historically been a gentleman’s profession composed of mostly male, white, wealthy actors. For years, the practice of architecture has been viewed as an artistic or philanthropic medium for the wealthy, devoid of a responsive medium. The practice has been built on a system of exclusivity, but with a new generation of design shifting towards an inclusive system, the design community has taken few, if any, steps to combat the old monolithic standards of the previous system. Standards that have, by design, been set up to perpetuate racist and sexist disparity within the field have not been examined or challenged in any way. A timeline of diversity efforts within the AIA reiterate this fact with percentages of women and minority architects barely seeing any inclusion, much less upward mobility, from 1960 until the present day.

The field of architecture “mirrors” the disparity of an existing racially biased system by perpetuation of wage gaps, where minority male architects make 29% of what their white male counterpoints earn yearly and minority women make 36% less than their male counterparts. Coupled with an average debt of $72,000 for the M.Arch, architecture is not a financially feasible profession for those without a financial safety net. Gaps in wages and discrimination in education help to ensure the ultimate demise of female students and students of color, but the lack of representation in education as well as in post-academia positions is the one the largest roadblocks to the licensure of minorities and women.

If women, minorities, and economically underprivileged voices are being continually silenced and excluded from the field of architecture, how do we design for those not represented? The reality is that we aren’t. It’s becoming increasing clear that design is not an unresponsive medium and design choices have very strong social repercussions. The false reality that architects have been taught to engage communities from a distance stems from an architecture curriculum that is devoid of a diverse voice.

The educational system is broken, with top design institutions omitting diversity in voice by requiring very little of the curriculum to exist in real world issues, non-European architecture, and community interaction. If pre-professional training continues to exist solely within the walls of higher education, with students in cubicles sitting in front of their laptops making decisions based on satellite images of places they have never stepped foot in, architectural errors are bound to occur in the professional world. As architects enter post-academia, the lack of diversity of voice contributes to socially conscious design that is riddled with architectural error due to inflexibilities, misconceptions, and misinformation. When architects design for communities that are misrepresented or underrepresented in the design field, design tends to mirror disparities and become inflexible to its users. The goal for this project is to open dialogue between community-based projects by extending design produced in design studios and firms and giving it a sense of place in the community, both as a physical archive as well as an accessible platform for open dialogue. In the tectonic sense of architecture, this project reframes architecture as the dissolution of a building of a building, dissolution of space, so that design can take place.

Statistics calculated by Melisa Betts based on 2015 data.

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Statistics calculated by Melisa Betts based on 2015 data.

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