Maggie's Centres in the UK since 1996, L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui 441, February 2021.
When any administrative body opts to deprive an individual of liberty based on the belief that it serves the greater social good, an extraordinary amount of modesty and restraint are warranted. We are told that the U.S. justice system allows defendants due process, equal justice under the law, and presumption of innocence until proven guilty. In practice, we know that many people get caught in “the system” for radically arbitrary reasons, corrupted by unjust and unequal processes. The mechanistic grinding of the system subjects millions to incarceration or supervision. Deep-seated legacies of discrimination go unaddressed. Countless are sentenced for crimes they didn’t commit, or are detained for extended periods because of slow trials and lack of cash for court fees, bail, and attorneys.
In June 2016, the city council reforms passed the Criminal Justice Reform Act, replacing criminal charges with civil penalties for many low-level, nonviolent offenses, such as open containers of alcohol, public urination, littering, and jumping subway turnstiles. Ninety percent of criminal court summons-es were eliminated in the following year. Diversion programs to assessment and community service offered alternatives to incarceration for young people and those with mental health and other issues. The city worked to clear hundreds of thou-sands of outstanding warrants for minor criminal offenses, more than 800,000 of them issued more than 10 years earlier and only 3% of them for felonies, the rest for administrative code violations, infractions, and misdemeanors. These types of judicial and procedural reforms have reduced New York City’s jail population by more than half since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, from 10,912 in 2014 to below 4,000 as of April 2020.
If the de Blasio Administration achieves only one significant victory during its tenure—for all its shortcomings and inattention to detail—the program to reform the justice system would be a change worthy of great acclaim. Certain members of the public worry that the jails may become too good. If jails were too comfortable, wouldn’t more people want to go there? The complaint reveals how much farther we have to go in planning the non-carceral world.
Maria Almonte’s staff increased almost tenfold four years ago when her office helped start the Supervised Release program in the Bronx. Instead of releasing people on their own recognizance, setting bail—often beyond the means of the people accused of nonviolent or civil offenses, resulting in jail time for minor offenses—or sending the accused to jail to await trial, Supervised Release provides community-based supervision and support through non-profit agencies for those with pending cases, ensuring they return to court and avoid arrest. It’s one of five agencies citywide that provide pretrial supervision, currently managing 350 cases. “Because I’ve been working in the criminal justice system and trying to bridge the gap between courts and community, I’ve come to understand and appreciate that community members value public safety, but they also value the fact that Black and brown individuals com-ing through the system are their community,” Almonte says.
The ecological lifestyle becomes a fiction of symbolic consumption that doesn’t actually benefit the environment or society. Compared to a household living in the rural countryside, surrounded by relatively undisturbed nature, the growing fashion for planted buildings suggest a kind of virtue-signaling that doesn’t quite live up to its advertising. Yet energy codes in Los Angeles and California are robust for new construction, providing an alibi for their greenwashed symbolism, and on the level of expression, buildings with living walls are resonant billboards for sustainable architecture.
Speculative Twists: Studio Gang's MIRA Tower in San Francisco, Abitare, Dec. 2020.
“It’s necessary to ask, however: why are 60 percent of the homes on public property designed for the top one or two percent of income earners, rather than only one or two percent of the units? Our policy and planning institutions are at the service of the rich. That is the logic of capital. In a better-designed economic structure, Jeanne Gang would have access to billions of dollars to make a city as imaginative, thoughtful, cooperative, and equitable as she would be capable of creating. The failing system keeps compelling us to churn out luxury high-rises with some greater or lesser margin of below-market rate housing within.”
“I always try to create homes that go beyond mere functional requirements, in order to turn them into places of rest for the spirit and the heart,” explains the acclaimed Japanese architect Tadao Ando, who has designed this white penthouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for his friend the gallerist Kazuhito Yoshii.
"To improve natural lighting and ventilation, the architects carved a square aperture through the ceiling of one quadruple-height volume. The excised stone fell into the quarry, bringing a tree along for the ride. It began growing on the cut-out plinth, lit from the skylight above, creating a charged, luminous moment that expresses the potential for breathing new life into an abandoned mine."