Architect as Cultural Broker.

It does not seem a big leap for architects, since we engage in the service of our client’s unique needs on a routine basis, to overlay the lens of architecture and begin to surmise, the role of Architect as Cultural Broker. There are blogs already written on What is a Cultural Broker? and Cultural Brokerage.

As we consider our own profession and practice, do our standards for corporate responsibility espouse the People-part of the Triple Bottom Line’s People, Planet and Profit which is so well established in the everyday-lexicon, in the same regard as say Planet (sustainability) as recent green-washing trends project? Post-Katrina New Orleans comes to mind as having had the most potential and success for bringing out the very best in us and our profession, Profit aside, for the moment.

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And when is our work in such diverse regions and locales and with clients from the full-spectrum of backgrounds, not to mention our work overseas or for that matter, work for the State Department for a certain few, a true cultural brokerage, or is our neglect (or reaction to real threats/global hysteria) just another form of cultural imperialism?

It was quoted in a recent Washington Post article entitled Hardened U.S. Embassies Symbolic of Old Fears, Critics Say that embassy design post 9/11 had experienced “the dark ages as far as the design culture was concerned.” Are they referring to New Embassy Compounds like the NEC in Turkey?

NEC Turkey
Fortified: NEC Turkey

It also mentions SOM’s celebrated Embassy in Beijing. But does it epitomize cultural brokerage when SOM states:

“Responding to the building’s diplomatic role, SOM created a secure space that is both welcoming and respectful of local traditions. To mitigate its scale, and create a light aesthetic, the complex was broken up into “neighborhoods” based on security and functional requirements. Simple architectural geometries, coupled with gardens and courtyards, symbolically fuse eastern and western traditions.”
NEC Beijing
NEC Beijing: “a light aesthetic?”
Back on the ground, Post-Katrina responses like Make it Right make cultural brokers out of architects. Small gestures (single-family homes in the Lower 9th Ward), one house at a time, reaching individual lives, families, whole neighborhoods, the city, with a kind of diplomacy of the heart, if you will. Compare this to the old State Department memo on Standard Embassy Design? What will be this Administration’s Standard for Diplomacy and Design abroad and what will be the role of the Architect as Cultural Broker? Jane C. Loeffler, author of The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America’s Embassies, has given the matter considerable thought. She blogs more recently in Jane C. Loeffler: Building Hope Abroad and suggests a cultural shift afoot. And somewhere between Brad Pitt and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is an army of architects ready to make a career, making it right.
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