Architect as Advocate: Beyond Patronage, Toward New Subjectivities

Joyce Hwang

I recently coedited a book titled Beyond Patronage: Reconsidering Models of Practice (Actar, 2015) with Martha Bohm and Gabrielle Printz that focuses on redefining audiences as stakeholders. Architecture centers on the notion of “patronage,” or relationships between clients (patrons) and architects (those in service to the patrons), which has defined our understanding of architectural practice. Key relationships between architects and private clients have enabled the development of some of the most significant canons of work. Still, we must be aware that embedded within these relationships are power structures that feed a system in which dominant cultures remains dominant.

In the Beyond Patronage project, we examine what we perceive as a shifting landscape of patronage today. In 2012, we organized a symposium at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York—which was then expanded into the book—that centered on three themes:

Architect as Initiator: architects who seek out ways to  fund their own projects through forms of creative entrepreneurship or by forming new processes of collaboration.

Architect as Detective: architects who conduct research and deploy strategies to reveal the unknown, finding clues to “discover” projects where they were thought not to exist.

Architect as Advocate: architects who find and define “clients” and “audiences” where they were thought not to exist. These architects reach out to communities beyond the conception of the typical moneyed client. They engage underrepresented populations and reconsider who the audiences and users are and their subjectivities.

It is imperative that we as architects resist the urge to move with the tides. Complacency will not only impede any social, environmental, or cultural progress, but it will also slowly and imperceptibly drive a stake into the heart of humanity itself.

Joyce Hwang is the director of Ants of the Prairie and an associate professor of architecture at the University at Buffalo SUNY. She is a recipient of the Architectural League Emerging Voices Award, the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, the MacDowell Colony Fellowship, and is coeditor of Beyond Patronage: Reconsidering Models of Practice.