Anna Goodman is a graduate of the Architecture Master of Science program at Berkeley and is completing her PhD in the Department of Architecture this term. She was a visiting scholar at the Center for Public Interest Design at Portland State University and won several prestigious awards for her research including: the Carter Manny Award from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and the Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship.
Q: What aspects of your background led you to the field of architecture?
I always wanted to be an artist, but my parents guided me toward architecture as a more practical career path. I was taken by the studio culture and applied to the architecture program at Rice University where I received my B.Arch.
I subsequently worked for three years in Portland as an architectural designer. After being so immersed in the practice, I felt compelled to explore my other interests —especially teaching — which is why I applied to the Masters program at Berkeley to investigate the field from a research perspective. I stayed on for my PhD because I felt that I had only scratched the surface in terms of my research into the broader social forces that have historically impacted architecture.
Q: How did you become interested in your dissertation topic — Citizen Architects: Ethics, Education and the Construction of a Profession, 1933-2013?
I became interested in the area of social engagement in the design fields while working as an architect. Questions kept coming up such as what can architects do for social causes? How do architects practice political and social commitments?
During my Masters program, I focused on French architects and their work in Morocco during the 1950s and 60s. What was interesting was the impact that colonization had on that country's architecture. I was particularly interested in how this group of French architects imagined themselves working in a foreign environment considering their relationship of power in the country. After examining the topic, I realized that this was a much larger subject. Recently, there has been a lot of international interest around “Public Interest Design,” community engagement and similar practices, internationally, but especially in the United States. For this reason, I decided to switch my focus to programs that had taken place here in the U.S. for my PhD.
Q: Define what you mean by ‘Citizen Architect’.
This is really the driving idea behind my research. The late professor Samuel Mockbee, founder of Auburn University’s Rural Studio, originally coined the term. In the 1980s and 90s, the architectural profession was seen as vacuous in terms of its moral orientation. Mockbee introduced the idea of the citizen architect — someone engaged in contributing to society. It has a range of interpretations: some see it as an activist role while others see it as “do no harm.” The concept shows up now, for instance, when we talk about being a good ‘global citizen.’
In my dissertation, it is the question mark — what does citizen architect mean at different moments in American history? Depending on the context and the moment in time, the role and expectation of the architect changes. The research investigates these types of engaged practices to understand the connections architects were drawing between their work and their role as a citizen with a responsibility to others.
Q: What are the most interesting aspects of your research? What were some of the challenges?
I ultimately focused on three case studies associated with higher education programs in North Carolina, Philadelphia and Alabama, across three eras: the 1930s during the great depression, the early 1960s just before the Civil Rights Movement, and the 1990s when neo-conservatism was taking hold. I spent a year preparing the project and then a year doing fieldwork in these regions.
One of the initial challenges is that there is a lot of language around the topic that gives it a false sense of unity — we talk about politics, social engagement, activism, etc. Practices are lumped together. One of the biggest challenges was to find the similarities in these types of practices and define the object of the research — how do you bound it as a subject of study?
The practice that I investigated is often called community design/build. In this practice students go into underserved communities and build for that community. This occurred in each of the cases I studied. What proved interesting was finding the bigger story by diving deep into each case. For instance, I was interested in welfare — how did the government provide for disadvantaged citizens and how did architects think they should provide for these groups? I combed through archives, conducted interviews, and in the case of the Rural Studio at Auburn, observed ongoing projects. I worked to identify the factors that culturally unified architects over the entire 20th century and then what changed over time.
Q: What do you want to communicate about Design Responsibility?
Currently, there is a lot of interest around design responsibility — ‘design like you give a damn’ and ‘design for the other 99%’ and the like. In the Bay Area especially, there is a growing population of designers who want design thinking to help save the world. With all this enthusiasm, I think it is important for some people to step back and take a long-term view and say, “Where do we get our ideas about what design can do and what it can’t do?” “What kind of power relations does that produce?” “Who gets to be a social designer and who are designated as beneficiaries?”
For example, when design students are empowered to act socially, to design a tiny house and build it to help this “other person,” you have to be very careful to avoid a situation where the person who is empowered is the designer her/himself. You have to at least ask how this might take agency away and silence those people. I think history can be a very powerful tool to help us see how architects’ past engagements unfolded and the longer-term consequences of their actions. This shouldn’t be viewed as pessimism toward the possibility of architects doing good, because in my research, I have observed many instances where the negotiations between designers and supposedly disadvantaged people have produced wonderful collaboration that really challenged the status quo. But these questions needs to be asked rather than assuming that simply lending design services to social causes will naturally result in progress on questions of economic, ecological or racial inequality.
Q: What are your plans after you complete your PhD?
I began teaching a design studio at Portland State University this fall. It has been an interesting challenge to integrate my research into a design curriculum. I want to continue to teach and do research in order to give future and practicing architects a broader way to think about the profession. Currently architects are exposed to history and theory, but the kinds of questions I talk about above typically don’t get much attention. That is the main goal of my research — to be able to teach and communicate the bigger political contexts back to the profession.