The election of Donald J. Trump as the president of the United States of America has triggered in many an unease verging on existential dread. This sense of deep uncertainty led us to revisit Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark, written in the thick of the Bush administration, which begins by citing a 1915 journal entry by Virginia Woolf. “The future is dark,” Woolf writes, “which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think.” In Solnit’s interpretation of this passage, darkness is inscrutable, not terrible—so there is no need either to wallow in despair or delude yourself into thinking that everything will be fine. The future is unknown, but it presents possibilities for those willing to work within uncertainty, for those willing to take account of where they are, and for those willing to take action for what is important to them. And now, with the election of a developer president, the architectural profession has the opportunity to ask itself: What happens next? What sort of future do we want?
One vision of this professional future was articulated in a now infamous statement by Robert Ivy, CEO of the American Institute for Architects, a day after Trump’s election—a vision of genial collaboration with the incoming Developer-in-Chief, of infrastructure dollars flowing to firms led by AIA members. Considering that Trump’s obsessions as a prospective builder have largely been oriented around infrastructures of exclusion and deportation, on one hand, and bombastic architectures that monumentalize and engineer the concentration of wealth among the privileged on the other, Ivy’s commitment to working with the president-elect (on behalf of the eighty-nine thousand members he represents) was a stunning statement of acquiescence, one that many rightly observed should be in conflict with that same institution’s code of ethics. Ivy’s statement sought to close debate at precisely the moment when debate should be most encouraged, when institutions (whether the AIA or schools of architecture) should be undertaking an inventory of our professional complicities and weighing the standards by which we operate in the world.
Because here’s the thing—architecture is always complicit, Trump or no Trump. It always has been. Architecture coordinates colossal expenditures (of material, of energy); it scripts forms of labor (in its construction, in its operation, and in the programs it houses); it is both a repository and generator of capital. Architecture participates, centrally, in defining modes of life, whether for the privileged or the dispossessed—designing and building the boundaries between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” sometimes subtly. Recognizing these complicities need not inspire either nihilism (“Well, what can I do about it?”) or defensiveness (“What am I supposed to do about it?”), but should rather be understood, quite simply, as the terrain we navigate. Naming these complicities and the injustices they perpetuate is a first step toward addressing them. Our profession has woefully underperformed in this work, but perhaps the stark realities laid out by the election of Trump will galvanize a greater commitment to incisive architectural thought.
The essays gathered in this special issue of the Avery Review, on the occasion of Trump’s inauguration, range widely in topic and position; what they share is a desire to open new lines of thought, to expand our professional purview, or to dispense with such disciplinary boundaries altogether. For all of the speed of online reaction (a necessary speed, in the face of unprecedented threats to the most basic of democratic values and rights to self-actualization), these authors remind us of the power of scholarly work. This is the role of critical essays within our discourse—to insist that we slow down to think, read, and write so that we may act quickly when needed, to reflect uncompromisingly about our effects on the world. Whether with persistent patience, stubborn refusal, unashamed idealism, or righteous indignation, architects must embrace their agency and put it into action. These essays offer modest if still forceful gestures in that direction.
Just as there are times when silences refuse the language of power and the semantics of status quo, there are times when refusal is more than a simple act of not doing—it’s an opening up to the possibility of doing differently. This entails new pedagogical imperatives, new relationships to funding, and, at the onset of a developer presidency, new ways of looking at land. By theorizing how spatial forms can oppress, or how they can offer alternatives to such oppression, these writers bring nuance, precision, and even panache to debates fomenting across disciplines and point to the multiple ways in which architecture can become a dissident practice.
The Avery Review
Jordan H. Carver
Table of Contents
Professions in the Age of Trumpism
Resistance and Protection within and beyond the University
Alexandra Délano Alonso
Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman
On the Schumacher-Trump Hegemony
Manuel Shvartzberg Carrió
Notations for an Architectural History of Forced Migration
Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi
Egos, Assets, and the Financialization of Property Markets
The Black Panther Party on View
Peggy Deamer, Keefer Dunn, and Manuel Shvartzberg Carrió
The Avery Review, Issue 21, January 2017