Socializing Architecture Practice: From Small Firms to Cooperative Models of Organization (with Peggy Deamer, Shawhin Roudbari, Manuel Schvartzberg)

forthcoming in M. Dodd (ed.) Spatial Practices: Modes of Action and Engagement with the City, 2019.

While the vast majority of practices in design-related fields, including architecture, have been historically organized as small and precarious, their sizes have presented inherent limitations to their ability to compete with increasingly larger and economically dominant practices within capitalist markets. This relative subordination is further accentuated by pressures on design practitioners that have long promoted competition, secrecy, as well as profit- and production-driven labor that discourages them from sharing resources, personnel, and from working cooperatively across firms and industries. This paper examines ways of rethinking the nature of architecture practice in small firms as part of a broader need to reconsider the value of cooperation, cooperatives, and cooperativization in cities more broadly. By viewing small architecture firms in tandem with the social, economic, and political potentials offered by cooperative models of organization, architects may begin to foreground care over profit, use-values over exchange values, and the sharing of knowledge over private appropriation in order to create more equitable, just, and livable neighborhoods and cities.

The paper is divided into three parts. In the first part, the paper examines the need for small firms to reconsider their business models, their approach to management, and their understandings of labor. By exposing their structure, their financial resources, and their means of distribution, small firms are described as inherently precarious. In contrast to such precarity, cooperation, cooperatives, and cooperativization begin to challenge the “everyone-go-it-alone” ethos that pervades many design fields and which works for no one. Part two analyzes the theories of cooperatives and the process of cooperativization by exploring thinkers who imagined structures of shared profits, cooperative approaches to production, and even further, a post-capitalistworld based upon cooperativized cities. Finally, part three reveals how cooperative models of practice—in varying degrees—may be applied to small architecture firms in particular, including how these cooperativized firms in turn can scale up beyond the production of architecture to influence and shape social relations at the city and neighborhoodscale.