Skip to content

Hey, Architecture, Check Your Privilege.

August 9, 2019

I am a Boomer Straight White Male, educated in private schools, graduated from an Ivy League School (sorta, Cornell): thus I know from privilege. But I never knew what privilege was until I got it, and then only when I saw others who did not have those privileges, who were not white males in Mid Century. I simply did what I was told, and Voila: I became a Poster Boy for Toxic Masculinity and Unfair Advantage.

What do you do with that? I could degrade my ability and effort, but I knew I kicked it, hard, and was able to do things where my white maleness meant nothing. Without guilt, I have efforted a full pro bono immersion in my office, and a complete disregard for any status of any potential employee or client. We do about 1/3 of our work for whatever the client can afford, about half the time that is no money at all, like the over 100 houses we have done for the local Habitat affiliate, seen above. For those who can pay something, after we start pro bono, the rest of the fees for that 1/3 of my practice are at cost, or less.

And the work has been done by those who are not straight white males, and some that are. We pay our interns, we have never laid anyone off or missed a payroll in 32 years. And we have built 800 things. From $100 a square foot in cost to over $1,000.

But that is not a make up call, that is just “meet, and right so to do” in the words of Thomas Cranmer who wrote, almost 500 years ago, the Prayer Book I read every Sunday

No, the reason I write this next @effortingarchitecture piece is to note that all of these reasonable realities of killing prejudice by simply being diverse in outlook and outcome are not enough.

Architects and our institutions can still perpetrate prejudice and bias in architecture. National press has never been given to 30 years of making those 100 Habitat homes. No, instead national press, this month, in Architect Magazine is given to 2 very quaintly Mod homes made for all good reasons: low or no fee design, making better places for people who cannot afford them, making the best of our common humanity. Those two homes.


But I know the vast (Vast) majority of these kind of architectural effort to house those who cannot otherwise find a single family home are not quaintly Mod. This lack of “contemporary” design in those houses is because the cliches of Modernist architecture, low/no pitched roofs/overhangs, no trim and esoteric materials either fail too soon or are too expensive to build. Real, non-aesthetic realities, with the exception of the extreme recent failures at the “Do The Right Thing” development in New Orleans are simply unspoken, unknown, presumed lame.

So we, here in New Haven’s Habitat, build with stock trusses, materials, details, and with high strength engineering for resilience, and off-site prefabrication abilities for many components. Unseen good things in incorrect aesthetics designed to fit into the massing and aesthetics of 19th Century Worker Housing. 120 families housed. Including a bunch of Yale student designed and built homes that had to be fully renovated a few years after being done.

So thousands of homes like the ones in the image above get built in any year all over America and the 2 Quaint Mod efforts get lauded by national press:


The same reason that a profession that is roasting itself over a historic lack of ethnic/gender/class diversity in its professional ranks chose, in this month’s AIA National Newsletter, to laud these Health Care Facilities (which I have also worked on for 30 years)

They are lauded by a jury, because the affirmed, assumed, prejudice of the Correctness of Design means “No Not Modernist Need Apply”.

Do not misunderstand: All these projects are Great. All humans are Great.

But 50 years ago, almost all humans in architecture were me. It was incomplete, and it was a lie that I, me, and others of me were the only “Correct” ones. Now, still after more than half of students in architecture school are women, and others are making inroads into participation with extreme effort by everyone involved, Style Correctness is as exclusive as it has ever been in the Mainstream, Deep State: The Swamp of Correct that is Architecture as presented by the media.

Architects and students deserve more than be spoon feed the predigested “correct” aesthetics. And to simply hear the truth versus the rhetoric.

Look at what Architectural Record calls “ageless”:

A lobby of Modernism so perfected it is pinpointed to the age of Modernism, which is, precisely, an Age. Not a bad one, in fact this is what is needed in the huge money engine of Harbor Yard: massive pretense and assumed cool. But there is precious little but the Modern Canon in their pages, outside of the Advertorials of paid-for exposure of for-profit companies that pay for the clean Modern Truth that excludes any other way of thinking.

Like Fox News stressing their Truth is “Fair and Balanced” or like MSNBC who implore their viewers to “Lean In” to their crusade, there is straight up propaganda via exclusion in the vast majority of what is mostly offered in architectural media, schooling and competitions.

But that is changing, because You are reading this. 30 years ago there were a few outlets and rumors, or an occasional mailer of some aberrant thought. Places like Prickly Mountain Vermont or Taliesin, or Arcosanti could briefly flourish in experimenting with the not-Canon. Not so much, now.

But that might change.

Gay Marriage is not even an issue. The idea of excluding anybody that could be useful to your work because of the way they look or what they believe is just flat stupid. And maybe, just maybe, seeing the Same Old Same Old in a time of exploding media diversity has put a death sentence of Traditional Modernism as an exclusive prejudice.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Beverly permalink
    August 9, 2019 1:21 pm

    Thank you for your work for habitat for humanity. I enjoy your blog post having a love for architecture and all its mysteries

  2. Dean Allen permalink
    August 9, 2019 3:37 pm

    Over a $1000/ foot. Who would do that? Me?

    Great blog. I read it from time to time.

    Thanks for all you do for those who do not have the $ to live in or work in an aesthetically pleasing environment. Art and architecture speak to the soul….like the prayer book. They should all lift us up. Amen.

    Dean Allen Cell: 203-912-7566


  3. August 10, 2019 3:32 am

    Nice one, Duo. “Still crazy after all these years…”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: