Avery Shorts Live ••• Tuesday, June 23, 2020 ••• Love Letter to Noncompliance ••• Seb Choe
Sender Date: 2070
Recipient Date: 2020
From one architecture enthusiast to another,
While we cannot know whether letters like these have started to appear in your timeline, it won’t stop us from trying to reach you and share our history.
In our timeline, much of the architectural community was paralyzed by the simultaneous health, electoral, and racial justice crises of 2020. But a small group of us, exhausted with our profession’s inability to respond to current political realities, had already begun to dismantle inequity in the arena that we knew best – the built environment.
We became Noncompliant Architecture - a motley crew of disgruntled young architects, “architectural laborers” (dissatisfied with being service providers to developers), union construction workers, contractors, and consultants of all kinds. Even a few developers and city planners joined our ranks, contributing in their off-hours. Most surprisingly, code compliance officers, once a monolithically white and male regulatory necessity, became a key piece of the puzzle.
No longer lubricants of capital, this new generation of insurgent code experts used their collective stamp of approval to stealthily legitimize and accelerate the building practices that for so long marginalized communities had taken into their own hands. Immigrant communities were already creating accessory dwelling units for family members and outfitting living rooms for commercial use; people with disabilities had been hacking their apartments to add ramps, accessible bathrooms, and multi-level counters; and avant-garde communes were transforming basements into venues, lofts into freelance bunkers, and bookshops into evening ritual zones.
New building types and expanded forms of real-estate ownership also emerged. Neighbors connected their homes through underground tunnels to host inconspicuous raves. Trans and gender-nonconforming people took sledgehammers to the binary walls of sex-segregated restrooms. Caravans of “tiny houses” formed collectives on the move, while small businesses piled into stacks of shipping containers to share infrastructural resources. Repair, maintenance, and reoccupation became heralded over new construction.
Noncompliant Architecture rejected manifestos, technophilic solutions, automated labor fantasies, and neoliberal dreams of a decentralized creative class. Critics accused us of appropriating slum logics to American urban life. And they were right. But Noncompliant structures grew at a slower pace, guided by the long-term goals of degrowth and abolition ecology. They grew at the rate afforded by the small communities who self-funded these projects, subsidized by a few conscientious patrons and municipalities with working-class representation.
Of course, there was chaos. But no more than what had previously been wrought by the unchecked power of privatized real estate. Optimists claim that Noncompliant Architecture opened the door to inverting the building economy. While it’s too soon to say, profit-driven building practices are shrinking, and movements for reparations and affordable, community-owned real estate continue to grow.
Though the arc toward justice is long and warps across timelines, we hope that sharing our history offers encouragement for your future. We hope you join us, as we are surely among you, though perhaps under a different name.