Skip to content
Who's in the Video
Mitchell Joachim is a Co-Founder at Terrefuge and Terreform ONE. Currently he is faculty at Columbia University and Parsons. Formerly an architect at Gehry Partners, and Pei Cobb Freed. He[…]

Mitchell Joachim, co-founder of Terreform ONE, describes the positive changes that architects—the ultimate jack-of-all-trades—could bring about in politics, the housing crisis, the military, and retooling Detroit.

Question: How do you feel about Obama placing an architect as director of the HUD?

Mitchell Joachim: The Obama administration is putting has put in charge a director that is an architect or I guess formally an architect, and is it a good idea to put architects in politics? I think so. I think they’re certainly trained to be jacks of all trades that can handle multiple problems, multitask and think in many scales. I’m not really familiar directly with this individual personally that Obama’s put in charge for HUD. I think that our – if you look at our past administration’s successes, or I should say failures, it’s been pretty miserable.

The issue in New Orleans and I don’t know how many years it’s been that we’ve failed to make some kind of contribution to the people in New Orleans, kind of return them to a state of conviviality and lifestyle that they were used to or even just house these folks is appalling. I think putting an architect in charge of the problems, especially one with urban design skills, would almost be a fantasy and I’m glad the Obama administration is looking towards some architects to think about this. I wish we can make it happen even faster.

I’m surprised that something like the Beijing Olympics that seemingly happened overnight, just a few years, they went from zero to 1,000 and impressed the world with a grand, munificent display of architecture and culture and yet America can’t really solve its housing crisis. So architects have been, and that’s all across the globe, have been working on this problem for a good century and I don’t think we still have the right answer. But to keep us off the front lines like many of past administrations was the wrong answer.

How Architects Could Save Detroit 

Mitchell Joachim: God, I think, if I was to see Barack in an elevator some place in D.C., I think that the advice I would give him is to maybe but put more folks like architects in charge of some major problems that are out there. I think that we can actually reify them, visually show what those solutions might be in many different camps. They certainly wouldn’t put us in charge of the military but I think we can help retool Detroit a lot better than the folks there. And I think that we’re fitted to accept that.

There was a talk before the – you know, before this happened between the McCain camp and the Obama camp about what they should be promoting in their elections and there, I guess, the big issue was Detroit. And thinking about what we can do to save Detroit. And I had two separate answers for that. I think for the McCain camp, it would be the military can save Detroit and there are some serious reasons why. And for the Obama camp, there’s going to be science and innovation, maybe, and put some big thinkers in architecture involved for retooling Detroit. But for the McCain camp, if you think about it, getting to an all electric infrastructure, an all electric mobile infrastructure because DARPA and those folks in the military could make a decision like that. And that decision could be, let’s make tanks run on electric drives. Let’s make Jeeps run on electric drives. And let’s do that because those engines have almost no moving parts so they are very easy to fix. They make no sound and I think military folks like stealth. It’s a pretty good thing.

They are a switchable fabric, in other words, the component can be taken out of the tank and put into the Jeep very easily. Come out of the Jeep and put it into a helicopter. And they’re hard to knock out. Batteries could be laced inside all of these vehicles, helicopters, Jeeps, tanks. So that if you hit a certain part of that tank and knock out a section of the battery power, all of the power is not destroyed, it’s distributed throughout the vehicle. So it actually makes a more robust tank plus with electric systems it goes from zero to 100 instantly.

There’s no throttling that you’d find in gasoline powered systems or diesel powered systems so there’s a lot of reasons to use electric drive trains in our military vehicles. The biggest one is because we want to wean ourselves off of oil. We probably can source that electricity through a heavy amount of investment in renewable. And then we’d have a military that was completely independent and very powerful and once the military can do that, it certainly can show Detroit the trail. It can give them a direction.

Recorded on: September 11, 2009