Why Aren’t There More Libertarian Architects?

Why Aren't More Architects Libertarians?

As a practicing architect and libertarian, I find myself asking this question on a near daily basis, why aren’t there more libertarian architects? Out of all the professions, architects may be one of those that deal directly with the government and their bureaucrats if not daily but multiple times in a day throughout the planning and building permitting process.  They see how nitpicking bureaucrats and over regulation of the building process not only bogs the approval process down but how over the last several decades is starting to cost their clients so much money that they either have to raise prices making housing and buildings more affordable or stop developing all together. For instance, in an independent study published in 2018 by the National Association of Home Builders, it was found that “regulation imposed by all levels of government (whether local, state or federal) accounts for 32.1 percent of the cost of an average multifamily development.”

How then can a group of professionals who also claim to be some of the most critical thinkers and complex problems solvers on earth continue to lean so far to the left? You would think that architects would be the first to be forming a lobbying consortium to start repealing burdensome zoning codes, introducing free-market reviewer competition, and simplifying the lengthy building codes.   You would think that by them simply reading Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, as many do during their time in architecture school, that this alone would deter them from socialistic political leanings.  The main character, Howard Roark’s nemesis, Ellsworth Monkton Toohey,is literally an authoritarian socialist hell bent on “preventing men (or individuals) from excelling by teaching that talent and ability are of no great consequence, and that the greatest virtue is humility.”

Out of frustration and in a recent Facebook post on my own personal page I asked several of my colleges why they lean left.  One friend commented with:

“Architects, and architecture is build(ing) for the people, sometimes gated and private but for a group of users. Most buildings (that require an Architect) are used and interacted with by the public, even if it is just walking or driving by. Therefore most Architects lean toward empathy and humanitarianism – which leans left / “socialist”.

If this is true and architects are empathetic humanists then why rely on a philosophy, such as socialism, which has proven repeatedly to only benefit the very few at the top while murdering hundreds of millions at the bottom?  Perhaps in the age of the bastardization of words and their meanings such as liberal which classically meant, “avocation of civil liberties under the rule of law with an emphasis on economic freedom” a reminder of what the words socialism and voluntarism really mean is in order.

Definitions of socialism according to dictionary.com

  1. Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
  2. A system of society or group living in which there is no private property
  3. A system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
  4. A stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalismand communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done

Definitions of Voluntarism via a google search

  1. The principle of relying on voluntary action (used especially with reference to the involvement of voluntary organizations in social welfare).
  2. The doctrine that the will is a fundamental or dominant factor in the individual or the universe.

A key factor to point out in comparing both terms, systems, and philosophies is simply this, one of these requires government and one does not.  Socialism and socialist policies require the force of a gun via the government in order to enact any of them whereas voluntarism and voluntarists do not. For instance, if a property owner does not comply with the zoning and building staff (government) and their codes then their property could become unbuildable and unproductive or even worse if currently occupied, condemned.  How is forcing people what to do with their property empathetic and humanitarian?  How have architects become so misinformed and misguided by complying and using these state led soviet style socialist tactics?  Under the guise of public safety and welfare of course.

Take for instance this public policy toolkitpublished by the protectionist racketeer group known as the International Code Council.  It even goes on to claim for instance that:

“Codes protect public health, safety and welfare

  • Building codes provide protection from tragedy caused by fire, structural collapse and general deterioration in our homes, schools, stores and manufacturing facilities”


“Codes keep construction costs down

  • The International Codes provide uniformity in the construction industry. This uniformity permits building and materials manufacturers to do business on a larger scale — statewide, regionally, nationally or internationally. Larger scale allows cost savings to be passed on to the consumer.”

While in their original intent both of these claims have led to safer buildings with improved fire proofing methods and standardization of building methodologies, over regulation since origination have both led to quite the opposite.  For instance, prior to 2012 most existing and new single-family homes in the United States did not have sprinkler systems installed in them. This practice was only commonplace in commercial buildings since the 1960s but now likely mandated in the jurisdiction where you live.

This alone not only refutes the second claim by the ICC that, “codes keep construction costs down” but also the second that, “Building codes provide protection from tragedy”.  A standalone sprinkler system for a new home can costanywhere upwards of $10,000 and tens of thousands of dollars depending on the size of the structure.  Moreover, if the sprinkler system then goes off on a false alarm, floods the interior, and ruins all of the interior finishes including the insulation then how has one been saved from a tragedy when one now finds themselves in another both financially and likely homeless?

These examples are of but a few of many proving that good intentions, misuses of definitions, and bedding down with the government in order to implement them turns out to be nothing more than forcing your fellow man into submission.  This not being an empathetic humanitarian, this is being a Stalinist like socialist statist.  It is high time that architects take a long hard look in the mirror and decide that if they really believe they are the cream of the crop in the creative class and empathetic humanitarians that should they then instead be voluntarists seeking and practicing peaceful voluntary free-market solutions rather than state led forced solutions.

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Lance Cayko is a libertarian and practicing architect in Colorado who believes in voluntary and free-market solutions to our complex problems.  His entrepreneurial  journey is currently being documented on his podcast, Inside The Firm.