In the third installment of our “Three Questions” series, we catch up with architect and Pratt Institute professor Deborah Gans, whose work at her eponymous Gans Studio has long addressed issues of social responsibility and environmental stewardship. RECORD spoke to Gans about various topics, including a recent event that got her thinking more about designing for social impact right at home.
AS: How did you get involved in humanitarian work?
Deborah Gans: I’ve always been interested in emerging social conditions and how architecture engages them. The work I do is generally more a search for new ideas of social practice, and this embraces the presence of design as a positive force in contexts of poverty, disaster and inequity. Our studio often investigates extreme situations not simply to raise a humanitarian clarion, but because they foretell trends that very soon will be understood as "normative" and affect us all.
AS: What’s the most pressing issue that architects and designers should be addressing?
DG: In the 1980s, architects temporarily retreated into the autonomy of form. After overreaching our limits as modernist social planners, architects now struggle to renegotiate our discipline as one of both form and participation. The profession is still split between form-givers and the social pundits— a false dialectic. I don't like separating out ideas like “green” or “humanitarian” from architecture per se.
AS: What’s the most exciting thing you’ve seen in the past month?
DG: I misplaced my car for about a week and looked for it by walking around my neighborhood, and farther afield in Brooklyn, several hours a day. The mix of poverty, decimation, density, energy, displacement, stress, and commitment—you name it—was all right there. There’s no need to go very far to encounter the emergent "humanitarian context" in its fabulousness.