We were wrapping up this issue of Architectural Record in the days after the most divisive national election in living memory. Architects, among other citizens, began taking to the Web, to social media, and even to the streets to express their concerns. Protestors, pundits, the press, as well as the President-elect’s own supporters, wondered how much the campaign truly reflected his vision. People began to parse his most outrageous comments: Did he really mean what he said about Mexican immigrants, women, minorities, Muslims, climate change? Were some remarks merely tactical—campaign promises as empty as a polling booth the morning after? Or do his words portend a radical shift in how women and minorities—and even the planet—will be treated?
No matter how you voted or how you think the country should move forward, there are core values that those in the profession of architecture share and must continue to embrace. Architects and designers have a profound responsibility to the public realm and to work for the public good. And these fundamental principles transcend politics.
1. Respect for human rights and dignity. A good place to start is with the simple words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted in 1948 in the aftermath of the horror, genocide, and displacement of World War II. The United States was among the 48 nations that voted to adopt it. It reads, in part: “All human beings are born free and equal in human rights . . . Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” Is this ideal of tolerance under threat?
2. Support for diversity and inclusion. Architecture is a field dominated by white men but at least there’s a growing and visible awareness of the inequities faced by women. What do the activism and struggle of women in architecture mean for the renewed wave of feminism sweeping the country—and gathering force since the election? Will architects join the Million Woman March planned for Washington, D.C., January 21, the day after Inauguration Day?
The fact that fewer than 2 percent of licensed architects are African American is a painful reminder that architecture doesn’t reflect the world it serves. Yet small steps can begin to make a difference, including the handful of programs that promote architecture as a career option to young people of color. Last month, Harvard’s Graduate School of Design announced the Phil Freelon Fellowship Fund, to offer financial aid to African American and other underrepresented students. It is supported by Perkins+Will and Freelon, one of the lead architects of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. But without serious government support for education at every level, it will be very tough to significantly increase minority participation.
Muslim American architects are part of the fabric of our architectural community, and to understand the role of Muslim designers everywhere, just look at the many recipients of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Our doors must stay open to the free flow of creative ideas that come to the U.S. from people all over the world.
3. Commitment to sustainability and resilience. For decades, architects have been leaders in promoting ecological practices, researching green technologies, and incorporating such building products and technologies into new and retrofitted structures. Architects have been on the front lines in educating clients and the public about sustainability, and in planning for resilience in places threatened by flooding. Local laws are pushing green design even further: the City of Santa Monica just passed a law requiring all new residential construction to meet zero net energy standards. Many companies, too, have found that incorporating green objectives into their workplaces and products makes good business sense.
But now the future of the Environmental Protection Agency is threatened, and the President-elect claims to not believe in climate change. Will the U.S. live up to its promise to cut carbon emissions, as a signatory to the Paris Agreement on climate change? Architects must make their voices heard on this urgent issue.
4. Commitment to civic engagement and design for social change. Architects can expand their role in communities and government at every level, fighting to improve design in the public realm, advocating investment in infrastructure, pushing to create more affordable housing, and calling for excellence and equity in every type of civic architecture. All the populations left out of the economic recovery of the last few years deserve the best that architectural culture has to offer. But will a new administration see as a priority the investment in a broad range of building projects—yes, to create jobs but also to improve quality of life across the economic spectrum?
Architects are thinkers with unique skills and experience to bring to the larger platform of our democracy. This is a time for awareness and action—and for expanding, not narrowing, the concept of tolerance. Architects need to be recognized for their ability to effect positive change. Will our next government support and honor their work and their ideas?