In the United States, from the Industrial Revolution through the Digital Age, architects have been a fundamental part of the justice and injustices served to people directly through architecture and the technologies used to achieve our built environment.
Defining Social Justice Architecture
Social justice architecture describes a way in which justice, in terms of wealth, opportunities, and dignity, is achieved through architectural means in our built environment and the methods and materials used to get it done.
As medicine improved, the need for a specialized building to treat illness became necessary to increase overall health. Many people still chose to receive treatment at home and still others were unable to afford treatment at all. If people were suffering from some type of mental illness and could not afford to be locked up in an asylum they would be left on the streets to fend for themselves. On the other hand, architecture was designed to help those who could afford to go to an asylum. The United States government saw a considerable need for treatment for the mentally ill and many states sponsored the building of asylum buildings. In 1854, Dr. Thomas Kirkbride developed a linear building design which was stepped to allow for more ventilation through the double loaded corridors to help move the illness out of the building. Hundreds of buildings were designed using the Kirkbride plan across the United States including the Cherokee State Hospital built in 1902 in Cherokee, Iowa. Despite how many thought these hospitals were good for those with mental illnesses it often did more harm than good for those who were patients in the hospitals. However, this style of designing did lead us to a better, safer, and more sophisticated type of building, a hospital. So, this architectural style is a piece of a large puzzle in which the money supplied to this architecture initially only helped the rich but in the long run was benifical for rich and poor people alike and was a beginning to a long and yet unending road in fighting the injustices served to those with mental illness.
Women in Architecture
From the conception of the title architect, women have been an under represented part of the field of architecture. The Ecole des Beaux-Arts pushed back on allowing women to even study architecture for years and the first women from the United States to study there also had a rough time of it but paved the way for many women to come. Julia Morgan studied at the Ecole and upon returning to the United States she designed the Los Angeles Herald Examiner Building in 1914 which is known for its many clerestories allowing for a large flow of natural light to fill the large workspace. Morgan brought with her many of the principle method of design from the Ecole such as planning, symmetry, and axial alignment. Although there were other female architects of the time Morgan achieved high recognition for her success from the Ecole and building designs. In general, according to American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1900 there were 39 female architecture graduates in the United States. In 1958, of the total registered architects in the States 1% of them were female and in 2003 that number rose to 20%. Today, the female to male ratio is far closer to equal. Through these brave and persistent women, architecture began to redefine justice for women in the workplace allowing for more diversity of thoughts and designs to be shared within the field.
Disasters, needs, and social injustices are around every corner. It doesn’t require much effort to find people who are in need of advocates and aid. Architects need to be aware not only of their clients who come to them with money to build magnificent buildings, but also the ways in which they can help bring an end to a few of the many injustices around them today. Architecture is a medium which can be used to help people by promoting equality, dignity, and justice.
Affordable housing has never been the type of architecture people flock from all over the world to come see. Affordable housing falls under the category of the other work that needs to be done and often little thought about the client, lower income families, is put into the work itself. These buildings can often have a similar feeling to that of Brutalist architecture which is often classified as being very sublime and lacking ornamentation. One specific example of affordable housing gone wrong is the Pruitt-igoe housing projects in St. Louis, Missouri which was destroyed in 1972. The fact that these 33 high-rise buildings lasted for only a short time is testament in and of itself that this type of architecture needs to be re-thought through. This project was an attempt to clear out the slums and be rid of poverty, but instead became associated with crime, poverty, and segregation. The people living in this community were not taken into consideration during the design phase of this project. Just because the occupants of a building are not the ones supplying the money to build the buildings does not allow space for architecture to take the easy way out by constructing standard cookie cutter apartments. Everyone deserves to be able to live in a place that makes them feel safe and comfortable, a place to call home.
Books like Andrea Palladio’s "The Four Books of Architecture", written in 1570 (republished in 1715), were printed repeatedly with the invention and use of the print press around 1750. Books then traveled from Europe to the Americas with the wealthy. The wealthy then had the means by which they were able to build according to the comforts they enjoyed back home while also kickstarting what American Architecture would look like for centuries to come. One example of this is Drayton Hall near Charleston, South Carolina built in 1742 in Neo-Palladian style. From the start of architectural design in America the wealthy were highly favored as they designed and built according to their wants and desires while the poor had to make do with whatever technologies they knew about prior to moving to the Americas.
The need for prisons and punishment for crime in the United States was never a foreign idea, but the need for larger and better prisons caused a new type of architecture to be designed. In 1822, John Haviland did just that, he designed a new type of prison based on the Quakers idea that solitary confinement compared to large one room prisons could help fix our societies crime and wrongdoing. Haviland’s spoked design, used in Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, was innovative for its use of plumbing to each individual cell. It had a unique shape as each corridor spanned off of a central observation tower where guards could keep watch over the whole facility. Unfortunately, the Quakers hypothesis that this design would help diminish crime was wrong as now many prisoners were treated poorly for doing nothing wrong at all and prisoners did all they could to communicate with one another. So, instead of learning how to be better citizens they learned only to hate authority and often would find there way back to prisons again after release. This type of architecture may have been an attempt to bring peace and equality to society but it only helped the snowball pick up speed as incarceration rates began to inflate as even today they are still on the rise.
Immediate relief, transitional shelters, and the rebuilding of permanent homes are a few of the large steps in helping a community recover post natural disasters. In 1979 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was created after several natural disasters hit the United States, notably Hurricane Betsy of 1965. This immediate assistance required a new type of architecture to be designed. It had to be something that could be quickly erected and help as many people as possible while costing as little as possible. Marianne Cusato did just that in her response to Hurricane Katrina as she designed houses that could be built for a relatively inexpensive amount and all supplies could be bought from the local Lowes. They were called Katrina Cottages and were not an immediate relief type of aid, but rather a long term, permanent solution to the issue of displaced individuals post natural disasters. Several architects and organizations have followed these two small examples as people understand and want to aid in the rehabilitation of community’s post disaster relief. From one perspective this is a great solution to the injustice natural disasters have on communities across the country, but on the other hand why are people so willing to help those who once had a shelter and it was destroyed by a natural disaster and unwilling to help those who are homeless for reasons that can also be outside of their control? Are we not all humans in need of equal rights and basic needs like shelter? The need for social justice architecture in every regard will be a never ending battle but taking small steps toward justice is a good place to begin to untangle the injustices accumulated through time.