By Tim Hawk, FAIA
2019-2021 At-large Director, AIA National Board of Directors
Members of the American Institute of Architects have stepped forward with unprecedented energy to help peers and communities’ weather the COVID-19 pandemic. As a professor of architectural history, I believe that we respond in part because of our knowledge of history, and our awareness of the important role that architects play shaping our culture. We learn from our past and apply these lessons to today’s challenges.
It has been just over 100 years since our country last was devastated by the wrath of a pandemic. In 1918, America was a very different place, with most citizens residing in a rural context. Our urban areas were dense, challenged environments rife with poverty, poor working and living conditions, hunger, and an unsanitary public realm. When these conditions were coupled with limitations on effective communication channels and limited medical knowledge, the 1918 H1N1 Flu Pandemic spread with abandon, killing over 675,000 persons in the United States. (www.cdc.gov)
Architects responded by assuming a leadership role. The theories they developed after the pandemic and World War I informed a new architecture which advanced our society. The roaring 20’s was a period of great change for America and Western Europe. Dominated by the rebellious thought of the influential avant-garde movements, it was an era of innovation in architecture.(Fazio, Buildings Across Time)
Research and technological development led to the use of new building materials, including plate glass, steel, elevators, and stone veneers. The 1920’s saw the development of the Modern school of architecture. The Bauhaus was started in Germany in 1919 and by 1926, LeCorbusier developed his Five Points of Architecture, a manifesto to harness the power of design to cure societal ills. Architects believed in the power of rational thought, economy, and functionality, and they believed that rational designs could best be produced through mechanization. (Fazio, Buildings Across Time)
They used writings to advance their agenda and capture the “zeitgeist”, or spirit of the age. LeCorbusier published Toward a New Architecture (1923), Frank Lloyd Wright published Modern Architecture (1931) and Walter Gropius captured a decade of educational thought in his book, The New Architecture and the Bauhaus (1935). This modernist discourse influenced society, was adopted by growing corporations, the government, and cultural institutions. What started then evolved into the International Style which would continue throughout the majority of the 20th century, culminating in a post-modern reaction during the 1980’s.
Most important is that the architect led society through challenging times, all the while signaling a prosperous future.
Now, here in 2020, we stand at the precipice of a new era and we must, once again, assume the role of societal leader. We need to work with diligence to demonstrate the power of design and address the concerns of many. Together, we can make a case for a new form of architecture. This month, while we have been quarantined, I have had the luxury of catching up on many of my overlooked readings, and have stumbled upon a few Metropolis articles by Kiel Moe, a registered, practicing architect and the Gerald Sheff Chair in Architecture at the Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture at McGill.
Moe calls on our profession to “move away from processes of abstraction and toward literal analyses of human and material flows”. He believes that we “might arrive at a clearer picture of what architecture is – and the terrestrial web of life that supports it”. How refreshing. A resonant manifesto for our age. His thoughts and writings have been a source of hope for me during an otherwise dark and ominous period, and I’m eager to begin to this type of exploration over the next few years.
For all of us, it is a perfect time to seek hope and inspiration. There is a future, and as we approach, we must prepare for the many challenges that need to be addressed.
Architects, working collaboratively with peers and community leaders, are best equipped to lead.
Timothy C. Hawk, FAIA
As an AIA leader and innovative practitioner, Timothy Hawk, FAIA, has increased design awareness and advanced knowledge exchange among architects and allied professionals through improved digital access, collaborative models, and educational programming. He is president of WSA Studio in Columbus, Ohio.
Allison Dvorak, AIA, CPHC, is a member of the AIA South Dakota Board of Directors, liaison to the Emerging Professionals and Communication committees, and an architect in Sioux Falls. She received her M.Arch from North Dakota State University and continues to develop her Master’s thesis of researching and implementing design theories focused on human centered design through speaking engagements, design practice, and one-on-one client education. Allison lives in Sioux Falls with her husband, son and daughter.