In the architecture world, is “sustainable” more important than “humanitarian?” For several years now, the mantra of good-design-must-be-sustainable-design has dominated parts of the industry. But it begs the question: Shouldn’t architects be just as concerned about people as they are about the planet? It’s a question I explored in my article about pro-bono work in the most recent issue of FORM. As John Peterson, Founder of Public Architecture, told me, “Social justice issues will rise just as high as green issues have. In fact, we’re seeing a change in the definition of sustainability to include a much broader set of criteria.” And it’s the theme of an upcoming exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art: Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement. The show (opening October 3) looks at “eleven architectural projects on five continents that respond to localized needs in underserved communities.” This includes the Inner-City Arts complex in downtown Los Angeles, designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture.
L.A. Times art critic Chris Hawthorne recently wrote about the show. He caught the gist of one tension within the architecture community when he quoted Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of the San Francisco-based nonprofit group Architecture for Humanity, saying, “There’s often a moment when you say [about your clients], ‘They just need some damn water — it doesn’t matter if it’s an uplifting space.'”