Building Users Union

If everyone who used buildings were to form a union, how might they go on strike? They could demand faster escalators, better lobbies, wider halls – and they could boycott the buildings they work in. After all, if everyone got together and declared themselves the Building Users Union – We are the users of buildings, they say, and here is our list of demands – how might the built environment be forced to change? In other words, if architects can unionize – a big if – then why not the people who use their buildings?
Can an audience go on strike?
The users of buildings march on Washington – on Whitehall, on the UN – demanding action, and the strike goes on for years. People are soon camping in the streets, sleeping in makeshift tent cities, and refusing to enter architecture until their demands are met. The world of interiors is lost to them. Children are born in parks; schools are founded beside undammed rivers; religious services take place in wooded groves.
Architects are beside themselves. They live alone inside distant high-rises, opening windows here and there, wondering where everyone has gone.

18 thoughts on “Building Users Union”

  1. A network of parasitic exoskeletal workspaces look in on cavernous open-office cubicle farms. Gradually the urban camping populous must stack tents on tents (on tents) to accommodate the overcrowding. Who writes the manifesto that defines “buildings” as distinct from “tent stacks”?

  2. Geoff, that was a fascinating comment on the potential power of building inhabitants, however despite it poetic imagery I find overly polemic to be a real statement of what users can contribute to the environment.

    Certainly such things as rent strikes, which have been around for years, have had only minor consequences in a user’s ability to effect real change in their environment. Supply & demand only really work for the rich. But to truly afford to strike the built environment calls for a desperation that many inhabitants just don’t have.

    Though they are driven from their homes by ever increasing rents or mortgages, the image of tent cities spread throughout the streets call up thoughts of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the inadequecies of FEMA trailers.

    Surely their is some middle route that lacks the impractical intrigue of polemics but the effectiveness that is lacking in current methods. A way to empower users to claim the built environment as their own and empower them to have a real say.

  3. I think User Union idea is highly relevant today. As users of systems (physical or informational) become contributers (aka prosumers) I think they need rights as much as the providers of the systems.

    For the informational world, we initiated a framework called User Labor:

  4. A building user’s union would be a socialist ordeal! And if you think your ideals are so important they should be forced onto others, that venture would make you the same oppressor you were originally arguing against. So, what are you left to do but acknowledge that you can only promote your ideals by best means available within a non oppressive order, namely – democratic rule. That is to say, you can only promote your sense of architectural utopia by the means of capitol which you acquire. So put your money where your mouth is, get out there and get a job and stop complaining. If you bloggers had any rational skills whatsoever you might realize this and hopefully jump off the nearest bridge into the highway because the rest of us don’t want you back. flame flame goes the big gun.

  5. People are so used to drab inadequate and quite simply boring architecture that people have become complacent with buildings that don’t fulfill their needs and desires. I can not even imagine a user’s union or strike materializing, at least not in the U.S.

  6. I’ve always been fascinated by how we make do with buildings — even though they might be completely unsuited for what we are using them for… or might just have a ton of small problems that add up to make them nearly unusable: leakiness, awkward spaces, noisy or too-cold hvac, badly-proportioned or non-operable windows…

    it’s thrilling to imagine a reality where many of us decide we’d rather be outside than in an ill-fitting building! and one of my actual hopes for the world is that people take more initiative to work on their own spaces, change them to fit their needs and lives more closely. instead of just going on strike, people start building it for themselves! this, of course, would require a whole different structure for property ownership, building codes, construction skills training, gender equality, materials sourcing, etc… aka. revolution!!!

    for now, we make little modifications and adjustments, but there has been no wholesale revolt — except among people who couldn’t afford any space in the interior of a building in the first place, of course…

    the IWW says: “you don’t need the boss, the boss needs you”

    I was going to try & write something about how “buildings don’t need us, but we need them.”

    which is almost true…

    however, witnessing the condo towers and ‘luxury loft’ apartments recently erected, and now standing empty, in my city, it’s more like: “buildings don’t need us… but they need our money. and we seem to be stuck with them…”

  7. Who let Ray out of his cage?

    I remember being stunned when I found out that Los Angeles has a Bus Riders Union – I had never even considered the possibility a collective of transit riders *would* unionize. From my limited understanding of Los Angeles municipal politics, the union has acknowledged the socioeconomics of infrastructure/urban planning and represented the interest of riders on various issues over the past several years. Interesting stuff.

    Developers certainly have their interests covered, why shouldn’t end-users?

  8. @Anonymous – I think a boycott is when you don’t buy a certain product, from a certain producer… a building users’ strike would be something like saying “we will not eat any processed food, at all, from any manufacturer” — basically refusing to be a consumer.

    @Eric – the difference between “buildings” and “tent stacks”: buildings = built by architects, tent stacks = built by the people who are living in them. (is that a good enough manifesto?)

    I like how elevators to the sky, underground mansions, and orbital libraries go over here without a blink of disbelief, but the faintest whiff of radical politics brings out the wackos.
    (um… myself possibly included.)

  9. Wow Greg, I never would have thought that there was a bus-riders union. Its really not that radical of an idea when you think about it, its just hard to see people join forces in such a large city. Another thing to think about, if everyone went on strike regarding everything architecture, even if it meant there own homes, what would the government do, would it have to step in? I mean, thats a lot of property tax money out the window! 🙂

  10. All I know is it would be a boost to the industries that make camping supplies, but a terrible hit on the rest of the economy… Probably not the best idea at this point in time…

  11. jean:

    I often get the feeling that the only people who don’t make do with existing buildings are people who have worked on buildings before, or at least lived in an area where they’ve seen lots of construction.

    My roommate is like this – he worked construction for a while – so for him the city is full of walls that can be torn down, bridges that could be built, balconies that could be expanded.

    So I submit that we don’t need a building users’ union. We need a radical expansion of our construction workers’ unions.

    Everybody must pitch in and build together.


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