"The effects of advocacy can be as far-reaching and as long-lasting as a great design." El Paso's Melissa C. Brandrup, AIA, shares her experiences as a participant in Advocates for Architecture Day 2013, and makes it her personal charge to help others learn why design matters.
After finishing architecture school in 1997, I couldn’t help feeling there was a void in our profession. For five years, I had been living, breathing, and talking architecture. But as I graduated from Tulane, I realized that our communities lacked an understanding of the importance of architecture.
I decided that getting the rest of the world to realize the importance of architecture would be my charge. I asked myself three questions. Who advocates for my newfound profession? The answer: I do. Where are the supporters? Everywhere. How do I get people to realize the effects of space and place? Help them see how design affects their everyday lives.
Fast-forward 16 years to my role as a member of the Texas Society of Architects participating in the second-ever Advocates for Architecture Day. The opportunity to be an advocate was in front of me again. The meetings were set, and the stage was ready. But I still grappled with the question of how one can cultivate the appreciation of architecture in others in order to strengthen our profession.
I decided that the answer is to confront them where they would notice it most. Regardless of who your audience is, you need to identify the one idea that really drives them. Then, relate it back to architecture and explain how design can change and affect the outcome. After all, everything relates to back to architecture and how design matters: where one lives, how one gets to work, where one buys groceries,
the productivity level in an office, neighborhood sustainability, transportation — even overall happiness.
As the El Paso delegation I was a part of walked through the Capitol visiting all six of our elected officials, we kept circling back to the basic fact that architecture affects all aspects of daily life. In fact, every moment of every day is related to the built environment, and the effect that bad design has on us is far-reaching. We see the repercussions in increased obesity rates (lack of walkable communities), crime rates (no eyes on the street), reduced local business ownership (big box retail everywhere), and, most critically, the reduced need to hire an architect due to the over-simplification of buildings.
As architects, we are in charge of the health, safety, and welfare of the built environment. Let’s make it our charge to help others realize that we are indispensable and critically important to the quality of their everyday lives. Encourage those around you to see how design matters and, most important, how it can positively affect them. Talk to your local city council and community leaders about architecture and give them the tools to make sound decisions about design. Be the advocate for architecture in your local community. Your efforts will have ripple effects that can be as far-reaching and as long-lasting as a great design.
This article is expanded content for Texas Architect March/April 2013.