To observe the city you must appreciate architecture, how it shapes and misshapes spaces and places for human endeavor, be it working, playing, whatever.
For me, architecture has been both an occupation and preoccupation, as a critic, author, urban designer, developer or simply a homeowner. It continues to absorb me.
Architects are another matter, as I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and select websites everywhere.
They are people, and like all people, good and bad, and many as designers with the skill, gifted or learned, to craft environments.
But I sadly observe architects as a profession is constantly being compromised by the cruel math dominating our society, of greed divided by fear, and megalomania by paranoia.
So, one might ask, in the world of development, populated by bureaucrats, bankers, builders and lawyers, whither architects? What value do they have, and how do they share it, if at all.
Those were the questions raised recently at a “think-in,” at UCLA, sponsored by the Architecture Lobby, a fledgling movement with chapters in select cities, including New York City, Chicago and now L.A.
Based incongruously in the historically preeminent white, male, elitist Yale School of Architecture, the lobby can be described as a clique of agent provocateurs.
The Lobby defines itself as an activist organization “trying to undo practical and conceptual constructs that both limit the relevance and financial rewards of the architectural profession.”
We’re talking here of an industry with a history of abusing rank-and-file architects, specifically by low pay, overtime demands and withholding creative credit.
The stories of gross inequities and unsavory behavior are legend, particularly by star architects and big firms, as if they had a license to be arrogant.
Led by Peggy Deamer of Yale, and joined by a panel of locals, the talk-in at UCLA focused on a number of controversial issues sure to raise the hackles of design firms, and, in general, the building industry.
These included what labor laws might apply to architecture, what could be new models for fees, and generally how living conditions for all can be improved.
Raised was the possibility of forming a guild or a union, however slim, given the romanticized notion that architecture is not a career but a calling, which is often used as a guise by management to shortchange staff.
Not much hope was expressed that the A.I.A. oligarchy might enter the fray on behalf architecture’s worker bees, beholden as it is to the profession’s principals.
There also was a panel on the media, and how it might overcome its obsession with star architects, and be more resistant to being compromised by the star firms. Noted was the increased blurring of the line between critic and publicist.
It was suggested if they would instead focus on design issues that affect people they perhaps would generate more public interest in architecture. Not present was the mainstream media.
Indeed, only about two dozen people attended the Talk-In at UCLA, which not incidentally is offering, as do other designs schools, a full slate of lectures featuring wannabe star architects talking about their projects.
Students might find those self-aggrandizing offerings engaging, but unquestionably the issues raised by the Architecture Lobby are more challenging and perhaps prescient. The profession should take note.