Given the apparent difficulty architects have designing places that improve rather than undermine their settings, I was amused at the crie de coeur from art critic Mary Louise Schumacher of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about the figures – known in the design trade as “scalies” – that occupy architects’ renderings of projects. (See my March post “The secret lives of scalies.”)
Schumacher’s article “In Renderland, including designs for lakefront project, few faces of color” complains that
The humans are uniformly happy and somehow familiar, like old acquaintances you can’t quite place. They cheerily glide in sporty sneakers, chat on cellphones, point at fireworks and eat baguettes. They are also, far more often than not, white. … Not unlike their postwar counterparts — architectural renderings that romanticized the notion of a mostly white middle class — this new class of renderings reinforce an iconography of white privilege.
Oh, please. Give us a break! Schumacher refers in particular to a project along Milwaukee’s lakefront. “In what should be a representation of one of the most democratizing spaces in one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States, the renderings for Lakefront Gateway Plaza included very few people of color.”
She adds, quoting Arijit Sen, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, that “”The lakefront is a highly charged place in terms of race. … I think the lakefront can be a very awkward place for people of color.”
So there aren’t any scalies of color? No, there are not enough scalies of color. She also regrets that there are too few older scalies and too few disabled scalies. How does she know? Maybe some of the scalies eating baguettes have had facelifts. Maybe some of the scalies chatting on cellphones are talking to the counselors at their halfway house.
(Excuse me, but I can’t resist wondering why Schumacher has expressed no concern that scalies are too thin, that there aren’t enough obese scalies. Has she succumbed to a regrettable bout of lookism? I think not. Certainly the obese may be defined as disabled. On the other hand, wouldn’t that be to commit reverse lookism?)
It’s really a little bit much to expect the designers who use scalies to funnel them into some sort of sociological portrait of the area around a given project. Their purpose is merely to give a notion of the scale of a proposed building. Architecture has enough issues without the design equivalent of whether #All Lives Matter is a reprehensible concern.
Schumacher refers, above, to early “postwar” scalies. I recall, in writing about the Downtown 1970 Plan, proposed in 1960 at the height of midcentury modernism, that many if not all of the male scalies in its renderings had male pattern baldness. I attributed that to their being drawn into modernist environments. It was supposed to be a joke!