I was privileged recently to present the 2021 AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion to Kathryn Anthony, who has worked tirelessly to bring diversity, inclusion, and social justice to the front and center of architectural education. In 2017, she published a book called Defined by Design about the hidden signals found in places and products that reinforce deleterious attitudes toward age, bodies, and gender. In 2001, her book Designing for Diversity marshaled data to illustrate why official design culture in architecture is perpetuated and how it challenges those who wish to make the profession more diverse in its culture, outlook, and composition.
When Anthony testified before Congress in 2010, in support of the Bipartisan Restroom Gender Parity in Federal Buildings Act, she said, “Much of our built environment was constructed in a different era—one in which women were not as prevalent in the public realm and in the workforce as we are today.” Whether it’s adequate restrooms or the hierarchies of the architecture studio or the coded messages in the products we buy, she had one simple message: Resolutions for inclusion and equity are hollow so long as the spaces we inhabit and the culture we defend are unfair and disenfranchising.
Her scholarship and her teaching prepare us to confront the systemic inequities, both visible and invisible, represented in the built environment. The people who learn, live, and make their living in the spaces we create need tools to help them communicate to architects and critique our work. Anthony’s work enables that, not to mention being data-rich, a thoughtful wake-up call for architects, and a true public service for everyone else. This evidence-based accessibility, for me, is the basis for awarding the Topaz to Anthony.
What must her work galvanize for us? To be equitable as a profession is to accept all designers and architects who wish to make a healthier, more resilient world, and to reject the myopia and inequity of a world designed by the select few. Our resilience as a profession is our ability to protect everyone who chooses this community, and continuously re-create this community to reflect those who choose it.
If we value our communities, and our communities thrive because of us, then our resilience as a profession must be defined by this reciprocation.
To be inclusive as a profession is to accept our failures and celebrate the contributions of tens of thousands of architects of Asian descent. We have celebrated Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage during the month of May since 1979. In May 1843, 14-year-old Manjiro Nakahama was rescued off the coast of Japan and adopted by an American naval captain, becoming the first Japanese immigrant to the United States. May is also the month when, in 1869, the Golden Spike was affixed to the tracks in Utah Territory to celebrate the Transcontinental Railroad, largely built by Chinese immigrant labor. I urge you to celebrate along with my wife and me, but I also encourage you to honor and stand with Asian American and Pacific Islanders—and the architects among them— this and every month.