COVID-19, ARCHITECTURE, AND ITS WORKERS
April 11, 2020
To read The Architecture Lobby’s original statement from March 19, 2020, please scroll down.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, important efforts have begun to address the crisis at the systemic level. Within the architectural profession, however, the response so far has been far too vague and inchoate. The AIA has provided links to resources that might be useful to its members, but there has been no acknowledgement of or guidance to the many that work in the architectural field for the exceptional conditions that we are now facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has become clear that no one is speaking to and for architectural workers directly, nor doing the work of connecting this specific crisis to the underlying architectural conditions and opportunities it reveals. The current precarity that we all face – large firms, small firms, employees, owners, students, faculty – should be seen for what it is: an extension of systemic conditions that leave our profession particularly vulnerable to economic and political vagaries. Unlike medicine and law, architectural work is not transactional and depends on the paying projects that we need to seek out. The architectural field’s foundational “entrepreneurialism” and gig-ness links us tightly with neoliberalism’s essential celebration of precarity.
The Architecture Lobby cannot ease the pain of what all architectural workers are experiencing. But it does want to blast, once again and loudly, that this is a time for us to unite, collectivize, organize, and learn together to support each other and argue for social justice. The thrust of this missive is that these two things – helping ourselves and helping others – are deeply intertwined. The absence of social safety nets or robust legislative action to support working people affects all workers. The collective measures that we architects take in our own industry can, on the one hand, be models for changes necessary throughout society, and, on the other, be a mechanism by which we put pressure on both the AEC industry and our government for radical change. It is incumbent upon all of us to guide our field towards a humane response to the difficulties that lie ahead.
The Lobby has two types of campaigns: those that address foundational conditions of undervalued work and those that address specific socio-economic-political conditions as they arise. We asked the campaigns:
1. Describe the campaign.
2. How does this campaign address the underlying issues opened up by the virus?
3. Given the new world we find ourselves in, where will this campaign go?
The foundational campaigns are:
- Unionization for large firms ↓
- Cooperativization for small firms ↓
- JustDesign ↓
The situational campaigns are:
- Green New Deal ↓
- Housing ↓
- Immigration ↓
- COVID-19 Response
While each is issue-focused in this time of crisis they must be understood jointly.
They are joined because in every case, we are talking about people pitted against profits at all costs; we can’t listen to our president, congress, or clients who insist that work must go on for the sake of financial stability, and, implicitly, sacrifice the health of us architects and building workers to keep (their) projects going.
They are related because the system that insists we compete against each other in lieu of a collected voice ensures that we don’t stand up for those who are not the winners in this winner-take-all system.
They are intertwined because as long as we do not see ourselves as workers, we won’t make the connection between “them” – those service providers who are currently on the front line during this crisis – and us.
They are united because those who are going to lose jobs now will need to find affordable housing, which we, even in flush times, have refused to seriously address.
They are linked because architects, engineers, contractors, fabricators, and trades people all depend on non-native labor and current limitations on immigration/emigration are only exaggerations of an unacceptable norm.
They are tied because sheltering in place will show us that we can survive without the carbon-footprint and general consumption that fuels a global-warming economy; the “norm” is not one to which we want to return.
They are allied because an acquiescence to a project-by-project business model prevents us very smart and well-trained people from focusing on a real solution for care, safety, and shelter at this time.
They are related because we subscribe, from the moment we enter architecture school until and through licensure, to regulations that do not have our own or society’s best interest in mind.
The Architecture Lobby does not pretend to have the solutions to any or all of these problems. It does however admit that there is a problem and knows that we, as an organization and as spatial workers, need collective intelligence, organization, and commitment to begin the process of systemic change. We invite you to participate, for the sake of all of our survival.
T-A-L COVID-19 STATEMENT
March 19, 2020
As we navigate the social and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Architecture Lobby continues to advocate for improved labor practices and to organize architectural workers towards a more equitable profession. The coming months will require new models of interaction and practice, challenging us to cope with financial uncertainty while doing what we can to slow the spread of the outbreak. We face a new normal of working from home, co-workers falling ill, and project schedules being upended, set against an economic crisis predicted to be far worse than the Great Recession of 2008. In the absence of social safety nets or robust legislative and executive action to support working people, it is incumbent upon all of us to guide our field towards a humane response to the difficulties that lie ahead.
The Architecture Lobby calls on all employers to prioritize the health and financial security of architectural workers: to provide all employees with paid sick leave, full healthcare coverage, flexible hours, and remote work capabilities regardless of their immigration, citizenship, or contract status. The risks posed by the pandemic to already-precarious architectural workers demand a total rejection of abusive labor practices and opportunistic layoffs. These standards should form a baseline for fair architectural employment, and they should be recognized as a moral and pragmatic imperative for accommodating the needs of our profession. In light of federal economic relief that will be primarily aimed at businesses, rather than employees, their widespread adoption will be instrumental in ensuring these benefits reach those who will be most impacted. As we find that the well-being of our society is only as secure as that of its most precarious members, we must meet this crisis and normalize the fair labor practices that could minimize its most detrimental consequences.
We ask workers already feeling the effects of the pandemic to share your experiences and know your rights. We offer The Architecture Lobby as a space of collective organizing and conversation, and will be maintaining a solidarity network in the coming months to facilitate communications about the crisis. Above all, we encourage workers to practice solidarity within and beyond the workplace: check in on your friends and colleagues, make plans to help and be helped, and engage with the support systems that will see us through the pandemic. Social distancing should not mean social alienation or detachment, but can be taken as a chance to build alternative forms of association, infrastructures that can organize resources for immediate relief, as well as fight for transformative change over the longer term: for Medicare For All, a Green New Deal, and the unionization of all architectural workers.
Sadly, the crisis facing our profession is not an exception to the usual state of affairs, but an extreme case that will exacerbate inequalities and compromises that already exist. It shows the need for just labor practices that have long been missing from architecture, as well as a professional organization that can support all members of the architectural community. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or @Arch_Lobby on Twitter to connect to local chapters, and join us to confront these challenges together.