J. Carrier
J. Carrier

This month, AIA is hosting a major one-day virtual learning event, “Architecture in Turbulent Times.” It’s designed to help architects face the challenges posed by the simultaneous crises of climate change, COVID-19, and systemic racial injustice.

It’s one more way we’re adapting to this unprecedented and challenging year. If you’d told me in 2019 that we’d shift practically overnight to holding online meetings and conferences as a matter of routine, I’d have been proud of our leadership in adopting greener practices. Indeed—although we never would have chosen these circumstances—the capacity we’ve collectively demonstrated to quickly implement positive change is a source of encouragement in challenging times. This ability to transition to greener alternatives on a large scale is exactly the kind of progress we need in order to build a more sustainable world.

Yet I never could have imagined just what “taking stands” would mean for our profession in 2020. Our mission to protect public health, safety, and welfare has never been more relevant. And I’ve never seen greater motivation in our profession to fully live our values.

Our urgent, methodical work to lend a hand in the COVID-19 pandemic—first in adapting buildings into health facilities, then in providing guidance to safely reopen public spaces—has remained critical throughout a summer marked by progress in some areas and dangerous surges in others. And our expertise and commitment to creating spaces that are healthy, safe, and equitable will remain just as vital as we head into an uncertain autumn.

“Healthy, safe, and equitable.” These are principles our profession has long been committed to, but they’ve taken on added weight as communities across the nation have taken a stand in new ways for racial justice.

We are taking a stand in new ways, too.

AIA is committed to the fight to permanently dismantle this country’s centuries-old system of racial injustice and violence. We expect to be and welcome being held accountable in the coming months and years to ensure that our deeds match our words.

Following the decision by the Board of Directors to prioritize racial justice as an organization-wide focus in the same way climate leadership is a fundamental mission, it’s been a summer of listening and action.

Colleagues within our membership, as well as CACE, NOMA, and other essential voices, are generously sharing their insights, creating an ongoing dialogue to inform steps for translating our ideals into meaningful progress.

As we continue to build a list of short- and long-term actions, we are implementing some immediate steps to focus on AIA itself—as an employer and a professional membership association.

To that end, AIA will participate in the NAACP 2020 Diversity & Opportunity Report Card for the Sustainable Building Sector. Slated for release in 2021, the audit will evaluate equitable practices within AIA, including staffing (composition and perceptions), programs and services, procurement, and governance. Part of the NAACP’s Centering Equity in the Sustainable Building Sector (CESBS) Initiative, the program will examine the building sector along four categories: design firms, contractors, nonprofits/professional organizations, and higher education institutions. The NAACP Report Card will set a transparent, comprehensive marker to measure against.

Additionally, we are developing a series of guided discussions organized around chapters and developed through the Guides for Equitable Practice. Formulated over the last two years in partnership with Renée Cheng, FAIA, dean of the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments, and her teams at the University of Minnesota and University of Washington, the guides include case studies and tactical advice to, as Cheng says, “convert intentions into actions.” They are a valuable tool as we dismantle our implicit and explicit biases.

Central to that effort is ensuring greater diversity when it comes to who we recognize for professional achievements, and to whose voices we feature in our editorial content in print and online. Who we honor today inspires tomorrow’s pioneers and innovators, and who we feature motivates the next generation of leaders.