Nov 1, 201301:00 PMPoint of View

Q & A: Jerilou Hammett

Q & A: Jerilou Hammett

(page 1 of 2)

DESIGNER/builder magazine was the quintessential small, independent magazine. Resolutely un-glossy, it was reproduced in black and white, and devoted to community and social design long before those twinned pursuits became fashionable in the architecture and design world. The magazine, founded and edited by the late Kingsley Hammett, ceased publication in 2008, but Jerilou Hammett and Maggie Wrigley have now put together a kind of greatest hits compilation entitled The Architecture of Change: Building a Better World (University of New Mexico Press). The book includes a Forward by Michael Sorkin and features 36 stories that serve as a tribute to the design movement the magazine helped foster. Recently I corresponded with Hammett via email about the new book, the lessons it imparts on a new generation of citizen designers, and her hopes for the future.


Martin C. Pedersen: How did the book evolve? Why do it now?

Jerilou Hammett: During Barack Obama’s first run for the presidency, he made “change” the central theme of his campaign. Kingsley and I were struck by the passionate reaction to this message. But we knew that beyond the slogan there was very little understanding of what “change” really meant, and how to achieve it. Thinking back over the work we had done in DESIGNER/builder magazine for almost 15 years, we began remembering all of the stories we’d written about ordinary people and sensitive professionals who had found ingenious solutions to the problems confronting them. We thought a book that demonstrated how change happens—about people who refused to accept that things couldn’t change, who saw the possibility of making something better and didn’t hesitate—would be valuable. 

MCP: What would you like your readers to learn from the book?

JH: Many people today are looking for ways to be needed, to work toward a more equitable society, to be part of a community. They just don’t know how. Many are students, sitting in their classrooms receiving a traditional education, who don’t have a clue as to how to take their new skills and knowledge and apply them to help create a more just society. Many are professionals, who are searching for ways to find meaning in their work and make a broader contribution. We want this book to open their eyes to new ways of interpreting the world and envisioning change in a caring society.

MCP:  The book is very much a tribute to Kingsley Hammett, the editor and founder of DESIGNER/builder magazine. What was his vision for the magazine?

JH: Kingsley’s original vision for DESIGNER/builder was an independent and non-traditional magazine that would demonstrate the power of the human spirit to transform the built environment. He believed that a better world was possible and had great faith in what people could do for each other, what they could create and build, how they could transform misery into hope. He wanted to share their experiences. He believed that every story was a human story.  

As the years went on, the vision evolved and DESIGNER/builder grew more into its subtitle, A Journal of the Human Environment. We took on innovative housing, neighborhood reclamation, community empowerment, racism, aging, corporate control, homelessness, gentrification, displacement, and the power of social networks. We looked at the urban forms of Pyong Yang, the uniqueness of the buildings of Yemen, the process of rebuilding in Cuba, the politics of architecture on the West Bank. We exposed the emptiness of all the buzzwords being used to sell the latest projects. We included examples of people who were challenging current thinking not only in words, but in actions. We covered people in poor, marginalized communities who became agents of transformation by using social capital. We demonstrated how professionals, individuals, and groups could contribute to societal change irrespective of their economic status and political power. Running through the magazine was a constant theme of social justice as an underlying principle of the built environment.

MCP: You reference Rudofsky's Architecture Without Architects. This book is in that same spirit. Many of these projects and stories are examples where the architects stepped aside and let the community take the lead. How do you inspire architects and designers to do that, to willingly cede authority?

JH: None of the stories in the book reference architects who made a conscious choice to step aside. Those who were involved in these collaborations had come to the decision to be a participant rather than a leader. They understood that they had as much to learn as to teach. What we want architects and designers to draw from this book is the evidence of what serves the people. These are the interventions that, as Rudofsky knew, come from the power of communal architecture—architecture produced not by specialists but by people drawing on their common lives and experiences. They’re the ones with the unique insight into their particular needs and environments. It is only when working side-by-side with those who will benefit in the end is it possible to bring about the necessary change.

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