I study contentious political engagement by design professionals. Through in-depth interviews, participant observation, and analyzing texts, I work with collaborators to investigate ways activists shape and mobilize power towards justice causes. While the focus of my work is on emerging activist groups and coalitions of designers, my research has led me to study the globalization of professional institutions, community-engaged design as activism, and counter-hegemonic movements by professionals. And though my focus is on architects, these inquiries have led me to consider the work of landscape architects, planners, and civil and environmental engineers, as related professions whose work, institutions, and activism often overlap with architecture’s. My work contributes to histories and theories of architecture practice, social movements, and professions and relies on ethnographic methods.
These areas of inquiry have led me to study such things as: (a) ethics and activism in the environmental design professions, (b) professional and academic institutions of design as sites of political engagement, or (c) and the globalization of design practice. And most of the ideas for these projects were developed by/with the folks profiled on the collaborators page.
Links to our publications can be found at my google scholar page.
Activism, dissent, and radicalism in the design and engineering professions
This project is a study of ways engineering and environmental design professionals (i.e. civil engineers, architects, and planners) mobilize their professions to advocate for social justice issues. (See job advert for current openings.) Part of this work is supported by an NSF award titled, "engineering dissent." And you can find a short video clip on another part of this project here. I am interested in how informal efforts crystalize as institutional and mainstream ones to reshape the professions, and the values they harbor. The history of engineering professionals, for example, is rich with examples of activism, moral crusaders, and reformists (see, e.g. Wisnioski and Layton Jr.'s work on histories of reform and activism in engineering and Lily Hoffman's study of activism in the planning and medical professions). For over a century, engineers have championed causes and rallied their professions to become politically engaged. Their politics have variously engaged the state (e.g. on the reform of liberal education in engineering via national academies), other professions (e.g. in jurisdiction battles over an area of work), and their own profession (e.g. to adopt a code of ethics or to diversify the ranks of its membership). Engineers have expressed their political will through small conferences, independent publications, articles and opinion pieces in mainstream professional magazines, underground or radical magazines, new committees, lobbying, propaganda, protest, dissent, or approaches within vetted channels of reform within their professions' bureaucracies. This project is a study of the tactics that design and engineering professionals use to bring their causes into the mainstream of their professions.
Institutional cultures of ethical community engagement in engineering-for-development programs
This project is a collaboration with Jessica Kaminsky at University of Washington, Jill Harrison at CU Boulder, and Greg Rulifson at the Colorado School of Mines. See the NSF award description here. Our investigation uses qualitative social science methods (interviews, observations, and document analysis) to uncover ways university programs like the Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities (MCEDC) at CU Boulder and the Humanitarian Engineering (HE) Program at Colorado School of Mines shape cultures of ethical engineering-for-development (EfD) work. We seek insight into how these programs shape the perspectives of students around the ethical and moral complexities of working in/for/with developing communities around the world.
This research will inform ways programs like MCEDC, HE, and many others around the country, can shape their institutions to instill students with knowledge, ideas, sensibilities, and, ultimately, cultures of ethical community engagement. Our goal is to move EfD institutions toward a more sustainable and informed model of development work. (See advert for student researchers at ICECE project announcement.)
Underrepresented perspectives in environmental design education
As environmental design programs turn to community-engaged design and service learning as part of a nation-wide move to public-interest architecture and planning, the imperative to implement multiculturalism in design education becomes urgent. Environmental design curricula and pedagogies propagate worldviews that often omit and marginalize multicultural perspectives; as a result, students and the communities that they engage are vulnerable. In this project, our team is beginning a broader investigation of multiculturalism in design education with a study of curricular and pedagogical spaces in which underrepresented perspectives exist or can be incorporated in CU Boulder’s Program in Environmental Design. The project is supported by the IMPART (Implementation of Multicultural Perspectives and Approaches in Research and Teaching) fellowship through the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement (ODECE) at CU Boulder.
Geographies of new authority in architecture
Global architecture competitions span internationally acclaimed prizes to loosely sanctioned awards administered by weblogs. The current proliferation of global design awards bestows accolades more frequently and across a broader geography than ever before. Supported by the geographic reach of the Internet, these competitions increasingly see entries from countries located off architecture’s beaten path. In the case of Iran, political and economic sanctions prevent judges from visiting the country, yet avant-garde Iranian architects win high honors in global design awards.
I argue that this transnationalism in architecture acknowledgement is shifting the geography of the globalization of architecture practice. Architecture websites, magazines, and organizations are instrumental in cultivating a remapping of acclaim and authority in the profession. The case of Iran’s isolation emphasizes the power of this process. Second, I use the stories of Iranian architects to show ways the transnational processes behind the recognition of excellence in architecture have far-reaching consequences for architecture culture in countries outside the award-producing core. From there, I track award winners who emigrate from Iran and study ways they leverage their accolades in their host countries.
This research builds on theories and methods in economic geography, migration studies, and Science and Technology Studies. I draw from forty in-depth interviews with architects in Iran and in cities in North America and Europe they migrate to. I map global competitions through the archives of some ten organizations, magazines, and websites that administer them.
Transnationalism in Iran's Architecture Profession
The cultural revolution that was enforced in Tehran’s universities derailed the prerevolutionary progress of architecture education and practice in Iran. The subsequent war, the constriction of Iran’s borders, and the censorship of cultural production impacted design education and practice in ways that have profoundly limited Iranian architects’ exposure to shifts in design practice that occurred globally in the 1980s and 1990s. In the past decade, Iranian architecture students hitherto isolated by such factors have begun mobilizing informal transnational networks to transform architecture education and practice in Iran by forming alternate venues of design education and practice that operate outside traditional academic and professional institutions.
This study demonstrates the role of transnational networks of immigrant professionals in affecting the profession in their home country by drawing on methods of immigration studies and theories posited in sociological studies of professions to evaluate the role of the 1979 Islamic Revolution on the transformations of architecture’s institutions within Iran.
Building a post-socialist urban order: new construction in Dushanbe, Tajikistan
In this project, I examined how two projects, Diar Dushanbe, a mixed-use development by the Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company and the Dushanbe Serena Hotel by the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, signify a re-imaging of the post-Soviet city of Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, and how this reimaging is instrumental in reimagining Dushanbe’s socialist urban identity. This reimagining consists of a transformation of the urban order of the city. This order, I argue, is based in part on strict visual and spatial delineations of the city between its civic core and its mikrorayon or residential zone – or between the architecture of state and the architecture of subject. These case study projects represent an interruption of an established urban identity. Diar Dushanbe attempts to relocate the symbolic center of the city by defining a “new hub of the city.” The Serena Hotel embraces the present centrality of the Soviet city core but simultaneously undermines its dominant Soviet aesthetic. These transformations are explored through the projects’ design and representation: their programmed use, aesthetic, and placement in the city.