‘There is already a substantial understanding of the failings of the architecture industry, so why wait for someone else to act?’ says Mohit Buch. He is one of four directors of Decolonise Architecture (DA), originally set up by students and alumni of the University of Bath and one of a growing number of radical design collectives formed to pile pressure on the industry to revolutionise.
‘The old model of rich bosses employing armies of low-paid junior staff is collapsing around us,’ insists Alberte Lauridsen, a member of Edit Collective. ‘The real question is not if collectives are a viable way of practising architecture, but when they’ll be the only viable way of practising architecture left.’
Anything but apolitical, these new-wave groups are bold, fearless and hungry for change. Hierarchical structures, exploitation of labour, ableism, and discrimination based on race, gender and class are just some of the problems plaguing architecture education, practice and the way the industry engages with society, they argue.
Each collective is unique, sitting in hard-to-define and self-created spaces, some looking inward at the profession with very targeted aims, others more public and tackling wider social remits.
DA, Edit, and Deaf Architecture Front (DAF), all formed since 2018, aim to hold the architecture and design industry accountable for specific problems in the sector (racial, gender and ability bias, respectively) using tactics ranging from how-to guides to events, exhibitions and installations.
From its growing arsenal of weapons for change, feminist-led design collective Edit has already produced Gross Domestic Product, a fictional prototype for domestic labour exhibited at the Oslo Architecture Triennale; graphics-led publication A Woman of Colour Enters the Workplace; and a 2021 Barbican exhibition, How We Live Now.
Missing in Architecture (MiA), meanwhile, is using industry-focused lectures, workshops and symposiums to question the ‘established traditions’ of practice from its base at the Mackintosh School of Architecture in Glasgow.
The futuristic, all-female Xcessive Aesthetics (XA) favours installations such as its 2022 London Design Festival artwork Not David! and 2019 Augmented Salon, which use interdisciplinary, data-and-digital-led design to challenge old norms.
And spatial design educator School SOS is attempting to reimagine architecture from its roots, offering free grassroots design courses that champion a radical approach.
Members of the collectives operate alongside their jobs and other commitments. Funding is the biggest challenge. As Edit Collective’s Marianna Janowicz points out, the industry is in a ‘precarious’ state, forcing community groups to ‘compete for sparse resources’. The survival of collectives, advises School SOS co-founder Kishan San, therefore depends on ‘building a durable financial and operational foundation’ – a major challenge when there is ‘no existing framework to follow’.
Some groups, such as DA, see their work as a means to hold up a mirror to the architecture and design industry, and offer an ‘alternative outlook to adapt into everyday practice’ (‘in an ideal world, our end goal would be to not exist’). Others, like Edit, hope their radical, equitable new ways of practising will subvert those of traditional architecture firms altogether.
Architectural antagonists: the new radicals holding a mirror up to the industry and society
- Xcessive Aesthetics
- Edit Collective
- Deaf Architecture Front
- Decolonise Architecture
- School SOS
- Missing in Architecture