An architect’s new challenge
By Javier Cambron
Javier Cambron, 22, will begin his third year at the Southern California Institute of Architecture this fall. He included this article as his “manifesto,” although not required, in his final portfolio at the end of this school year, as a result of his search to use his education and love for architecture to meet social needs. ‘I was frustrated at the direction of architecture and felt that this was a way to express this frustration to my professors,” he explains.”
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, walls were shattered, houses were torn off from their foundation, neighborhoods were decimated, and the city was left in ruins. It scarred, touched lives and united a country in ways that our country had not seen in centuries. In just one swift move from Mother Nature, 1,800 people were killed and thousands of families were displaced, leaving them without a place that they could call home. In the weeks following the hurricane, assistance stormed the city with people from all around the country; people without any ties to New Orleans came to offer whatever services they had to give. Change and unity was happening, and it was happening from the ground up.
The day after Katrina, hundreds of bids were being made by designers who had seen an opportunity in this misfortune, bids on how they would change and rebuild this city. But I question their motives for helping these communities in such a despairing and miserable time in their lives.
I’ve heard that quality of life is related to quality of space, but is quality of space available for everyone, or only for those who can afford it? Almost four years since Hurricane Katrina hit, only the wealthiest homes in New Orleans have been rebuilt, while rubble from the hurricane still lies on the ground, unmoved, while families are still living with despair in harsh conditions. Unfortunately this is not only occurring in New Orleans — over 80 percent of the world’s population is living in similar if not worse conditions than these. Thousands of families are homeless in the U.S. alone. Millions of children are living and working on the streets around the world. Families are living in overcrowded communities with unforgiving living conditions. People around the world are living without access to clean water or proper sanitation facilities. That this is occurring, and accepted, is not only wrong, it is immoral, unethical and embarrassing.
If there is ever a field in which professionals are specifically trained in the design of improvements in the lives of the masses, architecture would be that one; but has it taken on that responsibility? If architecture is a reflection of today’s culture, then maybe it’s true, maybe as a culture we just don’t care. But do we, as a human race, not have a responsibility at some point in our lifetime to construct change, to enhance the way of living for ourselves and for our own species as a whole? Mother Nature took the lives of over a thousand people in one move with Hurricane Katrina, but can’t architecture rebuild the lives of thousands in a couple, if not one move itself? It is not farfetched at all, and has been achieved before by architects, but very few have taken up that responsibility and challenge.
Architecture, generally speaking, would rather challenge itself with mastering the manipulation of light, the creation of climatic procession between spaces, with idiotic topics that seem to be secondary to the real social issues that surround it. My question is: Why can’t you have both? Why can’t we solve these social issues while still maintaining the aesthetic and conceptual ideas? What if we can turn despair into hope, misfortune into a possibility?
Where resources and expertise are scarce, innovated design can really make a difference. We face a huge humanitarian duty; we are architects, trained to affect lives. We need to stop being the stragglers that continue to hold our society back, we need to open our eyes and stop hiding from the challenge and the reality that surrounds us. A building can make a difference; we just have to design like we actually care about what is really going on around us.