Can Architects be Socially Responsible? / Public-interest architecture: a needed and inevitable change

In their writings Crawford and Fisher examine the ability of the architect to enact change for social wellbeing.  Crawford, by presenting a history of the profession as a niche built upon contractions, claims that in the current economic and government structure it is not possible for architects to enact large social change.  Fisher, alternatively argues that a new position in the field should be developed parallel to those in public health and public law, sponsored by the government to aid the coming slum crisis created by a growing world populous.

Crawford’s argument is structured around portraying the profession as one unable to reach levels of influence equivalent to law and medicine. The reasoning is demonstrated by comparing architecture to engineering and artistry.  Architect’s are unable to compete with engineers’ superior building capabilities and therefore must push the aesthetic ends of a project.  Unlike artists, architects are bound to larger economic forces that dictate their work be financed by large corporations or upper-middle class homeowners.  Hence, architecture of social change is sponsored by dwindling government budgets that constrain projects and force a one-size-fits-all design mentality that characterizes much of modernism.  The result is failed housing projects and large corporate headquarters, furthering the gap between the rich and the poor.  Crawford’s examination of 100 years of practice in America paint the architect as a profession that has carved out a niche of designing for high end clients.

While Crawford looks to the past for examples of failures, Fisher examines population statistics as a means of demonstrating future need for socially responsible architecture.  Claiming that slum populations will reach 2 billion by 2050, Fisher likens the current housing situation to a storm about to reach land.  Inducing fear in his audience he makes the baseless claim that a disease born of such conditions could reach developed countries and put the entire world in danger.  Fisher proposes that a new public sector of architects could be funded by the government to make new housing projects for the 21st century.  This would run parallel to public defense and public health as areas of widespread social justice and equality.

Margaret Crawford, “Can Architects be Socially Responsible?” Out of Site: A Social Criticism of
Architecture. (Seattle: Bay Press, 1991): 27-45
Thomas Fisher, “Public-interest architecture: a needed and inevitable change”. Bryan Bell, ed.
Expanding Architecture: Design As Activism (New York: Metropolis Books/D.A.P., 2008): 8-13

About mhgoblue

Architecture Undergrad University of Michigan

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