The The Unemployed Graduates of Calvin's esteemed pre-architecture program


The End (Of the Beginning)

Um...hello? Is there anybody out there?

It's been a while since we graduated, our endeavors have diverged - have our perspectives? I'm curious to know if/how people's thinking has changed since our last ARCH 396 class. Seems like a little..."real world" (scanned for alternate term, found none) experience would have a tendency to make our learning more grounded, and our ideas for implementation more viable and applicable.

I've been working a non-architecture job in the very socially dysfunctional city of Wilmington, Delaware for the past six months. As a bicycle courier I experienced radical juxtapositions between street level crime and criminally opulent top-floor law firms. During my time working within one such firm I witnessed corporate glut and irresponsibility first hand. Nothing massive, just prevalent tendencies which indicated what I already knew: the omnipotence of $$$.

Wilmington is a city defined by corporate headquarters plus the ensuing corporate law firms, and poverty stricken slums. There is little-to-no middle-ground. Wealthy business men and women drive into the city from the safety of surrounding suburbs. These 'success' types park their Mercedes and BMW's in off-street garages.

Outside of the limited business and legal district, however, are poor black neighborhoods fraught with drugs, violence and AIDS. Because the money is only in town from 9 to 5 there's a deficit of mixed-use buildings and points-of-interest. There does seem to be a fair amount of attention directed toward rejuvenating Wilmington (mostly on the part of impotent non-profits). Much of the public concern seems to be assuaged by well advertised development dollars which are being pumped into the peripheral riverfront area. This "investment" has manifested in the form of cookie-cutter townhouses and a premium condominium high-rise (across the river, well insulated from the actual city by both water and a busy divided road).

So a developer builds a $300M residential building which caters exclusively to the very wealthy, and it's touted as progress.
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The implementation of architecture for social change seems impossible, especially when working within the parameters of an urban environment where previous constructs and paradigms are deeply seated. Modernists dreamed about levelling cities entirely and starting afresh. I'm not as concerned about existing physical impediments, rather the hurdle in people's hearts and minds. How is it possible to motivate fallen people (us, them, me) to rise above our own self-destructive, unsustainable compulsions?

The (?) doesn't seem to have changed much over time, revolutions have come and gone. I would be lying if I claimed to have never compared Progress to Delusion. But negativity begets more negativity, and I don't consider this perspective grounded on anything other than ego. I'd like to read about how others' post-Calvin experiences have related to or impacted their thinking about architecture and social justice.

Postscript: I live in a developer-built condo in Sprawlville, USA. I drive 20 miles each way on a congested highway to and from work. Guilty.