I Would Prefer Not To

Why do architects turn down commissions? An interview series conceived and produced by MIT's Critical Broadcasting Lab, and presented in collaboration with The Architectural League, sheds light on an unexamined part of architectural practice.

I Would Prefer Not To1Herman Melville, “Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street,” The Piazza Tales (1856). is an oral history project conducted through audio interviews on the topic of the most important kind of refusal in architects’ toolboxes: refusal of the architectural commission. Decisions to refuse a commission, or withdraw from one, by definition, stay hidden from public scrutiny, and thus also hidden from architectural history. Withdrawals of this kind do not leave paper trails. If at all, they exist as specters of professional gossip, not easy to examine or learn from. And yet, the lessons contained in architects’ deliberations about, and decisions not to engage, are politically relevant and urgent. Decisions not to engage a commission or types of commissions, or commissions with certain characteristics, inevitably forfeit potential profit, placing other values above it, at least momentarily.

Every piece of architecture has a complex story to tell about the agents, constituents, strategic and fortuitous alignments that made it possible, as well as hopes, fears, and stories that architects had told themselves and others in the process of working. I Would Prefer Not To interviews with architects (on the projects they declined to take on) aim to shed light on some of that complexity, insisting on the architects’ ethical deliberations. At what point is a commission not worth it? What kind of line gets drawn with a decision to forfeit the possibility of work? When in one’s career is it possible, or necessary, to make such a decision?

The I Would Prefer Not To project was conceived and produced by Ana Miljački, director of the Critical Broadcasting Lab, co-produced by Julian Andrew Escudero Geltman, and is presented in collaboration with The Architectural League.


Critical Broadcasting Lab is a space and a platform for the production of discursive interventions in architecture culture. It was established in 2018 at MIT by Ana Miljački. Its key medium is the architectural exhibition, expanded to include experiments with the entire contemporary ecology of broadcasting media. Its aim is to critique the contemporary, expose its deep histories and mount a form of a strategic preparation for the possibility of seeing and thinking a better and more just future for and through architecture. 

Ana Miljački is a critic, curator and Professor of Architecture at MIT, where she teaches history, theory and design. She co-curated OfficeUS for the US Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale with Eva Franch i Gilabert and Ashley Schafer. In 2018 Miljački launched the Critical Broadcasting Lab at MIT, engaged in critical curatorial and broadcasting work, including an ongoing radio show titled “Conversations on Care.” Critical Broadcasting Lab’s work “Sharing Trainers” was included in the São Paulo Architecture Biennale in the fall of 2019, the Lab’s Play Room exhibition took place in the Keller Gallery at MIT in February of 2020, and its Supertall Tetris launched online in December 2021. Miljački is the author of The Optimum Imperative: Czech Architecture for the Socialist Lifestyle 1938-1968 (Routledge, 2017), co-editor of the OfficeUS series of books, guest editor of Praxis 14: True Stories, and editor of Terms of Appropriation: Modern and Architecture and Global Exchange with Amanda Reeser Lawrence (Routledge, 2018), as well as of the Under the Influence symposium proceedings (Actar, 2019).