02.20.04 Black History Month
“We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history.”
–Carter Woodson (1875-1950), on founding Negro History Week, 1926
Negro History Week, first celebrated in February 1926, has since become Black History Month. One ongoing challenge with Black History Month is precisely that many people don’t make the distinction Mr. Woodson made and thus have a low level of personal interest in what they think of as “Black History” or “Black Experience.”
The architecture profession and the AIA in particular are sometimes dismissed as a bunch of “old white men.” If you want to use that epithet (stereotypical in its own right) as an excuse to be ambivalent toward the primary representation of our profession to the public, you should consider reviewing the extensive resources provided online by the AIA’s own Diversity Committee. Those resources include the content of today’s issue of ArchVoices.
In conjunction with the well-attended “20/20 Vision” conference last fall, the AIA Diversity Committee and the Boston Society of Architects compiled a series of twenty essays about the profession and diversity within it. The 20 on 20/20 Vision publication, made possible by and available for purchase through the BSA, is a landmark accomplishment in and of itself. And both the BSA and the Diversity Committee have been enthusiastic about helping ArchVoices make those essays available to you and to the rest of the profession electronically. We should also acknowledge that one of ArchVoices’ primary editors currently serves on the AIA Diversity Committee and one of the essays included in the publication earned an honorable mention in our 2003 ArchVoices Essay Competition.
A powerful introduction to the publication is included below, and followed by links to the complete essays for you to access at your convenience and over time. But we also strongly encourage you to order a print version of the full publication to read at your leisure. Because it’s not just about the history of a few people, it’s about our profession’s history–and it’s about your future.
To paraphrase Bob Marley, “In this great future, we can’t forget our past.” Today’s issue of ArchVoices is about the future. Even while it’s about the past….
1. Introduction to 20 on 20/20 Vision
2. Links to 20 on 20/20 Vision Contents
3. Link to AIA Diversity Committee Webpage & Resources
1. Isolation and Diversity in Architecture
By Theodore Landsmark, Esq., PhD, Assoc. AIA
Chair, AIA Diversity Committee
President, Boston Architectural Center
I first dreamed of being an architect when I was a small black kid growing up with my mother in Harlem’s public housing projects. I knew intuitively that environments shaped personal identities, and that identities could shape environments. I felt that I might design more humane living environments for poor but hard-working people whose cultural contributions to New York were well recognized but whose contributions as designers of their environments were thought to be negligible.
By the spring of 1968, I was at Yale College thinking more broadly about a career in architecture, city planning, or law. I had met black lawyers, urban planners and physicians, but had never heard of a black architect and I wondered what it would be like to continue to spend my life being perceived as “the first Negro” in my field. Only 16 blacks had entered my freshman class of 1050 new students in 1964, and I had graduated in the first class of blacks at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire. As an undergraduate, I had met then-Urban League Executive Director, Whitney Young Jr., and I had spoken with him about my concerns on entering a field (architecture) where only 1% of the licensed professionals were African American. We had discussed the loneliness of working within an isolating profession, the rewards of breaking new ground, and the satisfactions of doing important work for people I cared about–people who looked like me and shared my cultural perceptions.
In the end, I enrolled first in Yale’s law school, and then developed a concurrent program with the architecture school. I wanted to focus primarily on content-based intellectual challenges more than on the symbolic victories that too often characterize the work of career trailblazers. An architecture school incident sealed my decision to enter the practice of law, rather than architecture. A classmate invited my wife and me to her wedding and her Boston architect father balked because the reception was being held at a local country club that did not welcome blacks. Our friend threatened to cancel the reception; we went, and I was left wondering how courageous architects were at confronting discrimination. Would they stand up for me with a client or supplier who might be biased? Would other minority or women design school graduates enter different professions because they saw few long-term career opportunities in architecture firms that tolerated discrimination? Finding mentors as an emerging black professional seemed important, as my sole black architecture school faculty member had stoutly defended my graduation as a non-traditional architecture and law student. I subsequently elected to work for a Boston law firm that represented the majority of architects in the area, and ironically, found myself doing legal work for the bride’s father’s firm.
My career since has tracked between the two professions, and while I maintain my license as an attorney, I never practiced architecture. I am torn between believing that I made the correct career choice because my professional growth has been dramatic through law and education, or the wrong choice because I could have had some impact on changing the racial and gender dynamics of the most recalcitrant of America’s professions. It has been reported that fewer African Americans are enrolled in our leading architecture schools today than in 1970. Today, 40% of black architecture school graduates are from the half-dozen historically black college and university programs, suggesting that the majority of our 116 accredited programs are doing relatively little to recruit and nurture the next generations of architects of color. While women constitute half of our architecture school students, they represent less than 20% of licensed practitioners. We have much work to do to be more inclusive. When I became Chair of the AIA Diversity Committee in 2002, I read for the first time Whitney Young’s speech to the 1968, 100th Anniversary AIA convention, where he chastised the profession for its 1% African American participation. I was stunned to read his reference to a young, soon-to-graduate black Yale student, and realized that his reference was probably to my struggle with career choices. I was more shocked to confront the reality that although 35 years have elapsed, the profession I value and continue to serve has made only marginal progress from that 1% profile. I have grown and changed, as has most of the post-modern world, but the profession of architecture has not.
The thoughtful essays in this publication should move us beyond the lamentations of what ought to have happened in the past 35 years, to the kinds of substantive actions that can change architecture in the coming decades. They address the need for more consistent tracking data, describe models for recruiting more women, minorities and professionals with disabilities, and underline the need for better internships and mentoring. The strategies addressing our continuing pattern of homogeneity are put forth with solid data, cogent reasoning, and passion. Law and medicine did not begin to accept significantly more minorities and women overnight. The need to meet market demands, an understanding that different perspectives bring richness to professional discussions, and the simple recognition that intellect, creativity and hard work are not the exclusive province of white males have diversified law and medicine while architecture has remained largely unchanged.
Implementing the solutions outlined here will require personal, as well as institutional commitments. New York Times critic Herbert Muschamp observed that architects are “talented people drawn to this highly social art precisely because they are truly comfortable only with inanimate objects and abstract ideas.”1 Research by Boston psychologist Dr. Natalie K. Kamper suggests that people drawn into architecture tend to focus more on completing creative tasks than on developing social skills. Carnegie Foundation researcher Lee Mitgang lamented, “…a sense of disconnection–between architects and other disciplines on campus, and between the two separate worlds of architecture education and practice. Architecture students and faculty at many schools seem isolated, socially and intellectually, from the mainstream of campus life.”2 If we look hard in the mirror, we can see that architecture’s recalcitrance to diversity is often based in what could easily be interpreted as personal, deep-rooted, patronizing, misogynistic and autocratic class, ethnic, and gender biases that have produced decades of inaction and privileged discrimination by omission. Architects have developed a not-entirely-unfair reputation for being heroically stubborn in sticking to their ways and ideas. If our persistent recalcitrance to open this profession continues, some of my minority and women students today will look back in 17 years, and again raise the question of what virtues we sustain by isolating our profession from the realities of the world around us.
Will the essays in this text influence how architects think about our profession as much as the works of Alexander, Boyer, Campbell, Cuff, Eisenman, Gropius, Jacobs, Jencks, Kostoff, Le Corbusier, Mumford, Scully, Venturi, or Vitruvius? Authors such as these have become the canon of design pedagogy and structure, and few have addressed the issue of diversity. Few women or minority authors are counted within this canon. If we believe our profession benefits from being of the world we serve, as well as in it, and if we honestly implement some of the recommendations here, then the answer is yes, we can change to adapt to a new demographic environment. If we intend to serve increasingly diverse clients competently, we must diversify our professional ranks. To fail to do so is tantamount to projecting the image that multiple design identities are not a necessary component of addressing diverse client needs, and that our work is irrelevant to the vast majority of people who now constitute the world’s population.
I am particularly grateful to John Anderson FAIA, the 2001 President of the American Institute of Architects, for making this issue a high priority. He responded positively to a request from Paul Taylor AIA, as President of the National Organization of Minority Architects, for a meeting to address the difficulties of tracking inconsistent statistical data on who enters our profession and how, and on why so few minorities and women survive the arduous path toward licensure and sustained professional success.
Staff members Nancy Jenner at the Boston Society of Architects, and Kristi Graves at the American Institute of Architects, have been magnificent in driving the Diversity Committee to produce a significant 2003 Diversity Conference linked with the annual BuildBoston trade show and convention, and to produce this volume of thoughtful essays, which was edited by our scholarly colleague, Linda Kiisk, AIA.
We can do better. With the 35 year-old words of the late Whitney Young still echoing, I thank my peers who are committed to increasing diversity. Paraphrasing the young black man referenced in Whitney Young’s talk, I implore this profession to “become more relevant; he wanted you to begin to speak out as a profession; he wanted to see more Negroes in his own classroom, he wanted to see more Negro teachers. He wanted educators to get involved in the community around them.” Like that young man three decades ago, I want this profession, as it looks forward to 2020, to meet the real needs of the society we serve by actively engaging with and including many more of the people who are that diverse society.
1 Herbert Muschamp, “When the Ultimate Monument Isn’t a Building,” New York Times, 11/9/2003,
2 Lee D. Mitgang, in Ernest L. Boyer & Lee D. Mitgang, Building Community: A New Future for
Architecture Education and Practice. Princeton: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of
Teaching, 1996, Preface, p. xvii.
2. Links to 20 on 20/20 Vision Contents
Download Entire Publication as a PDF
Introduction: Isolation and Diversity in Architecture
By Theodore Landsmark, Esq., PhD, Assoc. AIA
By Linda Kiisk, AIA
Unedited transcript of the speech made to the American Institute of Architects in 1968
By Whitney M. Young, Jr.
Remarks made at the 2003 American Institute of Architects Annual Leadership & Legislative Conference
By Freeman A. Hrabowki, III
I Need a Sign
By Kira Alston, Assoc. AIA
Reflections on Designing for Diversity
By Kathryn Anthony, PhD, Assoc. AIA
Diversity Needs a New Mascot
By Darell Fields, PhD
Update: Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and Architecture Education
By Bradford Grant, AIA
Morgan and Associates: Julia Morgan’s Office Practice as Design Metaphor
By Victoria Kastner
Untold Story: the Black Architect in America
By Stephen A. Kliment, FAIA
The Modernist Black Culture–Modern Architecture Nexus
By Melvin Mitchell, FAIA, NOMA
Stepping Up to the Plate: Developing Replicable Strategies to Facilitate Student Attraction to the Environmental Design Disciplines
By Curtis Sartor, Jr., Assoc. AIA, NOMA
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black School: Architecture and Identity at a Historically Black University
By Jill Bambury, RAIC
Diversity in Architectural Processes: Identity and the Performance of Place
By Lisa C. Henry Benham
Hampton University Brings Color to Architecture
By Shannon Chance
Maintaining Their Privilege: A Framework for Assessing Minority Inclusion in Architecture Schools
By Carla Corroto, PhD
Channels for Managing Change in the Architectural Profession
By Colleen Flory, Assoc. AIA
Wayfinding Without Sight
By Shohreh Rashtian, Assoc. AIA
The Pendulum of Play: The Effects of Play on Diversity in Architectural Education
By Albert C. Smith, PhD, AIA, & Kendra Schank Smith, PhD
A Villager is a Client Who is Dumb, Deaf and Maybe Blind
By Faraz Soleymani
Where Are the Architects Who Look Like Me?
By Katherine Williams, Assoc. AIA
A Community of Diversity
By John Wilson, FAIA
Call for Papers
20/20 Vision Conference Summary
2003 AIA Diversity Committee
Demographic Information and Resources
3. Link to AIA Diversity Committee Webpage & Resources
The AIA Diversity Committee strives to expand the diversity of the design professions to mirror the society that we serve; to promote awareness of the contributions of architects from under-represented racial, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability groups; to encourage alternatives to traditional practice models; and to provide opportunities for an ever-greater variety of individuals to become architects, take advantage of leadership opportunities and influence our practices and our professional lives.
As always, we welcome your thoughts by email at email@example.com.
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