One Question Series: Part 4, Being a Bystander

What happens when you ask the same question to five designers with five different backgrounds? You get five very different answers that will put you in someone else’s shoes. From firm principals to emerging professionals, we’re diving in to better understand—and share—others’ personal perspectives. This is the fourth installment of the monthly series—“One Question”—produced by our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) Committee. 

In partnership with the Colorado Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, we invite you to see through the lenses of five different practitioners to learn how their unique backgrounds shape experiences in the firm and their approaches to design.

Recall a moment when you witnessed unjust behavior. How did you act then and how might you act differently today?

Wells Squier, AIA
AIA Colorado President
Principal, Anderson Hallas Architects

“I only recall a few instances early in my career of witnessing unjust behavior. Since then, I have been fortunate with regard to the character and integrity of those whom I work with most closely and feel the injustices witnessed years ago were actions of long-standing stereotypes throughout the history of our profession that we are actively working to break down today. These examples relate mostly to internal corporate power struggles but also perceptions of gender bias.

In retrospect, it is frustrating that there was not the awareness that there is today with regard to J.E.D.I. initiatives, and that those in the positions with the power to implement positive change did not recognize or prioritize this need. I have learned to express my concerns about this realization much more strongly, but at the time it wasn’t something that was as clearly in focus as it is today (at least for me personally as someone just starting my own career following graduation). Fortunately, my more recent professional experiences have included much greater diversity and equality. This, along with our collective introspection as a profession as it relates to justice within the workplace, has heightened my (and hopefully our collective) awareness, where I am now significantly more conditioned to consciously look for any instances of inequity or inappropriateness, not just within the workplace but also as it relates to prospective clients or broader team members with whom we may collaborate.”

Patricia Joseph, AIA, NOMA
Project Designer at Cuningham
President-Elect of NOMA Colorado
Lecturer, CU Denver College of Architecture & Planning

“If you were to ask me this question when I started my career in Architecture I wouldn’t be able to jump into conversation about a specific experience. At that time, I had enough emotional intelligence to be uncomfortable or upset, but not enough to identify the injustice itself. Fast forward to today and I can pinpoint several injustices that I have experienced, and I can recall the various ways I had to address them. Understanding what unjust behavior is and being able to identify it can feel similar to subconscious bias. However hard it may be to see, it is very real for the receiving person.

Most recently, the leadership within NOMA Colorado have heard far too many stories of unjust behavior from our emerging professionals and recent graduates. In response to these reports we have been able to engage in raw, straightforward communication with those responsible to address the behaviors directly. While we are addressing the unjust behavior, we are also thinking ahead, thinking about prevention. NOMA Colorado truly cares about making our organizations a safe and empowering place for our local professionals. We will not ignore the stories we hear from our members. We’re standing our ground and will not promote firms that disregard injustices within their communities.

We all have come a long way in terms of witnessing injustices and being able to do something about it. However, there is more work to be done, the era of complacency is gone, and we all have the responsibility to react appropriately. It’s 2022, if “you see something, you say something”.”

Sarah Broughton, FAIA
AIA Colorado President-Elect
Principal, Rowland+Broughton

“My circle of influence has been crystallizing and I continue to understand my voice and advocate within our profession for a better tomorrow. As a firm leader, along with my partners, we are laser focused on running an equitable firm based on just practices. We are a proponent of the Equal Pay For Equal Work Act mandating visibility with pay and opportunities. Our firm lists salaries with all job postings and provides strategic and equitable compensation amongst the team positions. Equal pay for equal work is paramount and is our backbone, creating balance and equity. We internally and externally post all promotional opportunities available within the firm and the transparency has resulted in talented yet unexpected team members rising to the top. I am vocal about our policies with other leaders and have witnessed their organizations making a change to be a more just workplace.

Valuing our work with clients is a just behavior we continue to defend. Over the last nineteen years, we have been asked multiple times in RFPs and interviews to perform services for reduced fees or for free. This is unjust and when agreed to erodes the equity for our team and our profession. Agreeing to undervalue our work results in unsustainable internal work demands to make up for the unbilled time.

Recently, we were asked to participate in a RFP for an exciting project we had been following for months. Part of the request included presenting design ideas at the interview. This is old behavior that must change. In our response of regret, we took advantage of the opportunity to educate the client about why it is an unjust policy and a disservice to the profession to ask for free work. We used our voice to speak up and make change. Our response gave a message to our team and to our client that together we can shape a different future.

Professional and personally, I try to always recognize and correct my own biases or unjust behavior. Our workplace has evolved, and my behavior also has. For example, I used to rely on nearby teammates to help with unexpected requests. This action does not give equal opportunity to the entire team and I am now purposeful about reaching out to someone I don’t “see” often and engage them to work together. I encourage the entire team to acknowledge and respect each others’ skills and strive to give equal opportunities to members at every level. I hope to foster a culture of openness and opportunity, where there is no room for unjust actions.”

Kari Lawson, Assoc. AIA
AIA Colorado Associate Director
Designer, TreanorHL

“Injustice may be seen in all aspects of our society, and it is ingrained in our attitudes toward diversity and inclusion. These intersections form the fabric of our work/life dynamic, while in the background is a culture that fosters complicity in sustaining the status quo. As a BIPOC living and working in the United States, I’ve witnessed injustice in various forms, involving philosophy and/or overt prejudice. The safest approach was often to endure it or leave, but dealing with these difficulties in real time necessitates personal honesty and accountability, gained by experience.

Microaggressions are an interwoven part of our society. Unfortunately, implicit bias and stereotypes are commonplace when speaking from a position of comfort. “You’re articulate for a black person,” “You’re the exception because xyz,” or even a comment about my hair texture are examples of slights in conversations. This type of comfort makes it convenient to invalidate and refuse to acknowledge experiences. The emotional labor frequently falls on the marginalized group, so through introspection, I’ve learnt to pick my battles. There is an unsettling feeling of self-doubt when unpacking those comments. Is it because of my age/race/gender or is it because I’m not excelling at my tasks? How do I react in a way that doesn’t play into stereotypes? Changing people’s mind is not a sustainable objective but continuing a genuine narrative about accountability can be.

It’s ordinary to witness abuse of authority. It’s especially disheartening when there’s a sense of comfort in maintaining oblique narratives that establish a false sense of impartiality. In the year 2020, it became unacceptable to remain silent in the face of rampant police brutality. After 2020, many organizations recognized the value of forming a diversity committee and addressing injustice. In some cases, rather than encouraging actual progress, there was a diminishing value placed on authentic experiences, which undermined those initiatives. It’s promoting a “not all cops” mindset and refusing to support or engage with Black Lives Matter. From Emmett Teal to George Floyd, there has always been time for dialogue, but today there are true consequences for not participating in the effort to change.

There is no escape from the spectrum of racism; so, I emphasize the value of seeking places where differences are embraced and appreciated. I want to be associated with those who have the ability and desire to stand publicly against injustice. I recognize that my identity politics puts me on the front lines of navigating these events, but with every experience comes growth for the future.”

Victor Gonzalez, Assoc. AIA, NOMA
AIA Colorado J.E.D.I. Committee Member + Editorial Representative
Davis Partnership Architects

“One of the unfortunate experiences I have witnessed was when some fellow students were hosting an exhibition on anti-racist spaces. Two professors who were not attached to the project caught my attention as they purposefully went into the exhibit space with an agenda. Their agenda was not to “debate” the content, but rather try to “disprove” the student’s methodology and overall work.

It was clear that the professors showed up to the exhibit without taking any time to read through the content and reflect upon the work that was displayed. Instead, they immediately jumped to the students and demanded they explain their work. It was obvious that these professors did not want to take the time to actually think through or try to understand the exhibition. The professors would jump in and out of the conversation, playing devil’s advocate.

Reflecting on this situation, I’m disappointed that I did not intervene and start asking the professors questions about the exhibit itself. I believe doing so would not only have helped them start thinking about the work, but also probably help them realize that their approach towards the students was not correct. Looking at this incident from an even bigger picture it is clear that there was an unconscious bias towards the students of color as they were approached by two white professors. Since then, I have lived with the regret of not doing anything and often think of the result had I intervened. I learned from this experience and now I abide by the motto: “doing something is better than doing nothing”.”

We invite you to read or revisit previous questions in this series:

Question #1: “Describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences.”

Question #2: “How can we as a profession break down barriers for minorities in architecture?”

Question #3: “Tell us about a time when you were not able to bring your full identity into your work.”

We’d like to extend our sincere gratitude to our One Question participants for their vulnerability and humility. Next month is our live panel discussion reflecting on this project at the AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference, November 2-4, 2022, in Keystone.

One Question Series: Part 3, Being a Bystander

What happens when you ask the same question to five designers with five different backgrounds? You get five very different answers that will put you in someone else’s shoes. From firm principals to emerging professionals, we’re diving in to better understand—and share—others’ personal perspectives. This is the third installment of the monthly series—“One Question”—produced by our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) Committee. 

In partnership with the Colorado Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, we invite you to see through the lenses of five different practitioners to learn how their unique backgrounds shape experiences in the firm and their approaches to design.

Tell us about a time when you were not able to bring your full identity into your work.

Victor Gonzalez, Assoc. AIA, NOMA
AIA Colorado J.E.D.I. Committee Member + Editorial Representative
Davis Partnership Architects

“Throughout my experience in the practice of architecture I have found myself holding back from bringing my full identity into my work. As a Mexican queer professional, I believe the first barrier encountered is the draining biased standard of “professionalism”. The culture that has resulted from this so-called “professionalism” is rooted in white supremacy or the systemic, institutionalized centering of whiteness. In the practice and culture of architecture this may be seen as the belief that traditional standards and values are objective and unbiased. As a result, it has affected the way I present myself in the context of white and Western standards of dress, hairstyle, and overall communication.

I have stopped myself mid-sentence from speaking Spanish to my Spanish-speaking colleagues because of the uneasiness I’ve noticed in the facial expressions of those who don’t speak Spanish. How is a diverse professional expected to bring their full identity if the environment they are in is not suited to embrace their cultural difference? Language is a form of expression and allows a greater connection with a person who has a similar cultural background. On the other hand, speaking a different language that is not understood by the majority of those around and may come off as disrespectful. This perception of “disrespect” circles back to how there is a constant enforcement of a biased standard of “professionalism” in the workforce.

Once there is a greater conversation hosted around the problematic elements of how professionalism is defined, there can be a shift that allows other minorities to bring their authentic and rich backgrounds into their work. If there is not a greater analysis of the practice and its norms, there will continue to be the same shared unfortunate experiences for minorities.”

Wells Squier, AIA
AIA Colorado President
Principal, Anderson Hallas Architects

“After much contemplation and introspection, I can’t recall any professional experience where I felt I could not bring my full identity to work. I recognize my alignment with the stereotypical image of what an architect might “look” like: a white male that wears eyeglasses. Also, as previously shared in the first article of the series, early exposure to the profession facilitated my career development path. Adding my ethnicity and gender to this equation, it is apparent to me how that greatly amplified my access to career advancing opportunities, while many had to navigate through roadblocks and prejudices.

This is a challenging profession, and like anyone who is passionate about our profession and the responsibility it demands, I have worked very hard to advance and shape the career that is most meaningful to me. That said, it is quite humbling to consider the additional challenges so many of our colleagues have had to endure to achieve similar advancement in their careers. The demands of the profession are challenging enough, even before considering what it would be like to also have to navigate through stereotypes, prejudices, and racial and gender inequality injustices.

I sincerely believe the work we do as architects is enhanced through greater diversity and perspectives of those in practice. To successfully address the current challenges we face in the realm of housing, justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, and the environment, we need to embrace diversity more aggressively as a profession, and celebrate everyone’s sincere and full identity as humans and architects. It is our responsibility to mentor and help develop the next generation of leaders while being inclusive of all races, genders and identities. There is zero room in our profession for bias against diversity; we need to continue to rewrite the outdated and excluding stereotype that architecture is a white male profession. Wherever and however possible, those in our community with the ability to share knowledge, provide opportunities and open doors for those who have been historically underrepresented must do so. It is this diversity that will allow us as a profession to continue to be effective in leading the response to the many challenges we face as humans.”

Patricia Joseph, AIA, NOMA
Project Designer at Cuningham
President-Elect of NOMA Colorado
Lecturer, CU Denver College of Architecture & Planning

“For this third question, I cannot help but think about the stories of my fellow NOMA Colorado Members. Since starting our chapter and being part of leadership, we have heard so much from our minority members about the vast experiences and difficulties they have faced. Most of those experiences underline that as minorities, we have been victims of micro-aggressions or discrimination due to our true selves being unacceptable at work. When the majority finds shock, confusion, or even outrage from the very evidence that our diversity presents, we recede, we mask, and we hide the parts that don’t make the cut.

We are not coming to work with our full selves. Almost daily and since the moment we start in architecture, we have given up some piece of our identity to survive in this industry. If you are caught between needing a job in architecture and not being a white male, you have given up some essence of yourself to feel secure in that position. Historically and even currently, surviving has come at the cost of leaving some part of us — some piece of our culture, race, gender, age, or identity — at home. We have been hiding our accents, our hair, our food, and anything else; to relieve the majority from having to accept what it truly means to be diverse and inclusive.

Other shared experiences include most minorities sacrificing the correct pronunciations of their names to be more agreeable and not face unwanted situations. We avoid saying certain words because our unique accents are too thick and we frequently code-switch during conversations. We avoid eating our favorite salmon dish because it is just a faux pas in America, and we politely tuck in our tight coiled hair for fear of someone asking to touch it.

So was there a time we had to hide our true identity from coming to work? Yes, many.

Sarah Broughton, FAIA
AIA Colorado President-Elect
Principal, Rowland+Broughton

“I understand that as a privileged, professional white woman, I have more opportunity to bring my full identity to my work. I feel fortunate and aim to create approachability and openness to all in our profession and beyond. My identity is rooted in curiosity, big-heartedness, and a sincerely positive forward-looking outlook. Through reflection, processing, and action, I have developed strategies to temper situations where everyone, including myself, can be more at ease and bring personal identities.

I have a big personality, which is interpreted by some as too assertive or intense. In those and other situations where it feels I can’t bring my full-self, I identify and align with common core values so it is possible to establish understanding and flow so good work can be completed in a fun, positive, and collaborative manner. I focus on the aspects of the project where my professional view and ethos will make the biggest impact and let other things become less of a priority. It is not apathy or quiet quitting, but rather preserving integrity and joy in the work.

My identity continues to evolve as I grow and gain experience. Recognizing when I am going through transition allows me to better share who I am with my teams and clients through my actions. My hope is this openness gives permission to others to share where they are in their journey, creating deeper respect for each other’s identity. We become and put forth our best selves and the work excels when we can all be our true selves.”

Kari Lawson, Assoc. AIA
AIA Colorado Associate Director
Designer, TreanorHL

“Bringing your “whole self” is now a major topic in the workplace and it’s an important part of bringing people together. I have witnessed that better synergies for collaborative work can be created by embracing authenticity and vulnerability. Fortunately, I’ve had many opportunities to express myself through my work in my professional career. I feel that it is one of my most valued assets and when my personal identity is supported it allows me to fully invoke my passions and strengths.

I’ve learnt several crucial insights when working on small project teams through the years. A particular lesson came from a project team based on personality types. As an INTP, I value information gathering and construction of a vision plan that moves from macro to micro and back again. The project was centered around a minority community with a desired solution that would be culturally sensitive, equitable, and engaging. If a cohesive vision is not established from the start, small project teams can be challenging. Almost immediately the team was split into factions and as the person with the least experience, my perspective was void. There was a breakdown in communication due to bruised egos and while the primary functions were addressed, there were three very different visual representations of the building. The result was a testament to brutalist architecture with an indifference to human scale, the complete opposite of the intended cultural hub.

Being a disruptor instead of being a wallflower would have saved us from a harsh critique. The teams were grouped in a way that an INTP should be invoking the spirit of “why?” and fostering that collaborative nature. By agreeing that my experience level was more important than my perspective and identity, I felt I failed in that task.

The lesson learnt was that my identity is a crucial distinctive component to creative problem solving. Ignoring my identity for the sake of others’ comfort will never result in an outcome that I am proud of. Growth occurs when you are learning to accomplish something you have never done before. Fully embracing my identity is part of that process of discovery, as is knowing that without that vital aspect, my work is just a job.”

We invite you to read or revisit previous questions in this series:

Question #1: “Describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences.”

Question #2: “How can we as a profession break down barriers for minorities in architecture?”

We’d like to extend our sincere gratitude to our One Question participants for their vulnerability and humility. You can expect to hear more from them over the course of the coming months as we continue this monthly series, culminating with a live panel discussion reflecting on this project at the AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference, November 2-4, 2022, in Keystone.

J.E.D.I. Resource Share: Stories from our Members

In recent months, several underrepresented emerging professionals have shared similar accounts of being discharged within their initial months of employment and without a proper debrief. There was a lack of objective feedback or opportunity for improvement, only left with the disappointing news they weren’t a good fit with the firm culture. This is a worrisome pattern that presents an opportunity to examine the way firms recruit and retain diverse employees, and to properly implement Chapter 4 of the AIA Guides for Equitable Practice. Below are some important things to consider and additional references.

1. Over 50% of architecture students are from underrepresented populations, firms need to start doing the work now to be ready for the growing diversity in the pipeline.

2. Firms need to work on creating an inclusive firm culture that allows everyone to fit in and share their diverse perspectives.

3. All evaluations, especially early onboarding reviews, should provide objective, constructive and actionable feedback. Please reference this toolkit and article on Identifying Bias in Performance Evaluations.

4. Per the following sections of the AIA Code of Ethics, emerging professionals need to be mentored, and given proper time and tools for professional development:

  • CANON V Obligations to Colleagues: Members should respect the rights and acknowledge the professional aspirations and contributions of their colleagues.
  • E.S.5.1 Professional Environment: Members should provide their colleagues and employees with a fair and equitable working environment, compensate them fairly, and facilitate their professional development.
  • E.S.5.2 Intern and Professional Development: Members should recognize and fulfill their obligation to nurture fellow professionals as they progress through all stages of their career, beginning with professional education in the academy, progressing through internship and continuing throughout their career.

The Case for Union Station Event Recap

On July 14th, the AIA Colorado Regional and Urban Design Knowledge Community hosted a panel event in reaction to the recent negative public discourse surrounding one of Denver’s most trafficked and iconic public spaces, Union Station. The event, called “The Effect of Public Policy Surrounding Design in Contested Public Space: The Case of Denver’s Union Station,” was engaging, insightful, and provided a valuable opportunity for design professionals to hear directly from stakeholders in Downtown Denver’s planning and transit communities.

Union Station is a sprawling entity, comprising the historic Great Hall, home to the Terminal Bar and Crawford Hotel, a train shed which serves as a hub for RTD light rail services, and an underground bus terminal, servicing both local and regional bus lines. The underground terminal in particular has been the subject of criticism in recent months, citing issues of safety and public drug use. RTD had to close the public restrooms in this section due to fears of Fentanyl contamination and has considered proposals to close the bus terminal to the public, only allowing ticket holders access.

The purpose of the panel discussion was to bring together public design and transit experts to help examine this issue through the lens of design. Can we as architects and designers propose a better solution for a more equitable transit-oriented public space?

Our panelists were four prominent Denver professionals with a passion for public transit. Ignacio Correa-Ortiz, chair of the R+UDKC and a senior architect and urban designer for RTD, opened the discussion with an overview of the history of Union Station and a summary of current design solutions proposed for the bus terminal. Debra A. Johnson, CEO of RTD-Denver, which owns Union Station, provided valuable insight into the day-to-day operations of public transit in Denver and RTD’s relationship with the communities it serves. Ken Schroeppel, Director of Urban Design at CU Denver College of Architecture and Planning, provided important context on the history of Urban Planning in Denver and the development of the modern Union Station. Andrew Iltis, Director of the Planning and Community Impact department at the Downtown Denver Partnership, expanded on the relationship between Denver tourism, the Business Improvement District, and Union Station.

The conversation began with a reflection on how the relationship between society and public space has been affected by the pandemic. Many news articles have cited the pandemic as the genesis of concerns over increasing levels of public drug use in the underground bus terminal, leading to fears that that the terminal is not safe for the average commuter. It is true that the during the pandemic, with stay-at-home orders in place, a void was created in our public spaces that was often filled by persons on the fringes of society. As Ignacio pointed out during the discussion, the spaces haven’t changed – the users of the space have. How do we diversify the users of public space while still providing an opportunity for prosperity to everyone?

Andrew was able to provide valuable data on how transit ridership dropped sharply in the wake of the pandemic and that the daily commuter traffic numbers have been picking up but not quite to pre-pandemic levels. However, tourism numbers in downtown are certainly back to pre-pandemic levels or higher as more and more people opt to engage in the various entertainments offered downtown. As Debra pointed out, “There is no such thing as a rush hour any longer.” Since so many people continue to work from home, we may not see the same peak hours that we have in the past, but that does not make the role of public transportation less critical. Transit isn’t dead, it just looks different.

As the discussion turned to solutions for the “problem,” panelists emphasized the balancing act RTD must navigate. Although their primary role is a provider of public transportation, Debra acknowledged that transportation is interwoven in the communities they serve, and they have a responsibility to engage the public when planning for the future. In Andrew’s experience, Denver is one of the most collaborative of cities between the public and private sector. One creative solution proposes the formation of a dedicated organization similar to the Times Square Alliance in NYC, which is a non-profit dedicated to maintaining Times Square as an engaging public space.

Of course, the question of who gets to use our public spaces will not be answered in a single panel discussion. It will require immense collaboration across organizations and disciplines. As designers, we must continue to engage in these discussions to provide our unique insight on how public space can be designed for equitable, enjoyable, and safe experiences for all members of society. Thank you again to all the panelists and AIA Colorado members who participated in our discussion!

One Question Series: Part 2, Breaking Down Barriers

What happens when you ask the same question to five designers with five different backgrounds? You get five very different answers that will put you in someone else’s shoes. From firm principals to emerging professionals, we’re diving in to better understand—and share—others’ personal perspectives. This is the second installment of the new monthly series—“One Question”—produced by our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) Committee. 

In partnership with the Colorado Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, we invite you to see through the lenses of five different practitioners to learn how their unique backgrounds shape experiences in the firm and their approaches to design.

How can we as a profession break down barriers for minorities in architecture?

Kari Lawson, Assoc. AIA
AIA Colorado Associate Director
Designer, TreanorHL

“We can always improve our ability to empathize with people from different backgrounds. A passion for architecture can begin at any time with any one person, and it is critical to value that perspective. It is also necessary to recognize that architecture is an important humanistic undertaking that affects the destiny of all.

Architecture often feels elitist whereas the quality of a designer is determined by their schooling and their professional network. Not every person has the resources and guidance to make it all the way to the finish line and often this disadvantage falls onto minorities. Meeting people where they are and fostering encouraging environments is hugely important. This country has a strong foothold in systematic segregation practices which has major impacts on access to education. Developing robust institutional partnerships within minority communities can help bridge this gap. We can improve the accessibility of our profession by tailoring support to include reducing inequalities of participation, bolstering scholarships, and establishing visibility of equal representation. Mentorship can be as simple as a conversation and there is a strong need for access/investment. Volunteering our time and knowledge to these communities can change the demographics of the architecture profession profoundly.

Recruitment incentives and bias practices have also had an overwhelming impact on architecture. The unpaid or non-livable wage internship can be a barrier of access for minority communities without the appropriate support systems. Poor advising has also affected who can and who cannot be a part of this occupation. A diverse profession requires professionals to become more aware of how attitudes and beliefs may stigmatize others and impact recruitment. Being intentional and conscious about the words and phrases used on the daily are also an important factor for fostering a diverse environment.

Another obstacle to overcome is avoiding the glass cliff, but first we must lay the groundwork for success. We are approaching a moment beyond the glass ceiling where more diverse and minority candidates are entering the field. The glass cliff is when these candidates are more likely to be pressed into leadership roles with high risks for failure without a secure support system or foundation. Strategic hiring of minorities during a firm’s crisis can be interpreted as exploitation. High expectations can induce an exaggeration of error which places significantly underrepresented minorities at a larger disadvantage compared to their peers. A lack of achievement may manifest into further bias in the future hiring of minorities and could create —or exacerbate— a toxic culture. It is important to build equitable relationships to promote an inclusive workplace from within so that the strategy for positioning is well thought out and genuine.

I understand that there is no one solution to the complicated problem of integration within our profession. We can approach diversity improvement by examining the tiers of education, recruitment, and professional advancement. Improving representation in the industry will ultimately yield better access to design with a rise in innovative and unique perspectives.”

Victor Gonzalez, Assoc. AIA, NOMA
AIA Colorado J.E.D.I. Committee Member + Editorial Representative
Davis Partnership Architects

“I believe that in order to start breaking down barriers for minorities in architecture we need to focus on education.

The first step in breaking down barriers for minorities in architecture is the acknowledgment and conversation of how systemic racism is present in the built environment and the profession. This step should be taken in the early phases of education and must be acknowledged throughout our architectural post-secondary education. Acknowledging how this issue is apparent in our industry helps provide some clarity on how systemic racism throughout architecture has affected minorities in the past and present. What this approach also accomplishes is a step towards combating the unconscious bias that transpires throughout professional practice towards minorities.

The issue of systemic racism and how it is apparent throughout architecture is not analyzed enough to make any progress towards a more inclusive profession. For that same reason it is the primary cause for why minorities in this profession continue to face the same barriers generation after generation. Having these difficult and uncomfortable conversations should not be looked over but be conducted in order to make any significant progress for minorities.”

Wells Squier, AIA
AIA Colorado President
Principal, Anderson Hallas Architects

“It is my opinion that diversity of experiences and perspectives contributes to better design. As a profession we must encourage and support more diversity to help us all address and respond in meaningful and effective ways to the unique challenges we are facing with regard to climate action and societal inequities that persist. I believe for all of us who care about our profession and its ongoing legacy, the future we will continue to define must consciously think about how to break down barriers wherever and however possible. We need a movement of change, where we all recognize the problem, commit to actions we can control, and affect measurable improvement. I also recognize the challenges and ambiguity of this statement. I believe this will need to happen on many different levels and scales.

We need to continue to recognize and celebrate the achievements of minority architects and expose minority youth to these achievements. We need to tell the stories of minority architects like Paul Revere Williams, Loise Harris Brown, Philip Freelon, and many others who persevered to achieve success in our profession, despite the many obstacles and challenges they faced. We must inspire more youth to follow in these footsteps, while seeking out ways to instill from a young age that the pursuit of architecture is an achievable path for them. For me, along with many others in the Denver architecture community, this has included volunteer work with elementary school aged kids where we introduce them to the profession of architecture and help them realize that this is an achievable aspiration for them.

As I discussed in my response to last month’s question, I was inspired to pursue architecture from a young age due to exposure, and I never wavered in my own focus to achieve that goal. How can we collectively help inspire younger people who otherwise might not have the exposure to our profession from a young age? How do we create these opportunities for inspiration? I believe the answer (or at least a significant part of the answer) to this month’s question must include a broader discussion of how we as professionals can connect with minority youth to inspire, challenge, and support them from an early age. I also believe this is a responsibility of all of us who are passionate about our profession and who have the opportunity to open doors for others within our practices.”

Patricia Joseph, AIA, NOMA
Project Designer at Cuningham
President-Elect of NOMA Colorado
Lecturer, CU Denver College of Architecture & Planning

“As a profession, we break down barriers for minorities in architecture when we all, individually, engage in doing so. We as designers of the built environment need to stand up for what we believe is right, especially in the workplace where it is easy to hide behind company decisions. It takes consistent, persistent change to break down the barriers that have defined our practice and have held back minorities for so long. Yes, many barriers still exist and are being created, from systemic to targeted levels, and the individual can make those types of barriers thrive. We all have a voice, whether it is for this mission or inadvertently for something else, and we should employ it for the sake of others. We need allies who can remain honest to their dedication to change and to practicing the change that will allow minorities to overcome. We cannot waiver when our commitment to making equitable spaces is tested. We cannot waiver when a new policy in our office only works for the majority, when a POC interviewing for a new position does not make “the culture fit,” or when we forget our colleague’s pronouns again. If we all follow through with the subtle, delicate parts of breaking these barriers down, we will change the profession of architecture for everyone.

On a firm level, there are many things we can do. We can commit to creating transparent promotion processes, sponsor minorities financially for career-building opportunities outside of our minority networks, and actually pay our employees for the time needed to participate in initiatives being put in place to change this profession. When it comes time to support your community through outreach, like NOMA’s Project Pipeline, play an active role in organizing, and be there to patch the holes in the pipeline. As a profession, we can be accountable to our organizations when we are following through or not, no matter what level of leadership or years of experience.

We will break down barriers when we stop putting them up. It is easy to be complacent and comfortable continuing the way we practice and accepting the current conditions challenging our minorities within the profession. We should continue to question the structure of this industry and the motivations around our traditional work cultures. The profession should not seek to forget the past; it should remain woke to what it has learned from listening to and believing our BIPOC community. To continue breaking down barriers, we should remember that everyone has a place in architecture. We must never forget architecture is for everyone; we all have a relationship with the built environment, and there are barriers architects should never design to build.”

Sarah Broughton, FAIA
AIA Colorado President-Elect
Principal, Rowland+Broughton

“Barriers for minorities in architecture can be broken down by increasing exposure to what architecture is starting very early. Our firm is involved with the CAL Program (Cleworth Architectural Legacy Project) in Denver that exposes diverse dual language and minority K-8 classrooms to architecture education, inspiring learners to think critically about our built environment. This early hands-on experience fosters possibilities and dreams. The exposure must continue and the curtain be pulled back, casting a wide net into our communities and populations. I remember as a senior in high school, I approached my calculus teacher with a list of professions. He took the time to listen to me and understand my aptitudes and suggested that architecture was a good fit. How can we partner with high schools to make architecture well known and a profession that is viable and meaningful to their students? How do we partner with community programs to embrace diversity and expose the greater population to architecture? One example is the work my firm does with the Aspen Art Museum on a series of workshops on architecture that are open to all community members and give visibility to our profession.

A huge barrier to our profession is the cost of education. We need to continue to hire and write our job descriptions to allow for bachelor’s degrees and on the job training as the prerequisite for advancement. Too often, I speak with emerging professionals who think that the path to licensing and a career in architecture is through more education (and often suffocating debt). We need to be open to various paths, openly discuss them, and provide multiple examples of how to achieve success as an architect.

We as a profession need to continue to be open and collaborative. Architecture is about people and problem solving. By increasing visibility of what we do and how we do it, it will inspire dreams and continue to encourage architects to remain in the profession. We need to give permission to participate and ask questions. We need to refrain from preaching what it was like when we started in the profession (times have changed, that is inevitable). We need to encourage multiple viewpoints and paths to a fulfilling architectural career. We need to be generous with our mentoring and telling our story, because our journeys are diverse and hopefully your journey inspires the next architect to jump in!”

We invite you to read or revisit Question #1 of the series: “Describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences.”

We’d like to extend our sincere gratitude to our One Question participants for their vulnerability and humility. You can expect to hear more from them over the course of the next four months as we continue this monthly series, culminating with a live panel discussion reflecting on this project at the AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference, November 2-4, 2022, in Keystone.

J.E.D.I. Resource Share: A’22 Conference Recap

This month, the resources team of the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) Committee caught up with our committee co-chair, Ely Merheb, AIA, who shared with us her experience at the recent national AIA Conference on Architecture in Chicago. Read on as Merheb shares her takeaways from the annual signature event and don’t forget to check out two more articles highlighting the newest AIA leaders, Lakisha Woods and Kimberly Dowdell, included after the recap.

Who was the most inspirational keynote speaker from a J.E.D.I. perspective? What J.E.D.I. action takeaways can firms implement?

It is so hard to choose! I think the most inspirational aspect of all keynotes, and of the conference in general, was that J.E.D.I. was central to all. Lakisha Woods, CAE, the newly appointed AIA CEO, really set the tone for the event on day one in her conversation with Julia Gamolina. Her appointment demonstrates that AIA is prioritizing diversity, not only in terms of race and gender, but also in terms of practice because Woods is an expert in business and association management as a Certified Association Executive (CAE). I encourage everyone to read her most recent interview published in Architect and the session recap to learn about her intentions of listening and implementing change through the AIA Strategic Plan, while prioritizing retention and organizational value.

The second keynote, a panel moderated by Lee Bey with Jeanne Gang, FAIA, Vishaan Chakrabarti, FAIA, and Renée Cheng, FAIA, was also incredibly dynamic and challenging. They were not afraid to talk candidly about the challenges faced by the profession while remaining optimistic. They see a future where architects “run into the burning building” – or burning planet – by bringing our thinking and talents into development and politics so that we can amplify our ability to effect positive change. “Thunderous silence”, as Whitney M. Young Jr. said, is not an option.

Former President Barack Obama was the closing keynote and, undoubtedly, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The conversation also centered around J.E.D.I. from his early beginnings as a community organizer to the goals for The Obama Presidential Center in Chicago. AIA President Dan Hart, FAIA, closed the conversation by asking about his lessons in leadership, and Obama had three main points, which he believes are applicable to any type of leader and organization:

  1. Build a culture that empowers the team to do the best we can and be our best version. We must be predisposed to empower and invest in team success. Hold ourselves and the team accountable.
  2. Do not get hung up on hierarchy. Know and send a signal to those who do the work (usually the ones in the back of the room). Everyone counts.
  3. We need diversity of ideas — not just diverse people. One doesn’t guarantee the other. Set up a rigorous process to make good decisions by including different perspectives. It’s not a chore or charity to be more inclusive; it will make us better even though it might make us uncomfortable.

This wasn’t a specific J.E.D.I. conference, but can you describe how these topics were woven throughout the conference and impacted your experience?

Though the conference wasn’t specifically J.E.D.I. themed, to me it felt integral to the entire event — as it should as one of the association’s imperatives. It was at the forefront of all the keynote conversations, all the sessions I attended, and even in the event planning. For example, it was very thoughtful and grounding how all the keynote sessions featured Chicagoans introducing, moderating, or animating the sessions. Some of the standouts for me were a graceful Native American prayer dance, a children’s choir that greeted attendees the second morning, the message from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and Lee Bey’s contributions. Even the expo felt more communal, as it was purposefully organized to prioritize chance encounters and used Chicago neighborhoods for wayfinding while describing their unique character. I met a lot of wonderful people, both planned and unplanned. It was especially enriching to meet the Next to Lead participants, a pilot leadership program that removes barriers to AIA leadership positions.

In addition to the conference, what other experiences in Chicago were impactful?

Chicago was a great host city and the conference planners did a great job in contextualizing and grounding the event with the richness of the city. I enjoyed a free concert at the Millennium Park Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a boat tour, the Riverwalk and some great restaurants, but my visit to Wrightwood 659 was particularly impactful. It is a new exhibition space to contemplate socially engaged art and architecture in a 1920s building that was transformed by Tadao Ando. All the exhibits were thought provoking but two were particularly poignant and timely.

  • In “Who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green”, Rirkrit Tiravanija blends community and activism by inviting us to share a bowl of curry while observing local artists draw images of civil protests on the walls. From anti-government protests in Bangkok to Chicago’s Black Lives Matters marches, from gun rights to women’s rights, it was a dense yet safe space to contemplate these events.
  • We Shall Defy: Shahidul Alam” also sheds light on activism. It’s focus is on Bangladesh where “Despite the climate of fear, the arrests, disappearances, extra judicial killings, torture and death, people still resist.” The images and text by Alam and his creative partners illustrate the life and consequences of an activist in a different country without the protections of the first amendment. I found the following shlok – or verse in Bangla – an incredible lesson in resilience and allyship: 

“I don’t want to be your icon of poverty or a sponge for your guilt. My identity is for me to build, in my own image. You’re welcome to walk beside me, but don’t stand in front to give me a helping hand. You’re blocking the sun.”

Shahidul Alam

Interesting in further reading? Learn more about AIA CEO Lakisha Woods and AIA National 2023 First VP/2024 President-elect Kimberly Dowell:

Architect Magazine Q+A: A Deep Dive with Lakisha Woods

Kimberly Dowdell on her time as NOMA president and the importance of diversity in architecture

For those who missed the national AIA Conference, save the dates of November 2-4 for the AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference in Keystone.

One Question Series: Part 1, Diversity Exposure

What happens when you ask the same question to five designers with five different backgrounds? You get five very different answers that will put you in someone else’s shoes. From firm principals to emerging professionals, we’re diving in to better understand—and share—others’ perspectives. It’s a new monthly series—“One Question”—produced by our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) Committee. 

In partnership with the Colorado Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, we invite you to see through the lenses of five different practitioners to learn how their unique backgrounds shape experiences in the firm and their approaches to design.

Describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences.

Sarah Broughton, FAIA
AIA Colorado President-Elect
Principal, Rowland+Broughton

“Curiosity is the root of creativity. I have always been curious and ask a lot of questions. This allows me to listen to everyone around me and to seek out opinions. It also adds in lots of observations! College was a huge exposure to the world of design. Upon graduation, I won a design competition and was awarded an internship with EDAW (now AECOM) in their Sydney, Australia, office under the helm of a great female leader, Jacinta McCann. Jacinta took me to meetings and gave me responsibility. She showed me how to be an equal design partner. 

After Australia, I moved to New York City. I landed a job with Kliment Halsband Architects. I immediately started working with Frances Halsband, FAIA, who at the time, had already been New York’s first female AIA President and was continuing to trailblaze women in architecture. Frances taught me how to dig deep and be a comprehensive designer. Through more practice and understanding, my contributions became more valuable. My interest was met with openness and knowledge sharing.

I continue to draw on the lessons these great women leaders gave to me and am thankful for their mentorship and patience to train me. Through living in great, diverse metropolitan cities to being an avid traveler meeting new people and cultures, my career continues to be enhanced. I remain curious, ask a lot of questions, and seek multiple viewpoints and experiences—always with the intention of being more open and contributing.”

Kari Lawson, Assoc. AIA
AIA Colorado Associate Director
Designer, TreanorHL

“Diversity is not a matter of opinion for me—it is my entire life and my cultural outlook. My experience as a Black woman in this industry has exposed me to many different opportunities where I’ve needed to acclimate to foreign environments. I’ve always interpreted these instances as a positive in my growth and molding in my career. My studies at Auburn were the catalyst and most impactful to this exposure.

I recall participating in an interdisciplinary charrette with landscape designer Walter Hood for a Birmingham farmers market. This was the first time I had worked with designers who looked like me. I most remember the passion and explorative creative thought in the question: ‘What if?’ A light came on in my head, and the energy of the work was finally palpable. I had become accustomed to believing in my ideas or myself as the garnish or side dish to the main event. Yet in a single moment, I realized that there is validity in my thought process and how depriving sharing these expressions is only a detriment to the creative problem solving required. This is one example where my only wish was that I was more insightful, more involved, and more confident. I came away from it with the idea to ‘leave it all on the table.’

Currently, I don’t have as many opportunities to get that kind of exposure, but I realize I can be that experience or person for others. It brings me to a position as a contributor, which is incredibly important and necessary. My diverse experiences have empowered me in that while my place at the table revolves, the importance of contributing my thoughts remains just as important.”

Victor Gonzalez, Assoc. AIA, NOMA
AIA Colorado J.E.D.I. Committee Member + Editorial Representative
Davis Partnership Architects

“Experiencing diverse people, places, and experiences have allowed me to not only escape from my comfort zone, but also explore how unique and different perspectives can enhance the world.

In relation to architecture, oftentimes, there is a high level of comfort in staying within what is taught in American, post-secondary architecture education. Unfortunately, this does not allow us to see beyond what other cultures have done with the built environment to enhance the human experience. I think that, as a practice, there still needs to be a level of exposure to this.

Oftentimes being a minority in the profession of architecture has allowed me to tap into my own identity and cultural background. Being Mexican, I often think about how my identity can be reflected throughout my work. The practice of architecture stems from an architectural education that is primarily focused on American and Eurocentric examples, and this foundation fails to bring in other enriching examples that are non-western.

Throughout my college education, I found myself bringing influence into my studio projects from the Aztec and Mayan people. These civilizations brought about significant architectural achievements that were rarely taught about in my college education. Whenever I would explain this inspiration behind my projects my peers would be fascinated and shocked that they had not heard about these architectural feats before and even ask for resources where they could possibly learn more. What I learned from this experience was that although I was many times the only minority in the room, my cultural background, perspectives, and experiences would contribute so much to those around me. To me, this experience demonstrated that diversity is a contribution in itself, and it has the potential to contribute to an environment.

As I have now kicked off my professional career, I hope that I can continue to share my cultural experiences with my colleagues.”

Wells Squier, AIA
AIA Colorado President
Principal, Anderson Hallas Architects

“My father led a retail store planning design firm, where he worked on projects throughout North America. When I was young, I would spend a lot of time in his office, where my interest and passion for architecture started. My father was my greatest inspiration when I was young, and because of his affinity for design, our home was full of many mid-century classic furniture pieces and books related to design and architecture. This exposure allowed me, in some ways, to start the pursuit of education toward the architectural career I was so focused to achieve before I reached the age of 10. However, my father’s inspiration upon me, in retrospect, was devoid of much diversity. I mention this background, because today, we are discussing critically how to enhance diversity and equity in our profession, and it is not lost on me that the road I followed to become an architect was a much easier path to navigate than it has been for so many others. 

International travel and time spent studying abroad during college and in the years since continue to have an immense impact on my career, due to the immersion in different cultures it provided. A broad global perspective is something so important to us as architects. With that said, it really wasn’t until I moved to Chicago for work that I was exposed to widely diverse people who truly enhanced my career so significantly. Almost immediately upon starting my position with SOM I experienced immense humility. The rigor, intensity, and talent of those I found myself working with caused me to realize how limited my experiences and exposure to diversity had been in the developmental years of my career.  I was so fortunate to work with talented men and women of all backgrounds and ethnicities, including Korea, Serbia, China, the Netherlands, the list goes on. These were some of the hardest working people I had ever interacted with professionally, and I learned so very much from them—lessons I reflect on regularly to this day. In some ways, I think I knew my path to the desk in that office was a bit smoother than the path many of my friends and colleagues at that firm had to follow to get to that same place, and this weighed on me, but in a way that made me a better architect and person. Because of this, I was inspired to work harder to earn their appreciation and respect, aside from their friendship I valued so much, while also gaining a greater appreciation for the struggles they had to overcome to achieve their professional goals. These experiences continue to push me harder today and to never take anything for granted. We have an immense responsibility as architects—and the profession demands that we all seek our highest potential—for the betterment of others and the planet.”

Patricia Joseph, AIA, NOMA
Project Designer at Cuningham
President-Elect of NOMA Colorado
Lecturer, CU Denver College of Architecture & Planning

My career has been enhanced most recently by exposure to diverse people within the profession. I know distinctively how my career has flourished during times when I had high exposure to diverse professionals within the architecture community. Those diverse experiences have exposed my career to new opportunities and events I would likely not have considered or taken. Spending time with those who are different than I am is a diverse experience each time, most often happening in diverse places.

When I attended grad school at SCI-Arc for my master’s degree, I had the best time in my life, and I was in love with architecture. My colleagues and I would speak different languages and we shared our cultural dishes, sometimes right in studio. By being different individuals, we all leaned into our uniqueness, allowing us to learn architecture in our own ways without shame or denial. While I excelled, I was surrounded by diversity, I was also being taught by the most diverse group of educators in my life. My professors spoke multiple languages, and they were women, too. Experiencing architecture through this diverse lens elevated my thoughts on education and who can be an educator. I am a lecturer at the College of Architecture and Planning at University of Colorado Denver, because of the example I was shown where the value of one’s ideas and understandings around architectural education were not linked to one’s outward identifiers.

Another season of tremendous growth happened most recently when I obtained licensure while I was co-founding the NOMA Colorado Chapter. At a time where I should have no extra time or energy for other things outside of work, I found myself constantly inspired by the growing number of diverse professionals I was becoming acquainted with. Gathering so many diverse individuals who believed in the mission was motivation to get through the architectural registration exams. I have been thriving in the company of those who have diverse experiences to share and who have been enhanced by those experiences themselves. Now, we are dreaming and planning events around growing the next generation of architects. My career in architecture involves thinking about diverse experiences to jumpstart someone else’s career in architecture with Project Pipeline Summer Camps. I know how much my career has been enhanced by being in diverse places and I want that for the next Black woman architect, too.

Constant exposure to someone, somewhere, or something different lends us to constant reminders to be open minded, to think differently, to design differently—that’s the enhancement. And as architects—that’s the career.

We’d like to extend our sincere gratitude to our One Question participants for their vulnerability and humility. You can expect to hear more from them over the course of the next four months as we continue this monthly series, culminating with a live panel discussion reflecting on this project at the AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference, November 2-4, 2022, in Keystone.

Year in Review with the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee

Chairs Janna Ferguson, AIA, and Kaci Taylor, AIA

In 2021, the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) Committee was led by co-chairs Janna Ferguson, AIA, Partner at Pyatt Studio (left), and Kaci Taylor, AIA, Founder of THE5WH (right). This year marked the second year where committee goals focused on improving firm culture by incorporating J.E.D.I. practices into action. In addition, the committee addressed the accessibility of architecture education and how to best serve marginalized communities throughout Colorado. The committee also presented and engaged this work by actively hosting webinars that assisted in cultivating a culture of belonging throughout the practice. We caught up with Taylor and Ferguson to learn more about their experiences as the co-chairs this past year and how they best served the Colorado community.

What initially drew you to this group?

Kaci Taylor (KT): I was curious to see the direction in which AIA was approaching J.E.D.I. issues.

Janna Ferguson (JF): I was originally interested in being an AIA volunteer in general as a way to meet other professionals in Colorado and advocate for needed change within the profession. I chose the J.E.D.I. Committee to continue my personal commitment to be an advocate for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

How has this committee grown or changed since you initially got involved?

JF: To me, 2020 was a year for brainstorming ideas and projects we could pursue as a committee. It has taken shape into a committee with goals that are multi-faceted: (1) to improve J.E.D.I practices within the profession, starting with increasing awareness, understanding, and providing support for firms to take action; and (2) to introduce the architectural profession and education programs to underserved populations in K-12 schools and colleges.

What are some of the accomplishments this year you are most proud of?

KT: We hosted a great webinar series this summer that focused on J.E.D.I. issues.

JF: The three webinars led by the committee were very successful. It is also very exciting to see the Architecture Pathways map published on AIA Colorado’s website.

What do you think is the biggest contribution that this committee brings to the Colorado architecture community?

KT: We are trying to position ourselves as a resource for community growth within the profession, a place for others to come to if they have questions or need direction as to how to implement policies, procedures, and even design focusing around J.E.D.I. topics.

JF: In the wake of the murder of George Floyd in 2020, conversations about justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the United States seemed to take over; it is crucial that these conversations and the efforts that come from them continue to be at the forefront of our thinking. I think the J.E.D.I. committee can continue to both continue the conversation within the architecture community and work on projects that work toward lasting change.

As AIA Colorado strives to create a culture of belonging, what steps have you taken to reach beyond Denver?

KT: Through our virtual webinar series, we had the opportunity to reach every AIA member in Colorado.

JF: Pyatt Studio is located in Boulder; I’ve participated in, and will continue to participate in, the North section social events along with other committee members.

What are some immediate and long-term plans we can hope to see from the committee?

KT: More learning events and hopefully more integration with other committees and how they can bring J.E.D.I. practices and thoughts to their work, as well.

JF: Immediately, the committee can focus internally, increasing our awareness as individuals and as a group about J.E.D.I issues. In the long term, I truly hope the committee can help lead the Colorado community to a more just, equitable, and diverse place.

What one thing do you wish the membership and profession at large knew about this topic or what your committee is doing?

KT: That this work isn’t a check-the-box type of work and that you are never done learning and re-evaluating. The focus on J.E.D.I should not be to make yourself look good but to actually be and DO good with the knowledge gained in learning about J.E.D.I. issues.

JF: Overall, I wish that the efforts to increase J.E.D.I. were less focused on performance or participation and more focused on implementing actual change. For example, having a J.E.D.I. committee or serving on that committee in itself is not enough. It is performative. It is crucial to take the next step, creating and maintaining—through policy/programs—positive change.

Webinar Recap: Designing for Equity

The division is still here. It divides and stifles. Inequity permeates our Colorado built environment. The haves and have nots in design and development are overwhelming to those who eyewitness barriers and hopelessness. For those who do not understand this, listen, consider, collaborate, and design. But how can architects help overcome this current inequity in design? All that and more was discussed during a recent AIA Colorado and NOMA Colorado joint webinar, “Designing for Equity: Our Responsibility to Create Inclusive Environments.”

Panelists included:

  • Nita Gonzales, M.ED., Principal, Nuevo Amanecer, LLC
  • Shalini Agrawal, Founder and Principal of Public Design for Equity and Director of Programs for Open Architecture Collaborative and Pathways to Equity
  • Dee Dee Devuyst, Acting Executive Director, Radian

The panel was co-moderated by Kaci Taylor, AIA, NOMA, and Patricia Joseph, Assoc. AIA, NOMA.

To understand architectural inequities today, one must go back decades and generations to understand a broader context. Consider these opposing ideas dealing with inequity… home ownership versus renting, generational wealth versus hourly minimum wage, and loan acceptance versus loan rejections. 

Redlining in Denver from the early to mid-1900s involved denying home loans to minorities based on living in the “red-lined” disadvantaged (or risky investment) areas of Denver. This practice perpetuated itself with minorities not having generational wealth accumulated by home ownership; therefore, renting was the most likely option for minority descendants. Lack of home ownership affects influence and standing in communities, which directly impacts zoning, development, and building usages. Said Gonzales, “The equity lens for Denver is disappointing and frustrating. For example, grocery and early childhood deserts exists in lower income neighborhoods.” Privileged communities are not faced with these challenges. 

“We are trained to be creative problem solvers. Lean in with this skill.”

  • Shalini Agrawal
  • Furthermore, a decades-long trend of gentrification negatively impacts minority communities. If we consider the dictionary’s definition, gentrification is described as a process in which a poor area (as of a city) experiences an influx of middle-class or wealthy people who renovate and rebuild homes and businesses and which often results in an increase in property values and the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents. Gentrification may appear to benefit many, but the reality is a stark contrast that pushes out individuals and families who are not resourced well. And it’s back to renting in substandard neighborhoods. 

    What are some practical steps architects and design stakeholders can incorporate to mitigate a racially divided built environment? First, designers need to become more intentional in connecting with under-represented neighborhoods. “Walk the community. Risk the chance of meeting people in the community,” Gonzales said. “Balance form with function [in design] with the land and not to control the land.”

    Next, take an “Equity Pause.” “Air a question. Make space for listening,” said Agrawal. Be curious. Listen to people and their concerns. Taylor added that what we see is not by accident—it is by design. Use a different lens and an organic approach in architectural design. 

    Finally, do what architects do best—solve complex problems. Agrawal said, “We are trained to be creative problem solvers. Lean in with this skill.” With this in mind, understand from the community’s point of view the effects of your design. Devuyst added, “How are we causing more harm? Is this project going to unintentionally promote gentrification?” 

    Authenticity goes a long way. Don’t patronize. Hire help within the community. “Move from transactional to relational,” said Agrawal. “And move at the speed of trust.” 

    Architects make generational decisions that may last over 100 years. Let’s listen, consider, and design buildings that yield positive outcomes for everyone. Challenge yourself to walk a neighborhood and fully understand its culture and its people, as well as its cost-benefit. That’s a legacy built on listening and designing a built environment that solves complex problems with mutually beneficial outcomes, ultimately helping to unite people together. 

    Webinar Recap: Turning Words into Action

    Change can be hard. Sustentative change requires awareness, comprehension, big ideas, intentional conversations, and consistent work toward goals.  

    AIA Colorado has made justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (J.E.D.I.) one of its top imperatives, expanding its reach to more people and building a generational legacy of new architects and designers who will design a built environment that will reflect our multi-cultures and provide an opportunity for anyone to dream of a career in architecture.

    And in support of that imperative, the organization has been partnering with the National Organization of Minority Architects, NOMA Colorado, to produce a series of J.E.D.I. webinars this summer. The most recent was “Turning Words into Action: J.E.D.I. Resources to Create Meaningful Change.” 

    Panelists included:

    • Abby Tourtellotte, AIA, LEED AP BD+C – Quinn Evans
    • Kevin M. Holland, FAIA, NOMAC, LEED AP – AIA Los Angeles
    • Lauren Malik – Thought Ensemble
    • Mary-Margaret Zindren, CAE – AIA Minnesota

    So how does one create meaning change in their daily life, firm, and with their sphere of influence?
    First, realize that each person has the influence and power to change his or her environment. Working from home or using a hybrid method is an example of the workforce being a catalyst for change. Don’t expect those around you to necessarily spur change. Create a space for respectful dialogue and be prepared to engage more meaningfully if needed.

    Second, identify the barriers to effectively incorporate change. Said Tourtellotte, “One of the biggest barriers is fear. Take a stance.” But do act humbly and take feedback if there are missteps. “See something. Say something,” she said. 
    Next, invite an understanding of terminology and words brought up in discussions. “Get on the same page on the meaning of terms,” said Malik. These words could be equity, inclusion, racism, bias, and unconscious bias, among others. She later said this dialogue will open the door to an even deeper conversation. 

    Another step is to spur leaders to become aware and have intentional conversations toward change. Budget and time will point towards what is valued. “Show me your budget and it will tell me what you value,” said Holland.

    Does the employee handbook create the ability to expand J.E.D.I. concepts into change at your firm? Do annual reviews reflect justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion goals? Maybe your hiring procedures and policies need to be updated. Do your billable hours offer a J.E.D.I. category? Each of these practices reflect meaningful change. Is your firm ready to make these changes. 

    Finally, consider establishing a baseline J.E.D.I. data point and tracking quantitative progress with qualitative meaning. Assign tasks for different J.E.D.I. categories and provide quarterly reports. Preset findings to your entire company, customers, and clients. But make sure this data tracking leads to meaningful conversation and change. Be authentic. As Zindren said, “Be a culture of candor. Know it because you feel it.”

    AIA Colorado champions these changes, as creating a larger table for everyone to gather, converse, and design yields a better Colorado and community. Please listen to this webinar and join the J.E.D.I. conversation!

    © AIA Colorado 2024
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