This editorial appeared in the July 2020 issue of ARCHITECT.
In the pre-dawn hours of June 5—less than two weeks into the civil unrest following the brutal killing of George Floyd at the hand of Minneapolis police officers—artists, volunteers, and city employees directed by Washington, D.C., mayor Muriel Bowser emblazoned “Black Lives Matter” in vivid yellow letters on a two-block stretch just north of the White House. Within 24 hours, the protest site had been visited by thousands, many taking photos with street signs proclaiming the stretch’s rechristening as Black Lives Matter Plaza, others decrying that a mural is no replacement for action in a centuries-long struggle for equality. The next evening, community organizers added “Defund the Police” in the same bold yellow.
The mural was quickly replicated around the country, in Charlotte, N.C., Oakland, Calif., Seattle, New York, and Montpelier, Vt., among other places. These murals’ backdrop, as it is of all protests nationwide, is the built environment. And the cries to dismantle systemic racism can no longer, and should no longer, be ignored by our country or our profession.
Architecture itself faces a long-overdue reckoning. Black people make up 13% of the U.S. population, but only 2% of licensed architects in the U.S. The number of Black female architects (like Tiffany Brown, Assoc. AIA, who shares her vision for a more equitable profession) has more than doubled since ARCHITECT’s March 2007 feature on the 0.2% of the industry they then represented; there are still fewer than 500 nationwide.
Systemic racism and inequity in architecture are not limited to demographics. They are found in competitions that make token gestures at diversity and in project selection committees that require exclusionary prior experience—all of which affect the project pipeline for firms owned by people of color. In his conversation with ARCHITECT columnist Blaine Brownell, FAIA, architect James Garrett Jr., AIA, identifies some ways that discriminatory practices can be challenged. But the problem cannot be solved unless the industry, as a whole, stands up in support.
The design media is also complicit. At ARCHITECT, we endeavor to shine a light on gender and racial inequity in the industry, and to offer a platform to those who have ideas for improvement. But our other coverage has not included nearly enough Black voices, and has even, at times, unwittingly erased them. We have made mistakes, and will likely make more as we learn and grow. We can and will do better.
As the new editor-in-chief, I pledge to increase the representation of the work of Black architects and architects of color in our pages, and to cover that work at all stages of the design process to ensure that we do not perpetuate the inequities of the project pipeline. We will feature measurably more voices of color through interviews, hiring more writers of color, and commissioning even more op-eds from voices of color so that we can amplify voices that aren’t heard enough.
As an industry, we must stand up to take part in this movement for change, to listen, and to ally ourselves to help. Dismantling systemic racism in architecture is not the responsibility of people of color. The hard work must be done by those of us who have, unwittingly or not, benefitted from or perpetuated it. The built environment must be equitable for all, and the only way to achieve that is to stand up for a more equitable profession. Together. Now.