Cruz I think not only sites of economic power offer us formalist opportunities that excite us; we should also engage the sites of conflicts and the environments of marginalization where the issues are incredibly volatile. . . . [W]e’ve become indulgent, thinking that experimentation can only be possible with huge money. We should be seduced and inspired by sites of conflict.
Record How do you envision architectural expression at these sites of conflict? Is intervention about improving the quality of life at those sites?
Cruz I’m not suggesting homogenization from the perspective of the social. This is about diversity. I think the socially based project and the hyper-stylized formalist object can coexist. Some interesting projects have occurred, on a larger scale, in Brazil, Bogota, India. And they’re not just about social housing or barrios or making the whole world a shantytown.
Record They’re not about turning barrios into Levittowns, either.
Cruz What we are responding to as architects has been determined by institutions and primarily from a Western perspective. I’m interested in looking for alternatives that would really examine density or economic development. In that sense there is an incredible power found in informal configurations of density and economy that could shape our ideal city. It’s not about reproducing the shantytown, but to translate it.
The best architecture, at least the ideal in my mind, would be urbanisms and architectures that mediate between large and small, between rich and poor, between formal and informal. But most of the time, the best examples of architecture we see published benefit one of those extremes. In that sense most of the architecture that is emblematic of progress are top-down redevelopment projects that are built at the expense of many communities.
Record Could today’s hyper-design movement help reposition practice, by, say, introducing a technology that can be deployed far more widely?
Cruz Basically the issue with that is that this architecture is extremely excessive and overindulgent. I don’t see how it can trickle down to a more social application because it represents huge economic power. We continue to perpetrate notions that experimentation just means formal investigation. I think the gap between artistic experimentation and social responsibility continues to be huge.
Record At a time in which rising food and fuel prices and global recession promises to push a significant number of people back into poverty and perhaps even slow or halt activity at the upper reaches of wealth, do you foresee this gap closing at all?
Cruz I don’t want to suggest that the gap will be closed only when the social and political are accepted as categories of the experimental. At this moment when the culture is divided between Republicans and Democrats — and I’m just completely flabbergasted that after eight years of stupid government the polls are still tied — this gap between formalism and social responsibility becomes equally polarizing.
From an interview with Teddy Cruz presented with a set of articles collected under the heading ‘Humanitarian Design,’ in the October Architectural Record. I’m not sympathetic to Cruz’s ideological direction — as in general I’m unsympathetic to anyone really committed to the language of ‘culture war’ and the various tactics of casting some entire class of people as dupes who act against their own obvious interests in the spheres of culture & politics. But ideology & political angst aside, his observations about public architecture failing in its role of social mediation are valuable, I think.