A major casualty of the MeToo movement has been the creative legacy of many prominent men. Consumers are boycotting the films, TV shows, artwork, and media of men who abuse their positions of power, and in doing so they send a clear message that art no longer hovers on a mythical plane above common decency. Feminist writer and thinker Roxane Gay put it succinctly in the March issue of Marie-Claire: “I remember all the silence, decades and decades of enforced silence, intimidation, and manipulation, that enabled bad men to flourish. When I do that, it’s quite easy for me to think nothing of the supposedly great art of bad men.”
But what about great architecture? You can refuse to watch Woody Allen films, you can decline to patronize an art gallery that displays Chuck Close’s work, but you can’t exactly ignore a permanent edifice. The question hangs over countless buildings now that architecture’s MeToo moment has arrived, following sexual harassment allegations against the architect Richard Meier and the release of an anonymous “Shitty Architecture Men” spreadsheet describing misconduct throughout the profession.
So how do you boycott a building? What is an effective form of protest against something that is, in a very literal sense, part of the cultural landscape? Four architecture and design critics share their thoughts:
“The first question shouldn’t be ‘how do you take a stand against architecture?’ but ‘how do you take a stand against architects who engage in sexual harassment or sexual assault?’ It isn’t buildings that have committed offensive acts, it is people, and we respond by making their acts public, and almost surely by choosing not to engage them for future work, and also by putting into practice rigid procedures to assure that this does not happen again, all to make it clear that these acts have serious consequences. But once we have dealt with architects, what about the architecture? However much we believe that a work of art is a thing apart from its creator, our sense of the creator invariably impacts on how we perceive a work. The question of the architect himself–it is almost always a him–can never be fully separated from the issue of how we relate to his buildings going forward. We know this association colors his architecture, just as it colors the work of a musician or an actor or a media personality who has committed similar acts that society will now no longer tolerate. The beauty of Richard Meier’s buildings remains. But it is tainted, which is a loss to all of us.” –Paul Goldberger, contributing editor, Vanity Fair
“The real question is how to protest a system that values a brand over the welfare of employees and the community. It’s a system that runs across professions; architecture, with its history of gender imparity and star-making, is no different. We can push back against this system by making it visible: speaking up when confronted with injustice–not just the egregious acts but the seemingly minor offenses–and setting industry goals for gender equality in leadership. It’s a form of protest that needs to happen every day.” –Molly Heintz, chair, MA Design Research, Writing & Criticism at the School of Visual Arts, New York
“If you’re part of the (mere) public, your options for architectural protest are quite limited. You could, I suppose, change the way you walk or ride to work, to avoid seeing the offending building by the offensive architect. You can refuse to read articles about the architect (if you even read them to begin with). But once a significant building by a Significant Architect is up, it’s likely to be around for decades. So protests against it seem feeble. If you’re part of the ‘architectural community,’ you have a few more options. If you’re a design journalist or editor, you can refuse to cover buildings by said offending architects. And since starchitecture is essentially a branding exercise, cutting off the oxygen that is coverage might hinder the architect’s operation. And, finally, if you’re part of the truly rarified in architecture, the donor/patron/client class, you can have the most powerful impact of all. You can refuse to hire them.” –Martin Pedersen, founder, Common Edge Collaborative