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For Architects Only? How Kanye Exposed Architecture's Bias

© Noam Dvir, Instagram User dvirnm
© Noam Dvir, Instagram User dvirnm

When Kanye West spoke with students at my alma mater on Sunday evening, he said “I really do believe that the world can be saved through design, and everything needs to actually be ‘architected.’” In the social media frenzy that followed, a recurring response that I saw on architecture-centric sites was to snicker at West’s use of the word “architect” as a verb. For many, this was symbolic of West’s ignorance and hubris as he presumed to talk about something without knowing anything.

Except, of course, that “architect” is well recognized as a verb. Dictionaries say so, architects say so, and academics say so. If you’re architect Doug Patt and call yourself howtoarchitect on YouTube, you get a contract from MIT Press to write a book—called How to Architect. If you are the French philosopher Louis Marin, you can suggest that “the castle and gardens of Versailles ‘architect’ the Prince to make him not only the absolute of political power, but the center of the cosmos in its entirety,” and you will be counted among the most eminent semioticians of the twentieth century. If you are Harvard architecture theorist K. Michael Hays, you might stand up at an academic conference and say, “There are only certain things that can be done at this moment. Not just anything can be architected at this moment, right? There are limits.” When you do, people will nod and applaud.

But if you are Kanye West and you suggest that “everything needs to actually be ‘architected,’” it disqualifies you to speak about architecture.