How to Get More Gooder
As I am largely unfamiliar with the details of the architecture program at the U of M, it is somewhat difficult point out missed opportunities or room for improvement with strong conviction. But I do feel that there are important aspects of architecture education that are simply not emphasized to the fullest possible extent.
When looking at the three major architectural interests of mine recently, I suddenly the epiphany of how they all fit together perfectly. How I had ignored this relationship before I cannot say.
The first interest is hands on experience. From what I can gather (or assume), a majority of formal architecture education is executed indoors, faces in textbooks or little wooden models. This may be a blatantly inaccurate speculation, but I’m fairly certain that there is not much interaction with actual building projects. I am a firm believer that first-hand experience is the best teacher. If I was freed from the constraints of the architecture program at the U of M, I would spend a lot of time in the field, getting my hands dirty, seeing how buildings actually stand up, and stay up. To paraphrase architect Michael McDonough, the architecture student who builds a straw bale house will ultimately build a better skyscraper.
The second, and overall most important realm of architecture to me is helping underprivileged people have safe, affordable homes. I’ve heard that 1 in 7 humans in the world live in inadequate housing (slums, refugee camps, etc), and that by 2030 that number will have increased to 3 in 7. This is a huge, looming issue that needs the urgent attention of designers. Is this type of work glamorous? Of course not. Will it pay the stereotypical ‘architects’ salary? Not likely. As far as I am concerned, who cares about those things? Architecture is about providing shelter, no matter what the scale.
The U of M seems to be encouraging and implementing social responsibility, which is obvious from this and other early architecture classes. This is a good start, but I wonder, do are students eventually required to help build homes for struggling families? I am not aware of this. I’ve seen the optional trips to New Orleans every semester, but it is my firm personal belief that every student be mandated to take one of these trips, or just simply help the people in our own neighborhoods. There is a need for good housing everywhere. Let’s follow the lead of Architecture for Humanity, the BaSiC Initiative, or Rural Studio. If we want to instill a sense of responsibility for the greater good in the world’s future architects, we need to ensure that they experience these circumstances and situations in person. If given more freedom in school, I would definitely spend a lot of time helping others with my skills. (Assuming I have skills.)
Lastly, for this blog, I have had a recent interest in reused and recycled building materials. Something like one quarter of all waste that goes into our landfills is construction waste. It’s not that these materials themselves are necessarily bad or unusable, but that there was no foresight to design these materials for easy disassembly or reuse. It also takes longer and generally costs more to take a building apart piece by piece. Why is this important? Because reusing or recycling construction waste can significantly lower the cost of new construction, while lessening environmental impacts. Win-win. This can of course help while trying to provide affordable housing for the less fortunate, but doesn’t need to be limited to just this scope.
This is a house made from temporary bridge sections used during Boston’s big-dig highway project. They were destined for the dump, but the VP of the construction company intervened, and the result is truly spectacular. I want to spend a lot of time on studying how materials can be reused or recycled, and how they can be designed in the first place with these concepts in mind.
To sum this blog up, hands on experience in the building of affordable homes with reused materials is the ideal focus of my academic and professional career.