Matt’s Story: PSU Grad Discusses Future of Architecture in COVID Era

 

Matt was an architecture student and came to Portland State University from Vancouver, WA. He was eligible for the Western Undergraduate Exchange program which allowed him to save a lot of money on tuition. In high school he collaborated with a team of students on an affordable housing project and was inspired to continue down the design path, so he chose to study at PSU’s School of Architecture.

As a student at PSU, he was in the Honors College and worked at the student-run movie theater, 5th Ave Cinema. I originally interviewed him while he was a student but followed up recently to see how he was doing. I was curious about what he thought about the future of architecture as it changes during COVID-19. 

When he was a student, Matt was engaged in the campus community. He was able to participate in numerous projects that pushed him to use things learned in class to benefit real people and problems in the Portland community. He was involved in the Kenton Women’s Village, a compassion-focused houseless solution. This project revises and updates traditional housing and provides social work, education and gives tennants a jumpstart in their lives. PSU gave him the opportunity to use his knowledge to make a difference for people in our community. He said “I have had a lot of opportunities to work with professionals and network.”

He graduated in Spring 2020; a unique time. Now that he has graduated, he urges the next generation of architects to challenge the norms by designing inclusive architecture.

 

I asked about his perspective on architecture as he went through the program.

The historically classist and racist tendencies of the profession, in conjunction with the inherently high price of good design, has marginalized and further subdivided our society, creating isolated pockets of quality architecture. I find it essential that the next generation of designers staunchly challenge this status quo and push for a focus on humanitarian efforts and the utilization of a design language that considers bodies of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and ethnicities rather than a privileged few.”

I asked him also about how he thinks COVID-19 might change the way we think about architecture, and if demand will change.

“Traditional open offices are likely on their way out, and may be replaced by a rise in people working at home, entirely foregoing an office environment. If this is indeed the case, the conventional domestic space will need to adapt and change as a new essential activity is added to the rhythm of ‘home life’ and consequently residential design considerations. Public space will also very likely be impacted and this could be either a positive or negative change.” 

He went on to give his thoughts about how planned public spaces may change because of COVID-19. 

“My fear is that an outbreak like this may lead to a sterilization of public space, as frequently touched surfaces such as benches, playgrounds, and other built installations are now a vessel for germs. This would further exacerbate a trend of disappearing public areas and continue to make cities substantially less livable for people from all walks of life. My hope is that this will not be the case and instead we see a push toward dedicated pedestrian walkways, stores expanding into the street, and outdoor dining. While these have become a difficult necessity during COVID-19, this could transition into a rebirth of the pedestrian experience on street level, cultivating a thriving urban environment.”

I love how he is able to use his knowledge of architecture to critique the field and provide the direction it needs to take. It is so important that we are able to step back and think about the differences we can make as individuals. He ended on a positive note, explaining how design can continue to bring people together despite the challenges of social distancing.

“I think the coronavirus has brought an abrupt level of awareness to the public at large regarding the spaces we operate within. Hopefully this can transition into a deeper design conversation between designers, city planners, officials and citizens. It is my hope that we can take this time to confront how our public spaces have historically been designed and challenge norms which often do not lead to healthy or equitable spaces. With all that in mind, the main challenge for designers right now will be to create or adapt our spaces in a manner that continues to foster the essential interconnection that we thrive upon without sacrificing peoples safety.”

Matt is dedicated to improving his field and ensuring access to everyone. His insights are powerful and so relevant to this current challenge.

Check out our programs at PSU and see how you can make a difference in your community.