Monday, October 24, 2005

Interview with John Dwyer from Shelter Architecture

We at Activist Architects have recently completed an interview with John Dwyer of Shelter Architects. His work with the Minneapolis Chapter of Architecture for Humanity and his firms focus in sustainable design are what brought him to our attention. Interview follows:

Activist Architect: Please describe the type of activism you participate in.

John Dwyer: I am a member of Architecture for Humanity – Minnesota and have worked on the Clean Hub which is a prefabricated solution to areas needing clean water and electricity, innovative design for Habitat for Humanity, and am currently teaching a studio on the urban slum. In practice, Shelter is a sustainable residential firm. We are currently developing two of the first LEED certified homes.

AA: When did you get involved with this activity? What inspired you to participate?

JD: I started my interest shortly before beginning my own practice about two years ago. I had two books that inspired me to go down the road of ethical vs. aesthetic design. The first was Tom Fisher's "In the Scheme of Things" and the second was "The Ethical Function of Architecture" by Karsten Harries. What evolved from that was an interest in the urban slum, a perpetuating issue effecting about 1/3 of the world's population and often forgotten.

AA: Is this something that you do as part of you professional practice, or something that you do 'on the side'? If it is something on the side, does it influence your professional practice?

JD: It's hard for me to draw the line. I can tell you that my work in humanitarian design is not what generates my income, but I don't think I could ever say that it is on the side or in any way separable from my practice as an architect.

AA: We are interested in those times that an architect steps of the 'normal' role of architectural practice. Do you feel that it is important for architects to do this? Is it important for architects to be community activists?

JD: I feel it is extremely important for architects to evolve the profession by better articulating our value to our culture. The sustainability movement has been a great beginning at this. And in that vein, I believe it is important for architects to reach beyond the normal role. The whole question, in my mind, is how do we define better? Is it just aesthetics that defines our understanding of better architecture, of a better world? So I don't really look at this as activism, but as leadership. I look at it as an improved definition of what "better" is.

AA: How do you financially support your community activism? (e.g. grants, sponsorship, personal financing, etc.)

JD: I don't, yet. We have a beat on a couple grants, but they're hard to come by for architects. This is a big career goal for me, to shape a practice for humanitarian design. Cameron and Architecture for Humanity have done this to a great degree and my hope is that I can find a way of practice that is equally strong.


Blogger Bridger said...

Terrific interview, members of Shelter Architects are scheduled to be guests in the class on Novemebr 11th. I wonder if John is aware of this?

Please link John's reference to Karsten Harries and his work and to the book itself. I'm in search of it this moment, thanks.

8:22 PM  
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