Posts tagged with "Inequality":

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How can architects build the equitable discipline we deserve?

For those of us in schools of architecture, September is an exciting time animated by the return of students and the arrival of those beginning their journey. Architecture school is a powerful framework for cultivating capacities—a place of exploratory, creative, integrative, and rigorous learning and making. The design studio at the heart of our curriculum powerfully enhances student development as peers work together through face-to-face interaction in a shared space. However, those of us involved in accredited U.S. architecture programs will convene a population of students and faculty skewed toward white, male, and able-bodied people from well-off families. Studies by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) show that our discipline is marked by gaps in participation and advancement by gender and ethnicity, leading to a profession where these disparities are even more pronounced. As David Gissen has pointed out in these pages, we lack data on other key factors, including ability. As exhilarating as starting an architecture degree can be, it also marks one step in a screening process that yields a demographically skewed profession and academic discipline. Where are the missing cohorts, and what factors are turning them away? How are we inadvertently sidelining women, first-generation college students, people of color, disabled people, and other traditionally underrepresented constituencies? How can we enrich architectural education and practice by expanding access and improving the value proposition? I am passionate about architecture’s intellectual and creative capacities, so I believe that a society that relies on architects to translate its needs and desires into built form deserves better. The underrepresented population turned away by the cost and other challenges of architectural education deserves better. Those of us in the field deserve better. What will make the field more accessible—and more compelling—to a diversity of talent? How can we build the discipline we all deserve? One familiar consideration is people, as more diversity in firm leadership and architecture school faculty will counter explicit and implicit bias by expanding the range of visible role models, mentors, and gatekeepers. A second well-recognized component is content: Presenting a diversity of perspectives and models within research and curriculum will better train our profession to serve society. If the theory syllabus, for instance, covers feminism and multiculturalism only in week 13—after students have chosen their paper topic and checked out to charrette for final reviews—the ways that women, people of color, disabled people, and queers have interpreted and shaped our built world will seem like an afterthought to the achievements and preoccupations of the propertied white men who historically have been recognized as architects. People and content are priority areas for any good diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy. Pipeline and mentoring programs starting with pre-college and continuing through faculty and firm promotion are essential, as are strategies for expanding what counts as core knowledge. Our ability to make substantive change is limited, though, if we don’t also tackle the ways we structure our degree programs and practices. By making high demands in money and time, the formats of education and practice distort the demographics of our field. Consider licensure: NCARB reports that the average time it takes from commencing architectural studies to obtaining licensure is more than 12 years. This is a very long probationary period marked by continuing education, tracking, exams, and diminished earnings. Given that the rigors of licensure may outweigh the rewards, people with fewer resources often pursue other career paths. Nearly half of those pre-licensure years are typically consumed by education. Whether you enter the field through an undergraduate professional degree or through a liberal arts or science degree followed by graduate study, architectural education requires a lot of academic credits. For many students, this also translates into a high debt burden. Many of those credits consist of design studios that meet for three to four hours per credit—rather than the typical one-hour-per-credit standard—while also demanding another three or four times as many hours in evening and weekend work. This curricular burden multiplies with each course or studio. Architecture school culture expects intensive effort disproportionate to the credit achieved. Studio is one of the glories of architectural education, increasingly emulated in other fields from engineering to business. But who can afford to dedicate this much time to schoolwork? Probably not a parent, a caregiver, a student-athlete, a first-generation college student working a job to offset costs, or a person with a disability that magnifies the endurance test of long studio nights and charrettes. This dynamic carries forward into practice. The habit of undercompensated overwork, instilled in studio, primes students for exploitation in the workplace along lines described by the Architecture Lobby. Studies by the American Institute of Architects Equity by Design committee suggest that the heavy time demands placed on many junior and midlevel associates push women out or take them off the top promotion track, because those years coincide with the period when many are starting families. To address these issues, NCARB and other organizations are reducing time-to-licensure by changing the Architecture Experience Program and launching Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure degree options. Faculty should extend this work deeper into the format and culture of architectural education, reviewing our assumptions about learning so that we attract and foster a broader range of talent. In doing so, we can accelerate progress toward building the discipline we deserve. To test these ideas, my colleagues and I at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning are embarking on a human-centered redesign of architectural education. Working in close contact with interaction and experience designers has shown me the value of human-centered design as a way to see interactions from varied user perspectives, and to redesign processes to promote success. By mobilizing this approach in architectural education, we hope to understand how our current students and those missing cohorts perceive and experience both our degree programs and the larger profession. Identifying the factors that turn people away will help us test ways to bring a wider range of people into the intellectual and professional world we cherish. One tool for building the discipline we deserve is pursuing academic innovation by piloting new approaches to teaching and learning, with the goal of improving the value proposition of architectural education. In many fields, institutions are combining online platforms with new business models to offer learning in a wider range of formats beyond the standard multiyear, full-time residency model. Some schools offer courses in self-paced online modes or create microcredentials that allow learners to gain competency. This lets them try out a new field through part-time study, which is compatible with work and other obligations. Architecture schools already deploying academic innovation or testing alternative formats range from IE University and Academy of Art University to the London School of Architecture and Build Academy. Our focus at Taubman is on something we’re calling equity innovation: academic innovation that promotes equitable access to learning and professional opportunity. This spring we launched an Equity Innovation initiative aimed at the human-centered redesign of architecture school. By experimenting with a broader range of ways for students to learn, we believe we can meet the needs and priorities of a more diverse community of future architects. As a first step, we have convened a task force and launched a multiyear competitive incentive funding program to elicit, develop, pilot, and deploy new approaches. Drawing on research by NCARB, ACSA, Equity by Design, the J. Max Bond Center, and other sources, we aim to understand the dynamics of selection and attrition shaping our student population. What are the points at which prospective architects exit the field? What curricular structures and experiences promote success equitably? Does the portfolio requirement unduly weed out promising candidates from impoverished urban school districts? Can more inclusive review practices promote gender equity? Can we lower the cost of education by complementing the high-contact model of the atelier studio with other platforms for design learning? What can we draw from the achievements of historically black colleges and universities, other minority-serving institutions, and past initiatives such as the one described by Sharon Egretta Sutton in When Ivory Towers Were Black? By prototyping—and ultimately deploying—equity innovations across and beyond the curriculum, we aim to remake our field. This work presents challenges, of course. Many faculty, alumni, and students are attached to our current ways of teaching—they worked for us, after all—and are loathe to tinker with cherished institutions like the desk crit, the all-nighter, and the marathon review. Others may fear a loss of status and cultural capital if the field draws less on the canons of Western philosophy and elicits theoretical knowledge from a more diverse range of sources. Finally, not everyone wants to let go of cultural capital built on selectivity and exclusion. I hope that by advancing this conversation within architectural education we can solidify the core strengths of our field, disentangle them from needlessly exclusionary mechanisms, and find common ground in enlisting a broader range of talent to design our world. Building the discipline we deserve is no small task, so we will partner with professional organizations and other schools to promote architectural excellence on more accessible terms. Join us in creating greater opportunities for all.
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Interactive project maps the impact of mid-century urban renewal

Developed by the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab and released in December 2017, Renewing Inequality is an interactive, online project that maps the demographic profiles and footprints of thousands of urban renewal projects between 1950 and 1966. Using such resources as the federal government’s Urban Renewal Project Characteristics, Renewing Inequality reveals the sweeping scope of urban renewal, which razed entire neighborhoods during the era, as well as the disproportionate impact they had on the country’s African-American communities. Renewing Inequality follows an earlier project released by the Digital Scholarship Lab in 2016, called Mapping Inequality, which details neighborhoods deemed too risky for investment and set on a course of institutionalized neglect and decay. Actively fueling the process of decay was the policy of redlining, which in effect barred communities of color from seeking mortgages or financing to repair their properties. With a cycle of decay institutionalized, these same neighborhoods were prime targets for urban renewal. Beginning in the 1950s, the federal government actively reshaped American cities through urban renewal, based on then-contemporary priorities in use zoning, residential density, automobile usage and highway construction. Equipped with billions of dollars in federal funding, local governments applied eminent domain to displace hundreds of thousands of families across the country, deeming long-standing neighborhoods as “blighted” land unfit for habitation. Ostensibly, relocation assistance and public housing were meant to follow "slum clearance" but in many circumstances, relocation funding or housing never materialized. Not only were homeowners forced into becoming renters, but much of the compensation given in exchange for eminent domain seizure was based on undervaluations of those properties. For example, the Digital Scholarship Lab highlights Cincinnati’s Kenyon-Barr/Queensgate as the largest urban renewal project in national history, displacing approximately 5,000 families. The map highlights that approximately 97 percent of those displaced were people of color, and also reveals that this predominantly minority community was adjacent to Cincinnati’s Central Business District, a focal point for white, suburban office workers–a trend in the displacement taking place in a number of American cities. As noted by the Digital Scholarship Lab, the land seized from many of the impacted African American neighborhoods "was re-purposed for commercial or industrial development or to make way for highways,” an act of “intergenerational wealth theft that helped shape today’s profound inequality” along racial lines. While the wholesale demolition of inner-city neighborhoods is much more uncommon today, large swaths of historic housing stock are currently being razed under the guise of alleviating housing pressure. However, as noted by CityLab, urban areas of older, mid-size housing boast greater affordability and employment opportunities than their modern counterparts, limited as they are by contemporary zoning and uses. It seems we still have a lot to learn from the lessons of urban renewal.
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Architecture’s Two Percent: Black in Design conference at Harvard tackles complex social and economic issues

In recent months there has been increasing awareness and discussion around the built environment's impact on a number of complex social and economic issues that also intersect with race and class. Architecture critic James Russell has written about Ferguson and even New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman has written about Eric Garner. This momentum for a long-overdue public conversation on these issues among those in the design and planning disciplines is also being fostered by a group of predominantly black and predominantly women students at Harvard's Graduate School of Design.

The GSD's African-American Students Union (AASU) has challenged themselves, their peers, their institutions, and the built environment disciplines at-large to seriously engage the real differences that race can make in design practices. This led to the Black in Design Conference—organized by AASU and held at Harvard GSD this weekend.

A range of ideas, projects, and provocations by nearly 30 speakers from different disciplines were organized into panels according to scales of impact: buildings, neighborhoods, cities, and regions. There were also sessions on the role of race in the pedagogy of design and global design practice.

But this was not your usual design conference. Beyond the presentations and discussions, there were collective breathing and dance exercises, throwback Goodie Mob music video clips addressing urban conditions, and even a choir performance with many participants singing along to anthems for social equality and progress. The conference lunch was programmed as a workshop around the issue of food access and quality that affects many black and low-income communities. The conference's structure created a space to share and question what it means to attempt to address the difficult issues that affect black communities as a designer—and further, what it means to be black in design.

Phil Freelon, an award-winning architect of the new Smithsonian African American museum, asked who was going to be the "Miles Davis of Architecture" to provoke the notion that in the built environment design fields black designers do not yet have the weight of influence seen in other creative fields, such as music or fashion, that shape and inform our larger culture and everyday lives.

More than once, speakers raised the need for more people of color to get into the design fields and increase the number of licensed black architects which today stands at a paltry 2 percent. Architect and planner Maurice Cox advertised to the audience 30 new urban designer and planner job openings in the predominantly black city of Detroit, underlining the need for black designers to work in black communities. The discussions at the two-day event highlighted that the personal and professional contributions that black designers make to their fields, and by extension to the global and local contexts and populations that they serve, is all too rare.

More information about the conference can be found at blackindesign.com and some of the ideas and images from the event can be found on social media using the #blackindesign and #blackdesignmatters hashtags.

Justin Garrett Moore is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Architecture at Columbia University's GSAPP and was a speaker at the Black in Design Conference.

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Designer’s visualizations make economic inequality clear

Aerial of New York City Economic inequality is not hard to see — in Chicago, drive south on Halsted Street from Lakeview to Englewood, or bounce between Oak Park and Austin, or Evanston and Rogers Park — but sometimes it takes a visualization to put it into perspective. Designer Nickolay Lamm exposed the vast inequities of major U.S. cities by massing their local net worth with 3D green bars of varying heights. If one area had a net worth of $500,000, it was represented by a shape 5 centimeters tall. If one was $250,000, it would be 2.5 cm tall. In Chicago you can see the North Shore and West suburbs dwarfing west and near south side city neighborhoods. Lay that over this map of racial demographics and it’s not entirely surprising to learn economic segregation often lines up with racial divides. Chicago Chicago-Aerial-After-1024x449 Pittsburgh-based Lamm did this for several cities, but said New York carries a special symbolism:

I chose to do Manhattan instead of Pittsburgh because I know that, for many people, moving to New York City is the start of their journey to achieve the American Dream. The American Dream suggests that if you work hard enough, you can achieve it. However, it’s clear that the landscape in order to achieve that dream is not as even and equal as it appears on the surface.

 Central Park Central Park [H/T Bill Moyers]
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Beyond Pruitt-Igoe

The University of Pennsylvania School of Design sought to bring social equity back into architectural discourse last weekend with a conference called “Unspoken Borders: The Ecologies of Inequality,” hosted by the Black Student Alliance. Architects have been skittish about addressing large-scale social issues ever since the profession’s notorious Pruitt-Igoe-style failures in the 1960’s, said presenter Craig Wilkins. Since then, he added, the predominant attitude among architects has been, “‘We’re not doing that again. They got mad at us the last time we did that!’” One of the most impassioned exceptions to that rule is architect Teddy Cruz, who gave the conference’s keynote speech on April 4th. Cruz described how the flows of people and goods across the US-Mexico border manifest the stark inequities between the two countries: people go north into San Diego; garbage goes south to Tijuana. His firm, Estudio Teddy Cruz, is turning those flows from signs of the problem into solutions to it, by finding ways to re-use building waste. So leftover garage doors from California, for example, become the walls of cheap housing for the Mexican poor. To institutionalize this kind of recycling, he has started convincing foreign factories in Tijuana to tweak their systems of production so that their byproducts can be re-used as scaffolding. Participants at design conferences often call for more “interdisciplinary collaboration,” but it is rare for such talk to yield anything other than more talk. So it was especially refreshing to hear Maurice Cox, director of the National Endowment for the Arts, present some actual collaborative approaches to pressing social problems. “One in every 13 houses in Cleveland is vacant and they’re being vandalized,” he said. Pointing out that foreclosures have ripple effects for the communities they’re in, Cox asked, “What can design do for communities that have been devastated by high foreclosure?” In search of an answer, he’s putting together a team of architects, landscape architects, public artists, preservationists, land use attorneys, and developers. Instead of dealing individually with each foreclosed house, they’ll be looking for solutions at the block and district-scale, and ultimately convening with policy makers to put those solutions into action. Amidst the discussion of what designers can do about social inequities, a related question emerged: should design education address the root causes of those inequities? “There’s no lack of design-build studios going out to poor neighborhoods to build houses, but there’s no discussion [in architecture school] of why those neighborhoods exist,” said architect Kian Goh. But isn’t there a trade-off between expertise and generalism? Some participants thought so, and urban designer Felipe Correa countered: “It is important that we not overextend the net, that we bring it back to what we know how to do best,” he argued. “Allow sociologists to deal with the sociology.”