Architecture in the Age of Austerity - 1

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smoking lava field in Hawaii

This is the first part of something I've never done before - posting an entire presentation, text and graphics, as a series of blog posts. But this one, given at the joint INTBAU - Notre Dame conference recently on Architecture in the Age of Austerity, connected enough dots that I believe it might be helpful to post it.


 Austerity is the correct diagnosis of today's condition if we're viewing things through the lens of a Consuming Economy.


yellow mixing bowl

   If our view is through the lens of a Conserving Economy, however, then this is a long-overdue recovery from years of unsustainable increases in consumption. A Consuming Economy values things by how quickly they're used up, while a Conserving Economy values things by how far they're handed down.

   I use my grandmother's mixing bowl whenever I want to make a loaf of bread. I hope to hand it down to my oldest son, who is a chef. But it's hopelessly out of fashion, as she probably bought it in the 1950's.


Guess storefront in London

   This highlights the fact that the engines of fashion and style are tuned to entice us to regularly buy the latest fashion or risk being "outtadate." This is an inherently unsustainable practice, as it requires us to constantly throw things away and buy new things.


diagram of US obesity by state in 1985

   The grotesque end-game of ever-increasing consumption is beginning to play out today in many arenas.


diagram of US obesity by state in 1990

   Consider the obesity epidemic in the US. Food companies listed on the stock exchanges must increase their sales each year or risk stock value losses.


diagram of US obesity by state in 1995

   But people only eat so much... or so we thought.


diagram of US obesity by state in 2000

   But immigration wasn't increasing fast enough for people to eat enough to keep stock prices up, so they discovered an alternative: people tend to eat what is set before them.


diagram of US obesity by state in 2006

   So if you "super-size" the portion, most people are likely to eat it. This has transformed Americans into a most obese and hungry species that hardly resembles the humans for which we are named.


architectural & engineering 3-sided scales on wood counter

   The bottom line is that there are two measures: By the measuring-stick of the Consuming Economy, the Conserving Economy is sick roughly half of the time. But by the measuring-stick of the Conserving Economy, the Consuming Economy is ill most quarters of the year. The problem isn't so much our state of affairs as it is the measure by which we gauge it.


   ~Steve Mouzon


   This is one of 6 posts that contain my presentation to the joint INTBAU-Notre Dame conference in London, Architecture in the Age of Austerity, on April 30, 2012.

Here are the posts:

Post 1 (this one)

Post 2

Post 3

Post 4

Post 5

Post 6


Legacy Comments


Steve Mouzon · Board Member at Sky Institute for the Future

In London recently, my INTBAU-Notre Dame conference presentation connected lots of important dots in ways I'd never seen before. So on the plane back to the US, I tried to remember what I said as best I could and write it down. This is the first of six blog post that will lay out each slide and the ideas that go with them, covering the entire presentation. Please have a look and see what you think... let's discuss!

May 30, 2012 10:44am


George Matthew Linkert IV · Program Coordinator at Sojourn Adult Day Services

Part of the problem is of course that things are designed to stop working at some point, and the consumer is expected to buy a new one, instead of fixing it. We have a relatively new crockpot that has unexpectedly stopped working recently. My first instinct is to just throw it away and get a new one as they are relatively cheap. Is that right?

May 30, 2012 1:27pm


Chuck Miller · Architect, Principal at Doty & Miller Architects

Insightful commentary on our failure to understand that our econmy is largely based on thrrowing things away. I suppose that Americans, by being so transitory, are used to getting new stuff all the time. Consumers, not conservers. I remember my grandparents saving everything, including the family farm that stayed in the family for 200 years. We've lost so many of those values in just a few generations.
Like you say, make it beautiful, make it last.

May 31, 2012 6:49am


Richard Bono · Owl Valley Studio at Richard J. Bono, Architect

Obesity is one of the fruits of the subsidized, highly advertized and profitable, cheap, poor quality, mass production food system...gone crazy....and then absurdly....tied to the mass production medical system. Like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, Americans are unable to stop the broom army...even as it floods their own castles. Food is the most ubiquitous of human activities...and when the revolution comes, it surely must start here.

Jun 8, 2012 11:24am


Bruce Dandy Tidwell · Owner - Designer, Couturier - Dressmaker at House of Blackthorn

The obesity charts are both stunning and grotesque!

Jun 14, 2012 1:24am


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