Architect’s Renewal Committee in Harlem (ARCH)

Roberta Washington

In the wake of Whitney Young’s call to action at the 1968 AIA convention, the field of architecture finally began to open to black architects—national and state governments increased coverage to affirmative action plans, black architects founded the National Organization of Minority Architects, and black firms gained more access to government-funded projects. But this was also the era of advocacy planning in New York.

The Architect’s Renewal Committee in Harlem (ARCH), one of the best-known examples of an advocacy planning organization, was started in 1964 by Richard Hatcher, a young white architect who was joined by John Bailey, a city planner, in 1967. Max Bond joined ARCH as its new executive director in 1968.

This was a period of urban renewal throughout the country, which for many in black neighborhoods meant removal and relocation. ARCH was envisioned as a community facilitator, helping the community communicate ideas of renewal of their own neighborhood. At a press conference, Bond advocated for the creation of a “planning review board of representatives from community organizations” that would enable Harlem to determine if projects planned for their community would, in fact, help the community.

ARCH gave voice to residents who had few means to challenge plans being proposed by local government. ARCH was able to examine and explain community development plans proposed by city agencies to the residents and propose new plans that favored those who lived there. Dozens of graduates from Howard University and other HBCUs, as well as socially conscious white planners and architects, flocked to ARCH to work as paid employees or volunteers.

In 1970, with Art Symes at the helm, Architecture in the Neighborhoods, a program to recruit local black youth to become architects, was initiated. Architecture in the Neighborhoods offered college scholarships to those who made it through a rigorous prep period.

As Art Symes once stated, “Architecture and planning are just too important to be omitted from the lives of people who happen to be poor.”