Ghost Of Our Cities


This semester, while questioning my future profession and current passion, architecture, I saw nothing in its history that resembled me. 

When I entered classes, in discussions I quickly noticed the lack of female scholars and the way everyone overlooked their beautiful accomplishments. I sought recognition of how cities were built with the prototype user being “men.” The education we receive will help form our moral compasses, ideologies, and principles, yet if the education continues to resemble the past, we, women architects, will continue to be the ghosts of our own profession.

For this reason, I wanted to hear the opinions of those who educate us. Recently, I interviewed Active Dean of Architecture and Design, David Goodman, he is a graduate of Cornell University and Harvard Graduate School of Design. He also holds a Ph.D. in Business Studies from IE University. 

Nisa Serin: Since you are the author of an article focusing on quantitative methods, to what extent is IE’s education able to carry out this idea in their courses, and do you believe that we are engaging with more quantitative methods that include social sciences?

David Goodman: Well, I do not always think that is the right approach. Architects have probably used their qualitative tools very extensively and their quantitative tools less extensively. In IE, we have unlimited possibilities for dealing with that. There are not too many places at the undergraduate level, I would say, but where we have made, I think, and I can hear speak about architecture and design, where there is a greater possibility is in the architecture degree. 

The final undergraduate project, PFG in Spanish, is really a time for students to begin to take a step toward research if that is what interests them. Right? So, for example, the one I just had a course in the architecture program on research methodology, and some of my students are going to do a quantitative study. Even qualitative research has a certain kind of rigorous structure that architects would benefit from. 

So, I have to say I was disappointed that in academia, that article, which I thought was sort of sound, has not been cited one single time in the literature. I do not believe it was going to get thousands, but maybe two. So I would not say it has caused a revolution. 

N.S.: To what extent do you agree with researchers, such as Dolores Hayden, in which gender-related social issues did change and shape the urban fabric throughout history? 

D.G.: When we do not talk about gender, we are leaving out a very important history, not just of the city, but of architecture and design. I really just do not like it when people say, well, you know, we have got to cover so much stuff. On some level, I understand what they mean by it and I myself struggle with this [too]. 

If you are going to talk about the Renaissance, you have got to talk about Michelangelo, you have got to talk about all of these figures… That does not mean that it is okay to just ignore 50% of the population and their role. So we have got to do better! 

For example, for many years, I was teaching a course in the old architecture program, and I talked about different important theoretical paradigms of utilitarianism, modernism, Marxism, structuralism, feminism, and many more. It was important in that class that all students, whether or not they were interested, had the basics of theory as it relates to a developed environment. I am trying to figure out a way to carry on that work in a new format.

N.S.: How can we implement more gender studies into our degree?

D.G.: Well, actually, something I have been speaking with the faculty about, is not just gender, because frankly, most of us are not European. 

I was not educated in Europe but in the US system. When I was educated, it was highly Eurocentric. Even knowing it was so, I took a class in Eurocentrism, which was a critique of it, nevertheless. And by the way, there were distribution requirements when I was an undergraduate that we had to take a certain number of classes from non-Western cultures. We had to take a certain number of classes even before 1800, on rights, diversity… And it was in a big liberal arts university, like Cornell. 

At the time, it was easier to do this right, because we had thousands of courses to choose from in architecture and design. Because of the way things are, we have a more limited number of electives. But that does not excuse us from the responsibility. Actually, if you want to do a rigorous job of education, it is impossible to educate rigorously without dealing with gender, race, Eurocentrism… These are important things. I have been talking about it with the faculty, and I will continue to. What I would not want is for it to be done in a way that is superficial; there is a superficial way to do it and a good way to do it. In the name of intellectual seriousness, you have to deal with it.

N.S.: Do you believe that our courses in architecture specifically do enough to reflect the dark and realistic side of practiced architecture, such as its effects and supports for the capitalist economic system, such as gentrification?

D.G.: I think that our school deals with architecture in a way that is very, I think, realistic. Realistic in the opportunity and limits of architecture. 

I am talking just about architecture here, because, we deal with this in the real estate degree. There are moments in the curriculum where we talk explicitly about the social aspect of architecture and the potential without talking about the economic systems. When we begin to deal with collective housing, those issues are inevitably there. I would not want to call it a dark side. I think that somewhat unfairly thinks about engagement with the economy as purely negative.

I think what we have to try to do is, to be humble about what the role of architecture is. In many cases, there are much broader forces going on there. And architecture, for better or worse, comes kind of late in that process! 

The decision to make a building is a decision that begins at this point, point x, right? Then at a point, x + 50 is when the architect gets involved, very often. One thing we can do is to try to get involved as citizens, as architects, earlier in the process, and not just wait for those commissions to come to us. I think that an entrepreneurial approach is something we try to instigate. The other is to understand that when we work as architects, we also have our ethical, moral, and civic obligations.  I hope that answers a little bit. 

I think gentrification is a question that architecture is involved in, but it would be both kind of arrogant and unfair to put sole responsibility for gentrification on the architects. There are so many other factors involved, and it is our hope that we can add something positive or create value for people in a humane and dignified way.

N.S.: What tools would you recommend, especially to architecture students, to practice in order to be able to grow into individuals that are well-rounded and with an understanding of several perspectives that can, in the future, create positive change around the world? 

D.G.: I think one is more idealistic about the world at your age; I know I was. As you move forward, it is important because you have to make difficult choices in your life. It is important to kind of know what lines you will not cross. This is the central one, having a moral compass of what is right, what is wrong, what I will do, what I will not do, what I believe is right, what I am willing to compromise on… 

It is about knowing very clearly the red lines you won’t cross. The first tool is that. The other is to be able to communicate clearly in writing, and in spoken word. These are very important specifically within architecture. We have our own way of talking and addressing, when it comes to people outside of our profession and respect them and not look down on them. We have pride in what we can do but also humility about our role because we are one piece of a larger puzzle. We are not superheroes.

In architecture, students and professionals are pushed to work and driven to work themselves to a limit which is extremely unhealthy for our mental state. How can we slowly start to create that change where that is not a necessity?

It is not only about mental health, but I would also add. I think it is about a decent wage, being paid for your time as an employee because it gets a chain of abuse. But frankly, that begins with firms and architects working for free. 

Effectively, lawyers work long hours, and all of those hours are billed to the client. Generally, architects are sloppy in billing for their time to the client or almost ashamed to do it. That gets passed down to young employees being asked or told to work long hours for no additional pay. And that gets passed down into the universities where we, unfortunately, pass along the message that the only way to do it right is to suffer physically. 

Is there a lot of work in architecture? More than other fields? Yeah. Okay, there is. Do I think it is possible to do without pulling a single all-nighter probably not? But are there ways that we can help our students understand that they have a right to a life-work balance? They do have a right to that!

So when we have 24-hour studio times, I hope it is clear that it is for work flexibility. Some people like to go for a run or a walk and come in at nine or ten and start working and sleep late. I mean, and also occasionally, on a deadline, you have got to put in hours. There is no way around it. But I believe strongly that we have to respect our time, and that ultimately means getting paid for it or not doing it when you are in practice.

The insights David Goodman provided in this article encompass extremely crucial matters and intricacies when it comes to understanding gender studies within the scope of architecture. My sincere thanks to David Goodman for his time and words.

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