Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why the Center for Architecture should not emulate a Community Board

One more thing about last night's program at the Center for Architecture... while I understand the reasons behind inviting the "community" into discussions of public space, not every forum is the appropriate venue for a "town hall" format. An event at the AIA New York Chapter's HQ, a facility whose physical plant and programs are paid for by our (very steep) dues, should be for the primary benefit of architects. It's nearly impossible to talk about limiting the involvement of the general public without sounding hopelessly elitist, but there is a need for professionals to have conversations with other professionals on topics on which those professionals are knowledgeable.

Last night, nearly all of the questions posed to the presenters were about overly specific concerns, often unrelated to the topic at hand ("the sign at my bus stop is in the wrong place," etc.) So really, we have the commissioner of the Department of Transportation of the largest city in the US, the directors of the Times Square Alliance and the Alliance for Downtown New York, and dozens of (presumably talented, or at least engaged) architects in one place, where vital and potentially transformative discussion COULD have taken place, and the Q&A was given over to the picayune grumblings of lay citizens.

Yes, those grumblings deserve to be heard, but that Center for Architecture program is most certainly NOT the appropriate forum for such questions/comments. IT was not fair to the audience, not fair to the speakers, and also not fair to the questioners, who would have likely gotten a better response by logging their complaints with 311.

1 comment:

  1. 'Lay citizens' have been known to occasionally ramble on about trite concerns and prosaic personal quandries. But isn't it the role of professional architects/planners/engineers and designers to glean from the individual an awareness of the impact of their work on the aggregate private and public constituencies who live/work/play among the result of our efforts every day?

    As a fellow architect, also in attendance at last night's event at the Center for Architecture, I too had similar reaction to the narrow viewpoint of many questions from the audience. However, I am continually reassured of the value my dues support in contribution to the thousands of programs brought to us by the Center and its partners. There are many (too many?) organizations throughout the city that facilitate architects talking to other architects, and in this aspect of devotion to professional dialogue the Center excels as well. But we should take pride in the conscious decision made by AIANY and the foundation to maintain an intentionally public-friendly storefront which remains one of the profession's best platforms to raise the level of dialogue and thereby the value and quality of our own ideas. Architects and planners should take note of the Commissioners' savvy and sensitive responses to 'lay' concerns and redouble our efforts to listen, interpret and respond to the challenges confronting everyone impacted by the built environment. In this way, the Center will continue to teach us as much about the city as we can offer through it to enlighten each other and the public at large.