Illustrating Homeless Architecture

Illustrating Homeless Architecture

The city of Los Angeles manufactures the myth of its own aspirational promise with cult-like fervor showcasing both spectacular virtuosity and deep social myopia - at once its glory and its menace, as Frank Lloyd Wright might have said. LA often stands apart as the urban sing-song of denial replete with clenched eyes and muffled ears. Thus, an illustration of homeless architecture which draws from the same artistic tools and idealism that typically supports the other end of the housing spectrum satirizes the ubiquity of the illusion machine and asks viewers to consider their place on the assembly line of fantasy.

Such an illustration should raise uncomfortable questions. What is the message? Is it one of glorification, irony, critique, or all of the above? As the viewer is confronted with the incongruity of design and the destitute, the collective conscious of the so–called creative class should squirm. For in our insatiable drive to promote, exaggerate, and glorify the built environment of the absolute highest class we often ignore those who without a home categorically fall outside the very idea of class. To take this line of thought painfully a little farther, in truth our efforts contribute to their plight with our role, as an accessory or not, in climbing property values, gentrification, and the general sequela of capitalism.

Therefore, refocusing illustrative ideas of narrative, composition, and lighting onto the unseen architecture beneath the sparkling towers becomes a self-referential plea for pause: Where is our artistic energy taking us? Who is benefitting, who is not? Who’s dreams are we helping to fulfill and at what cost? To be sure, this is an old tension and there will always be complicated realities for those of us who trade at the intersection of design and business. But at what point does our ability to rationalize start to devolve from a necessary evil to a foolish (and harmful) consistency? More importantly, what if anything can be done?

Initiating or increasing participation in a sustainable pro bono program which focuses on providing services of any kind to public or subsidized housing issues, or redirecting a company’s charitable giving to like-minded NGOs are logical starting points. Perhaps we can steal a line from LA’s most famous illusion industry and bring a ‘one for them, one for me’ philosophy to the problem of homelessness and deploy our altruistic energies as a built-in “reward” for a notably fruitful project or year.

Courtesy of Shimahara

“Architecture can contribute to improving the quality of the built environment and by doing so, correct inequalities and improve people’s quality of life”, says 2016 Pritzker Prize winner, Alejandro Aravena. Celebrating socially responsible architecture can serve well to encourage a zeitgeist of selflessness within the industry. However, only by breaking hard from our somnambulistic assembly lines and taking up meaningful and sustainable actions can this idealism avoid the futility of yet another fantasy.

Craig Shimahara
Craig Shimahara is the president of Shimahara Illustration, an architectural illustration company with studios in Los Angeles and New York. On October 7th Shimahara Illustration presents Illustrating Homeless Architecture in Santa Monica, CA. All proceeds benefit Habitat for Humanity.


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Cite: "Illustrating Homeless Architecture" 28 Aug 2017. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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