Interview by Elena Sbokou
Shaping Canada’s urban “nature,” Gregory Henriquez is a philosopher architect whose work never stops proving humanitarian aspirations, expressing the ethical side of architecture that can turn a city into an artwork.
Fostering inclusivity and community engagement, Gregory Henriquez is an awarded architect who specializes in large-scale, mixed-use projects that aspire to create beautiful buildings.
What is the role of the architect in building an inclusive city?
Global Design News: What inspired you to pursue a career as an architect? Can you state three values that you followed as a professional architect from your early career days until today?
Gregory Henriquez: The truth is I became an architect because I was too afraid to become an artist. My mother was a ceramic sculptor, my father an architect/artist, and many of their friends were artists who struggled to put food on the table.
So as a compromise, I went to architecture school and was planning to be an academic and do theoretical architectural projects. I worked in my father’s studio most summers growing up and after graduate school in History and Theory of Architecture I came home to make some money before I was going to go off to teach in New Jersey.
Then my father became ill, and I stayed home to help out and 35 years later here we are….he’s in great health to this day and I have never regretted the decision.
For young architects who feel they are powerless, I would say learn your craft and dream new paradigms but also participate in the communities in which you live. Look around you and ask yourself what you would like to change for the better, then seek out mentors and colleagues who share your passions. All revolutions start as grassroots movements.
learn your craft and dream new paradigms but also participate in the communities in which you live
GDN: In your book, published in 2006, Towards an Ethical Architecture, you state some critical questions commenting on the role of the contemporary architect as an activist. Nowadays, do you see any changes in the architect’s role regarding segregation, urbanization, and the decline of the city as we know it?
G.H.: The architect’s role has diminished further over the past 20 years. We have become consultants for hire, with design now seen as a commodity and our value reduced to bidding against each other to secure work. The activist architect role I imagined 20 years ago has further receded into a new landscape where planners have taken over the leadership role in the creation of city zoning and bylaws.
The young activist architect of the 21st century has a new more challenging role in the creation of the inclusive cities of the future which must evolve out of a new global conscience where all nations’ borders should be erased and differences embraced, we are far from this today.
What does it mean to be a “citizen?”
GDN: In 2022, you presented the GHETTO project in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showcasing the architects’ role in creating inclusive urban environments in contemporary cities. Can you tell us about the main idea behind this project?
G.H.: Our project intends to encourage meaningful dialogue about the relationship between citizens and cities in a global context. What does it mean to be a “citizen”? What is a city’s inherent accountability to an individual’s humanity? What is the role of the architect in building an inclusive city?
In this theoretical development model for Venice, the city’s historical saturation of tourists is leveraged as an economic opportunity to house refugees in need.
The GHETTO development proposes a timeshare model funded by tourists that provides a housing mix of temporary and permanent settlements, with approximately 2,000 housing units being allotted to both tourists and refugees.
Considering our current global refugee crisis and the serious urban issues that all major cities are confronting after COVID-19, our exhibit explores the leadership role of the architect in inclusive city building that is financially viable and encourages the values of inclusivity, diversity, and social justice in the creation of places where we all belong.
Architecture has the potential to be a poetic expression of social justice.
GDN: Henriquez Partners Architects is an acclaimed architectural studio for shaping the future of the Vancouver landscape. What are your ideas on the future of residential architecture worldwide and how this will shape the urban landscape as we know it?
G.H.: We believe that architecture has the potential to be a poetic expression of social justice. It is our view that every project is an opportunity to enrich local communities by integrating ethics and aesthetics.
The redistribution of global wealth necessary to save our planet starts with housing. In Vancouver and for residential architecture worldwide, the goal must be a movement towards the achievement of socially valuable goals to enable us to collectively meet the needs of the community’s most vulnerable members, providing affordable housing and community amenities with the aspiration of building more inclusive and accessible communities.
GDN: Many established architects speak about dedication when someone asks them to advise young professionals at the beginning of their careers. What else do you believe would be a key quality to have to be successful?
G.H.: Something to say to the world and good old-fashioned grit….each of us, if we are lucky enough to have one message in a lifetime, mine is about the need to reintegrate ethics and aesthetics into our culture, cities, and values within communities, with the goal of the creation of inclusive cities…and the essential quality of hard work and rigor is the necessary for the manifestation of your message into words, drawings, models and ultimately the built form of our cities.
Gregory Henriquez and Henriquez Partners Architects‘ projects have recently won in Future House International Residential Awards 2023 with the mixed-use Cardero project and the residential towers Prototype (M5), and 1770 Pendrell.