Fulfilling the Program

Fulfilling the Program.

Wade Tillett
CHA Mixed-Income Design Competition Awards Ceremony
August 27, 2001

“Smoked salmon?” 

The waitress must have asked me at least ten times. I don’t know, I couldn’t eat, there was just something irksome about people in suits eating free hors d’oeuvres and drinking donated wine all in the name of public housing. I couldn’t help but think that at the same time the developers, officials, architects and media are eating smoked salmon at the awards ceremony for a competition to ‘reinvent’ public housing, there are children mere blocks away, within public housing, going hungry.

I’m sure it was a scene much like this one when the first projects, the ones they’re tearing down now, were given their awards. The officials and politicians and architects and developers all patting each other on the back and saying how they have fixed poor people’s problems this time. Drinking the wine so carefully squeezed from the grapes of systematic exploitation.

Under the glass ceiling on the top floor of the postmodern Harold Washington Library, interior glazed window bays surround flower boxes. And out through the ceiling and walls of glass, you can only see blue sky rooftops. It has always been in places like this that the rhetoric of a false morality of public policy is made. Places simultaneously visible and removed.

This removal is implemented through a carefully constructed political architecture. An architecture that establishes a political exclusion while simultaneously justifying and extracting power through a guise of inclusion and charity. It establishes a justification of exclusionary decision-making, through its own rhetoric of simulated discourse and inclusion. 

A discourse is created within the predefined program. Architectural manifestations which all accomplish the *same* program are selected *as if* the program were being designed, *as if* there was a real hope for public housing within the choices presented, *as if* the (non)future of public housing had not already been decided. Thus, *the* program is accomplished under the guise of selection among multiple possible programs, when in fact it is only a selection between multiple manifestations of *the* program. The program of ‘morality’ inflates for itself a space of discourse *within* the already determined program for exploitation. In other words, the competition simulates choice by creating its own discourse *between* ‘competing’ entries which follow the program, *within which the ensuing media and public policy are to operate*. 

An exclusion occurs through the guise of inclusion. The representation of public housing residents within the competition jury process (1 of 10 jurors) mirrored the stratagem employed within the broader political process. A small number of public housing residents are selected for inclusion *within* the political exclusion in order to justify the process as a whole. It is essential to the extraction of power (and land) that the exclusion created not *appear* an oppressive system forced onto public housing residents. For it is the channel of contrived consensus and simulated inclusion whereby exclusionary politics establishes its justification and furthers its power. 

And still present beneath the guise of inclusion, but not as overt, exists a rhetoric of morality, of manifest destiny, that is used both to justify expansion of interests, and exclusion of participation. By no mere coincidence this rhetoric simultaneously places blame back on the public housing residents themselves. This is rather unimaginative since it was exactly this same facade of morality that was used to justify the tearing down of the ‘slums’, the taking of the land, and the construction of the original public housing developments. Now this same facade of morality is being used to justify the tearing down the slums which are public housing, the taking of the land, and the construction of the ‘mixed-income’ (private) developments. As the representative from the mayor’s office said of the original public housing: it was wrong. “We knew it. We knew it when we built it. We know it now.” 

The same is true again. We know it. We’ll know it as we build it. We’ll know it as we take the land. We’ll know it as we take the money. We’ll know it as we take the political appointments, the praise, and the magazine spread. It is wrong.

When the CHA representative praised the president of the ABLA LAC for her fight, explaining how now we are all now ‘feeding off’ of her desire and fight to have a better life for public housing residents,

there was no applause.

When he remarked on the effort of the architects who competed in this competition,

there was loud applause.

After the long parade of thank yous by various officials, *the* public housing representative on the jury was brought on stage. Then they announced the winner and *the* public housing representative gave the winner the check. And then there were pictures of the ‘winning’ architect with *the* public housing representative. And with a few snaps of the camera, the creation of an aesthetic propaganda of justification was complete. The politics of false morality are always enacted as an aesthetic construction, visible and removed. How else to accomplish theft in broad daylight?

Just outside the ‘winter garden’, in the hallway, among the quotes written on the walls was one from Charles Scribner Jr.:

“Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal.”