Symposium "Right to Architecture" Bios & Abstracts

Lectures, Conferences & Events» Conferences» Symposium Right to Architecture

Thomas Fisher
Dean, College of Design,University of Minnesota

Is there a right to architecture? There is a universal right to shelter, as there is to everything else on the first two levels of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (food, water, warmth, security, stability, freedom from fear). But to claim a “right” to “architecture,” we need to qualify what we mean. If we mean by “architecture,” environments that enhance people’s sense of belonging (Maslow’s third level), their self-esteem (fourth level), and self-actualization (fifth level), and if we mean by “right,” an equal opportunity to meet these fundamental needs, then the answer to the opening question is “yes.” But if we mean by “architecture,” the artistic practice of professional architects, and by “right,” the guarantee of something, then no, people do not have a right to architecture. Indeed, given the provocations that sometimes arise from self-actualized architects’ own creative expression through their buildings, it might be more the case that people have a right not to have to endure such architecture. Accordingly, the question of whether people have a right to architecture demands that, if we are to answer it in the affirmative, architects must attend much more to the hierarchy of other’s needs and much less to their own.

Thomas Fisher is a Professor in the School of Architecture, Dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, and a former President and Board Member of the ACSA. A graduate of Cornell University in architecture and Case Western Reserve University in intellectual history, he has written extensively about architecture and ethics, including the 2008 book Architectural Design and Ethics, Tools for Survival (The Architectural Press) and the 2010 book Ethics for Architects, 50 Dilemmas of Professional Practice (Princeton Architectural Press). A third book-length manuscript on ethics is currently under review by a publisher. He has also written a chapter on the history of ethics education in Architecture School: Three Centuries of Educating Architects in North America, and has written part of the chapter on ethics for the next edition of The Architects Handbook of Professional Practice.


Anna Heringer
Architect, Salzburg, Austria

The biggest challenge for architects at present is to build safe and good living conditions for seven billion people and to use architecture as a tool to foster social justice, to enrich our built environment with cultural diversity and to stabilize our planet`s  ecosystem.
My impression is that our architectural education systems are not able yet to prepare architects to face that challenge. Why are there so many architects unemployed when at the same time the major part of our global population is in need of planners? And are we aware of the power and responsibility that is embodied in our designs?
Every choice of a building technology or material decides on who is getting the profit of the building. Is the construction labour intensive and a lot of craftsmanship involved or is the construction material intensive, supporting big industries? Architecture is very political in that sense.  Whatever we build ends somewhere: in the water, the atmosphere and in the ground which affects a lot of people.
The right to architecture is also a right to access resources. It`ll probably a good start for every design process to ask yourself: How would the world look like if seven billion people design and build this way?

At the age of 19 Anna spent a year in Bangladesh as development learner. Since then developmentwork is her passion. She graduated from Linz University of Arts in 2004 with the design for the „Handmade-school in Rudrapur“ made of bamboo and mud. In 2005/2006 the school was realized followed by housing projects in 2007/08. She was visiting professor in Stuttgart and Vienna and director of  BASEhabitat, Linz from 2008 – 2011. Since 2010 she has been the honorary professor of the UNESCO Chair Earthen Architecture Programme. Last year she was a Loeb Fellow at Harvard`s GSD. She currently works on projects in Africa and Asia with local materials in the focus. Her work was shown at MoMA in New York, la Loge in Brussels, Cité d`architecture and du patrimoine in Paris, the MAM in Sao Paulo, the Aedes Galery in Berlin and at the Venice Biennal. She recieved a number of awards such as the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (2007), the AR Emerging Architecture Awards (2006 and 2008), the Archprix–Hunter Douglas Award (2006) and the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture (2011).


Kareem Ibrahim
Architect and Planner, Takween Integrated Community Development

The term ‘Right to Architecture’ assumes there are three elements: a right, people who claim the right, and custodians of the right. If local communities strive day after day to claim their right to architecture, are architects the custodians?
In fact, architects are often accused of serving only the rich and the ones who can afford their services. Architects are also accused of excluding the needs of their local communities when it comes to designing public buildings and spaces. Architects are accused that they are simply indifferent.
In some other cases architects start to care. As a result, they believe they are the custodians of the right to architecture. But such beliefs soon end up with failing attempts of social engineering. Hassan Fathy’s New Gourna and so as many similar projects are good examples of architects’ illusions of total control and ability to influence and shape people’s lives. Such architects believe they are the only ones who possess the wisdom, knowledge and ability to grant local communities their right to architecture.
In a world where local communities produce more than 90% of its built environment without the need for architects, should not architects be more realistic about their true influence? What would be the role of architects to support such local communities? How would architects escape the traps of either being indifferent or falling under illusions of social engineering and absolute control?
In fact, architects have many roles to play beyond their conventional practice and direct community participation models. The development of economic, social and cultural rights since the 1960s in different urban contexts around the world provides architects with more responsibilities towards their communities. These roles and responsibilities transcend the direct technical functions of today’s architect, to what is economic and political about their profession.
This presentation is an attempt to explore the parameters among which architects can find a role to support local communities. It also tries to identify what elements constitute the ‘Right to Architecture’ and how to work with local communities to claim it. And finally, it demonstrates the efforts of a group of Egyptian architects who strive to work with local communities, while trying to find practical mechanisms to sustain their daily business in today’s Egypt.

Kareem IbrahimI is an architect and planner graduate from Cairo University in 1995. In 1997, he worked on the UNDP's Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project. He has also worked for Aga Khan Cultural Services - Egypt between 1997 and 2010 as the Built Environment Coordinator of the Darb al-Ahmar Revitalization Project, one of Cairo's most ambitious urban revitalization programs. In 2009, he co-founded Takween Integrated Community Development and has been working on a range of issues including sustainable architecture, participatory planning, affordable housing, public infrastructure, and urban revitalization throughout Egypt with a number of local and international organizations.


Cathleen McGuigan
Editor-in-Chief, Architectural Record - Editorial Director GreenSource and SNAP McGraw-Hill Construction

Architectural journalism attempts not to set agendas but to reflect what is transpiring in the field of design and the culture at large. Yet editors, journalists and critics can play a key role in architecture’s shifting priorities. This session will examine how magazines, exhibitions, conferences, Internet sites and social media have actively promoted humanitarian design. It also will explore in brief the critical connections of this growing movement to current changes in architecture and culture, including the economic recession; an expanded focus on urbanism and public space; the rise of sustainability and its emphasis on local conditions; the waning obsession with iconic architecture; and the increase of cross-disciplinary collaborations among architects, urbanists, and social scientists.

Cathleen McGuigan is editor-in-chief of Architectural Record, the nation’s leading architecture publication for more than a century. McGuigan, who is the second woman to serve as editor in chief, was named to the post in 2011.  Under her leadership, Record won the 2012 Grand Neal award, the top American Business Media award for overall excellence, as well as being named to the Media Power 50 list in B to B Magazine. She also serves as editorial director of GreenSource, an award-winning sustainable design magazine launched in 2006, and SNAP, a products publication that debuted in 2009.
McGuigan, a former Newsweek architecture critic and arts editor, has more than three decades of cultural journalism experience. A Michigan native, she holds a BA degree in English, with a minor in art history, from Brown University.  In 1992-93, she was a Loeb Fellow at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard.
Besides her career at Newsweek, where she was on staff from 1977 to 2008, McGuigan has worked as a consultant for various clients, including the Syracuse University School of Architecture. She served as an executive editor of HQ: Good Design Is Good Business, a McGraw-Hill pilot project. Her freelance articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Smithsonian, and Harper’s Bazaar, among otherperiodicals. McGuigan has taught at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and has been a Poynter Fellow at Yale. Currently conducting research for a biography of the critic Aline Saarinen, she also serves on various design juries and sits on the board of trustees of the Skyscraper Museum in New York.


Rahul Mehrotra
Professor and Chair Department of Urban Planning and Design, Harvard University

Architects and Designers working in India are now dealing with an entire gamut of social, cultural and economic phenomenon that are molding the built environment at phenomenally rapid rates. In the process, the role of the professional architect has been marginalized - for within conventional praxis, the professional does not engage with this broader landscape but rather chooses to operate with the specificity of a site and in the process often becomes disconnected with the context of practice. Thus our approach to Working in Mumbai has been to actually use the city and region of our operation as a generator of practice - as a way for us to evolve an approach and architectural vocabulary that draws its nourishment from a more elastic definition of the profession which sees multiple disciplines as being simultaneously valid in engaging with this kinetic landscape.
The city of Mumbai has served as a laboratory from which the practice has extracted lessons through our involvement with a wide range of activities in the city. In this schizophrenic space, research became an important activity - the mechanism to understand the city. We looked at architecture, urban history, documented historic areas as well as contemporary urban centers and architecture, worked with conservation legislation, interacted with local history groups, worked on policies for recycling land in the city and an entire gamut of activities that engaged us with the problems of the city. Through these engagements we were exposed to the different worlds that existed in the city and the different ‘times’ that created these varied worlds. To cut across these differences while respecting their integrity and aspirations became somewhat of an obsession. How do we as architects work with the many worlds in the city - do we respond simultaneously to the time past, present and future. How do we do this when all these times exist simultaneously? Can we design with a divided mind?
This naturally raises the question of the agency of architecture to work across this gamut of questions, issues and conditions and the protocols by which one might engage in these emergent geographies. Often the business as usual protocols, now universalized in the global economy, have little relevance to the operations on the ground aside from preparing a city or territory for the reception of impatient capital. Thus the question that emerges is what might be the role of an architect and the form of practice in that it can engage with an entire spectrum of society. This presentation titled ‘cross subsidy’ will propose a (business / practice) model of cross subsidy as a method by which this engagement can be broadened. The larger question that will be posed is how plural models of practice can inform the process of constructing suitable hybrids for intervening in different localities. The experiences and projects by RMA architects will be used to illustrate how cross subsidy is a model that could situate practice and engage it with society more meaningfully.

Rahul Mehrotra is a practising architect and educator. He works in Mumbai and teaches at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, where he is Professor of Urban Design and Planning, and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design as well as a member of the steering committee of Harvard’s South Asia Initiative.
His practice, RMA Architects (, founded in 1990, has executed a range of projects across India. These diverse projects have engaged many issues, multiple constituencies and varying scales, from interior design and architecture to urban design, conservation and planning. As Trustee of the Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI), and Partners for Urban Knowledge Action and Research (PUKAR) both based in Mumbai, Mehrotra continues to be actively involved as an activist in the civic and urban affairs of the city.
Mehrotra has written and lectured extensively on architecture, conservation and urban planning. He has written, co-authored and edited a vast repertoire of books on Mumbai, its urban history, its historic buildings, public spaces and planning processes. He is a member of the Steering Committee of the Aga Khan Awards for Architecture and currently serves on the governing boards of the London School of Economics Cities Programme and the Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS).


Zenovia Toloudi
Visiting Assistant Professor, Wentworth Institute of Technology

Crisis comes with conflicts, instability, anxiety, and many other practical but also psychological problems. Democracy and freedom are often deteriorated to ensure stability; the public space disappears to allow the space of obedience to establish itself until the crisis dissolves. Recent movements, like the Occupy Movement, or Greece’s and Spain’s Indignants reacting to these conditions inhabit public space and transform it in a similar way to that of performing arts’ interventions. Based on the presumed relationship between dance (χορ?ς, chorós) and space (χορ?ς, chorós) as in the Ancient Greek Theater, the paper examines the possibility of performanceto become crowd’s medium to participate in the production of architecture. More specifically performance within architecture is examined in the collaborative and interdisciplinary practice of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who have been pioneers addressing architecturally the social, the body-politics, and surveillance-control problematics; the curatorial positions of Pedro Gadanho, in which performance implies participation; and the artistic work of Alex Schweder in which relationships between occupied spaces and occupying subjects are permeable. The paper eventually speculates a new type of architecture during crisis times that challenges the dysfunctional codes implied by the institutions, where the role of crowd is being redefined from the spectatorship to active engagement.  

Zenovia Toloudi is an architect, theorist, and educator whose research focuses on the design and production of prototypical spatial installations of mixed media that respond interactively to preferential, cultural, and environmental inputs. Zenovia is the creator of PICANICO online interactive educational platform on architectural taste, the founder of BRAIN.STORMS lecture series on media, technology and digital culture, and the designer of THE CAGE pavilion, part of Aristotle University's permanent Sculpture Collection. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including Venice Biennale, The Lab at Harvard, MassArt, Athens Byzantine Museum and other places. She has received her Doctorate from Harvard Graduate School of Design and architectural degrees from Illinois Institute of Technology, and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.


PRIVATE/PUBLIC (back to top)
Billie Tsien
Architect, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects

I will discuss two projects that are the result of private public consortiums.  The first is the Rubenstein Atrium which is privately owned public space.  In New York they are called POPS and were the result of additional FAR ( floor area ratio or in simpler terms additional square footage) allotted to developers who provided public space at the ground level.  Now overseen by the City Planning Department there are more than 500 of these in the city and most of them are wretched failures. I will describe how the partnership between the City and Lincoln Center resulted in  a space that is an amenity for all people.
The second project is Lakeside Pavilion which is once again a private group, the Prospect Park Alliance supporting a public entity    - Prospect Park in Brooklyn.  The result are two skating rinks which will open in about one year.

Billie Tsien was born in Ithaca, New York. She received her undergraduate degree in Fine Arts from Yale and her Masters in Architecture from UCLA. Billie Tsien has worked with Tod Williams since 1977 and in 1986 they formed the partnership of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects in New York City.
Their compelling body of work includes the American Folk Art Museum in New York, the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California, Cranbrook Natatorium in Michigan, Skirkanich Hall at the University of Pennsylvania, a conference center at Bennington College, the Asia Society in Hong Kong, and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Projects in construction include a performing and visual arts center at the University of Chicago, a dormitory at Haverford College, an information technology campus for Tata Consultancy Services in Mumbai, India, two new skating rinks for Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University, and an addition to Savidge Library at the MacDowell Colony. Projects in design include an addition and renovation to the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College as well as the New United States Embassy Compound in Mexico City.
In addition to practicing, teaching and lecturing, Tsien serves on the advisory council for the Yale School of Architecture, and is a Director of the Public Art Fund, the Architectural League of New York, and the American Academy of Rome, where she was in residence in 1999. In 2007, Tsien were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


Emily Anne Williamson
SMArchS Candidate, AKPIA@MIT

This presentation advocates that Architecture should be deemed a basic human right through the narrative of ‘The Zongo Water Project’, a long term, community-based design initiative for improving the sanitation, erosion, and public life of the Zongo, an Islamic settlement in Cape Coast, Ghana. Even though the residents of the Zongo had migrated from their homeland in northern Nigeria to help the British fight the majority Asante over one hundred years ago, they are still treated as strangers in the predominantly Christian community and do not have full access to the city’s social or water infrastructure. With the unequal distribution of power and resources, the Zongo residents have lost their rights not only to the city, education, shelter, water, and terrain, but also to Architecture. Since historically for these communities, Architecture has constituted a cultural act and not a static object, one that demands knowledge of the local climate, natural materials, and construction techniques as well as constant participation by the residents, the methodology for the research and design approach for ‘The Zongo Water Project’ reinforces these attitudes. By operating at the intersection of spatial, social, and environmental processes instead emphasizing the artifact produced, the project provides the mechanisms through which the Zongo may reclaim its ‘Right to Architecture’ on its own terms.

Emily Williamson is currently a student in the SMArchS program for Islamic Architecture at MIT and received her Masters of Architecture from the University of Virginia in 2009. While at UVA and working with her advisor, Robin Dripps, Emily developed the thesis project entitled, ‘Zongo, Water Infrastructure and Public Life’ that proposed long term solutions for improving the erosion, sanitation, and public life for the Zongo Community in Cape Coast, Ghana. After graduating, she worked as a project manager at Studio 27 Architecture while continuing to develop independent research projects related to water, notions of boundary, and informal settlements. Last spring, Emily both founded Open Boundary Design Lab [OBDL], an initiative at the intersection of design and research, and executed phase one of ‘The Zongo Water Project’. She will continue the project implementation as a teaching fellow for UVA’s ‘Community as Classroom’ study abroad program this summer and then stay on in West Africa to expand her research through a grant from MIT’s Program on Environmental Governance and Sustainability.