It was only a few weeks ago that the wave of pandemic seemed to be receding. In the US, the majority of states were beginning to reopen for business, some more cautiously than others. May’s unemployment figures had just been published, startling analysts who had expected the slump of March and April to continue: employers actually added 2.5 million jobs, reversing that downward trajectory (although those numbers immediately met with skepticism). There was a feeling, however tentative, that things might be returning to normal.
Wrong. The significant nation-wide protests of the past month, and their brutal crackdown by police, have invalidated the terms of “normal” social intercourse. Some argued that the ongoing street demonstrations, constrained by ill-advised curfews, would inevitably lead to a spike in coronavirus cases. (Recent reports pointing to the near-ubiquitous use of facemasks by protestors have proved otherwise.) Even the economic reprieve delivered by the uptick in jobs—much touted by the president as a turning point—proved illusory, as millions continue to file for unemployment benefits.
We find ourselves, then, at a strange impasse. On the one hand, we are finally coming up for air; on the other, we remain wary and steel ourselves for the aftereffects of a pandemic that has plateaued. So, to speak of “post-pandemic potentials”—the name of a cycle of articles this post serves to inaugurate—might seem a bit presumptuous. The chosen format for this series—a dialogue—may also invite objection—during a time of unrest, there is an understandable aversion to discourse.
But discourse is not the same as inactivity. It is not always or even necessarily repartee. It can bring into focus an otherwise fuzzy picture. It can identify both points of danger and possibility, and as such, can inform the basis of public policy. It acts and enacts. That is the hope, in any case.
Unfurling in discrete dialogues, the series will seek to tease out architecture’s connections to the pandemic. It takes “architecture” to be an inclusionary framework for better studying and understanding pedagogy, protest, planning policy, epidemiology, and technology. It will endeavor to be forward-thinking, even as it will draw historical parallels (thinking forward requires looking backward). Above all, it seeks to be timely, a quality that may be reflected in the shape of the texts to come.
Mario Carpo, architectural historian and professor at the Bartlett School of Architecture, and Phil Bernstein, technologist and associate dean of the Yale School of Architecture, will field the first few prompts. We plan to solicit the participation of others, either by formal invitation or critical feedback.
Catch up on each of the dialogues below:
Can we expect the pandemic to accelerate technological changes that were trending before lockdown was imposed? Will the experience of the past few months push people to adopt certain technological practices or attitudes they were previously hesitant to adopt (out of fear, perhaps, of excessive surveillance)? Beyond the relatively easy shift to teleworking, what steeper hills to climb are there?
Since posing the initial editorial prompt and collecting your responses, much has happened within the sphere of education, at least in the US. The ICE order of July 6 put colleges and universities that were planning to extend remote learning into the 2020–21 academic year on the defensive, only to rescind the order less than a fortnight later. The episode played out against the backdrop of COVID-19’s second wave, and infection rates daily exceed the pandemic’s previous peak in April.
What outcomes from the Spring semester attest to the ability of virtually conducting architectural education? What conceptions (e.g. the phenomenological hangover, the centrality of studio-based instruction) need to be dismantled in light of the current context? Moreover, what, from an administrative perspective, should be done to ensure students that remote learning is of comparable value to its on-campus counterpart?