Letter from the Editor

Toward an Optimistic New Architecture

Rebuilding, while a reminder of what’s been lost, is also a defiant act of hope.

With its brick pavilion in Jojutla’s central plaza, the Mexico City-based architecture firm MMX evokes both a medieval cloister and the region’s haciendas.
Credit...Rafael Gamo

When we were closing last year’s spring Design issue, it was the beginning of an era; now, 12 months later, we’re nearing its end. Of course, it’s not really the end, but on some days we’re able to pretend otherwise — we’re able to make plans again; we’re able to anticipate. Many of the crushing uncertainties we lived with for months have been answered (though in many cases, the answers are crushing, too).

March is always an unpredictable period in New York. There are days when you can feel the promise of not just spring but summer: The air becomes soft, the trees froth with green seemingly overnight and people gather outdoors on stoops and park benches in the relative warmth. The next day, though, the bone-chilling damp returns, or the whipping winds or, often, the snow. The month is not a transition between February and April so much as it is a combination of the two, the weather at its most fickle.

It also marks the return of twilight, with the sun lingering a little longer each day. Despite spending a significant part of my childhood in Hawaii, I’ve never been fond of the heat. But over this past year, I have grown to crave the sun, which feels like a bestowal. In a life spent largely indoors, the sun is a gift, a reassurance, a beckoning. An Italian fashion designer once pointed out to me that, unlike London, Milan and Paris, New York has bluebird days year-round; that combination of cold and sun is, he said, what he loves about the city. It is, he told me, a promise of hope.

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Credit...Artwork by Andrew Kuo

The houses and buildings in this issue are also expressions of hope. This is perhaps most true of the civic structures (a school, a plaza, a church) designed by a number of Latin American architects in the aftermath of the 2017 earthquake that devastated the Mexican town of Jojutla. As Michael Snyder writes in his story, post-disaster reconstruction unites architects and governments to create projects that sometimes solve real, urgent problems ... but, often, can become exercises in self-indulgence and opportunities for grandstanding. In Jojutla, though, the architects tried to listen to the residents about their needs, as well as their aesthetic desires. The result is a collection of spaces that, as Snyder writes, may have been designed by outsiders, but now belong to the residents of Jojutla, who will eventually make them their own. “Over time,” he writes, “the buildings will reflect the community they serve, and the community may, in turn, be reshaped by the buildings, with fatalism and distrust slowly replaced by optimism for a future that need not repeat the present.”

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Credit...Simon Upton

Let this be the case for all of us: May fatalism and distrust be replaced by optimism. May we remember that the future need not repeat the present. And may we remember, too, that many things can be rebuilt — and that even if the world that emerges doesn’t resemble the one we knew, it is up to us to make it our own.