Friday, May 1, 2009
Presented by: Cameron Sinclair, Assoc. AIA, of Architecture for Humanity in San Francisco and Teddy Cruz of Estudio Cruz in San Diego. Moderated by Steven Lewis, AIA.
What people want to learn: “If we know we want to do something more with architecture, should we be on a different career path? If we’re interested in activism, is or is not architecture a potent way to get there?” Anthony Laney, Assoc. AIA, of Rockefeller Partners Architects in El Segundo, Calif.
This session offered a forum to two rising stars at the forefront of architecture’s burgeoning call for design as a healing, inherently political and social act: Cameron Sinclair and Teddy Cruz. Most simply, Sinclair’s Architecture for Humanity performs design services where resources are scarce--often in the developing world, but also in the United States--by pairing foreign architects with Architecture for Humanity teams. They work with the people they build for as both clients and co-designers, relying on in-depth, socially progressive interaction with them in order to determine their designs. Sinclair downplays aesthetic biases in their work, but often Architecture for Humanity buildings mix vernacular building cultures with contemporary expertise on flexibility, sustainability, and program. Their work in post-Katrina Mississippi raised money for displaced families and led diverse teams of unskilled laborers. They also invited teams of architects to the Gulf Coast to design houses for displaced families. As the size and scale of their work has increased, and they’ve began facilitating the work of other architecture firms, and thus Sinclair says his organization is becoming something like a “non-profit developer.”
Cruz’s work centers on improvised systems of urbanism, as viewed through his own professional geography: the US-Mexico border in California. He began by outlining various conflicts expressed through architecture on this border: military bases and environmental zones, gated and ungated communities, water infrastructure and natural hydrology, informal and formal urbanisms, density and sprawl, and, finally, the conflict of the natural and the political, expressed by the surreal image of the US-Mexico border wall stretching into the Pacific Ocean. For Cruz, there is a two-way street that defines urbanism on this border. People flow from south to north, looking for employment. San Diego’s waste flows from north the south, so much so that entire discarded pre-fab houses are brought to Mexico and resold, creating an informal urbanism. “Tijuana builds itself from the waste of [San Diego],” he says. Likewise, new immigrants are also retrofitting neighborhoods in San Diego, “pixelating” them in a rich mix of uses, and diffusing typical suburban building typologies. Beyond the rich aesthetic qualities of this near-vernacular improvisation, Cruz is more interested in the social-political undercurrents of these actions. His solution for these substandard building contexts is to enlist the Tijuana border factories to create infrastructural scaffolding systems that will resolve this discordant building typology.
What people thought: “A lot of this work is being done, and it’s not just something that you can dream about, but you can actually achieve. I’ve heard a lot about participatory design and I’ve studied it, but to actually see it in process and see it being implemented is refreshing. There’s a group that’s growing at my firm that’s interested in this kind of work.” Ifeoma Ebo, Assoc. AIA, of Anshen + Allen in San Francisco.
Best Practice Tips: “When your other clients see the pro-bono work you’re doing, you get something called respect,” said Sinclair.