mimizeiger

Hosted By:

Mimi Zeiger

critic/ journalist

Mar 20

2011

When the financial crisis and then recession struck in 2008, all design professions took a hit. Three years in, emerging and established architects, designers, and urbanists are entrenched in this new climate, which begs the question, what has irrevocably changed in practice? Previous crises gave rise to paper architecture and theoretical practice, but others saw the hemorrhaging of practitioners from the field.

What tactics have emerged in architecture and design since the financial crisis? What’s the operational mode of the bust, or how do we work now?


bryan gave the final word

The context of these strategic explorations also seem spread across a wide cross section of areas: rethinking the business model of architecture, re-engaging social issues, addressing politics, finding new cultural opportunities. I argue that these are different areas of content, but that they all benefit from a flexible, agile, nimble strategy. The methods, then, can be shared even though the content is different, much the way that an architect is able to transfer their learning about space from residential to commercial work and back and forth.

I look to skills such as negotiation, translation, and optimism as survival tactics in the post-2008 era. I’m taking tactics to mean skills or maneuvers that can be developed through practice. Even optimism needs to be practiced every now and then.

Thursday, March 24 at 10:47am

fredscharmen

Fred Scharmen

Designer

Hi, glad to join in on this one.

I can start to generalize from my own experience, and the experience of some friends and colleagues: the major mode of working is small scale, distributed, and diverse.

I made the difficult decision seven months ago to leave a job at a very good office here in Baltimore, in order to teach part time at two institutions, and develop a practice focusing on art, public art, and small design projects with interesting contexts. There seems to be a lot of work in this area, but myself and some others in similar positions are struggling very hard to establish a way of engaging with these things that is relatively stable with some room for expansion.

Monday, March 21 at 10:44am

There have been several important lessons I have experienced from this downturn. The primary one is to have a practice which is flexible and diverse, which questions whether a limited specialization is a desirable firm trait. Increased specialization for doctors and attorneys might be necessary, but is it for architects? I have seen several firms and partnerships dissolve because most of their work was within a limited range. In one case, a firm’s experience in two sectors was unquestionably extensive and competitive, however their inability to compete outside of a limited portfolio was prohibitive to procuring new work in a cut throat economy.

I have seen an increased benefit for architects to understand the financial structures behind real estate and construction. During this recession our firm benefited from working with non-profit owners who had the ability to fund raise large amounts of capital in cash, therefore being granted favorable construction loans in a credit tight market. Additionally, understanding the market for sources such bonds, public funding and grants can help determine market stability or instability for particular project types. Here in California this July the state legislature is intending to dissolve all redevelopment agencies across the state which eliminates a key source of economic revitalization for the AEC industries. Also the state’s credit rating and budget crisis has impacted the ability to issue low interest 30-year bonds to finance new construction. Combined with budget cuts, this has dried up funding for projects such as affordable housing, which is one of our sectors. Seeing in detail the long term implications and bigger picture of the sources of financing allows us understand the urgency to retrench & analyze how to transfer our experience in that arena so as to throw our hat into another. Not just any arena, but an arena that has a promising market.

Lastly, one piece of advice I heard during an AIA sponsored discussion was the power of pro-bono or at-cost work to acquire new project types. Not exactly the type of advice one wants to hear, but if you want to break into unfamiliar territory without hiring the leadership to do so, it might be what needs to done for a small to mid-size practice to be competitive. I have definitely seen contractors and subs do this, so I suppose architects might too.

Tuesday, March 22 at 1:37pm

common room 2008-2011:
4 circular newspapers, 3 competitions, 2 installations, 1 project.

Tuesday, March 22 at 4:19pm

    emily leibin ko

    Emily Leibin Ko

    Communications Manager, The Glass House + Designer

    Hi Todd, thanks for joining the conversation. Could you share a little more about your practice, Common Room? It sounds like an interesting intersection between architecture, print and gallery space.

    Tuesday, March 22 at 4:45pm

    Its true, common room is involved in many different types of architectural activities. We consider this a form of public practice. This means, redefining the way architecture is understood as a discipline by the public and by architects.
    We don’t want to ‘expand’ the boundaries of the current discipline (conventional or critical). ‘Expanded practice’ (not our term) creates a bigger footprint. This leaves conventional values in place and tacks on a few more. We disagree with this.
    Re-forming means re-learning. It is a form of resistance to the external network of finance and power and to the internal autonomy of professional discourse. This is the motivation behind writing, editing, teaching and curating.
    It should be noted that our position related to public practice is not a response to the current economic climate. The fact that an idea like public practice might gain traction in during an economic downturn is coincidental.

    Wednesday, March 23 at 9:29am

quilianriano

Quilian Riano

designer/writer

Great question.

This economic downturn does not seem to have heralded the return of the paper architect. In a way, it seems like those architectures gave form to the excesses that accompanied the hollow economic boom. It was sad to see macromegas become high-end luxury condos in Kentucky and Warsaw.

Through teaching and interaction with many young practitioners I see instead a drive to rethink the profession. Most architects acknowledge that the object is ultimately too small of a scale to have any real social consequences. Many are turning to running Food Co-Ops and CSA’s, to question the role of design in water management, Many more are seriously thinking on how design can truly have and give agency in complex contexts.

At DSGN AGNC we are fond of saying that engaging and making is the new radical.

That means that we are constantly trying to engage contexts and communities via a variety of design strategies. Our very first project came about when DK Osseo-Asare and I went to Colombia without an invitation or agenda, except to observe, listen, and learn. It was a trip that took us from the Presidential Palace to one of the most dangerous informal communities in the Pacific coast of that nation. Traveling made us aware of the problems in Colombia’s social housing, yielded a project for the design of 50 social housing units, as well as getting us in touch with the right agencies that could help us in our efforts.

Since DK has gone to Africa where we now have projects and I am working in Latin America and in the United States (where I am located). Digital technologies have allowed us to have a very flexible collaboration. In the past we have had skype calls with collaborators located in up to 3 continents and 5 separate cities. We also have had virtual community meetings where we get feedback from the communities we are working with.

If I was to summarize the new tactic, I would say that it is flexibility. Successful practices will have to be nimble and able evolve and adapt to different and ever changing contexts, teams, ways of designing, and socio-economic conditions.

Tuesday, March 22 at 5:56pm

    mimizeiger

    Mimi Zeiger

    critic/ journalist

    Quilian, I’d suggest that flexibility is a strategy, not a tactic. What would say are the tactical moves that allow for that kind of flexibility? Like skype or social networking, for instance.

    Tuesday, March 22 at 6:49pm

    I may be wrong but I’d rather suggest that Quilian’s flexibility can be considered a tactic. Tactic, in terms of Michel de Certeau “L’invention du quotidien” (Practice of everyday life), appears to be a political act of resistance to a disintegration of local stability (a rapid translation from the French version of the passage in which he compares tactic with strategy. This can be found in the introduction. If someone has the English version, please check the translator’s proposition for “effritement des stabilités locales” in Michel de Certeau’s introduction), in our case, a resistance to financial crisis, challenge issues (global warming, population growth including). As it can be seen as an act of adaptability to these issues, such as resilience, adaptive… Flexibility can be a tactical tool for architects, designers, engineers…

    Friday, March 25 at 1:48pm

mimizeiger

Mimi Zeiger

critic/ journalist

Great stuff so far, but let’s delve in a little deeper. Fred, what are some examples of these small design/public art projects. How do you fit this kind of thinking within your practice. Is it sustainable, and perhaps a new mode or a return to older modes, replete with the similar pitfalls? Do you find yourself aligned with the kind of pro-bono, non-profit, or no-profit projects that Steve mentioned? Todd, Common Room’s taken an active stance on the role of labor, or rather free labor, and cultural capital. Do these thoughts come into play here?

Tuesday, March 22 at 6:42pm

    fredscharmen

    Fred Scharmen

    Designer

    Some examples: right now, we’re working with some artists on a proposal to reimagine corporate plaza art as a system that’s able to be composed and interacted with in a bunch of different ways, by all kinds of people. This project grew out of an earlier collaboration with a different group for a sculpture show. They will look very different, and they’re coming from different directions, but they are organized in very similar ways.

    This is what we’re always trying to look for: the things that different types of projects have in common. A compositional mode that comes from something like an abstract drawing project might be adaptable to a modular set of street furniture, ideas about interaction that come from working in the public realm might then feedback to a more private studio project. With teaching and research to close the loop, there’s plenty to do. Some colleagues and I are also developing a nonprofit advocacy group with the intent of maintaining and expanding the flow of ideas between fields in Baltimore and the region.

    I’m very interested in other people’s opinions about labor, funding, and cultural capital. I keep a timesheet with every project, no matter how small or how free, and it’s sometimes surprising the way things lead to other things, and the way that some of the more speculative stuff might sometimes be better funded than the more concrete.

    That said, adjunct teaching, independent unfunded research, nonprofit board work, and small design/art projects are not going to make anyone rich, but the flexibility is usually worth it.

    Tuesday, March 22 at 8:09pm

In October of 2008 we were in the midst of launching version 2.0 of our pre-engineered kit of parts aluminum and glass, the itHouse. We developed the itHouse system as an alternative practice of ‘architecture as product’ to supplement our custom design work which is primarily private houses. Not surprisingly around the middle of October nearly every client called us with the bad news that their projects were cancelled or put on hold. What bad timing for a new product launch, however nonetheless 2009 and 2010 brought growth in our practice due to the itHouse. Clients emerged who wanted more predictable results, in terms of cost and design expectations. As a small office we miraculously were growing and had to hire staff, and the new practice that emerged had more than 50% of the projects focused on itHouse projects. We feel very fortunate that we had spent the previous 5 years developing the itHouse. In general all clients have always been focused on the bottom line, but in today’s climate surprises are even less welcome and being able to accurately forecast construction material and labor costs a necessity. I see architecture shifting more towards systems based solutions, customizable total systems and intelligent components.

Tuesday, March 22 at 11:48pm

Mimi, in response to your provocation related to labor and capital:

We have approached these issues indirectly through projects like the Public School (for Architecture) New York and common circular 5.
Cultural capital is a funny thing – it demands continued, constant, investments of on the part of the participants. There are many ways of evaluating the ‘capital‘ generated. For us the benefit is the knowledge shared as input and the experience returned through feedback from the individuals and groups involved.
Again, we don’t see a direct correlation between the shared knowledge and experience that generates cultural capital and the current economic state of the local or global economy. These forms of value are not interchangeable.

Wednesday, March 23 at 10:03am

I would again highlight flexibility and nimbleness for sustaining a practice – either on the commercial side or the pro-bono side of the scale. Expanding practice with commercial, office or retail projects has been essential to my office. Unfortunately, this entails adjusting rates to remain relevant and competitive. Having work at all, in my milieu, seems a badge of merit at this point. Additional teaching has helped too, but has left limited time for alternative modes of practice, design or community involvement.

Wednesday, March 23 at 11:14am

christianlynch

Christian B. Lynch

Architect

It is true that we’ve seen some significant shifts in the profession over the last few years. Particularly, clients remain steadfast in their expectations of scope, while at the same time lowering their construction budgets and insisting on reduced professional fees. We approach this problem by urging clients to reduce scope/size of projects rather than quality. Focusing on specific parts rather than trying to spread smaller budgets across large areas has allowed us to take on work for lower fees and maintain the quality clients have come to expect from Lynch / Eisinger / Design.

Generally, we have also found ourselves more involved with the creation of projects rather than waiting for them to come to us. Feasibility studies for developers, RFQ’s and RFP’s for city and state agencies, and invited competitions have all helped us to stay busy, fresh and primed for any new opportunities.

The slowdown has also afforded us the time to have our work documented and photographed in order to submit for awards and publications. Because we are a small office and lack the manpower or capital to maintain a PR department, the extra time has allowed us to take advantage of staff who would otherwise be busy with design or production, to focus on documenting our work.

Wednesday, March 23 at 11:36am

    markhogan

    Mark Hogan

    architect

    I left a steady job in San Francisco to move to London for personal reasons in 2009. I managed to find work there but it certainly was not easy. I found that the current economic climate allowed large firms to take advantage of young employees to a degree I had not previously encountered. For these large enterprises, the operational mode seems to have become one of working for free or very little fee on one competition/bid after another, and this was made possible by hiring junior staff at low salaries and expecting them to work 60 hours a week while offering little or no job security. I suppose this has always been prevalent in architecture but it is that much easier when people are terrified of having to look for work in a terrible recession.

    Wednesday, March 23 at 12:35pm

    Mark, you make an excellent point. That is exactly what is happening with all my architect friends. As a marketing/business developer who works in design/architecture, I have noticed that like Christian points out above, that its allowed firms to take advantage of staff who otherwise would be busy with design or production, and that is exactly our problem. Because of the recession the last couple of years, we have condensed job roles and we now have architects running around doing new business and marketing when that is not their strong point. We have now empowered the wrong people to do certain positions that require expertise (just like we covet designing to the designers). Another comment above mentions that architects are now participating in cultivating the project with clients instead of waiting for it to come to them, it worries me that now we’ve put the wrong people in front of the client, due to slimming down the staff. And conversely, exploiting junior designers for their talent, zest and low salaries is also not the right way to do things. I just hope when things get better again, we haven’t forgotten some of the older structure of business and we haven’t empowered all the wrong people enough to do jobs that is not their forté.

    Friday, March 25 at 2:39pm

flexibility and diversification are key, and yes clients need option for alternative methods of assessing fee structure and determining financing strategies. also agree that self-initiated research and design, whether RFP, self financed, or developer minded project, is now a necessity. architects need to see themselves as entrepreneurs.

Wednesday, March 23 at 2:13pm

mimizeiger

Mimi Zeiger

critic/ journalist

It seems that a few interesting threads are emerging here: the rethinking the role of the architect as something else, such as entrepreneur, editor, curator, researcher; a questioning of what work is funded and what work is done either probono or out of personal interest; and that flexibility is the skill needed to weather these changes. But I’m hung up on this last term. Flexibility seems more responsive that actionable and the result of agency. Is there better terminology.

Wednesday, March 23 at 5:31pm

Before starting our office we were told that firms need to specialize or have areas of focus in order to get work over time and to build a reputation in a marketable expertise. We decided that was not such an interesting way to practice, and thankfully so. The downturn means that many specialized firms are struggling, especially when their specializations have been hit hard. In our case, we have a more nimble model of practice and our varied areas of interest and expertise have allowed us to maintain continuous, albeit shifting, work. I think we are all very happy for this model; it is more adaptive to changes in the economy and makes our professional lives more interesting. A tactic we have employed throughout this is to relate scales and types of work to one another from across this diverse professional outlook–using, for instance, our interest in graphics and branding to lead to commissions where architecture and brand can be seamless. So the nimbleness is part of the marketing approach. And we can take on multiple design types in a single project (instead of a client needing multiple offices). This enables us to absorb more work from each project into our office. Our urban work in the Middle East, for instance, has involved guidelines for city districts AS WELL AS the book that delivers those guidelines. We get two jobs out of one project. That serves our bottom line as well as our personal enjoyment.

I like the term nimbleness better than flexibility, because flexibility would imply that we are forced to adapt to conditions out there, bending to changes in the design economy (perhaps even reluctantly). Instead, we have always wanted to be active in several realms of design. Nimbleness is not passive, for us it is an active state of seeking out lots of types of work. Even in better economic times we plan to pursue and embrace such varied directions in our work.

Wednesday, March 23 at 8:46pm

    bryan gave the Final Word

    I appreciate the specificity of the question, Mimi, because there certainly is a difference between strategies and tactics. Strategy has increasing currency but tactics often attract less attention. Reading the responses thus far, as well as being aware of the general sentiment that is growing within the architecture community, it seems clear to me that there is a growing interest in new strategies of practice: flexible, nimble, agile, or whatever you want to call it.

    The context of these strategic explorations also seem spread across a wide cross section of areas: rethinking the business model of architecture, re-engaging social issues, addressing politics, finding new cultural opportunities. I argue that these are different areas of content, but that they all benefit from a flexible, agile, nimble strategy. The methods, then, can be shared even though the content is different, much the way that an architect is able to transfer their learning about space from residential to commercial work and back and forth.

    I look to skills such as negotiation, translation, and optimism as survival tactics in the post-2008 era. I’m taking tactics to mean skills or maneuvers that can be developed through practice. Even optimism needs to be practiced every now and then.

    Whether understood on basic business terms such as negotiating a favorable contract, or in more abstract terms such as the skillful negotiation of a difficult political context, this skill is not (to my knowledge) taught in schools or even much discussed. And yet, by definition, the architect continually must negotiate (in both senses). It’s a useful example because negotiation is a “soft skill” which makes it tempting to say that it’s innate, but there are actually quite developed discourse, training programs, and communities of negotiators. Whether building social housing, bootstrapping a small cultural institution, or building a a skyscraper in Dubai, closing the deal is a necessary tactic of any flexible strategy.

    Closing deals in a considered way requires the ability to translate between disparate contexts, individuals, organizations, and languages (including professional languages and jargon) vis-a-vis their incentives, desires, and constraints. Developing and honing translation as a tactic is again a ‘soft skill,’ but it can be learned and practiced. Industrial designers have been learning from ethnographers, sociologists, and other social scientists for quite some time now, but architects have yet to adopt the same skills in a widespread manner. We can now observe practices such as Quilian’s and others who are using their ability to translate the needs of communities into terms that make sense to formal bureaucracies. Although it’s much different from the point of view of content, starchitect offices are arguably translating the arch/artistis value of their projects into the terms of brand or communications, which enables them to have a more favorable conversation with clients (and charge higher fees). Translation in this sense is about making something from one context relevant to another. Or as Mark Pasanik puts it above, “to relate between scales.”

    Although this is not meant to be an exhaustive list, I will close on the notion of optimism because I think it brings a useful tone to negotiation and translation as a pair of tactics that may have commercial connotations to some ears. I have no problem with commercial practice, and actually find that as a community we have done ourselves a disservice by shying away from the dreaded questions of money, but if we want to grow our engagement with issues of society or even ecology, which the market is much more ready to accept at the moment, we need to be optimistic. There is no equivalent of the stararchitect in the realm of policy/society/ecology. Consensus is by definition a multilateral act, which means it will tend to be less than perfect. To operate in this context, and to have an impact, requires persistence and the most basic sense of optimism. Luckily that’s one trait that the design community seem to have in spades.

    Thursday, March 24 at 10:47am

    fredscharmen

    Fred Scharmen

    Designer

    I guess I don’t think of flexibility as reactive, but as an active practice in preparing the ground for multiple possibilities to manifest. In this sense, flexibility is neither a tactic nor a strategy, but a logistic. Think multiple supply lines, multiple revenue streams, multiple scales that can each expand or contract to accommodate shifting circumstances. In order to prepare for multiple shifting opportunities, many scenarios need to be imagined and planned for. This is flexibility as an active mode of being.

    I like Bryan’s partial list of negotiation and translation, too, and it makes me think that the reason we’re not seeing a lot of specific tactics spelled out here, is that these ways of practicing are unmarked and unrecognized as such. Politics is messy, hard to pin down, even sneaky. It’s difficult to abstract some general tactics out of a set of specific circumstances that may have been navigated by a practice or an individual, and it’s sometimes hard to talk about survivalism in mixed company.

    Friday, March 25 at 1:58pm

    mimizeiger

    Mimi Zeiger

    critic/ journalist

    Fred, it’s interesting that you bring out the idea that there are issues in practice that are “unmarked and unrecognized” and even messy or sneaky. In a way, this may be at the root of why I posed this question in the first place. It is almost like talking about money in public, not something you might want to reveal.

    Friday, March 25 at 2:10pm

flexibility can also be a tactic, as it necessitates having alternative strategies or a plan B in mind or in place to act on them. it is a critical tool required to negotiate a very quickly changing landscape for the profession as well as the evolving client.
another tactic that has been key for us to develop new relationships is incorporating new networking tools to reach new clients, such as facebook, linkedin and blogging. we have gotten a couple clients directly from facebook, unbelievably, and more and more this is a marketing tool that reaches out to potential clients in our various networks. we have also gotten commissions directly from our posting activities of projects on various blogs, such as the blog covering the construction of our prototype Off-grid itHouse in pioneertown. these tools have as much potential to attract new projects as traditional editorial coverage in the press.

Friday, March 25 at 3:09pm

It’s interesting to see the conversation narrow in on the distinction between strategical and tactical modes of operation. For me, the more relevant distinction that’s been brought up is whether designers should see their modes of operation, whether strategic or tactical, as being reactive—as with the discussion here of flexibility—or as needing to be more (pro)active. So much of the discussion in the field under globalization and the market economy has been focused on how designers can react more quickly, more effectively in response to outside forces—see all the terms like agility, risk, the “expanded architect,” etc.—that there’s been relatively little attempt to pose the question of what a non-reactive platform for practice would look like. That is, what would the counterpart to reaction be, and to what motives would that flexibility ultimately be directed? Simply put: what are strategies and tactics on the part of the designer really meant to achieve?

I’m essentially posing the question of agendas. The idea of an agenda is different from the idea of formulating strategies, which can be understood roughly as a plan of action towards achieving those agendas or ultimate goals. This might be another way of getting at what Mimi suggests may be at the root of her question: the messy or unmarked issues of money, politics, or survival that undergird practice, but which practitioners are often unable or unwilling to discuss.

So: what are we in it for? I would suggest that, if put to the question, many designers would be hard-pressed to identify any real agenda for their practices, or for the role of design practice relative to other fields. Interests, maybe (for example, aesthetic, formal or artistic interests); goals, more likely, in the pragmatic sense of (say) making money or achieving recognition—that is, personal or professional goals. But those aren’t agendas in the sense I’m referring to. I’m thinking of goals that are disciplinary or social, rather than professional. A desire to make the discipline more relevant to other publics, for example; a desire for design to play a more important structural role relative to other problematics, or a desire to contribute something positive to those problematics, whether social, economic, or political; a desire to maintain or shape certain spaces of discourse where practitioners can frame these issues for each other—those would be closer examples of what I mean by agendas. A number of the people in this thread, like Quilian, Bryan, Todd, Mark Pasnik, and Mark Hogan are clear examples of practitioners (in which I include designers, writers, critics, strategists, or any combination) whose work reflects considered agendas for practice, their own and those of others.

I’m obviously not suggesting that agendas are something static or formulated before or independent of practice. Meaningful agendas can only be informed out of a deep engagement with the conditions of practice, and have to be constantly reformulated or reposed out of that engagement. The ability to reconsider or modify an agenda in response to the realities of practice might be a more useful notion of agility than one that starts with issues of operation rather than motive, like the issue of strategy versus tactics.

Friday, March 25 at 6:44pm

In the mid 90s I started my career working in Berlin during its drunken frenzy to capitalize on reunification. In the late 90s I found myself back in my old haunts of the San Francisco area… working on high tech offices at the service of the first dot com bubble. And yes, somehow, despite myself, I took work of in China around 2005. As these phases of my career unfolded, I had to laugh at the cliché nomadism I was embodying in practice, following the moneystream to one building boom blip after another. It was unplanned, and the end was so visible at the start of each. I always thought back to the beginnings, in Berlin, where all the American architects I knew lamented how unenlightened our country was with regard to public competitions and the advocacy of architects to their own government. So much of Europe was (and remains) so much better in that respect, and so reflective of a general public engaged with collective social good as well. Europe remains a content unafraid to use words like Socialism, for example, at the election box.

These days, I see exciting chances to change that in this country, if we can force a discourse of the commons – as both public space and public discourse – with our very government. I believe against the odds, we are in a pivotal opportune moment if we say so and say it often and loud. The WPA 2.0 competition was an expression of desire and of possibility, not just in its organizers but also in its outpouring of responses. Myself, now that I’ve accepted a full time job teaching at a state university, I see my responsibility and opportunity to likewise engage. I’ve been conducting research into the architecture and interaction design of very large organizations (VLOs as I am calling them). These include things with government regulation and financing, like agriculture, housing, and space programs.

My hope is that work like mine in the academy can join others in a call for public works, and a shift in popular discourse around the public good, social infrastructure and the agency of individuals (rather than just the free market) in relating the contributions of architects to the results we can all share and live in.

Friday, March 25 at 6:52pm

This is very last-minute, but I’ll venture to add to the discussion–

The innovation and flexibility often associated with entrepreneurship have their counterparts in the informal economies of the street—what is sometimes called hustling, not to say criminality or deception, but the idea of scrappy, hard work to get by in uncertain circumstances. Is improvisation a tactic or a strategy? In any case it may be a survival technique. The hustler to which I refer is eminently versatile, innovative, and opportunistic, and not necessarily immoral. In this sense the practice of architecture is both a profession—regulated, structured, established—and a hustle which proceeds by competition, networking, and wooing.

When running an organization or simply trying to direct one’s own trajectory, as I do, a crucial questions seems always to be how to maintain some structural stability while remaining loose and nimble in response to the fluctuating tides. From an employee’s point of view, structure is often a good thing—e.g. the guarantee of a steady paycheck, health care benefits, mutually agreed-upon time commitment, and a transparent process for addressing grievances within the workplace.

The recession seems to have tested this balance of structure and flow, prodding firms to become more entrepreneurial (hustlin’) and individual architects to spin off their own independent small practices or else to seek stability by entrenching more firmly within the corporate framework. We should remember that the recession has hit unevenly around the world. There are still huge projects being initiated and undertaken in Asia, as in Perkins Eastman’s project in Vietnam; and various cultural flagship projects in Europe such as an Opera House in Stavanger, Norway; and a large new library in Caen, France. A recent New York Times article reported that Canada had brilliantly weathered the recession—what’s going on with architecture there (other than the OMA museum expansion in Quebec)?

On the urban planning front, the recession may provide the necessary respite from breakneck development to rethink large-scale urban processes and landscapes.
The landscape architect Laurie Olin observed in a recent symposium at University of Pennsylvania School of Design entitled Urbanism Now II, that “an economic trough” is the best time to plan for the future. It is in this context that Philadelphia, under the direction of Mayor Nutter and his planning team, has just released a draft plan of its first comprehensive city plan in 50 years (that was under Ed Bacon). The new plan is known as Philly2035.

It is evident that the city, too, is trying to be entrepreneurial in its own way, although very scrupulously trying to avoid the image of the heavy-handed planner. One important question is what will be the role for architects, and design in general, in giving concrete shape to the general direction of this plan? And could a bold urban plan actually help revive a city’s design economy?

Friday, March 25 at 7:53pm

Keywords

Selected list of words appearing in this and other conversations.