“Time is f—ing up!” yelled Iranian-American architect Gisue Hariri among a crowd that assembled outside the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center at 12:30 p.m. in New York City on Friday. While thousands of 2018 AIA Conference on Architecture attendees walked the expo floor and attended sessions, approximately 100 men and women in architecture and design gathered on the corner of 11th Avenue and West 34th Street as part of the Voices of Plurality Flash Mob to call attention to issues of equality, equity, and inclusivity in the architecture profession.

“We are assembled here at the AIA National Conference 2018 in NYC to make a collective commitment to pursue equitable practice, equality, recognition, fairness, and inclusion,” said event emcee and organizer Caroline James, a Boston-based architectural designer.

Responsible for launching the petition for recognition of Denise Scott Brown, Hon. FAIA, to the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2013, James helped organize the May 12 Venice Biennale flash mob as a leader of the grass roots group, Voices for Women Architects.

“In 2018, the lack of diverse professionals remains a challenge,” James continued. “Only around 18 percent of licensed architects are women. 0.39 percent of licensed architects, or 433 living architects, are black females. People of color account for 22 percent of architecture staff, and just 11 percent of principals and partners who are licensed and run their own firms. Clearly, architecture has a recognition and inclusion crisis. Fortunately, we have a power team. Be a fan.”

From left to right: Pascale Sablan, Rosa Sheng, A. L. Hu, Julia Murphy, Caroline James, Beverly Willis.
Courtesy ARCHITECT From left to right: Pascale Sablan, Rosa Sheng, A. L. Hu, Julia Murphy, Caroline James, Beverly Willis.

A power team is right. After the success of the event in Italy, American practitioners including SmithGroupJJR director of equity, diversity, and inclusion Rosa Sheng, FAIA, and Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation founder Beverly Willis, FAIA, reached out to discuss the idea of a sister event at the AIA Conference.

“I got inspired by Caroline James when they did the Voices of Women [flash mob] at the Venice Bienniale,” Sheng tells ARCHITECT. “I asked her if we could include diverse identities and backgrounds and she was very collaborative in making that happen.”

Eventually, the organizing group also came to include A.L. Hu, a queer, nonbinary architectural designer at Solomonoff Architecture Studio in New York City; Julia Murphy, AIA, director at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s New York office; Pascale Sablan, AIA, senior associate at S9 Architecture and a recipient of the 2018 AIA Young Architects Award; and Roberta Washington, FAIA, former president of the National Organization of Minority Architects and founder of Harlem, New York–based Roberta Washington Architects.

Together, the women planned the event where they read a collaborative manifesto, attendees wielded white fans, and chanted, “This is what a feminist looks like.”

“We needed a show of force in order to motivate our male colleagues in the understanding that we women are very upset,” Willis tells ARCHITECT. “We have been upset for many years, and we’ve had very little attention paid to us. I felt very strongly that we needed to do something like this—in contemporary terms, a flash mob—in order to get some attention to the fact that we women are upset.”

A group assembles as the organizers read the Voice of Women Architects manifesto.
Courtesy ARCHITECT A group assembles as the organizers read the Voice of Women Architects manifesto.

Ultimately, the group hopes that this event will be a conversation starter.

“In 1968, when Whitney M. Young came and gave that speech it really resonated,” Sablan says. “And what’s scary to us is that we haven’t seen much progress, if at all. We really need to be vocal and understand that we don’t have to wait for these prolific heroes and leaders to come in and make changes. Each of us have a voice and those voices are valid.”

Though the gathering lasted less than 30 minutes, architectural thought leaders including Hariri & Hariri Architecture founders Gisue Hariri and sister/partner Mojgan Hariri, AIA; AIA at-large director and senior associate at Boston-based Arrowstreet Emily Grandstaff-Rice, FAIA; Girl Uninterrupted co-founder and Boston-based Leers Weinzapfel Associates designer Zhanina Boyadzhieva, Assoc. AIA; and newly elected AIA at-large director Jessica Sheridan, AIA, also attended.

“This is a really pivotal moment in our history," Sheridan says. “I think that by showing solidarity and having women come together and supporting each other at this time is really important for us.”