towards a future practicetomorrow-mañana
Constructed environments define human existence here on earth; the collective totality of an individual’s surroundings permeates their psyche and creates the channels that structure the opportunities, good or bad, available to them. For something so influential, why is architecture all but absent from public culture and collective labour?
Throughout history the ability to seek the assistance or service of architects has been limited to those occupying positions of economic and political privilege.1 Bending to the market and the pay-out offered, the designers of our physical world have come to work almost exclusively for private clients with accumulated wealth, leaving behind the communities where they began and oftentimes still live. What has changed in the last century is that the working-class no longer has the skills or time to construct their own homes as they did in the past; to the benefit of the state and market, architecture is no longer practiced by the people, but instead by an exclusive group of licensed professionals. Thus the development and construction of our world fails to be a participatory process, limiting options for all unable to employ designers and projecting the form and functions of our built environment—as well as social relations held within these shells—as inalterable.
We are two architects from different countries and of different generations. Together we write and work as Tomorrow-Mañana, a rebellious collective born out of shared struggle as well as a need to understand why the world we inhabit is so different from the world we both desire and deserve. We are two of the many who recognised the power of design to enrich the lives of all and give shape to explorative futures. But after decades spent completing the requisite education and experience, we find ourselves facing a profession devoid of both aesthetics and ethics, offering designers precarious employment in an industry serving capital. Neither of us have the desire to support those holding power; why does it seem to be our only option in order to purchase shelter, sustenance, medical care, or access to recreation after labour? Why was it that our education encumbered us with so much debt that it is all but impossible to use our skills as tools for our own people? So many before us and so many amongst us who once had the same humanist impulses have sold themselves as cheap labour and served without question; how are those who recognised a deeper value of architecture forced to abandon our aspirations and instead serve the hoarders of capital?
Key to the transformation of dreamers into technicians for the production of the status quo is the way education inculcates service to established markets and therefore acceptance of current actualities.2 When leftist-leaning professors do carve out space for social critique in schools, the words written or spoken in a class most often serve as a substitute for action, with the professor’s political beliefs seldom shaping their own practice. As Whitney M. Young, Jr. proclaimed in his 1968 keynote address for the American Institute of Architects annual convention, “you are not a profession that has distinguished itself by your social and civic contributions to the cause of civil rights, and I am sure this has not come to you as any shock. You are most distinguished by your thunderous silence and your complete irrelevance.” Architecture programmes will argue that they discuss social issues, but critical dialogue and resistance expressed only within walled-off academic spaces does nothing to change our profession’s silence and lack of action when it comes to the needs or wrongs of our world. Across the globe, higher education programmes present their ideologies as critical and interventionist. In reality, critique is limited to surface-level aesthetics and intervention serves only as a generator of spectacle.3
The Universal (Future Potentials)
Most formal evaluations of buildings,4 architects’ individual self-worth, and architectural schools5 are based on the ability to serve or be employed by the market. Within this structure members of society are forced to envision reality from the confines of a narrow set of values that are ingrained to the point where anything new (not in the sense of commercial novelty, but rather profoundly new in the way it embraces alternate scenarios) is automatically rejected or seen as invalid.6
As David Harvey demonstrates in Spaces of Hope, universal values and norms are necessary for the formation of community; the universal is further defined in Inventing The Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams as a pluralistic global order “identified not with an established set of principles and values, but rather with an empty placeholder that is impossible to fill definitively.” Based on this, it is the people’s right and purpose to explore all possibilities, to determine the shape of our world—discarding the values that currently force us to live and work realities we do not desire. Reclaiming the universal as a construct of the people is a conceptual tool to raise the stakes of any social, economic, or political demand posed against the status quo.
In both our daily lives and practice, we want to work7 collectively towards a counter-hegemonic vision strong enough to help in subverting and eventually toppling the overpowering universal of capital. As practitioners, thinkers, and social actors, we can bring forth alternate approaches to the way we inhabit our lives. We want to explore an open and evolving matrix of ideas for future potentials, where what we seek that is impossible now will remain dormant for a period but ultimately become possible later. We can expand the Overton Window and advance these desires by consistently and strongly advocating for collectively determined, renewed values in public forums, articles, academic spaces, and our daily practice. What we are trying to configure unites diverse backgrounds, cultures, races, and beliefs into an open practice that adjusts depending on what is needed to promote local, communally established values and needs. We seek to recognise the benefits of collective action rather than individual success—the latter of which more often than not simply means survival—and see ourselves as a part of something greater,8 understanding that the universal is not an end, but rather an ever-evolving experiment.
The development of alternate models of living isn’t theory work generated by a “genius” relegated to hopeful utopianism, but rather an urgent task involving the collective exploration of meaning and culture through the built environment’s myriad of outputs—from the way we individually inhabit the world, to how we interact with one another, to what our communal labour is leveraged to create. Tomorrow-Mañana refuses the superficial, self-serving values our profession is proclaiming, rejecting that which renders the creation of our world exclusive and instead seeking the paths to bring design into the light of public determination.
1 In 1984 Matrix, a feminist architecture collective based in London, wrote of the tyranny of economy over design by pointing to the fact that “The initial decisions to build are made by those owning or having control over large sums of money. Even such a small building as a house costs the equivalent of several years’ average earnings” (Matrix, Making Space: Women and the Man-Made Environment, 2).
2 “...universities and the institutions of higher learning are called upon to create skills, and no longer ideals—so many doctors, so many teachers in a given discipline, so many engineers, so many administrators, etc. The transmission of knowledge is no longer designed to train an elite capable of guiding the nation towards its emancipation, but to supply the system with players capable of acceptably fulfilling their roles at the pragmatic posts required by its institutions” (Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, 48).
3 “The spectacle is the existing order’s uninterrupted discourse about itself, its laudatory monologue. It is the self-portrait of power in the epoch of its totalitarian management of the conditions of existence” (Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, Point 24).
4 In The Shaping of Us: How Everyday Spaces Structure Our Lives, Behavior, and Well-Being, Lily Bernheimer elucidates that “A truly sustainable building is a socially sustainable building; a place where people want to make a home, raise healthy children, and commune with their neighbours,” continuing, “Sustainable structures provide the best return on investments through their durability, usability, and beauty.” In harmony with an architecture field formed to serve capital, the leading certifications for sustainable architecture—LEED and WELL—only register technical categories of construction, without considering the programme or social implications of the building or space.
5 Evidence of employability being a defining evaluator of education can be found in the DesignIntelligence yearly ranking of America’s “top” architecture & design schools. The analysis of undergraduate and graduate programmes is based on the feedback of the professional practitioners who hire and supervise graduates of architecture, landscape architecture, and interior design programmes. There is no evaluation beyond the market—space is not given to any other values.
6 As the current dominating universal, neoliberalism “limit[s] our conceptions as to inhibit alternative visions of how the world might be” (David Harvey, Spaces of Hope, 247).
7 “Labor in its true form is a medium for man’s true self-fulfillment, for the full development of his potentialities” (Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory, 277).
8 The “rare experience … of being part of something larger than our individual lives, of dwelling on ‘this earth of mankind’ not as a stranger or a trespasser, which is the way capitalism wishes us to relate to the spaces we occupy, but as a home” (Silvia Federici, Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons, 77).