I like to watch a show called Colony. The basic plot is that outside forces attack various cities around the world, one of them Los Angeles. It’s a sort of Lost-style mystery (Carlton Cuse is one of the creators) so we don’t really know too much and that’s part of the fun. We can’t see the enemy, not really—or we see little glimpses but it’s all vague, unclear and confusing. Sound familiar? If not, here’s some help: It’s the Russians! Jill Stein! James Comey! The two-party system! Identity politics! Not caring enough about identity politics! It’s Stephen Bannon! Wait, Stephen Miller! WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE IMMEDIATELY!
Last week, a friend posted an essay by Architect Magazine editor-in-chief Ned Cramer on Facebook. I was excited about the article. I thought it might finally have some backbone, the kind we’ve been seeing in other industries, like how news shows have started refusing to book noted liar Kellyanne Conway, or how Roxane Gay took her manuscript back from Simon & Schuster after the publisher announced it was planning on publishing a noted hate speech enthusiast.
We all remember what happened when Robert Ivy immediately released a statement, on behalf of the AIA, saying that the organization was looking forward to collaborating with the President-elect. He released it so quickly that the President wasn’t even the President yet. Ivy received massive pushback. The AIA Media Relations Director resigned in protest. The Architect’s Newspaper published responses from members letters. There was much—righteous—outrage.
Ivy recently followed me on LinkedIn. I’m not sure what that means, but I will say, if he’s following me now: “Mr. Ivy, why did you do what you did? Did you feel that you had to? You didn’t.”
That’s why I was so disappointed by Cramer’s article. It came out online in December, in print in the January issue of Architect. (Always check the dates before you reference. Always.) It’s something about Trump’s proposed infrastructure plan—$1 trillion! Not including the terrible wall, and then Cramer says this, by way of his “call” to action:
“To do right by the opportunity, architects may need to subvert the system from within—craft narratives that are honest but avoid ideological flash points, identify loopholes in policies, get creative with budgets, and forge unlikely partnerships. Because if the citizens of the United States are going to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure, it is the profession’s responsibility to ensure that they get their money’s worth: amenities that are not only beautiful, but sustainable, resilient, inclusive, and truly their own.”
Close your eyes. Think about that statement. Would it apply to literally any administration? Would it apply to an administration run by Clinton? By Obama? By Reagan? By Bill Clinton? By Zaha Hadid, had she ever run for president? By me?
I mean, I don’t want to be all Jesus Fucking Christ, Ned Cramer, but, Jesus Fucking Christ, Ned Cramer. You have a platform. Use it.
A theme that comes up in Colony is that of “collaborators.” There are those who collaborate with the oppressive outside forces, and those who resist. The resistors are called the insurgency.
I am a part of the insurgency. I am part of the resistance. Let’s just get that out of the way.
Collaborators are not treated well by the insurgency in Colony. The basic premise is that collaborators are people who are looking out for themselves. That the insurgency are looking out for everyone.
Architects have always had to create narratives “that are honest but avoid ideological flash points” and “forge unlikely partnerships.” Look at how Google brought Thomas Heatherwick and Bjarke Ingels together! That’s an unlikely partnership. It’s also not an act of political resistance. And then Cramer CLOSES with his ultimate call to action, re: the profession’s responsibility—which are the creation of, he says, “amenities that are not only beautiful, but sustainable.”
Russia interfered with our election; our president instituted a sweeping Muslim ban (though he pretended it wasn’t) in his second week in office; lawmakers in Ohio are trying to legislate that a woman’s body isn’t really her body once she’s pregnant but rather a “host”; Mike Pence has long violated women’s rights in Indiana and believes in gay conversion therapy; the man nominated to run EPA is a climate change denier who doesn’t believe in environmental regulations; our Secretary of Education isn’t so sure about Title IX, an element of the civil rights code that is about much more than sports but one of the hallmarks of the possibility of, one day, sexual and social justice for women (something we are SO far behind on, by the way, which you know if you’re a woman and if you’re a man, just ask your female friends). This list could go on and on.
And Ned Cramer is talking about “amenities?”
Here’s the thing. Architects have tremendous power. Journalists have some power. I was deeply deeply deeply troubled and disappointed to see Architectural Digest assign Mitch Owens (a writer I’ve long read and respected) to write a breathless puff piece about Melania Trump’s having commissioned an interior designer to do the White House. I tweeted at Digest—which is probably a bad career move, because oh my god who doesn’t want to write for Digest—that I was disappointed that they were normalizing this administration. And then I posted on Facebook a call to action—that if any writer was assigned a puff piece about the Trump administration and design, and they turned it down, I would crowdfund their fee. (Or just pay the $50 we know people are getting for online now.)
A while ago, before I learned how to speak up and advocate for myself, I believed that institutions were somehow Other. That they existed and I existed and they would crush me. That belief was wrong. We make institutions. Without us, they crumble. Recently, at an Architecture Lobby event, an audience member complained about the AIA. We ended up asking who in the room were members of the AIA. About fifteen people raised their hands. “There you go,” I said. “The AIA is in the room with you.”
WE are the architectural community. And so, together, we can stop normalizing. We can stop collaborating. We can stop sidelining ourselves with vague talk about hope, and we can get ready to suffer a little bit on behalf of doing the right thing. I may never write for Digest. I may never be best friends with Mitch Owens. Ned Cramer will probably never commission me to write anything for him. That’s OK. That’s so much less important than my doing whatever I can to use my white body and my white hands to write stories or refuse to write stories. To continue to fight for women’s rights. To continue to engage with my members of congress and senators.
Mr. Owens, why did you write about Melania Trump’s interior designer? Did you feel like you had to? You didn’t. None of us do.
I spoke up about injustice recently. It was very very very difficult. I was scared. But you know what? Things changed. Things changed because I spoke up and because others spoke up. Because eventually our voices were louder than even the voices of a faceless institution that had lawyered up hard. And what are we opposing here, as part of our own political resistance? A crumbling cabinet that everyone with a sound mind and heart is resisting.
We do not need to collaborate. We need to NOT collaborate. We need to just stand down, to refuse to take the meetings, to refuse to talk about amenities, and making things beautiful. Imagine if there was a total building stoppage. Imagine if the roads didn’t get fixed. Yes, people would suffer. My car would suffer. It would be annoying, dangerous even. But people would be roused. They would be upset about their potholes, maybe more upset than some people seem to be about unconstitutional executive orders or the revving up of our country’s war on women, on immigrants, on the “other.” (Spoiler: we are ALL the other.)
Note that I’m not talking to anyone who’s being hunted by the administration. I’m not talking to anyone who will be personally deeply harmed by resisting. I’m talking to—mostly—white men who have a power I hope by now they understand. I’m talking to people who are in positions to speak up. I’m talking to people who are established in their careers, who have savings in the bank, who can afford to turn down an assignment or seven or ten, who trust that they’ll be OK. If you, right now, feel like you’re safe enough to make a stand, please make one.
And so, I commit to you, to my readers, that I will not collaborate with this administration. I will not write a single congratulatory word about a Trump-related project. I will not write for magazines that normalize this administration. I will encourage my architect friends not to take the meetings that involve collaborating. Because I don’t believe that we can do better from within. I spent six years embedded in an institution, trying to “change the culture from within.” It was only when I stepped outside, found my voice, and told the truth that things were able to change. That people started to listen.
I am here to tell you it is really really really hard, and it’s also possible. We have to do it together.
Also, join the Architecture Lobby.