January 30, 2004

The Cure For Left Wing Architects

Over at Samizdata, this article provides a good overview at the effects of the current architectural process in tilting towards statist politics.

Architects are planners. Forgive me yet another obvious assertion but the point is that there is little that the architect imagines cannot be planned. If you can design a house, you can design furniture for that house or the city in which that house is located, so goes the thinking. If a chair, a house, a city, why not an economy?

I think that, to a great extent, the problem of zoning and the problem of leftist politics is a problem of the primitive state of the architectural specification document. A vague, simple request "build me an office building for 500 people" becomes a veritable blank slate for the architect to imagine that he can behave as a little Stalin, redrawing border at whim, a miniature Pol Pot moving entire populations to his decree, the power is positively giddy and the blank sheet of paper is a good analogue for the vision of mankind as mere modeling clay to be shaped to the architect's desire.

In order to keep down the negative externalities of maniacal architects and aesthetically twisted and nasty, vengeful owners, zoning was instituted. But wouldn't the process of societal accommodation be furthered by opening up the spec document instead? Wouldn't the aesthetic impulse be better spent on the front end in presenting an architect with a rich document that will sail through the neighborhood approval process rather than a spare document that creates the illusion that the community interests are only a barrier that must be crossed in the political process of plan approval?

There may indeed be an architectural vocation, but imagining the task of creating community as being like a Michelangelo working on his statuary does violence to the communitarian essence of architecture. Instead of the artist in the salon, architects would do well to look at Wikimedia's construction style. I am amazed at Wikipedia and will occasionally contribute minor improvements where I can. For the most part they are accepted but I've been ruthlessly excised where I've transgressed.

There is no reason for a community not to build and rework their physical infrastructure in a similar manner. Certainly moving cement and wood around is a great deal slower and more expensive than slinging electrons around but the same voluntary community spirit would produce good results. And it would certainly be more participative, more efficient, and less expensive than the complicated zoning board process that plagues so many decisions currently.

Posted by TMLutas at January 30, 2004 12:16 PM