Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement

Small Scale, Big Change by Andres Lepik (Author), Barry Bergdoll (Introduction)
Small Scale, Big Change by Andres Lepik (Author), Barry Bergdoll (Introduction)

“The role of the global architect in society is changing. Instead of waiting for commissions to come their way, architects are initiating and developing practical solutions in response to dramatically changing living conditions in many parts of the world today. Small Scale, Big Change focuses on a central chapter of this shift, presenting recently built or under-construction works in underserved communities around the globe by 11 architects and firms.

Without sacrificing concern for aesthetics, these architects have developed projects that reveal a post-utopian specificity of place; their architectural solutions emerge from close collaboration with future users and sustained research into local conditions. The projects–which include schools, parks, housing and infrastructural interventions–reveal an exciting change in the longstanding dialogue between architecture and society, as the architect’s roles, methods, approaches and responsibilities are dramatically reevaluated. They also offer an expanded definition of sustainability that moves beyond experimentation with new materials and technologies to encompass larger concepts of social and economic sustainability. Small Scale, Big Change examines the evolving standards of responsibility and participation in architecture and the ways in which architects can engage critically with larger social, economic and political issues currently facing communities around the world.”

5 thoughts on “Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement”

  1. Owen,

    Some of the projects in the book are very worthwhile. You have featured some of them on your blog.

    That doesn’t mean that the book is worth a dog poo.

    I watched (more like listened) to a lecture that the author gave that was posted on Vimeo.

    It became clear listening to it that he has never himself taken on a project for the underprivileged. He simply writes and talks about projects that others have undertaken. He’s a member of the privileged class that talks a good game around other privileged people. I seriously doubt he’s ever had callouses. Dirt under his fingernails is a foreign concept.

    You’ve heard the expression? “Those that can DO. Those that can’t TEACH!”

    This guy teaches at Harvard.

    So he teaches spoiled rich kids and needs to suck up to spoiled rich kids’ parents to keep the money flowing in.

    He may be a very talented architect in theory, especially with overpriced commercialized unnatural materials, but I see nothing in his background that would make him anything but a bystander when it comes to the needs of most of society.

    Some of the ideas he promotes are good ideas, but THEY ARE NOT HIS IDEAS.

    The best words I heard him utter in his lecture were the ideas of real people out in the world actually doing good things.

    I think he’s a pretender adding nothing of substance to the discussion.

    In my opinion, his primary role in society is to gather together hundreds of millions in donations from rich contributors to build more buildings on the Harvard Campus.

    Oh sure, once in a while, he may raise a few thousand pennies to help build grand projects (comparatively modest) intended to keep the poor and underprivileged people of the world under the thumb of wealthy corporations who underpay and exploit them. While at the same time those projects make those same people feel superior and philanthropic about their donations.

    I doubt Mr. Lepik has ever spent a night in a poor village in a sweaty shirt swatting bugs while sitting around a campfire with others he has been digging in the dirt with all day long in the heat of the sun. In my opinion, anyone who has not at least had this minimal experience is unqualified to speak about what is best for poor.

    I would LOVE to be wrong about him, but I doubt it. I really really doubt it. Sadly I’ve met far too many snobbish pretenders like him. People like that are a big reason I changed careers, got out from behind a desk, and started working with my hands many years ago. Best decision I ever made, even if I could have made more money behind a desk in an office somewhere.

  2. This is a first. I actually got MORE information from Jay and Owen’s comments than I did from the post. I am in agreement with both Jay and Owen. Thanks you guys….YOU were the good read.

  3. I had to Google “Post Utopian.”

    Perhaps I’m the only one that was in the dark about what precisely that phrase encompasses? On the chance that others are mystified as well, here is what I found:

    Here is a very “nerdy” long winded discussion of “Post Utopian Urbanism.”

    I’ve read a few other items on the topic, but I’m not going to post all of them. They’re not worth everyone’s time. I’m not even sure the link above is worth the time to read.

    My personal take…

    “Post Utopian” is a buzzword, or hip catchphrase currently being used. I consider the phrase a complete misnomer. It appears that those that use it are referring to the FLAWED concept that cities are the ultimate expression of the perfect society, and how that concept is a myth that is currently collapsing.

    I consider this a case of a few brainiacs having too much time on their hands, so they invented a new phrase to make themselves look important and educated.

    I don’t think very many people ever considered cities as utopias. I know I never have. Only a few self important Urban Planners probably ever thought that. Maybe some snobby rich upper crust debutantes thought cities were or could become utopias, but only because the city allowed them to live an extravagant lifestyle through taking advantage of those less well-off.

    I am of the opinion that most people have always thought of cities, no matter how well designed and run, as necessary evils with multitudes of flaws, most of which were insolvable. Cities were simply a place where there were a lot of jobs, so people kinda had to live there and make the best of it. Given the chance, most people living in cities would rather get out and live a better life somewhere else. I think that’s always been the case throughout history.

    Feel free to disagree with me. This is just my opinion, and much of what I have said is conjecture as to the opinions of the masses. It’s not like have poll numbers to back any of my opinions.

    In any case. That topic is what the authors Owen quoted seem to have been referring to.

    Yes… I’m ranting… at a lot of things.

    “Post Utopian Specificity of Place”

    Seriously? Who talks like that?
    answer to the rhetorical question…
    Someone that has inferiority issues and wants to project an impression that they are more important than what they are.

    I seriously doubt that anyone that writes like that spends their time talking to or experiencing the needs or wants of the poor or underprivileged. It’s possible, but so unlikely that I suspect that it’s nearly impossible this writer is significantly in touch with the needs of today’s society, especially the majority of society that is struggling to get by from paycheck to paycheck.

    Oh well. I guess I’ll never get invited to one of their snotty high society parties where they drink expensive champaign and eat caviar. That way they can piss and poop out all that expensive food and drink from that party that cost more than several houses for poor families.

    In my opinion, society would be far better off if poor and under privileged people were allowed to build their own houses they way they want them without the upper crust imposing their stupid building codes and wasteful expensive systems on everyone else.

    /end rant

    • Count me a country boy. Combining “urban” and “utopia” in one phrase sounds like screeching nails on chalkboard. I just returned from the big city and I can assure everyone it was definitely not utopia. So what’s changed in the last year or two? More traffic, more noise, more pollution, more people, more trash, and new electronic billboards. These things seem like they should be illegal due to the increase driving hazard. Getting distracted for even one second can cause an accident, and with flashing models in underwear some people might get distracted for more than one second. Also, it’s getting more and more difficult getting around. We had a GPS navigation device and still it took hours to get from one point to another. More often than not the GPS device would tell us the signal was lost — “No signal.”

      That said, I love the social architecture concept the author is talking about where design professionals work closely with local communities to build affordable, sustainable dwellings. I haven’t read the book and so I can’t say if the featured projects live up to this ideal.

  4. Interesting commentary by William N. Hunter
    “Social Design” creeps into the mainstream: Is it here to stay and in what way?

    “If the two recent exhibitions held in New York are part of any confirming indication that a legitimate shift in socially responsive architecture and design has indeed arrived, then it is by time the professional and academic community at large begin engaging in a critical discourse in relation to the practices and products of this movement. The Museum of Modern Art’s Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement and the Cooper Hewitt-produced Design with the Other 90%: CITIES at the United Nations highlighted an array of projects, practices, designers, and organizations that are seemingly appearing and operating outside the usual mainstream avenues of delivery. Likewise the recently published Spatial Agency project led by Tatjana Schneider and Jeremy Till attempts to uncover another way of doing architecture, one that eschews the image of architect as individual hero, replacing it with an idea of architect as agent, acting and collaborating with, and on behalf of, others. These happenings represent a larger buzz gripping architectural reporting and discourse.”


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