How do you plan to use your talent? Whether you’re a licensed firm owner of 25 years or a new graduate applying for internships, this is an important question to consider for at least a moment between deadlines. The trouble people run into when they try to answer it is they are only looking back on what they’ve done as evidence of why it matters. Yet, the project of our lives, the purpose with which we undertake it, and the root cause of our undertaking—all of these elements—can be found in the future. All of them can be identified by looking forward.
To all those within architecture’s realm, we’re on a long journey, indeed. There is so much we’ve figured out about designing with nature, but there is obviously so much more we must do to mitigate carbon emissions. Despite our hope, there are still bitter opponents of sustainability, and in our time, there is still complicity at the grandest possible scale. Architecture’s adoption of sustainability and resilience is a journey that can no longer tolerate errors of omission or errors of commission. We must not simply continue journeying to conferences and rallies. We must take action in the legislature and in code books, and we must take action in the classroom and in the studio. To anyone reading this piece, I urge you to get serious about the 2030 Commitment as a design ethic that can guide your practice.
If past is prologue, though, the “Guides for Equitable Practice” have started to become an industry conversation. I began the year telling everyone I could about their value and utility, and by the end of the year, I found that this information was already out there when I’d speak to an architect or a firm. Another major step had to do with the cohort of 10 architecture students from HBCUs who, thanks to NOMA Foundation Fellowships, worked at 10 different architecture firms nationwide this year. This was the first initiative of the AIA Large Firm Round Table’s 2030 Diversity Challenge, and it won’t be the last. There are a dozen other pivotal moments that came to pass in 2021, and all of them were the first steps in an overdue journey. For all of us, the very first step is to care and to learn more, and hopefully to finally align ourselves with a greater cause—join NOMA or join an AIA Knowledge Community; write to our congressperson; find the project, purpose, or cause that leverages our talents, wherever they are, for the change we wish to see.
I see in my academic life, as well as my professional life, nothing but fervent conversations about fairness and inclusion. But there is obviously so much more we need to soften the edge conditions of architecture so that we admit all those who wish to make the world a better place and filter out only those unwilling to commit to that responsibility that I hope every architect feels. It’s in their DNA, as it’s in mine, to do no harm—and that ideal should extend to racial and social justice just as it extends readily to health, safety, and welfare standards. In looking back at her partnership with Robert Venturi, one of my heroes, Denise Scott Brown, once said, “I think our best projects were when we worked together.” I share that sentiment with my wife and partner, Sharon Exley, and I also believe it’s flexible enough to be true at the scale of architecture itself. That is to say: The larger project of architecture can only realize its fullest potential if we work together.