In the obsolete, conservative vision proposed by the AIA, which can be also witnessed in some architecture schools, a new generation of future architects responds with other visions of what their role as an architect might be. As examples of new political approaches to architecture, we introduce the work of six such people: Olivia Ahn, Zulaikha Ayub, Alicia Olushola Ajayi, Melisa Betts, Ylan Vo, and Whitney Hansley. All have graduated in recent years/months from schools in Saint Louis, Boston, and New York; their work as students as well as young professionals demonstrates a vision of architecture diametrically opposed to the ruling conservatism. Such a vision indubitably begins with the architect’s imagination, informed by various encounters that include readings. For this reason, the author asked the six to provide a list of five books that havemost influenced their understanding of society. Although two of them have included books by Peter Eisenman and Bernard Tschumi, traditionally taught in American architecture schools, the other 28 books are definitely outside the standard canon. The few architect-authors cited are also activists (Lori Brown: feminism and reproductive justice; Craig Wilkins: racial equality; Jan Gehl: environmentalism) but this bibliography mainly consists of authors who explicitly have little to do with architecture. Some are poets, others are novelists, but most are historical and contemporary activists who are involved in the African-American struggle, gender fluidity, and self-care, as well as in the fight against racism, the carceral system, and neo-colonialism. Such a select list certainly indicates the politics that might be mobilised through their work, as attested to by their thesis projects at school.
Olivia Ahn worked on the relationship between the American suburban house and the post-WWII (re)fabrication of the female gender; Zulaikha Ayub researched the territorial dimensions of the Manhattan Project in the elaboration of the atomic bomb; Alicia Olushola Ajayi’s project addressed the contemporary state of an 18th-century African-American settlement in Illinois; Melisa Betts designed an architecture school that had turned entirely to collaborations with local activist and community associations; Ylan Vo’s precision research tackled the massive use of the toxic Agent Orange by the US military in Vietnam; and Whitney Hansley’s work was dedicated to drastically re-thinking the highly unhealthy public housing in the Bay Area that has significantly reduced the life expectancy of its pre-dominantly African-American residents.