“Tidal Shift” was a site-specific installation developed by the WIP Collaborative for The Shed in New York City. It was created using Nike Grind, a recycled material, and represents the kind of approach taken by Studio Elsa Ponce, which was one of the collaborators. Photo courtesy Michael Vahrenwald.

How Architects and Designers are Dreaming of a Different Way

METROPOLIS’s November/December 2023 explores the critical mass of experimentation with both the materials and methods of architecture and interior design today.

My biggest source of optimism is that there are conscientious people everywhere who find it difficult to look the other way once they understand some of the unintended but undesirable consequences of their actions.

Our editor at large Verda Alexander recently spoke with three architects who are like that. Elsa Ponce, Rafael Robles, and Tura Cousins Wilson all lead firms that have eschewed business as usual to pursue the goals of equity and sustainability—and are in the process of transforming architecture itself (“Practicing Outside the Norm”).

Yet even the most well-intentioned and courageous professionals can find themselves at an impasse with some of the difficult choices architects and designers have to make every day on projects.

Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, is an example of one of those conundrums (“The PVC Pivot”). Luxury vinyl tile and Type II vinyl wallcoverings are the most popular types of resilient flooring and wallcovering because PVC is cheap, versatile, and adaptable. But every few years we learn either of harmful ingredients in these products that must be phased out or of a disaster that reminds us why the fundamental building block of PVC is risky if it isn’t handled with great care. So architects and designers have consistently demanded cleaner PVC manufacturing, end-of-life solutions, and alternatives, all which have been heard and met by manufacturers—with varying degrees of success.

“The continuous work of architects and designers is to do what we must, stand for what is right, and dream of a better way to build and live in harmony with one another and with nature.”

Avinash Rajagopal, METROPOLIS editor in chief

But what will be the tipping point with this and other fossil fuel–based or hazardous products and practices in our industry? There is still hope that one of the many alternatives we feature in this issue will catch on, and regulations might provide a necessary push. But it is certain the tipping point will never arrive if the industry doesn’t keep up the pressure to do better.

The work of researchers like Lola Ben-Alon (“Cooking with Clay”) is equally important in helping us make the switch from extractive to regenerative materials and building techniques. Ben-Alon is one of a new generation of architects and educators who are blending traditional wisdom and cutting-edge technology to shape the architecture of tomorrow.

In North America, this generation stands on the shoulders of architectural environmentalists like Phyllis Birkby, Stewart Brand, Lloyd Kahn, and Eugene Tssui, as well as the many Indigenous builders who in turn inspired those forebears (“The Missing Roots of American Environmentalism”).

Time and time again, we discover our errors and face tough choices. The continuous work of architects and designers is to do what we must, stand for what is right, and dream of a better way to build and live in harmony with one another and with nature.

Here are all the stories from the November/December 2023 issue:


At All Scales


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