Committee on Architecture for Education


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The Committee on Architecture for Education (CAE) is a large and active group of architects and allied professionals concerned with the quality and design of all types of educational, cultural, and recreational facilities.

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Posting article on Brutalism Design in Schools

  • 1.  Posting article on Brutalism Design in Schools

    Posted 07-27-2020 16:38
    Worth considering Sben Korsh''s article titled "Brutality" where he attacks Brutalist architecture and how that "attention to form is often willfully blind to the ways of everyday people-especially people of color-perceive and are affected by imposing concrete structures, many built as schools, prisons, and symbols of state power in the 1970's."  


    Sally Grans Korsh

  • 2.  RE: Posting article on Brutalism Design in Schools

    Posted 07-29-2020 10:27
    ^ Thanks for sharing. Both of those articles ("Brutality" and "Policing Aesthetics") make one think.

    Shawn Cencer AIA
    Project Architect
    Diekema Hamann Architecture + Engineering
    Kalamazoo MI

  • 3.  RE: Posting article on Brutalism Design in Schools

    Posted 07-30-2020 17:42
      |   view attached
    With all due respect, this is not that. I have to imagine the program requirements were massive and complex, and this entrance works hard to make itself available.

    I do agree, we need to work harder and be more self critical about our single-minded design preferences. I happen to greatly admire if not love some classic 'brutalist' public structures. However, we build for the city, not for ourselves. I simply believe that we need other institutions to turn to in our communities (besides the Police) that are engaged and socially responsive. Schools are a good place to start with reaching out. They, too, need some perimeter security, however unfortunate it is to admit that. Complex, to be sure.

    Chava Danielson AIA
    DSH // architecture
    Los Angeles CA

  • 4.  RE: Posting article on Brutalism Design in Schools

    Posted 07-31-2020 01:17
    Yes, it made me think too.  Let me try to channel my inner Ben Shapiro.

    The article suggests that there is something inherently racist about a brutalist form because it might harken back to a darker time - even a design as beautiful as new Bronx Station design, posted here by Chava Danielson.   The idea that a large block form for a police station is somehow racist doesn't even merit a discussion, except that such ideas are being discussed everyplace, and are confusing American societal values with one's cultural (or race-based, if you will) world-view.  Values are about important things regardless of color - beauty, security, morality, upholding the Law, inalienable human rights, hard work and rewards, etc., while one's culture might affect one's opinion of things like music, food or fashion. Let's not get caught up in trying to ameliorate the discomfort of people who have been taught wrongly to look at most American institutions as "white", when those institutions are in fact, colorless and available to all law-abiding Americans (and some are ready to address those who are not law-abiding).  In fact, in my experience, a huge portion of the bureaucracy in California is not white, and has become the faces (plural!) of those government institutions regardless of what the building looks like.  Yes, the author Deangelo of White Fragility might suggest my statements are in and of themselves ignorant and racist because I'm denying systemic racism that allows brutal looking police stations, but before we take that in, let's be careful that we agree that systemic racism even applies, or that the "racist" nature of a building could be so offensive as to need to cancel it.  I'm thinking we architects are a little smarter than that, and realize a building is mostly just a building.   Could it be a tool of racism?  Yeah, sure, so could anything, but architects mostly strive for beauty and efficient function, where racism has nothing to add or take away.  It's a non-issue.

    More to the point, let's be careful to keep Architecture in its place.  It's neither a solution to social issues, nor is it to blame.  It's a very pragmatic art, meant to solve a set of problems that only a built environment can solve.  If it can be adapted to fit features of a certain culture as a part of the program, a worldview or way of life, then let it do that.  A Kosher kitchen can be equipped with two sets of appliances,  an athlete's yard can have a pool, a police station can have a glass entry wall so pedestrians can see inside before they enter, and those inside can see the street, both ways to increase familiarity and reduce fear.

    An architect designs for their client and the users.  The client selected that architect for a reason, so the architect should design to best of their ability, and to their own aesthetic as one sees fit for the context. And never apologize for it, unless one tries to solve problems that Architecture cannot solve, like creating an anti-racist police station.

    Finally, the article continued with a suggestion that, in the "light of continued gender and racial disparities", we might consider tearing down the architectural license system and starting from scratch. Sben Korsh did not come to a conclusion, just lit a fire and fed into the current group think, continuing the ideas of the "useful idiots" (a Marxist term for the masses who revolt while the few take power) who assume everyone in the profession looks like Mike Brady.  Now is not the time to suggest tearing down a system that works, especially just for the purpose of trying to be more inclusionary.   First, this system has (along with codes and regulation) resulted in the safest built environments on earth.  Secondly, it's hard to include people who aren't asking to get in.  Lastly, anyone paying attention would see that the profession could not be more inclusionary and open to people of diverse thought, education, background, understanding, worldview and culture, regardless of their outward appearance or sex, because we know that type of diversity enhances the collaborative/creative process, and the results are better.  Who wouldn't want that? 

    Douglas Roberts AIA
    Principal Architect / President
    JHW Architects, Inc.
    Monterey CA

  • 5.  RE: Posting article on Brutalism Design in Schools

    Posted 08-07-2020 10:14

    I've watched this space for a week now thinking that someone much more qualified would respond to Doug's post. It's been awfully quiet, so I'll venture into the void.

    You speak of architecture as an outgrowth of American societal values, and I totally agree, it is. It is time for us to come to terms with what that really means in a society that has not valued people of color. Architects and planners have been the face (and hand) of all sorts of racists policies and initiatives, from the obliteration of Black communities in the name of "urban renewal" to the gentrification and redevelopment of Black neighborhoods to the proponents of CPTED and defensible space.  Bryan Lee says it so much better than I in his recent article "How to Design Justice Into America's Cities".


    While we architects are a service for hire, we are also morally bound to advocate for the benefit of the communities in which we practice-all of the communities in which we practice (see the AIA Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct ES1.5: "Members should employ their professional knowledge and skill to design buildings and spaces that will enhance and facilitate human dignity and the health, safety, and welfare of the individual and the public").  In the case of the police station in the article, it's the architect that decided how that building meets the street. Do I believe the architects had blatantly racist intents when they sketched it out? No, of course not. But if they're receiving feedback that people of color feel alienated by the design, and that it's reinforcing the negative perception of the NYPD, then that's a problem-a design problem, not an architect trying to fix society.  It is one that we have the skills and power to solve. Our role is to help our clients make good decisions, and sometimes that means having hard conversations like this one.   In terms of Brutalism,  I appreciate a good Brutalist design aesthetically, but you can't design in that style today without bringing the baggage of how that style was used in the 70's in the US and how it was received, particularly by communities of color.   You wouldn't design a Jewish center in a neoclassical style with eagles and swastikas. Architectural is always political, it always has layer of meaning. As a white woman I don't pretend to speak for communities of color, but I can say it's our job to shut up and listen to what they're trying to tell us and then respond in meaningful ways.

    Next, I think there's significant evidence that your statement that our "profession could not be more inclusionary and open to people of diverse thought, education, background, understanding, worldview and culture, regardless of their outward appearance or sex" is not correct. Membership in the AIA is 91% white and 82% male, and I would venture that the leadership at most firms is even more white and male on the whole.  You wrote, "it's hard to include people who aren't asking to get in."  Maybe the real question is, knowing that "diversity enhances the collaborative/creative process, and the results are better" why aren't we asking more people to come join us? Why aren't we actively removing those barriers (see Equity by Design) that have made architecture the overwhelmingly white male profession that it is?   


    Finally, I'd encourage you to take another look as some of the references you cite. America's institutions are white.  If you look at the leadership of any industry, ours included, you'll see that white faces vastly outnumber those of color, and the society resulting from those institutions maintains the racial and socio-economic imbalances.  Now is precisely the time to start tearing down systems to make them more inclusive.

    Michelle Amt AIA
    Director of Sustainability
    VMDO Architects, P.C.
    Charlottesville VA