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Wednesday Tei Carpenter

We at a+u are attempting to both process and adapt to the unfolding global health and civil rights crises. As a way to engage with this situation, we would like to use our digital platforms to compile and publish freely-accessible observations, commentary, and messaging from within the architecture and urbanism communities. Below, please find the ninth contribution to this series, by Tei Carpenter, founder of Agency—Agency.

“Nothing could be worse than a return to normalcy.”
– Arundhati Roy, “The Pandemic is a Portal,” Azadi: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction.

As the pandemic unfolds around us with an unknown trajectory, this moment offers a pause, a disruption, a distance from everyday routines, habits and business as usual. In North America, and in many other parts of the world, it has blown open deep systemic inequity. During the lockdown as some stayed inside in self-isolation, the streets were filled with rallying cries of “no justice, no peace” that echoed off of buildings and into the sky. The pandemic tests and enacts the true idea of public space as parks and streets transform from sites of leisure and circulation to occupation and protest. It challenges us to consider what is the essential work of the architect? Indeed, let’s not go back to normal.

The role the architect might play amidst and beyond this time is to first examine how we do our work before determining what we do. Instead of returning to a normal, known state, we need to commit to radically transform and redesign the role itself of the architect.

As a starting point, we need to reprioritize our daily practice and both relearn and unlearn assumptions about that practice—who we design for, what resources we design with, what is a project, what can design afford. In order to actively contribute to the ways in which the world around us will be shaped and what it will look like as inclusive and collective spaces, we need to redefine a normal. The time is here to shift gears not for the optics, but for fundamental long term change independent of individual ego, to initiate a movement. Architects need to advocate, fight, ally, imagine, support and believe in the possibility of another kind of world.

Tei Carpenter is the founder of Agency—Agency, an award winning architecture and design studio based in New York City and Toronto. In parallel to a building practice, her research work investigates systems of value in architecture focusing on infrastructure, waste and the environment. She has been honored as a Next Progressives by Architect Magazine, selected as one of the 2018 New Practices New York by the American Institute of Architects, and recently featured in Domus Magazine’s list of the Best 100 Architecture Firms.