In my 17 years as an editor at Architectural Record we've never strayed into political commentary much. We don't really care whether your politics are red, blue, or pekoe-colored because great architectural design is for people of all kinds; it is experiential, it is agnostic. It is objective. I don't think that we ever want that to change.
So, I approach giving you my observations about this moment in time with some trepidation, and I will attempt to do so without threatening Record's apolitical nature.
In the last few years archrecord.com has given us a way of measuring which way the wind is blowing that we never had before. That is by looking at the comments you post under our news stories. They are unedited, anonymous, and go live immediately. We trust you to notify us if abuse occurs, but it seldom does. It is an amazingly civilized forum, and that says a lot about our readers and our profession which is extremely positive.
Few of our news stories in recent times have evoked the sort of comments that this one did: Exactly How Many Architects in the U.S. Are Unemployed? Many of the stories that you wrote were extremely moving. Young architects and old shared their despair, hope, and supported each other. There was advice. Some of the blame for joblessness was directed at the AIA, to be fair I'm not convinced that it can do much about that except to lobby intelligently. There was anger toward people who are working here on H1B visas, which is also understandable to a certain extent.
And there was something I've never seen before: very long theories about why the economy's in the shape it's in. As much as economic theory fascinates me, after overdosing on Michael Lewis's The Big Short and Andrew Ross Sorkin's Too Big to Fail, I was afraid that if I read them they would just make me eve more depressed. Maybe later I'll manage it. But, just the fact that they were posted is marvelous.
I've taken notice of this because it is apparent that people in our profession are thinking deeply, are tremendously frustrated, and looking for answers. It's the kind of dialogue and candor I have never seen anywhere except at AIA social hours, which are all too brief (especially if they have an open bar) and usually not captured for future reference.
Coverage of last night's election returns brought a multicolored parade of gloaters from all sides through my living room, virtually all of whom seem to believe that their knowledge of what was said when "the people spoke today" is monopolistic. A lot of it was about making deep tax cuts, and deep spending cuts, without many specifics about which discretionary spending and entitlement programs will face the chainsaw. "You can't spend your way out of a recession" is one that I heard a few times. Ugh. I hope you can have it both ways, but I doubt it.
Mea culpas were deeply heartfelt with lots of "We didn't listen," "we made mistakes," "we will do better in the future." and full of the realization that some of our leaders have disappointed us. Yeah, you sure have.
This morning a press release came from Washington which is worth reading: AIA Urges 112th Congress To Set a Pro-Growth, Sustainable Economic Agenda. In a nutshell, AIA president George Miller, FAIA, asked on behalf of the Institute that Congress do something about the credit crunch, which is keeping worthy projects on the shelf. The AIA advocated investment in communities, as well as bills that would promote energy efficiency in buildings. All of these are great ideas and I don't see how anyone could disagree with them. (But, I didn't see cap-and-trade in there anywhere.)
As I've attempted to digest all this, it occurs to me that most in our profession are at a point where they are just as agnostic about politics as Architectural Record is. We really don't care who's right or wrong. We need responsible growth in order to go back to work, and somewhere someone is going to have to spend some money.
So, here's a note to Congress: Architects make compromises all the time, to make budget, to work out problems with contractors, bureaucrats, users, bankers, and our clients. What we keep in sight is making the project, the building, the end product, the solution, the best it can be. So to the politicians I say: Please, watch us work. See how it's done.
And to my architect colleagues, all I can say is, keep writing, keep sharing, and keep the faith.