The Profit Function Alastair Parvin 18/02/12 21.01
THE PROFIT FUNCTION
Navigating Architecture's Bottom Line
As governments have looked increasingly to private markets for the provision of public assets – cities, infrastructure, schools, hospitals and, in particular, housing – we have all unknowingly signed a profound contract between private gain and public good.
The Profit Function is an enquiry into the dynamics of that contract; the way that this seemingly simple economic shift might have fundamentally altered the way that buildings and cities are designed.
Based on the premise that profit has become perhaps the most prolific design project in history, but one with no corresponding theory or manifesto, this paper begins to construct a basic theory for the design of profit, and interviews those who one would normally associate with the production of profit through architecture. What is exposed is not ‘bad design’, as it is often perceived, but the precise opposite: the systematic success of a design logic whose value systems can then be compared to our own.
The Profit Function was written in 2008, just as what was then called 'the credit crunch' began to hit. In some ways therefore it is a little dated (the ideas and situations have moved on, and we have learned more about what caused them) but in others it has been revealed to be highly pertinent now as then. In the words of Robin Murray, "the first great crisis of the 21st century has been met with the instruments of the 20th" – that is, even as the belief in shareholder profit as an engine to produce public good has almost universally been discredited, to the extent that it is no longer in any way controversial to state that free-market capitalism has failed, there remains a void where the alternatives should be. This is how we procured cities then, how should we do it now? The Profit Function, in retrospect, wasn't a bad place to start.
The Profit Function | Alastair Parvin, 2008 | University of Sheffield School of Architecture
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