Thursday, January 21, 2010

"We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us."

Here's an essay I wrote a few years ago for the AIA Redwood Empire newsletter in support of the SMART train funding that was on the ballot in November 2008.  I like to think it was my essay that pushed the voting over the top and got the SMART train funding passed.  (A boy can dream, can't he?)

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

These famous words by Winston Churchill reveal the important role that architects have, not just in designing the physical world, but also in affecting the people and communities that are shaped by those designs. I suspect this important role is part of the allure of architecture for many people because architects have the chance to create an enduring mark on the world. I believe this desire to leave a legacy can and should also be manifest by architects in active and educated political involvement.

Architectural design itself can be seen as a form of political activism, whereby the architect is striving to improve people’s lives and strengthen communities through beauty and utility. Additionally, one of the many skills required to be an architect is to learn how buildings get built in the social and political sense, because projects large and small, public and private must go through an approval process with design review boards, planning and building departments, neighborhood associations, and other community groups. In this sense, political activism must be in the nature of every architectural practice.

But what about outside the office? The AIA Code of Ethics states “Members…should promote and serve the public interest in their personal and professional lives.” Architects are therefore endowed with the duty to look out for the public good, even outside the walls of our professional practice.

In this political season, Sonoma and Marin Counties have the opportunity to approve funding for the SMART train, a regional transportation project consisting of a 70-mile passenger railroad and parallel bicycle-pedestrian path along an existing, publicly owned right of way spanning from Cloverdale to Larkspur. The SMART train promises to improve local communities by reducing traffic congestion along the overloaded 101 corridor, reducing carbon emissions, and providing the backbone for a transportation system that ties existing bus and ferry systems together. One of the goals of the Redwood Empire AIA is to engage Bay Area architects in the political process to support SMART. Your involvement could be limited to adding your name to the list of SMART Architects, or giving funds to the SMART campaign. You might even choose to participate as a volunteer for the campaign by going door to door or making phone calls. As architects, we have a unique opportunity to create positive change in our community by lending our collective voice in support of the SMART train. As Winston Churchill also said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This design is incredible! You most certainly know how
to keep a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos,
I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost...HaHa!) Fantastic job.
I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that,
how you presented it. Too cool!

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