How the Recession Has Changed Architecture

Question: What have been some of the main effects of the recession on architecture?

Paul Goldberger:\r\n Well I think the recession is doing two things.  First, it cuts the \r\nvolume of building hugely. You know, the first thing you give up in bad \r\ntimes is building a new building.  I mean, you've got to eat, you’ve got\r\n to do certain other essential things, but building a building for most \r\npeople, for most businesses, most institutions, is an optional thing.  \r\nAnd so when times are tough, you give it up.  It's both optional and \r\nunbelievably expensive.  So therefore, it’s the first thing to go.  \r\nThat’s the bad effect, obviously, of the recession. 

The good \r\neffect, though, is that it can kind of can cleanse a lot of the crap out\r\n of the system.  I mean, we’ve just come through a period of enormous \r\nand, in some ways excessive, prosperity.  A lot of what we’ve built has \r\nbeen excessive and more than a little vulgar.  So if the recession puts \r\nan end to the McMansion, it will have been a social good in some way \r\nactually.  That’s not to—I don’t mean to be flippant about it, obviously\r\n there is more social ill to a recession than social good, but somewhere\r\n within all the awful stuff, there’ll be a modest silver lining and that\r\n might be that we will begin to understand that, you know, an \r\nupper-middle class prosperous family of four does not require 15,000 \r\nsquare feet of living space as a bare minimum, which is the way a lot of\r\n the country's been operating in the age of the McMansion.
Has the recession affected certain types of architecture disproportionately?

Paul Goldberger: The recession’s affected architecture at\r\n all levels, I think, because there’s not much money to build.  \r\nRemember, commercial building, nobody builds with their own money.  It’s\r\n all money that gets lent by financial institutions.  And they’re not \r\ndoing it right now, in this climate.  So buildings at all levels have \r\nbeen affected.  The government is not building much, commercial \r\ndevelopers are not building much.  About the only amount of building you\r\n do see is some institutional building; academic institutions, cultural \r\ninstitutions, perhaps that had been planning projects for a long time, \r\nhave raised a lot of the money they need through private philanthropy \r\nand are also figuring that, with construction way down this is actually a\r\n good time because they can build it at a cheaper price then they might \r\nif things come back in a couple of years. So they’re going ahead with a \r\ncertain number of projects, but an awful lot of stuff is not \r\nhappening—in that category as well as other categories.  So, it’s way \r\ndown at all levels. 

We’re coming out of this period when \r\narchitecture’s been incredibly ambitious and sometimes too ambitious \r\neven.  Although far be it from me as an architecture critic to say \r\nthere’s such a thing as architecture being too ambitious, but in fact, \r\nsometimes it has been.  It’s tried to hard; it’s sort of acted as if it \r\nwas going to solve all the world’s ills by a bunch of fancy buildings. 

In\r\n any case, I think we are pulling back on a lot of that stuff and there,\r\n there is both a good and a bad side also.  The good side is sometimes \r\nthings are being done just in a more simple, clear, basic way without a \r\nlot of unnecessary frills and fuss.  You know, it kind of... maybe we’ll\r\n get back to a respect for a kind of modernist purity sometimes.  And \r\nthat's all to the good. 

On the other hand, if things are just \r\ndone more cheaply with crappy, junky materials, that’s not to the good. \r\n And I think we’re seeing some of both of those things right now.

Recorded on June 22, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman

The economic downturn has drastically cut the volume of new buildings. But the pause may "cleanse a lot of the crap out of the system."

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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?

Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.

Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.