Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Lack of Diversity in Architecture

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) released its "Demographic Diversity Audit Report" for the profession back in December of 2005 . However, because the report didn't seem to get the kind of attention it deserves (and because this kind of information isn't published annually), I am reposting highlights here. (See the AIA website for more information on this topic.)

Holland & Knight, LLP (a diversity counseling company) prepared the audit for the AIA.
You can read more about the methodology and findings as prepared by Holland & Knight (H&K) and issued to the AIA. I'm making the link to the H&K Report available, because I think it sheds even more light on the topic (and its implications for the profession.)

The American Institute of Architects Summary and Review 2005 Demographic Diversity Audit Report DECEMBER 2005 (report)

"According to the United States Census 2000 Special Tabulation, there are 192,860 architects in the United States. Of that number, 20.3% are women, 2.7% are Black, 5.6% are Hispanic, 6.3% are Asian, and .3% are American Indian.

The major limitation to the value of the data collected by the Census Bureau is that the Census Bureau relies on self-identification [Shantyworld emphasis added] in determining whether a person is an architect, and given the 192,860 figure compared to NCARB's 2004 figure of [only] roughly 101,179 [U.S.] architects, the Census numbers are grossly inflated. The inflated numbers are likely due to unregistered and unlicensed design professionals referring to themselves as architects.

The AIA's membership includes approximately half (52,000) of all registered architects in the United States, and the AIA collects and maintains demographic information on most of them.
[ShantyMinister's Note: It is actually illegal for a person in most US states to refer to themselves as an "architect", and to use the term with/to the public in marketing materials, business cards, letterhead, etc. unless the person holds a State license to practice architecture. Violators can (and often are) charged with Class 4 felony if they misrepresent their licensure status to the public.]

Other, and .45% identified as American Indian, versus the demographics of the profession based on 2000 Census data, which are 85.1% White, 2.7% Black, 5.6% Hispanic, 6.3% Asian, and .3% American Indian.

There were notable differences in the rates of AIA membership between the various racial/ethnic groups and across gender. Thirty-five percent of Blacks, 30% of Hispanics, 32% of Asians, 38% of American Indians, and 39% of Others were not members of the AIA.

Highest degree attained. The vast majority of respondents had either a B. Arch. (45%) or M. Arch. (36%). Only 5% of respondents had an accredited pre-professional architecture degree as their highest degree attained and 4% had a graduate degree in another field of study.
Female respondents (42%) were most likely to hold a M. Arch. as their highest degree attained, while male respondents (48%) were most likely to hold only a B. Arch.

State of Practice: Based on the number of respondents, the states with the highest overall representation of practicing architects were California (12%), Texas (8%), the D.C. metropolitan area (encompassing the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia) (8%), New York (7%), Illinois (5%), and Massachusetts (5%). This geographic distribution is consistent with the geographic distribution of architects generally according to the 2003 NCARB Survey of Registered Architects.

Licensure/Registration: Overall, nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) were licensed/registered. Of those survey respondents who were not licensed/registered (36%), 84% said they intended to seek licensure/registration. However, whereas 69% of White respondents were licensed/registered, only 45% to 48% of respondents of every other racial/ethnic group were licensed/registered, with no appreciable difference among the various racial/ethnic groups.

Primary Reason for Not Practicing: Over one third of overall respondents (35%) not practicing or not intending to practice architecture as a career identified "other" as their primary reason for not practicing. The second most commonly cited reason for not practicing was "professional dissatisfaction" (20%), comprised of "lack of job satisfaction" and "erosion of the architect's role in the building industry," followed closely by "compensation" (18%)."

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) published an article (July 2003) on its findings regarding the drop-out rate of women architects from the profession. The survey responses from practictioners in the RIBA research has some parallels to the AIA findings. (See the RIBA web site for more information.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Olympic Washington PARKing Lot

On Wednesday (Sept 20, 2006), Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley announced that Chicago's Washington Park would be the site for the proposed Olympic Stadium for the 2016 Olympics. YIKES !!

Washington Park is on Chicago's southside, just southwest of The University of Chicago. (Chicago Crain's photo)

Apparently, the announcement came as a total shock to the City Councilmen whose district(s) will be largely affected by the plans, in particular Ald. Arenda Troutman (20th ward). (Chicago Tribune story.)

Daley's staff contacted the aldermen only a few hours before the Wednesday afternoon press conference. What's more disappointing is that the Aldermen didn't seem to take offense at being left out of even the most preliminary of planning meetings as it relates to Olympic development and their constituency. Business as usual in Chicago.

I'll reserve my final judgment on the Stadium plans until Daley's committee presents them publicly, but I'm not hopeful nor encouraged by this announcement. To this planner, it just doesn't seem to fit. I don't think PARK space should be developed into stadium space. A park ceases being a park when it has concrete/steel/plastic or otherwise large man-made elements introduced where greenery use to exist.

The proposed 91,000+ seat Stadium is suppose to be a "temporary" structure. After the 2016 Olympics, the Stadium would be converted into a permanent 10,000 seat multi-use venue. Of course, Chicago has to first convince the Olympic Committee that the games should be held here in 2016.

However, should The Games come here, I see Washington Park turning into Washington Parking Lot. The parked cars (and buses and cabs) will be the only "PARK" in Washington Park.

- Who will be able to see any of Washington Park's landscaping after a 91,000 seat stadium, all the parking, and nearby support services are built around the stadium?

- How do you build a temporary parking lot that accommodates tens of thousands of people ?? (You close all the streets leading up to and through all nearby neighborhoods, and pave over all the grass and green space, and you don't tell the neighborhood residents nor the Alderman how you're going to do it --that's how. )

- And just how many 50-75 year old trees are going to be cut down to erect this "temporary" stadium? No such thing as temporarily cutting down 50+ year old trees.

Consider the massive concrete and paved areas required to service the existing 61,000 seat Soldier Field in nearby Downtown Chicago. Chicagoans are familiar w/ the sea of concrete paved parking lots surrounding Soldier Field. Just where are 30,000+ plus cars/visitors going to park in Washington Park? --which is bound to have substantial nearby (semi permanent) parking. Are multi-level parking structures consistent w/ a "Park" setting ?

Not to mention that fact that the arterial streets surrounding and traversing the area are woefully tight/under-sized for the traffic volumes that would be generated by such an international event like the Olympics. Just ask Hyde park / Garfield / 55th St residents..

If you think the Dan Ryan construction has fouled up the commute, Southside residents can start to look forward to the Olympic Washington PARKing lot starting in 2011.

And Southside residents should worry about eminent domain issues and PUBLIC land being grabbed for private development and private profiteering. I mean, this is a public park-- not private land that can be sold (or even leased long-term) to well-connected developers and fat cats for private gain (i.e. profit). Southsiders, be forewarned.

Let's hope that The Washington Park Advisory Council (led by President Cecelia Butler ) has substantive input during the entire process. Chicagoans and Southside residents need to speak up loudly about this one.

Parks provide a release from dense(r) urban life, man-made forms, and provide some modicum of tranquility for urban dwellers. Once the "Park" is gone, you won't get green space and the openess back. Some things should not be for sale (or lease).

[ And after the Dan Ryan project, does anyone think that this will open up opportunities for Chicago's non-majority business community ? ]

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A World Without Shanties

Wow, so much to talk about...

Topics I'll try to tackle in the coming months (in no particular order):

Architecture News
- potpourri of all things architecture related.

Like check out this fabulous wood viewing perch structure in the small town of Aurland, Norway. (photo, above left) The Aurland Look-Out, designed by Architects Todd Sanders (Canada) and Tommie Wilhelmsen (Norway). A marvelous example of great design & engineering. Visit the sites for more photos.

Great Design Finds
- this might include fabulous industrial design, a great new building/structure; a product or innovation; things that might make life easier; and fun stuff. If you know of a great find, send me a note !

Hideous House of the Month
(a.k.a. Latest Real Estate Scam of the Month, or Over Priced Building of the Month) - self explanatory. Something that's new(er), that's poorly built or is unsafe. Basically, this includes something otherwise insulting to the senses.

Feel free to send in/post your recommendations (include a photo). I'll need help compiling this one. Let's learn from mistakes made by others. Since poor taste is something that is prevalent the world over, this blog will never run out of examples and laughs to share.

Which leads me to a secondary topic under this heading: The need for Appraisal/ Real Estate pricing reform. I am always surprised that a significant portion of a house is valued (in our American system) based primarily on its location than the true (current) value of the labor and materials to erect the structure.

It seems to me, there ought to be two prices listed for American real estate:

1) the actual replacement price to build a like structure --should disaster hit, and
2) the cost to be in that location (which includes a social valuation for the size and type of lot). Hmm, maybe if broken out in such a manner, this could lead to all kinds of constitutional challenges. I could be on to something...

I suggest this because, I've seen plenty of buildings that if located in an "urban" area, might only be appraised at $120K. But then place the EXACT same structure in a predominantly white community and the value is three fold. Same shanty, different street. At its core, this seems spectacularly unfair (and ripe with discrimination of all kinds).

Similarly, I'm always baffled by people who pay $300-400K for a small, dilapidated shack in the suburbs.
If people want to pay more to be in a certain location, the real cost should be tied to the location (as a line item identifiable cost)-- not the actual cost to build the structure. [Fat chance getting rich people to buy into this approach.. but I thought I'd put it out there for others to consider..]

Under this system of valuation, you'd have one price for the land (and by inference, its location valuation), and another for your insurance and taxes upon which the structure is to be appraised. Oh no, such an approach might actually lower the premiums paid to the insurance companies and lower your taxes. Rats !

All this to say that the wealthy have hoodwinked & manipulated the working classes for centuries with this perverted western system for real estate valuation. (Hey, our system of laws were devised by land owners -- not the common working man.)

Lies My Contractor Told Me - As an architect, I haven't had a single project where the Contractor hasn't lied about something. Contractors always lie. It must be part of their DNA. Sometimes the lies are small, but annoying just the same. Other times, they were HUGE lies that could have compromised safety (or even destroyed the structure completely).

Basically, I'm talking about contractor nightmare stories. This is the side of construction HGTV and DIY networks don't like to focus on. I will post true construction stories here for all to learn from. Feel free to send me your construction nightmare stories.
Maybe we can get a contest going...(more on that later. But don't post proper names, phone numbers and addresses.. I'll have to delete those so we don't all get sued.) If you want to complain about a contractor, please do so to your local State's Attorney, Better Business Bureau and to Angie's List. Let's avoid lawsuits stemming from this site. )

Chicago & the Big Box Ordinance
- which is really all about working people needing a liveable wage and the lack of affordable housing (the world over). It just so happens that some Chicago Aldermen decided to heap their general discontent with the aforementioned on an easy target: WalMart. Wal-Mart, for many, represents the corporation that most completely represents bad corporate behavior (bad choices, really) when it comes to fair treatment of workers (here and abroad), true diversity (across all job positions), and slave-wage pay scales for product suppliers located outside the USA. ["Slave wages", a true oxymoron.]

See the AFL-CIO's take on Wal-Mart.
The secondary issues (which by no means are unimportant) include: Corporate largesse-- Growing corporate influence, control, wealth & greed; the general lack of US corporations feeling a greater responsibility to the communities and customers who made them profitable; monopolies & corporate consolidation.

Katrina / Gulf Coast ReBuilding Efforts
- Check out's Disaster Profiteering on the American Gulf Coast Fact Sheet. The Federal Response to Katrina: A National-- but predictable disgrace.

Plus, more to come! I've got so much ground to cover.. I can't post everything in the first month. Post your suggestions !

Sunday, September 10, 2006

It's A Brave New Shanty World

Welcome to My New Blog...Created on this day, 9/10/2006 because:
a) I have wanted to post architecture/planning/ design/social commentary and info for years, but (like many others) was too lazy/unmotivated/overwhelmed to know when and how to start.
b) because for years, I've been waxing on to my friends, clients and family members on various design, environmental and social issues with preacher-like fervor.

And lastly, c) created because I had some time to kill one Sunday. (This seemed like a moderately better use of my time... or maybe not. Time will tell.)

Anyway, pick whatever lame excuse you want.. I'll have plenty of excuses to try to slip past readers in the coming months and years.
Mostly, I want to discuss and share info related to Architecture, Urban Planning & Design -- perhaps with Socio-economic factors included for context. That allows for a pretty wide ranging discussion.

After 11 years on the internet, with membership in various Usenet groups, I figured I might as well try to spread my Shanty propaganda to a broader audience. (Architects are performers, you know..)  
I predicted various architecture/ construction / housing trends long before all the Johnny come-lately social pundits-- but had only my half-interested friends and family as corroborating parties to my insightful rants and late-night predictions.

Of course, some "predictions" aren't really so insightful. They are there for the taking by anyone with common sense and an understanding of American culture, economics and the human condition. 

For example, take the Go-Go Housing Boom of the 1990s (pre - 9/11/01).
What goes up, must come down.

OK, so that was not that tricky a trend/outcome to predict. However, what many people failed to recognize was that the grossly inflated (over valued, really) housing prices of the last 15 years actually will have a long and destructive impact on not just the real estate/housing & construction industries, but on the long-term economic health of the affected communities and the nation in general. (I will provide more facts to support this thesis in future posts, including links to data, economists, planners and others who share my conclusions on this subject.) 

 Anytime a house built for $180,000 sells for $850,000 (to a couple that earns a total of $110K per year), while real wages remain essentially flat (or decline in some cases), a housing bust has to follow. (That was one of my predictions that I was referring to earlier.)

But how do you convince yuppie dot com stock purchasers who have as-yet to sell high, that what you are saying is true (prior to the dot com stock collapse)? Saying, "I told you so" has such a sore loser, wish I had-your stock options tone to it. You just hope that your friends and family members who spent $400K for a $185K house don't have the need to liquidate/sell when the value goes through the downswing. On the other hand, for a community and a nation to right itself and get back on course, the correction HAS to happen-- even to your friends and family members.

Typical oppositional reply:
"Hey, who cares about that socialist/communist crap, Minister Shanty? I got mines.  It is your problem if you are too stupid to figure out how to get yours. A society that ensures its CITIZENS have decent housing and health care would be too much like the welfare state of the pre-Reagan years, or worse, like a "failed" Cuba or the former Soviet Union."

Answer: Well, no shanty is an island to itself.

The problem w/ the Go-Go Housing boom of the 1990s has more to do w/ the growing income/wealth gap between the upper and the working middle classes, and the lack of affordable housing than not wanting a portfolio to appreciate. We can't all afford to drive BMWs in a capitalist society-- at least not in the present American system, can we?

It's hard out here for a Maryland (or worse, Washington, DC) white collar pimp to buy a $450,000 house (median house price in a decent area) for a family of 2 or more on $75,000/year. Before the recently proposed minuscule raise in the Minimum [slave] Wage, the rate will have remained at $5.15/hour since 1995 -- an outrageously immoral rate (and duration) for a nation as wealthy as the USA.

What do you expect from a nation that built it's public and private wealth largely on slave labor?
It's not What You Make, It's What You Keep -

Sins of Omission: Over last 15 years, the mainstream press, construction & real estate media kept reporting that Housing starts were up, yet failed to notice/report/investigate the corresponding trends affecting household wealth and real earning power for the average American remained largely flat, or declined. Instead, the year 2000 saw a new era in social, national and foreign policy: The Happy Talk Era. If you don't hear bad news, did anything really bad happen (to us or to the nation)? In my region (the Midwest), home foreclosures were at an all time high (per capita). If housing starts increase by 1-3%, while home foreclosure rates double or triple in a region, what really is happening is a (re)distribution of wealth -- not just now, but perhaps for a generation or more. (And don't forget-- the bankruptcy laws were also changed in the last year.)

...but then, as one family member keeps telling me: a substantial portion of Americans are stupid and thus, cannot connect the dots on this nor most any other complex issue. Are we so doomed?

Since one's home/real estate is the primary way (most) Americans build family wealth (and pass it on to successive generations), do laws that shift/change/alter who and how wealth is accumulated affect the long term social fabric of a community, its economy and of a nation? Of course, I say they indeed do-- for the worse.
Yet few (in architecture, planning, finance, government, etc.) seemed willing to actually push an agenda which would serve to avert or quell the affordable housing shortage and the lack of real income growth among the working class and the working poor.

Instead, over the last 15 years, the top 2% of American households increased their net worth, while the American middle-class grew smaller and foreclosures, personal debt and bankruptcies reached an all time high for many Americans in the modern era.

The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina served to expose many social, private sector and governmental policy shortcomings -- at least expose them more plainly to those who have been uninterested and unwilling to look at what has been happening for quite some time. Surely folks who drive imported luxury cars and who live in their suburban starter castles didn't think poverty in America had been eradicated or that all social economic ills can be solved by the introduction of a Starbucks in every neighborhood?

Perhaps this blog will serve to document any future predictions, trends, remedies or concerns-- at least as I see 'em. I'm not a good typist and admit to being a so-so speller and editor.   So, I'll give you a pass on typos, and please extend to me the same courtesy.

I will delete / block spam, racist, hateful and untruthful posts from visitors to as I see fit.

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