Posts tagged with "Diversity Issues":

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UPDATED: AIA pledges to work with Donald Trump, membership recoils

UPDATE: Robert Ivy, executive vice president and CEO of the AIA, responds to post-election memo criticism. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is drawing ire from across the architectural profession after releasing a post-election memo containing conciliatory and supportive language for President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to embark on a $500 billion infrastructure building program. Following Tuesday’s election results, Robert Ivy, AIA executive vice president and chief executive officer, released the following statement on behalf of the national AIA apparatus and membership:
The AIA and its 89,000 members are committed to working with President-elect Trump to address the issues our country faces, particularly strengthening the nation’s aging infrastructure. During the campaign, President-elect Trump called for committing at least $500 billion to infrastructure spending over five years. We stand ready to work with him and with the incoming 115th Congress to ensure that investments in schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure continue to be a major priority. We also congratulate members of the new 115th Congress on their election. We urge both the incoming Trump Administration and the new Congress to work toward enhancing the design and construction sector’s role as a major catalyst for job creation throughout the American economy. This has been a hard-fought, contentious election process. It is now time for all of us to work together to advance policies that help our country move forward.
While the editorial board agrees that a spirit of togetherness is vital for moving the country (and the architectural profession) forward, The Architect’s Newspaper strongly disagrees with Ivy’s conciliatory note. Our editorial board is currently gathering feedback from practitioners, luminaries, and academics in the field, and initial responses indicate that many architects strongly disagree with the tone, character, and appropriateness of Ivy’s memorandum. It is plain to see that Donald Trump ran a racist, misogynist, and hateful campaign rooted in the forceful removal of undocumented immigrants, voter suppression targeting people of color, and xenophobic anti-Muslim profiling. The many hate crimes and acts of intimidation taking place across the country in the days since the election are a testament to the violence and racism his campaign has enlivened. Though Trump’s campaign was relatively anemic in terms of specific, actionable policy proposals and objectives, a clear plank of the Republican candidate’s message was, Ivy correctly states, related to infrastructure, namely, the erection of a border wall separating Mexico from the United States. Very little mention was ever made by Trump, his surrogates, or his supporters for the “investments in schools, hospitals, and other public infrastructure” that Ivy cites. That line of reasoning is purely hallucinogenic and wishful thinking on the part of the AIA CEO, and an irresponsible act of complicity from someone tasked to lead a diverse, inclusive, and progressive professional organization. It is anathema to this editorial board to fathom the positive impact of such a work of infrastructure as the proposed border wall or its attendant detention centers, federal and private prisons, and militarized infrastructure that would be necessary in order to achieve the President-elect’s stated deportation policy goals. To ignore the role design and designers could play in instituting and perpetuating the inequality inherent in the racist patriarchy of Trump’s ideology embodies is irresponsible and reprehensible. Furthermore, the memo’s imprecise language, uncritical stance, and congratulatory tone not only willfully misunderstand the stated policy objectives of the President-elect, but in committing such a lapse in judgement, submit the 89,000-member profession to the willful service of the destructive goals stated above. All the while, it condones the violence and oppression due to be inflicted upon the communities singled out by Trump’s rhetoric—which will likely impact the AIA’s own membership as well. The AIA’s struggles with diversity and inclusion are well-known: While the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) reported 105,847 registered architects in 2015, the Directory of African American Architects counts only 2,084 self-reported African-American members. That being said, recent years have indeed seen an increase in diversity within the profession. Demographic reports from 2015 show the highest proportion of women and people of color completing licensure requirements ever, with nearly 40 percent of newly-registered architects belonging to these groups. Simply put, Ivy’s memo does not speak for these professionals. We stand in opposition to the language in Ivy’s statement and in solidarity with the AIA membership that does not wish to be included in Ivy’s praise. Instead, we would like to guide our readers toward the AIA’s stated Diversity and Inclusion goals: Leadership in design and construction requires collaboration. Architects must encourage and celebrate the contributions of those who bring diverse experiences, views, and needs into the design process.
  1. Civil rights The AIA supports the promotion of human and civil rights, the universal respect for human dignity, and the unbiased treatment of all persons in employment, civic, and business transactions.
  2. Diversity The AIA recognizes that diversity is a cultural ethos – a way of thinking or acting that fosters inclusion and enhances our membership, our profession, and the quality of life in our communities. Embracing this culture of diversity, all programs and initiatives of the AIA and its members shall reflect the society that we serve, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, physical abilities, or religious practices. The AIA supports the development of policies and programs that endeavor to ensure equal access to professional degrees in architecture for those who are underrepresented in our profession.
To join the conversation online, follow the #NotMyAIA hashtag created on Twitter by Latent Design or leave comments below. We will continue to update this story as we receive more input from architects, here are a few of the points of view shared so far:  
  • “I question why this was done. What is the point of a such a general statement? The message of this letter is so general as to appear merely congratulatory and is, therefore, inappropriate. It certainly doesn’t represent me, nor, I believe, any of the architects that I know.” - Zack McKown, Tsao & McKown Architects
 
  • “Now more than ever we need to be cosmopolitans. We have experienced the tribalization of our political sphere through the echo chamber of social media. Our need to belong has been satisfied by our incessant connectivity and the algorithms which continually re-direct us into a self-referential vortex. The parochializing effects of our network culture were hard to foresee precisely because we may have oriented ourselves to a false horizon. As we try to overcome this nauseating reality, our cities and our institutions are critical spaces for exchange and self-reflection. The possibility of encountering other people, other values, and other needs is a vital aspect of our cities and therefore architecture. In the face of this political (possibly existential) crisis, which seems to turn us towards the past, we should dig deep into our expertise of social innovation to formulate new typologies of collectivity, new spaces of exchange, new realities, to create neo-cosmopolitan architecture. One of architecture’s greatest powers is to render aesthetic experiences that precede language, rhetoric, or even rationality. By offering aesthetic modalities and organizational possibilities, architecture becomes a tool of self-actualization that nudges us towards new ways of relating to ourselves and each other. Let’s not forget that as we construct architecture, it in turn constructs us.” - Dominic Leong
 
  • “The statements by the leadership of the AIA can easily and embarrassingly be construed as consistent with Van Jones’ conception of a “whitelash”, where the historically white and male dominated profession, who’s diversity is quickly changing, is now attempting to re-align itself with its historic base, rather than embrace its growing diverse constituency.Trump has announced that as part of his first 100 days in office, one of his main priorities will be blocking all federal funding to sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities often represent the most diverse cities in the country. This suggests that the AIA endorses strategies geared towards promoting inequality by the incoming Trump administration because the $500 billion will not contribute to the much needed urban and social infrastructure improvements in the cities of Oakland, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and 25 other sanctuary cities around the United States. Ivy’s comments also suggest that their members living in those cities are no longer equally represented by the AIA.In contrast to the statement made by the AIA leadership, the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), tweeted that, because of the outcome of the recent election “designing for social reform will be more important than ever”. Three of the main initiatives of the AIA are “Diversity”, the creation of a “Center for Communities by Design,” where AIA members work with citizens and other stakeholders to envision and create more livable communities, and a “2030 Commitment” to reduce energy consumption in the built environment. If the AIA is sincere in their commitment to these initiatives, they need to align themselves to social reform and not pander to Trump’s proposed initiatives.Central to social reform, should be design that considers improvements in the poorest and fastest growing regions of our country—and one example is in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. It has been estimated that the 700 miles of borderwall currently dividing the U.S. from Mexico will require $49 billion dollars to maintain over the next 25 years. If we contextualize that amount in comparison to recent major architecture projects in the U.S., $49 billion dollars could finance 300 Seattle Public Libraries, 204 Disney Concert Halls, or 500 Miles of the High Line. Imagine if that kind of cultural investment were initiated in our borderlands and beyond, instead of proposing an additional $25 billion to construct more border walls when we live in a country where net immigration is zero.” - Ronald Rael, Associate Professor of Architecture, UC Berkeley
  • “What a mealy-mouthed kiss-ass statement! Yes, we applaud any talk about investment in infrastructure—self-serving to our profession (no, our 'industry')—but what about social justice, including unequal distribution of economic gain, respect for our diverse population, inequitable housing policy, health care and... the list goes on.” -Belmont Freeman, Belmont Freeman Architects
  • "It is unconscionable that the AIA would send an 'upbeat' message of support to a man who has spouted misogynistic, racist, xenophobic and climate change-denying views to the American public. A larger question should be raised as to which public or better yet, which 'publics' the AIA serves.” - Ken Saylor, Saylor+Sirola
  • “Maybe staying silent would have been more appropriate out of respect for the diversity of views held by the members—many of which find him ‘disgusting’.” - Gordon Kippling, G TECTS
  • “At this time when the country is notably divided and exploring many paths forward, AIA New York / Center for Architecture remains dedicated to our core values, which include promoting architecture and cities that are equitable, diverse, resilient and committed to improving quality of life in our communities. We are respectful and supportive of the statements made by AIA National and open to working with a range of constituents to support infrastructure initiatives and the betterment of the built environment.” - Benjamin Prosky, New York AIA / Center for Architecture
  • “AIA's commitment to working with the president elect on making the US infrastructure great again is a positive notion, however we must be careful that in remaking of the physical infrastructure we don't destroy the social infrastructure of this nation.” - Florian Idenburg, SO-IL
  • “All the possible interpretations of the AIA's response to Trump's election should make us shudder. There is: 'We have no problem with a developer known to gleefully refuse to pay his architects.' Or there is: 'Who cares about economic ethics! Let's chase that (infrastructure-headed) ambulance wherever it goes!!' Or we also have; 'We don't care that you will wipe out our cities because of the sea-level rise that will result from rescinding all environmental legislation. No problem." Or we could just have, 'Go where the power is! We have no objection to the malignant nature of work, society, or economic equations that it brings.  Kiss up at all cost.' Sigh. Heaven help us. This is the organization that is advocating for the profession.” - Peggy Deamer, The Architecture Lobby
  • I cannot imagine supporting the AIA statement. It is not because I do not think the USA requires an urgent address to its aging infrastructure, but because there are some fundamental roadblocks to a collaboration, or dialogue, with an incoming administration, whose modus operandi over the past two years has been to issue contradictory statements, some of which happen to have been inflammatory beyond what I would describe as civil discourse. In addition to this, the AIA seems to have issued its statement on behalf of its 89,000 members, and none of the members I have spoken to have actually endorsed this. Since I am not a member, I can speak freely only from my position.
    1. The campaign of the incoming administration did not produce any consistency of message; one could not hold the candidate to any meaningful position either. I would simply ask, how does this administration define infrastructure? The perfunctory way in which Trump has described the state of bridges, tunnels, highways and airports seems straightforward enough, but it lacks any agenda beyond the obvious motivation to create jobs. It also lacks any nuance to identify the difference between issues of health and safety, the potentials of public space, an expanded definition of what constitutes infrastructure in a digitally interactive network, and dare I say an infrastructure that has cultural qualities that one may characterize as architectural, to enumerate just a few categories for discussion. To pose these questions requires the ears of an individual who has the patience to listen, to internalize and to have the generosity of productive dialogue. We have not had the opportunity to see that candidate emerge yet in the incoming president.
    1. How will architecture, urbanism, and planning be immediately impacted by the new administration’s current thinking? At first glance, the construction of a wall between the USA and Mexico, a cornerstone of this campaign, seems to qualify as an ambitious infrastructural proposition whose potential to be realized would be as incredible as the results of the election. But beyond that, the ethical implications of this wall should be at odds with what the AIA would want to endorse. By extension, Trump’s denial of the scientific data that grounds the discussion around global warming is another point that makes debates with the candidate effectively impossible. If an intelligent engagement in discussions regarding climate change, the well-being of cities and the general state of the environment is not part of an agenda of the incoming administration, then what is all this new infrastructure meant to support in the first place?
    1. The denial of facts, the falsification of data, and the shifting ground on which the campaign has evolved is at the heart of both points #1 and #2, both of which necessitate an appeal to education and forms of discursive debate in order to advance some idea of civil engagement. The incoming administration has not yet demonstrated an appetite or aptitude for such an engagement.
    1. In those instances where the candidate was articulate, he succeeded at exercising a form of free speech that effectively marginalized other groups in any form of inclusion; this is the only consistent position and noticeable pattern in his discourse. How is it that the AIA can close its eyes to the ethical foundation on which we think we can operate as a community? Are these women, people of Mexican origin, Muslims, individuals within LGBT community, among other groups, not part of what the AIA sees as its own community? The abandonment of basic ethics in the service of cultivating a new form of patronage seems to also deny the AIA from the agency and responsibility that it should hold dear. Where will the AIA draw its lines?
    In short, I remain as shocked and perplexed as any other person in the USA right now. I was impressed by the civility of both Clinton's concession speech and Obama's appeal for the transition of power, but I remain unconvinced by how a civil discourse can be constructed when all foundations of inclusion have been suspended in this interim period. Building future discussions on flawed foundations is as dangerous as the violence of words adopted by the incoming administration that has brought us to this state of affairs today. - Nader Tehrani, NADAAA/Dean, Cooper Union School of Architecture
  • “I am disappointed by the lack of questioning on the many potential dangers ahead. Naturally, an organization like AIA has to be ideologically apolitical, yet maneuver with a high degree of political craftsmanship. The very nature of a system that approves or denies the standards and rules of building architecture is something that must work with larger center of political powers, such as the White House. Therefore, their response is understandable—but I am disappointed by it. We have a system that allowed a president to be elected who lost by 200,000 popular votes. 200,000 humans is not a small number. The very definition of gerrymandering is the redrawing of political boundaries to diminish the strength of the popular vote. We just witnessed the electoral college perform such an act on a national scale (again), and we are about to say nothing (again). An architect is not simply a cog to a larger machine. We do not simply execute orders—we think about the order, and respond with an even more helpful answer. Our value is in our ability to produce thoughtful reflections, and exercise our unique training to introduce a form of intelligence unlike many other professions. If architects are not willing to participate in important questions like the status of democracy today, and simply behave as a cog that does not ask questions, the quality of our future is in a state of grave danger.” - Jimenez Lai, Bureau Spectacular
  • “In the wake of AIA CEO Robert Ivy’s eagerness to work with Trump, I’ve already seen some AIA members angrily resign. As gross as Ivy’s statement is, I can say, as an Associate Member of the Baltimore chapter, that it doesn’t represent the organization that I know. In Baltimore, over the past few years, my colleagues at AIA have done things like fight for mass transit in poor neighborhoods, advocate for the historic preservation of space important to minorities, work to advance the representation of more women in the field, and sacrificed to raise funds for the education of students who would otherwise not get a chance to study architecture. Like many organizations of its size that engage with politics, much of the real work happens, and will continue to happen, locally, no matter what the leaders in Washington say.” - Fred Scharmen, Working Group on Adaptive Systems
  • “The 'quote' strikes me as frail, at best. No mention of energy, sustainability? No reference to our diverse AIA community? It sounds like a pandering quest for an upcoming RFP. Now is a moment when we may be able to motivate our president-elect to begin to recognize the responsibilities, the opportunities of fine architecture and design. Mr. Trump will only recognize what comes to his attention if it comes with simplicity, clarity and force.” - Andrew Tesoro, Tesoro Architects
  • "Today the AIA, claiming to speak for all its 89,000 members, released an unqualified statement committing all of us to work with the new administration. Although the next few years are sure to bring many challenges that will require architects to work with the public sector, the AIA showed a true lack of leadership by not taking a stance against the xenophobic, misogynist and generally divisive language and policies proposed by the new administration during the election process. The organization that is supposed to represent us had a chance to say that architecture will not be used as a tool to divide and oppress—it decided to pass. It is now up to each practitioner to take a stance and realize that our institutions will not necessarily keep us safe. We have to make it clear that the border wall and any other proposed infrastructure of oppression are to be rejected and not an opportunity to increase the bottom line." - Quilian Riano, DSGN AGNC
  • "'The AIA and its 89,000 members are committed to working with President-elect Trump...' I can't think of a better analogy for the relationship between what when wrong with this election and the problems facing our profession in the future.With 89,000 members the AIA represents a small, white and older demographic within the architecture population, it does not represent or reflect our emerging practice's values and neither does the, technically, elected Trump administration.We are being offered a huge opportunity to rethink where we want to invest our time and energy as architects. Do we want to continue to take a back seat in larger political movements, be focused on largely formal endeavors, or, are we interested in the dirty and complicated work of community building? And we are going to have to get real, we need to stop pretending we are more like our clients than like the trades people we coordinate. Our future isn't chic...nor is it a feel good, cutesy story. It's complicated and I'm really excited about that."- Elizabeth Timme, LA-Más
  • “We need a different infrastructure letter from the AIA to Donald Trump. In light of the hate that he has unleashed against our communities, and his hostility to science and reason, we should demand nothing less than justice, freedom, equality, and safety for every person in this country, and immediate action on climate change, which we owe to our children and to the world.” - Mark Yoes, AIA LEED AP, WXY Architecture+Urban Design
  • "To pay fealty-- in the name of some hoped for economic privileges-- to a racist, bigoted misogynistic fear monger and a climate change denier is an abrogation of the AIA's historical legacy and the very purpose of its establishment in 1857, that is: '...to promote the artistic, scientific, and practical profession of its members; to facilitate their intercourse and good fellowship; to elevate the standing of the profession.'Architecture is by its very nature a deeply political, economic and social art.  Yet it must always exceed the politics of its day and it must continually reject the direct influence of the immediate political climate.Architecture is not the art of politics or the art of economics.  It is its own cultural discipline and it is NEVER a tool of the developer turned demagogue. No individual or influence group may dictate architecture's role in society and it is never the Architect's [sic] role to bend to any politician's ambitions, real or false.The discipline of architecture has withstood every form of political influence over time. Architecture's acts are by their very nature ahistorical, that is timeless.  After 11/9 Architecture and architects must continue to hew to more timeless demands: environmental and communal responsibility,  artistic and intellectual freedom and disciplinary precedent.Architecture must remain beyond power, beyond fear and beyond prejudice.  I strongly reject the AIA's unilaterally issued statement and I request that the body retract the statement immediately on behalf of it's members." - Peter Zellner, ZELLNERandCompany
  • "At this historic moment it is abundantly clear that design for the public realm is a critical form of activism. Designers and citizens should work together towards public endeavors that help create a more just and equitable society and resist all efforts to disenfranchise. We must protest the fracturing of our society through any policies intended to do so and we must work to unite the country through civically-minded and inclusive design." - Nadine Maleh, Institute for Public Architecture
  • “We cannot let ourselves be defined by our commissions. If history tells us anything it is that. Shame on Robert Ivy and AIA National for not leading with values. His letter defining Infrastructure as 'schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure' exposes the reality that many still don't recognize. It is not about building, it's about what we build; That we all have a stake in the planning and design of the systems that we share. These are the lessons of the environmental justice movement that have shaped where we are today much more than our professional societies. It’s a pity that we aren't using this time to recognize who we serve. Once again we have missed the chance to change people's minds about the role of equal access to public space and public life. If AIANational is really concerned about impacting lives one of the first things they should have written a letter to the President-elect about is dismantling 'job creation' programs like the private prison industry and stating our priorities as social justice and the protection of our planet.” - Claire Weisz, WXY architecture+urban design
  • "Our public spaces are under attack. 

The political fora of generations past are no longer arenas to sponsor agonistic discourse, but are now instead sanitized spaces for the replication of self-insulating ideologies. Monitored, surveilled, patrolled, the public realm of the contemporary city has become a victim of spatial instruments of suppression. Exclusion zones at sites of protest dictate exactly where and what type of dissent is allowed.

The range is narrow.

Police reclaim a twenty-one-foot boundary around potentially aggressive bodies, legitimizing the use of lethal force within a circumscribed, ambiguous, and mobile territory. Anyone within range is recast as a potential suspect.  Violence is a presumed mode of interaction. The military has co-opted the city as a space for training, imagining and foreshadowing future insurrections. They arrive unannounced in civilian neighborhoods, which fit their models as hotbeds of likely resistance. They use ubiquitous public infrastructures to surreptitiously watch for otherwise imperceptible signs of dissent.

Public life is threatened.

We as spatial practitioners must identify, engage with, and act to reverse the forces that seek to limit public life and public space further.

The AIA, in its recent announcement, is enthusiastic about working with Trump on the country’s infrastructure—without questioning the origin of this spending.  It has failed to identify threats to public life as befitting the profession.

In his so-called ‘Contract with the American Voter,’ Donald Trump promises that during his first one hundred days in office he will 'cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and use the money to fix America's water and environmental infrastructure.'

The AIA says nothing of the infrastructure’s cost to the progress of global climate initiatives, or the human cost of those affected by climate change. It pledges the unflinching support of its 89,000 members with no mention of if or how that consensus was reached. We question how the AIA, as an organization, has presumed to represent and thereby flatten the political will of its individual members. With its statement, cloaked in the deceptive language of neutrality, the AIA has in fact forced a political mandate on its members: ignore climate change and support infrastructural spending.

Architects, even those within the organization, must retain the ability to act on their own judgment, in the public interest, and not be susceptible to such doctrinal mandates from the professional institutions to which they happen to belong.

The AIA announcement is at best short-sighted and at worst an opportunistic overreach of the AIA leadership, offering its members as ready and willing servants of the impending economic and industrial restructuring of the domestic landscape—whatever that may be.

When an institution assumes control of all its members’ opinions without inviting debate, when it commits itself to as-yet-unspecified agendas, and ignores the human and environmental costs of its pledged actions, that institution is not neutral – it is complicit with the forces which seek to limit public life. We must remind ourselves that totalitarian regimes look to architects to build their image of strength and legacy without questioning the costs, and that to collaborate is to normalize those systems." - Ersela Kripa + Stephen Mueller, AGENCY

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New Harvard GSD fellowship aims to promote student diversity

The Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) recently announced the creation of the Phil Freelon Fellowship Fund, part of a wider $110-million-plus push (dubbed "Grounded Visionaries") to improve and expand the GSD. The fund will provide financial aid to African Americans and other underrepresented groups. Phil Freelon, the architect for whom the fellowship is named, called the fellowship’s establishment “an important step in broadening the GSD’s reach” at the announcement ceremony last week. “As the design profession continues to attract a more diverse talent base, this gift will provide students of color with financial assistance that could make pursuing an advanced degree at the GSD possible,” he said. Freelon earned his Master of Architecture from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and served as a Loeb Fellow at the GSD from 1989-1990. He is still closely involved with the GSD as a lecturer and researcher. His firm, The Freelon Group, has won dozens of awards for designing museums, higher education spaces, and science and technology facilities, and was acquired by Perkins + Will in 2014, where Freelon now serves on the board and as managing and design director of the North Carolina office. His work includes the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Historic Emancipation Park in Houston, and the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. James G. Stockhard, Jr., former curator of the Loeb Fellowship, praised him as a role model for students at last week’s event. “He is the kind of leader—strong, clear, selfless, and principled—who helps the rest of us find the courage to join him in striving for the best we and our society can be. He asks us to be the best designers, the best colleagues, and the best citizens we can imagine,” he said.
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AN talks to Gabrielle Bullock, director of global diversity at Perkins+Will

The National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), started in 1971 by a group of African American architects at that year’s American Institute of Architects conference in Detroit, Michigan, is holding its 44th Annual Conference in Los Angeles this week. The conference aims to bring together a diverse group of professionals with the aim of advancing the standing of minority architects throughout the field. It will run from Wednesday, October 12 to Saturday, October 15, 2016. In preparing for the conference, The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) interviewed Gabrielle Bullock, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, NOMA member, and director of global diversity for Perkins+Will, to discuss diversity issues within the architectural profession. The Architect’s Newspaper: What does the term “diversity” mean to a large, globally-based firm like Perkins+Will? Gabrielle Bullock: I’ll go straight to our Mission Statement, which I think succinctly captures the value we place on diversity: “We believe that inclusion spurs creativity and that innovation is born from an engaged culture of diverse people and ideas. In this global environment, we are committed to building an organization that reflects the diversity of the communities and clients we serve. Diversity: Different thoughts, ideas, and approaches that result from an individual’s cultural background, experience, physical capabilities, skills, ethnicity, education, race, religion, age, gender, lifestyle, and all other characteristics that make each person unique.” You are the Director of Global Diversity at Perkins+Will, can you please describe your position and how it came to be? In 2013, I proposed and designed an approach to creating a more diverse, inclusive, and engaged organization. As one of .2 percent female African-American licensed architects in the US (and usually the “only one in the room”) I was personally committed to championing the advancement of diversity and inclusion in Perkins+Will and the profession. As an architect working with a global firm working all over the world, it became clear that we should mirror the societies and clients we serve. We believe that a more diverse team (in all senses of the word) would provide more innovative, relevant and rich solutions to our work and culture, and ultimately make us more successful. I developed an outline of what my role and the program would focus on along with preliminary expected outcomes and goals. After my appointment as Director of Global Diversity, I took a deep dive into the firm, visiting each office and having honest and at times uncomfortable discussions we call “listening tours.” I asked the staff what they thought about diversity and inclusion, and got unique perspectives. In some offices, the consensus was that we needed to improve racial diversity, in others, concerns surrounded issues of gender and the inter-generational workforce. The yearlong process gave me an idea of the challenges Perkins + Will faces and how to address them uniquely. It was clear that we needed training. I engaged a Diversity and Inclusion (D+I) specialist, Global Diversity Collaborative, to deliver a half-day workshop to the leadership in each office. Through that process, each office determined what their specific challenges were and created their own strategic plan. We made this an accountable program and now continually assess progress according to our stated goals. The initiative is part of our culture and part of our evaluation process: We try to look at everything through a diversity lens. The board, CEO, and office leaders get a progress report from me every year. We now have something called a Diversity+Inclusion+Engagement Strategic Plan with qualitative and quantitative metrics focused on all aspects of our organization like office culture, cultural advocacy, talent retention and recruitment, leadership and commitment, and educational outreach. Fascinating. What are some of your specific responsibilities as Director of Global Diversity? As Director of Global Diversity, I am the strategic and organizational champion tasked with conceptualizing and driving the Diversity+Inclusion+Engagement Strategic Plan throughout the firm. My primary responsibilities include: leading the Diversity Council; communicating Perkins + Will’s strategy, mission and vision internally and externally; leading the development of diversity education and awareness strategies impacting workplace culture, recruitment, and retention, as well as marketing, pipeline outreach, and leadership; and developing metrics to monitor progress toward the fulfillment of the Diversity+Inclusion+Engagement Strategic Plan. For Perkins + Will, engagement is the key action point—the step that makes diversity and inclusion matter, because it points to an individual’s level of influence on a team or a project, not just their presence in the room. My work is not “just an initiative” or lip service from a large firm. For us, this is a call to action, not an exercise. We are loud, driven, and clear: We promote our mission, call for commitment and accountability, and see this work as being about advancing the culture at Perkins + Will, not about simply numbers—we are integrating the plan in all business practices across the firm. Diversity is purposeful and deliberate. What would you say are some of the bigger diversity-related challenges the architectural profession is facing in the long term? The most significant challenge is the lack of racial and ethnic diversity of the profession, specifically with African-American and Hispanic representation. The profession should mirror the communities and society it serves. With an increasingly diverse population in the US and globally, racial demographics are woefully underrepresented in the architecture profession, overall. Another challenge is gender equity and representation in the profession. Issues around work-life integration, pay equity, and career advancement are common issues in the profession at large. Increasing generational differences in the workforce are also a challenge. As architects, we will have to examine, adapt, and advance the way we work intergenerationally if we want to retain emerging professionals and attract future generations to the profession. How can a large, global firm like Perkins+Will become a diversity leader in architecture and beyond? Be bold and be brave! Be loud, clear, and driven! Also, commit to diversity as a core value and not just the right thing to do. With any corporate value or goal, there are strategies and accountability. As an example: The architecture industry embraced sustainability as an imperative to survival. Now sustainability is in the DNA of our profession, and if you aren’t doing it, you are irrelevant. Making diversity a core value should be the same. At Perkins+Will, because our advocacy goes beyond our own firm to the profession as a whole, we are involved with leading and participating in national initiatives that aim to address equity and diversity in the profession. As an appointed member of the the AIA Equity in Architecture Commission and Implementation Team, I am helping to develop a framework for a well-conceived and thoughtful action plan, and making recommendations for advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion in the profession. The intent is to create greater urgency within the profession and the Architecture Engineering and Construction community about the tremendous need to have a better representation of in the architecture field. Leadership starts at the top of the organization: Our CEO, Board of Directors, office leaders are all committed to advancing the firm’s Diversity+Inclusion+Engagement goals. By getting involved, taking a leadership role and actively advocating for change, any large firm can become a leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion in the architecture profession and beyond. I am frequently asked to speak on the issue of the value of diversity for groups and organizations like Greenbuild, IIDA, ASID, National Organization of Minority Architects, and AE Advisors as well as for publications like Metropolis, Architectural Record, and Boutique Design. I also get invited to share insight with local architectural and engineering firms: All of this is part of being a leader. The Directory of African American Architects recently surpassed the 2,000 member mark. African Americans make up about 12 percent of the population in the U.S. but only about two percent of registered architects are African-American, with African American women consisting of .02 percent of the overall total, as well. What do you see as some of the ways to change that underrepresentation? Here are a Few Strategies:
  • Strengthen the talent pipeline by increasing outreach, awareness, and exposure to young African-American children. Often, architecture is not presented as a viable career path to the underrepresented youth. We can do this by mentoring and K-12 outreach.
  • Reshape recruitment teams to represent a cross-section of genders, ages, and races in order to attract the more diverse candidates we want.
  • Partner with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to proactively recruit and mentor students. We are in the planning stages of creating such a program.
  • Examine community college and university transfer requirements to attract community college students to accredited programs.
  • Engage in the purposeful and deliberate recruitment by firms and colleges for diverse students. If schools and firms don’t demonstrate their interest and value in a diverse community on their website and recruitment collateral, many candidates will not apply because they “don’t see themselves represented.”
  • Publically highlight the merits and importance of a more diverse profession to create more relevant architecture to improve the “image” problem the profession has of being a “rich person's profession."
Can you provide some general diversity statistics for Perkins+Will? How does the firm stack up against other firms and the profession overall? I do not have demographic statistics on other firms. However, below are statistics compared to the AIA. Perkins+Will Demographic Statistics:
  • Gender Diversity 2015: 45 percent Female, 55 percent Male (Female: up 1 percent from 2014)
  • Racial Diversity 2015: 26 percent Non-White, 74 percent White (Non-White: up 3 percent from 2014)
Perkins+Will Leadership Demographics:
  • Principals 2015: 25 percent female
  • Associate Principals 2015: 32 percent female
  • Associates/Senior Associates: 38 percent and 44 percent female respectively
Since implementing our Diversity+Inclusion+Engagement Strategic Plan, we have increased gender and racial diversity, though modestly so. We recognize this is a journey and not a sprint, so it’s the long view that’s important for us. The diversity of our leadership ranks has steadily improved over the last three years as we deliberately focus on gender, racial, and generational makeup of our Leadership Institute and emerging professionals programs. At the individual office level, have changes increases in diversity among the staff broadened the firm's client pool correspondingly? Is there a relationship between the what the office looks like and what sorts of projects get taken on? As we’ve increased [the] diversity of our staff there has not necessarily been a direct correlation to the types of clients we have. However, with a more diverse and engaged talent pool that embodies varied cultural and community connections, there is a cultural awareness and insight brought to the design and team, and in some cases, a stronger cultural connection to the client. This connection between our work, our people, and the communities we serve absolutely makes for a strong and culturally relevant design solution. In addition, I would say the more broad our talent pool, the more broad our client and project opportunities. There have been cases where a more diverse team that reflects the diversity of the client has been a competitive advantage. Conversely, there have been situations in the past where our team was not diverse enough, did not reflect the diversity of the client, and was at a disadvantage. Can you please speak to some of the work you have done with HBCUs in an effort to increase African-American interest in architecture at the grade school and college levels? In its final planning stage, the Perkins+Will/HBCU Partnership Program’s goal is to strengthen the academic pipeline of underrepresented groups. With that in mind, Perkins+Will and the deans of the HBCU architecture schools collaborated to create a program that would provide mentoring, counseling and support to HBCU students in a comprehensive manner. Exposure and Awareness is the first step in broadening access and opportunities for the students by providing hands-on information and insight into what Perkins+Will and other large design firms are looking for in candidates: The three components of the program include:
  • Career Fairs: A local team of Perkins+Will staff participates in an annual regional career fair of the HBCU’s by geographic location, pairing the HBCU and P+W office closest to the school.
  • Annual Office Visit: Perkins+Will will host HBCU students for a half day office visit including office tour, project presentations, and resume/portfolio review.
  • Lecture Series: Working with HBCU leadership, Perkins+Will will develop a lecture series to be curated around relevant architectural practice and design. The lectures will be delivered on each HBCU campus on a rotating basis and virtually across the others. Through a lecture series we can harness the vast wealth of knowledge and expertise within Perkins+Will and other firms.
Our Atlanta office piloted the Career Fair and Office Visit with Tuskegee University this past spring with tremendous success. We have seen the positive impact we have on students’ career development simply by investing our time and knowledge. We were fortunate enough to have hired a Tuskegee graduate as a result of these activities.