Dimensions of Citizenship: US Pavilion, 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale

Niall Atkinson, Ann Lui & Mimi Zeiger with Iker Gil

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In a time when the expansion of the United States–Mexico border wall looms over more nuanced discourses on national citizenship, Dimensions of Citizenship tasks architects and designers with an urgent request: to envision what it means to be a citizen today.

Questions of belonging, of who should be included and how, are central to the curatorial mission, which defines citizenship as a tangle of rights, responsibilities, and attachments linked to the built environment. The exhibition asks: How might architecture respond to, shape, and express rhizomatic and paradoxical conditions of citizenship, even as transnational flows of capital, digital technologies, and geopolitical transformations expand conventional notions of citizenship?

The US Pavilion explores citizenship across seven spatial scales: Citizen, Civitas, Region, Nation, Globe, Network, and Cosmos. These scales, telescoping from body to city to heavens, broadly position citizenship as a critical global topic.

Commissioned installations by architects, landscape architects, artists, and theorists investigate spaces of citizenship marked by histories of inequality and the violence imposed on people, nonhuman actors, and ecologies. These works aim to manifest the democratic ideals of inclusion against the grain of broader systems: new forms of sharing economy platforms, the legacies of the Underground Railroad, tenuous cross-national alliances at the border region, or the seemingly Sisyphean task of buttressing coastline topologies against rising tides.

The works on view do not solve the complex relationships of governance, affinity, and circumstance that bind us—citizen to stranger, self to other. Instead, they use architecture’s disciplinary agency to render visible paradoxes and formulations of belonging. Only when spatial understandings of citizenship—legal, cultural, and ecological—are in sight might we struggle free from antiquated definitions, forms, or bureaucracies and activate potent spaces for design.

Mapping Feminist LA

Leana Scott

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Mapping Feminist LA (MFLA) is a collaborative research project with the goal of building the Angelena Atlas, a crowdsourced map showing intersectional feminist spaces in Los Angeles County. The MFLA collective brings volunteers together every month at the Women’s Center for Creative Work (WCCW) to strategize and discuss the planning of its in-progress map. MFLA began and remains a community program at WCCW, a kindred space that provides the collective with project incubation support. Inspiration for the map draws from physical spaces of the past and present in Los Angeles that connect folks to resources linked to intersectional feminism and anti-oppression movements.

MFLA envisions the Angelena Atlas as a springboard for the discovery of places of activism and becoming. Their focus has been collecting information and building towards digital and print maps to include spaces with resources that are anti-racist, anti-ableist, pro-immigrant, LGBTQ friendly, and otherwise empowering. The hope is to foster a new spatial awareness of LA through the lens of intersectional feminism.

During its first two years, the collective explored the possibilities and strategies necessary to building a community web project committed to intersectionality. As MFLA now begins digitally building the Angelena Atlas and exits the initial stages of planning and outreach, they are moving forward with like-minded developers and considering open-source technologies. The collective has plans to keep building in iterative stages to include information on spoken languages and live events that these spaces feature.

While the final form is still a work in progress, the core values of accessibility and intersectionality will always guide the project as it evolves. The Angelena Atlas will also provide documentation of MFLA’s process and will allow for collaboration through version control and public engagement.

Hester Street

Lisa Hartland

New York City-based Hester Street is an urban planning, design, and development nonprofit that, among other initiatives, works to prevent the displacement of community anchor institutions by building equity through real estate and social justice. Founded in 2002, the organization aims to preserve vibrant, resilient neighborhoods and build equity at the grassroots.

Just as displacement threatens low-income tenants in gentrifying neighborhoods, community-based organizations (CBOs) that serve those tenants are affected by rising rents, lack of protections, and limited capital resources to improve or secure their spaces. Displacement of these neighborhood anchor institutions threatens community well-being by eliminating essential gathering spaces, accessible and affordable services, and often jobs in low-income communities of color.

Hester Street manages capital projects for CBOs seeking to secure their spaces for long-term benefit and neighborhood preservation. Over the past three years, they have planned, designed, or developed over 300,000 square feet of community resources: open space, libraries, child care, community centers, and more. Each project is unique and wildly complex, requiring specific skills and careful collaboration between multiple parties. Most are one-time projects for CBOs, which do not regularly develop property and need to keep focus on their missions and programs. New York City commits a large budget to these projects, but they are difficult to access and carry high risks. Hester street helps CBOs tap into and leverage that money while mitigating risks for capital projects focused on the stability and sustainability of neighborhood anchor institutions.

La Cocina

Helena Cardona

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Professor Kathleen Coll refers to domestic labor—something that has been long-undervalued in our society—as “the most invisible city engine.” Throughout history, and in many places today, women have had limited educational opportunities resulting in limited professional possibilities, or they have had conflicting immigration status keeping them from pursuing a career or different lifestyle. The intent of La Cocina is to analyze the economic model and the physical space of having a business incubator kitchen in San Francisco, where the domestic cook occupation is recognized and formalized. La Cocina aims to build entrepreneurial independence, and they are doing this through an incubator model. La Cocina continues to break barriers by cultivating food entrepreneurs whose ranks include women, parents, people of color, and immigrants. Their mission is to provide an affordable commercial kitchen space and access to market opportunity to gain financial security by doing what they love. All of this results in an innovative, vibrant, and inclusive economic landscape. La Cocina is situated in the heart of the Mission District, an area in San Francisco undergoing a gentrification and housing crisis. Accordingly, the Mission can benefit from incubator models that address the needs of those in at-risk communities. The concepts prioritized during the design process included natural light to help cooks be happier, healthier, and more productive as well as equal, open flexible kitchen spaces that encourage interaction.

Prison Design Boycott Campaign

Raphael Sperry

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The Prison Design Boycott for Alternatives to Incarceration is a pledge campaign launched by Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) in 2004. In some ways a response to the violence and racism of the Iraq war, the Prison Boycott turned the critique of militarism inwards to call out prisons and jails as the architectural embodiment of the domestic war on poor people of color. The Prison Boycott pledge gathered over 1,000 signatures from architects, designers, and allies, demanding an end to the construction of new jails and prisons. It is a private matter for an architect or a firm to decline projects they feel are morally or politically unacceptable, but it is a public reckoning to demand that one’s profession as a whole cease such projects. The Prison Boycott asserted that professional ethics are a ground for collective action, grounded in the professional charge to act in the public health, safety, and welfare.

ADPSR expanded the Prison Boycott in 2012 with a petition demanding that the American Institute of Architects (AIA) prohibit members from designing execution chambers and prison spaces for solitary confinement. A campaign highlight was a design competition for posters, with the winning entries mailed to deans of the 100+ schools of architecture across the United States for display in their schools. After six years of rejection, denial, and exclusion, AIA’s 2018 Code of Ethics was changed to prohibit members from ”wanton disregard of the rights of others” under the heading of human rights. This victory marks a success of intersectionality, having been driven as much by demands for AIA to address sexual harassment and gender discrimination as by human rights concerns for people in prison. More work is needed to ensure that the role of human rights within the AIA Ethics Code is widely understood, respected, and enforced.

Open Architecture Collaborative

Garrett Jacobs

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The Open Architecture Collaborative (OAC) is a global learning network mobilizing architects and designers with technical skills to build capacity within communities experiencing systemic marginalization.The organization’s programs bring people from different backgrounds together to cocreate a new narrative of power in our contemporary environment through accomplishing small projects. Programs include the volunteer Chapter Network and Pathways to Equity, a design leadership experience for social equity launched in 2018. All programs support local practitioners working their local communities.

The OAC was born from the network of Architecture for Humanity in 2016 and maintains twenty volunteer chapters located around the globe, with thirteen located in the US. Informed by over fifteen years of volunteer coordination, community project management, and advocacy, the organization identified a need to develop more rigorous training and focus on building resources to help practitioners develop a lens for equitable practice. In order to deepen the impact of community design for everyone from community partners and local residents to designers, all OAC members must develop a better understanding of the systems of oppression that lead to the projects we often undertake.

Pathways for Equity is designed to build an equity lens in design. Supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Curry Stone Foundation, and the Association for Community Design. Pathways to Equity brings together an interdisciplinary cohort of fellows to develop skills such as self-reflective practices and resetting frameworks around privilege, power dynamics, and systemic racism.

The OAC is committed to providing leadership opportunities and programming for those who want to be the change-makers and problem-solvers in the fight for a more inclusive, diverse, and equitable society.

The Entrepreneurship Question

Julia De Vito

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On September 16, 2015, the student collective A-Frame, formed within the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP) at Columbia University, organized “The Entrepreneurship Question” event.

Stemming from the observation of the changes technology brought to the relationship between professions and the economy, the goal of the event was “to identify what entrepreneurship has to offer the field of architecture,” with the belief that it was “time to make our own bold propositions about architecture’s relationship to the economy.”

To address this question, A-Frame curated a panel of five professionals—a real-estate tech founder, a virtual reality entrepreneur, an architecture labor activist, an architecture incubator director, and an architecture business strategist—to share their diverse views.ins

Three main themes were discussed throughout the two-hour-long panel.

The first was the acknowledgement of the value of the varied skill set architects possess and the suggestion that architects define which alternative types of services, other than those strictly related to designing buildings, they could offer.

The second theme was financing and the apparent inequality of entrepreneurial enterprises. Architects should learn to garner the financial resources needed in order to see their ideas through.

The third theme centered on changes needed within academia. The final call was for students to take control of their education and not wait until after graduation to pursue their interests and ideas.

These three main strands fall under a more general issue that inspired the event in the first place: the precariousness generated by the architecture work culture, where the long-standing dichotomy between art, considered “good,” and business, considered “bad,” along with the belief that “architecture can be the product of a single visionary” has impeded architects from being true agents of their professions and coming up with alternative practice models.

The event, an entrepreneurial action in itself, ultimately became a call to action for students and professionals to take agency of their role at the global and micro scale.

References

Columbia GSAPP, “The Entrepreneurship Question”, Sept. 16th 2015, available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_w1F28KjCFE

A-Frame, Alternative Practices Workshop at GSAPP Incubator, New INC, Feb. 5th 2016, available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0HtKyFwtck

Lohry, Matthew and Pedtke, Julie, “The Entrepreneurship Question” Intro, found at http://www.a-frame.work/blog


A-Frame, “The Entrepreneurship Question”, edited by Lechene, Valerie, Pedtke, Julie and Schugars, Miranda, February 2016, available on Issuu at https://issuu.com/_aframe_/docs/inside

Palladio’s Sister

Sally Levine

I always admired Virginia Woolf’s short 1928 essay, Shakespeare’s Sister. There, she postulates the struggles gifted women surely faced throughout history through a tale of an imagined sister to the famed bard. While a work of fiction, it illustrated an ongoing truth. In thinking about my profession, it occurred to me that the architectural parallel to Woolf’s essay would concern Palladio’s Sister—and that contemporary women architects represented the descendants of this imagined woman—whom we named Judith. This became the impetus for an exhibit that aimed to move the discussion of women and architecture forward.  

While women’s progress may be slower than many of us would like, we have made progress. There are more women architects than ever before and increasing numbers of female students and faculty. By contrast, the works of women architects are barely visible in architectural textbooks and monographs, nor are they shown as examples of design principles in architectural presentations. The exhibit Palladio’s Sister aimed to address this disparity in serious, academic recognition and consideration. Various female and male architects prepared analytiques (visual analyses) of significant works of architecture by women. These analytiques were printed on 12 x 36, 48 or 60-inch fabric, were hung with the help of garter clips, and were first shown at the National AIA Conference in Boston in 2008. The introduction to the exhibit started with this rewrite of the Woolf essay:

With apologies to Virginia Woolf (A Room of One’s Own):

“It would have been impossible, completely and entirely, for any woman to have designed the buildings of Palladio in the age of Palladio.

“Let us imagine, since the facts are so hard to come by, what would have happened had Palladio had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say. Palladio himself was, it is well known, a wild boy who apprenticed to a stonecutter in Padua when he was 13 years old and broke his contract after only 18 months. That escapade sent him to seek his fortune in Vicenza. He had, it seemed, a taste for architecture. He was engaged by Gian Giorgio Trissino, one of the period's leading scholars, where he read Vitruvius and Leon Battista Alberti - and learnt the elements of art, architecture and design. Very soon he began designing villas and soon became a successful designer of churches. He lived at the hub of the universe, meeting everybody, knowing everybody, practicing his art on the drawing boards, exercising his wits in the streets, and even getting access to the palace of the pope.

“Meanwhile his extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home. She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she would not have apprenticed and not found a mentor. She had no chance of learning art, architecture and design, let alone of reading Vitruvius and Alberti. She picked up a portfolio now and then, one of her brother's perhaps, and studied the drawings. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with drawings and papers. They would have spoken sharply but kindly, for they were substantial people who knew the conditions of life for a woman and loved their daughter - indeed, more likely than not she was the apple of her father's eye. Perhaps she sketched some plans up in a tomato loft on the sly, but was careful to hide them or set fire to them. Soon, however, before she was out of her teens, she was to be betrothed to the son of a neighboring wool-stapler. She cried out that marriage was hateful to her, and for that she was severely beaten by her father. Then he ceased to scold her. He begged her instead not to hurt him, not to shame him in this matter of her marriage. He would give her a chain of beads or a fine petticoat, he said; and there were tears in his eyes. How could she disobey him? How could she break his heart? The force of her own gift alone drove her to it. She made up a small parcel of her belongings, let herself down by a rope one summer's night and took the road to Rome. She was not seventeen. The birds that built nests in the hedge were not better at design than she was. She had the keenest eye, a gift like her brother's, for the design of space. Like him, she had a taste for architecture. She stood at the studio door; she wanted to draw, she said. Men laughed in her face. The master builder - a fat, loose-lipped man - guffawed. He bellowed something about poodles sawing wood and women drawing - no woman, he said, could possibly be an architect. He hinted - you can imagine what. She could get no training in her craft. Could she even seek her dinner in a tavern or roam the streets at midnight? Yet her genius was for architecture and she lusted to feed abundantly upon the spaces that housed the lives of men and women and study their details. At last - for she was very young, oddly like Palladio the architect in her face, with the same grey eyes and rounded brows - at last Nick Greene the architect-builder took pity on her; she found herself with child by that gentleman and so - who shall measure the heat and violence of the architect/artist’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman's body? - killed herself one winter's night and lies buried at some crossroads where the omnibuses now stop outside the Roman Forum.

“That, more or less, is how the story would run, I think, if a woman in Palladio’s day had had Palladio's genius.”


Women in Design Awards

Sally Levine

In the late 1990s, Boston Society of Architects (BSA) president Rebecca Barnes thought it was time to re-energize a focus on women. This resulted in the creation of the Women in Design (WID) Network. Concurrently, on the national level, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) decided to merge the Women in Architecture and the Minority Architects committees to form the Committee on Diversity. I was pretty sure that women’s voices would be lost in that scenario; yet in Boston a group of women wanted to give women’s voices a place to be heard.  And not just “A” (architect) women—but the broader category of “D” (design) women. I was impressed.

As the network took shape, Gretchen von Grossman stepped forward with the suggestion that the Conversations—monthly programs sponsored by the WID Network—be given a wider audience. In 2000, she put together the first Women in Design conference, and the event has grown each year since then.      

I think the last thing the architectural field needs is one more awards program. In fact, I think architecture gives out too many awards. Yet here I was, suggesting to Gretchen, Rebecca, and others that we develop a WID awards program. I wanted to accept a challenge that had been articulated five years earlier. In the introductory essay to CARY’s More than the Sum of our Body Parts exhibit catalog, Dr. Roberta Feldman, professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago, stated that architects “cannot expect architecture to become more inclusive without confronting how all architects are educated and kept informed about what is happening in the field as well as how architects receive commissions, carry out their work, evaluate its consequences, and gain recognition.” With a new awards program, I saw a framework by which to confront how architects gain recognition.

Over the next several months, I met with many women from the building professions to discuss their definitions of success, their thoughts on what made for a successful career, and what they considered worthy of recognition. Together, we analyzed the criteria used in existing awards programs to get a handle on the underlying assumptions embedded in the criteria for those awards. Was there something about the criteria that, up until that point, made the awards a better fit for men than women? These awards programs included the Pritzker Prize, the AIA Gold Medal, the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) Gold Medal, and the AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education. We asked: was success achieved solely through a singular body of work? Did success come as the result of a well-defined linear path?  Was success competitive or collaborative? What makes a career successful? And what makes that successful career worthy of recognition?

We identified many shared criteria; additionally, we identified notable omissions from the aforementioned awards’ listed standards: process, collaboration, inclusiveness, and ethics. We wondered if these traits were more apparent to women or more important to women; what we did know was that those concepts were important to us.

The results of our research and conversations were summarized in the four “P”sthe four criteria developed for the WID Award of Excellence.

Person

  • A living person who works or has worked in the New England area

  • Ethical, confident, exemplifies exceptional excellence

  • Brings multiple experiences to work in the design of the built environment

Process - Celebrates the "long and winding road"

- Shares responsibilities and information and cares for others’ well-being

- Invites and encourages participation; opens doors for others

Product

  • Demonstrates exceptional excellence and reflects process

  • Content of design and built work:

    • Formal design issues and programmatic experience in equal measure

  • Content of nondesign and nonbuilt work (i.e. writing, teaching):

    • Formal design issues and programmatic experience in equal measure

Position

  • Success has been achieved well and then used well

  • Affects change in the design community and the public at large

  • Position/success is part of an evolving career

We wanted to be sure that we lived up to our commitment to inclusivity. We decided that the best way to assure that we met our goal was to present the award to more than one person each year. Typically, we recognize three people. Over the years, the selection committee has chosen:

  • Architects

  • Landscape architects

  • Interior designers

  • Writers

  • Educators

  • Advocates

  • Artists

  • Graphic designers

  • Engineers

  • Community Leaders

Many, if not all, of the recipients fill more than one category.

I cannot tell you how many people asked me, “Why not just give the award to one person?”  The answer was simple. This decision allowed us to celebrate the many ways individuals contribute to the built environment. What we did not anticipate was that the shared experience of each class of recipients elevated the meaning of the award. In contrast to the single-winner award, recipients of the WID award often have expressed how honored they feel to be in the company of that year’s cohort.  

The annual awards luncheon during the WID conference is joyful and inspiring. Some awardees always knew their professional goals and reached them, some were dissuaded from their goals but found their path back, some explored many avenues before discovering their direction, and others practically fell into the positions that have brought them so much satisfaction.  

Has this awards program confronted the way architects gain recognition?
Has it had an impact on the ways we think about success? Or honor success?

For me, these are the ongoing questions. I hope there has been some positive impact—I leave that for others to decide. In the meantime, I am confident that there are many women who continue to be successful and meet the criteria of the WID Award of Excellence.

The Memorial for Peace and Justice

Alison Katz

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"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
-George Santayana

How we address our history affects how we remember it and frames the lessons we learn from the past. Racial violence is often glossed over in school, watered down in textbooks, and sanitized for white America’s convenience. Many Americans, however, are not privileged enough to be able to ignore this part of American history. Violence and terrorism have haunted black communities, particularly in the South, shaping race relations and power structures through policy and psychology.

All over the United States, organizations like the Ku Klux Klan targeted black Americans with beatings, bombings, lynchings, and other acts of terror to demonstrate their power and to repress the political and economic action and success of black communities. This violence intensified when the Confederacy was defeated in 1865 and continued with increased intensity until the murder of Emmett Till in 1955. It was only after the media coverage of Till’s open casket—a decision made by Till’s mother to display her fourteen-year-old son’s unrecognizably beaten face—that white Americans began to express outrage and call for justice.

MASS Design Group, and Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) created the Memorial for Peace and Justice to finally memorialize the lives lost through these acts of racial terrorism. MASS is a nonprofit architecture firm known for empowering communities through their thoughtful design and work with nonprofits. EJI has been working for twenty-nine years to end mass incarceration, protect the basic human rights of vulnerable communities, and end racial and economic injustice against these groups.

The Memorial for Peace and Justice is sited in Montgomery, Alabama, a city with a vital history in both the civil rights movement and the enslavement of African Americans. Pre-Civil War, Montgomery was one of the largest trading posts for domestically sold slaves. During the Civil Rights movement, it was also the city where Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Freedom Riders were attacked by a mob at the Montgomery Greyhound station in response to their fight to end illegal interstate segregation. John Lewis led an attempted 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, during which his marchers suffered police brutality on the Edmund Pettus Bridge so vicious that 50 protesters were hospitalized after being severely beaten. While the city had dozens of statues and memorials celebrating its Confederate heritage, it was not until 1990 that the city began to use signage and statues to acknowledge its role in the civil rights movement.

At the memorial entrance is a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” Passing through the gate, an outdoor path walks you through a brief history of the enslavement of Africans, their treacherous voyage to the Americas, emancipation, and the creation of Jim Crow laws. The pathway is lined with written history and accompanying sculptures depicting the physical and emotional struggles of African Americans leading up to Reconstruction.

Approaching the central structure of the memorial, you enter the era of racial terror in America. A roof floats over the square pavilion, with a central courtyard open to the sky. As you circulate through the building, the path descends lower and lower. In the first section, corten steel boxes hang just above the floor. From afar I thought each box represented a single life lost, but to my horror I discovered every box represents a county—one for each county in the United States where a known lynching had taken place. On each box is a list of names that ranged in length. Some boxes contain dozens of names. If a person’s name was unknown, but their death had been recorded, they were listed as “unknown.”

As the path descends, the roof remains at the same level. By the second side of the pavilion, the boxes float above you. While it very literally represented the way many of these lynchings happened, through hangings, it also symbolized two things to me: the weight of the life lost and the feeling that the names where floating towards the sky, towards freedom.

In the third wing, the boxes hang about eight feet from the floor and as the viewer continues to descend, the boxes hang well above them, at about twelve feet. Along the walls are plaques detailing what triggered white Americans to lynch black citizens. People were lynched for reasons that included  registering black voters, refusing to give up their land to white people, asking for a drink of water, complaining about the lynching of a husband, and eloping with a white woman.

The final wing focused on two sentences. The wall read, "Thousands of African Americans are unknown victims of racial terror lynchings whose deaths cannot be documented, many whose names will never be known. They are all honored here.” This wing leads you to the final pathway, which brings you through even more boxes; this is powerful because as you leave the structure you may assume that all of the boxes have been displayed, but there are many more names waiting to be read and acknowledged.

Beyond the final box is a statue of Rosa Parks in celebration of the civil rights victories of the 1950s and 1960s but beyond her, there is another reminder of how much we still must do for civil rights and racial equality. The final stop along the timeline of racial terrorism is a statue of a line of black men with their hands held above their heads, a reminder of the all-too-frequent killing of unarmed black men at the hands of the police, is the final stop along this timeline of racial terrorism. Although mass lynchings no longer take place, last year dozens of unarmed people of color were shot and killed by the police.

The monument forces the viewer to feel and acknowledge the weight of the history. While at times overwhelming, the structure itself was peaceful, calming even. I found myself sitting and thinking about what I had seen, and instead of feeling bogged down by the weight of the subject matter, I felt empowered. What holds many people back from visiting these memorials is the sadness and reflection they must face, but in order to effect change, we must recognize the past and our roles within it.

As a white woman from the Northeast, some may argue that I am not a directly impacted by this history; am I the right person to be reviewing this? People of all backgrounds need to experience this memorial. My experience was drastically different than that of a person whose family has been victims of these crimes, or a person whose family took part in the lynchings. Regardless of background, this memorial should mean something to you. It reminds me of the consequences of apathy and motivates me to engage in the fight against oppression. It reminds me of the innate privilege I have, and how others have suffered and continue to suffer in America due to lack of opportunity, lack of respect, and lack of understanding for those who come from diverse backgrounds. As an architecture student, my profession has been guilty of heinous racism and lack of empathy for underprivileged and diverse peoples. We can either practice through ignorance or thrive by elevating and empowering disenfranchised communities.

The Memorial for Peace and Justice screams for just that: peace and justice. While we may like to believe that this history is behind us, the Equal Justice Initiative reminds us that racial terror and inequality did not end, they just evolved. This memorial gives America a place to publicly express the pain and anguish this truth evokes. EJI also created the Museum of Legacy in Montgomery, which chronicles the evolution of slavery into the current system of mass incarceration.

Future Firm’s Office of the Public Architect

Anastasija Spasovska

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Future Firm is a Chicago-based architecture practice founded by Craig Reschke and Ann Lui in 2015. Their work spans a number of disciplines, placing them at the intersection of art, architecture, community engagement practices, and technological innovation. Both founding partners have worked for corporate offices and are involved in academia. After working in offices on mostly foreign, large-scale projects, they started Future Firm to explore how architecture can more methodologically describe and affect the built environment through landscape, culture, and society.

Running in conjunction with the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) challenged fifty Chicago-based architects to rethink underappreciated and underperforming spaces in their city. Showcasing their investigations at the exhibition, “Between States—50 Designers Transform Chicago's Neighborhoods,” the design teams were to identify a physical asset in one of Chicago’s fifty wards that could benefit from a redesign and imagine a way to transition it “between states.” The meaning was twofold: first, propose a way to change the state of an underperforming or dilapidated site into a rejuvenated civic anchor; and second, present an inspiring case study of a similar and successful project from another US state or location outside of Chicago.

Future Firm answered CAF’s call with a proposal for an Office of the Public Architect. Rather than working in a single area of the city, Lui and Reschke took a more systematic approach to the problem. Having recently opened a practice in Chicago, Lui and Reschke were quite open about the type of projects they would take on. Working on standard residential and commercial projects, they started dealing with the practical and mundane problems of their clients. In this period, and to the surprise of its partners, the office started to receive numerous inquiries and requests from Chicago citizens on another type of work: help in resolving building code violations.

The Department Of Building logged over ninety thousand building violations in 2017 alone, according to Chicago’s data portal. About 45 percent of residential field inspections revealed code violations. Building codes go a long way toward ensuring that houses are safe, and it is not uncommon for a building to have multiple violations at the same time. Some building code violations are easy to find, such as missing or defective ground-fault circuit interrupters, handrails without returns, improper bathroom ventilation, missing deck flashing, and misplaced smoke alarms. Other common and potentially dangerous building code violations are hard to locate—and even harder to fix—because they’re buried behind finished walls. These include improper framing, excessively cut and notched studs and joists, shallow insulation depth, improper type and size of electrical wires, and inadequate connections between building materials. The occurrence of building code violations can be an effect of hiring a careless inspector or disreputable builder, or of the house predating current building codes.

In the firm’s experience, professional developers or landlords are not usually the ones who call to ask for help. Homeowners seldom reach out for assistance, and architectural services, in this case, have a different dimension when the payer is an individual client. This led Lui and Reschke to think about what happens when a person cannot afford the architectural services needed to bring their building up to code. Furthermore, Chicago is known for having a problem with empty lots and dilapidated buildings. According to Reschke, owners not being able to resolve their building code violations has directly contributed to the empty lot issue.

“When you commit a crime, if you cannot afford a lawyer, you have the right to a public defender. When issued a building violation, should you also have the right to a public architect? People could go get guidance, get architectural plans, have a way to fix their violations,” Reschke says. Future Firm proposes opening an office that would provide services to those who can’t otherwise afford them.

Future Firm envisions this office as an easy access resource for design, architectural work and bureaucratic building code resolution procedures that would offer a faster, compassionate, and dignified service to its citizens. In regards to prospective employees, they see this office as a good fit for early-career architects to gain on-the-ground experience and a chance for senior designers to engage in community-based work.

There are precedents to pro bono work within the field of architecture. Some architecture offices lend their services for free to communities in need and nonprofit organizations that genuinely cannot afford to pay market rates. Others, such as Public Architecture, serve as a connection between such nonprofits and architects willing to contribute. However, Future Firm’s proposition avoids charity and donations, relying on taxpayer dollars.

Lui and Reschke understand that this concept might seem a bit far-fetched. However, the same was originally said of the idea of a public defender. Clara Foltz, California’s first woman attorney, proposed the idea at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. She saw the public defender as a counterweight to public prosecutors, having equal funding and stature. Though Los Angeles opened a public defender office in 1913, it wasn’t until 1963, in the case of Gideon v. Wainwright, that the Supreme Court decided that states must provide legal counsel for those that cannot afford their own.

Thinking about underutilized space in the framework of CAF’s multi year strategy for Chicago, Future Firm positions the Office of the Public Architect in the unused spaces of post offices. Regarding the post office as a central civic space of society, it would be a perfect fit for the proposal, taking over empty post office windows in a number of wards in the city. From these windows, the public architect could work on behalf of Chicago’s citizens through collective investment in the city’s architecture.

Clara Foltz's idea that “the law should be a shield as well as a sword” grew mainly from her experience representing underprivileged citizens in the western courts. Future Firm’s idea is a big one, but the firm believes it has the political will to achieve it. Examining the existing structures of society in regard to public service and human rights has put this office on the map of activist thinking within the architecture and design industry. We all deserve safer and more humane living spaces—and we all deserve dignified means of achieving them. Projects like this bring us closer, one step at a time.

Sweetwater Spectrum

Je'Nen Chastain

Sweetwater Spectrum_Tim Griffith 1.jpg

Sweetwater Spectrum is a new national model for supportive housing for adults with autism, offering life with purpose and dignity. Created to address a growing national housing crisis for adults with autism, this community for sixteen residents in Sonoma, California integrates autism spectrum-specific design, universal design, and sustainable design strategies. The design welcomes people of all abilities, promotes healthy environments, and reduces energy consumption.

In 2009, a group of families, autism professionals, and community leaders founded the nonprofit organization Sweetwater Spectrum to meet an extraordinary need—appropriate, high-quality, long-term housing for adults with autism. Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States, affecting 1 in 59 children, yet few residential options exist for adults with autism. To solve this impending housing crisis, Sweetwater Spectrum created a model that could be replicated nationwide.  

The site for the first Sweetwater Spectrum community was located near the historic Sonoma Town Square in Sonoma, California. The program includes four 3,250 square foot four-bedroom homes for residents and their support staff; a 2,300 square foot community center, therapy pool and spas, and an urban farm. The new community provides a supportive environment designed to address the full range of needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorders, maximizing residents’ development and independence.

The project was informed by the latest research into the environmental requirements of this growing population. Research published by the Arizona State University Stardust Center provided evidence-based design goals and guidelines that informed the design of spaces to reduce sensory stimulation. Safety and security are paramount and healthy, durable materials are utilized throughout. The design strategies include clear and calming spatial organization, defined transitions, and opportunities for preview and retreat. The project is a PG&E Zero Net Energy Pilot Project and uses 88 percent less energy than baseline with future capacity to supply all energy onsite. Sweetwater Spectrum is currently working with several groups across the country to replicate this model in other countries.

Ed Roberts Campus

Je'Nen Chastain

The Ed Roberts Campus (ERC) is one of the first buildings of its kind in the nation—opened in 2010 as a community center serving and celebrating the Independent Living /Disabled Rights Movement. Located at a regional transit hub and integrating advanced strategies of Universal Design and Sustainable Design, the ERC is designed to welcome and support people of all abilities.

The Ed Roberts Campus is a nonprofit corporation formed by seven organizations that share a common history in the independent living/civil rights movement of people with disabilities. In 1998, these seven organizations joined together to plan and develop a universally designed, transit-oriented, and environmentally sustainable campus located at the Ashby BART Station in Berkeley. Commemorating the life and work of Edward V. Roberts, an early leader in the independent living movement of persons with disabilities, the ERC is the foremost disability rights service, advocacy, education, training, and policy center in the world.

The ERC is an 85,000 square foot facility designed from the ground up to meet the needs of people with all ability levels. The program includes exhibition space, community meeting rooms, a childcare center for children with disabilities, a fitness center, offices, vocational training facilities, and a café gathered around an enclosed courtyard. A transparent entry façade at the new civic plaza displays a monumental helical ramp inside. The ramp, a major work of public art beneath a skylit rotunda, serves both functional and symbolic roles, expressing the spirit of universal design by providing dramatic access to upper floors for all users.

Guided by the principles of Universal Design—the creation of environments that are equally usable by individuals of all abilities—the project exceeds the accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Universal Design strategies and elements were selected to maximize benefits to the broadest variety of users while remaining economical and replicable by others. The ERC is designed as an important community building with a distinct civic presence that celebrates the collective values of its partner organizations. The building acts as both community center and urban threshold, positioning the partner organizations at a major regional transit portal.

SAY IT LOUD: The Distinguished Minority Designers of NOMA

Pascale Sablan

At time of writing, there are approximately 2,224 licensed African American architects in the United States—roughly 2 percent of the total population of licensed architects in the US. This is staggering in today’s world, where diversity is supposedly more than a buzzword. Studies show that including people of different backgrounds and races benefits everyone—something that is certainly true for architecture. Exposure to a diverse pool of contributors can enrich the field and generate more unique and innovative ideas. Over the past three years, curator Pascale Sablan has established an initiative that shines a spotlight on the impact of architects and allied professionals of color in the architecture and design community as well as the greater community at large. These individuals blazed a trail that is rarely acknowledged. In 2015, the New York chapter of National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), New York Coalition of Black Architects (NYCOBA), created a Membership Highlight initiative to acknowledge the work and accomplishments of these talented individuals on a monthly basis. The highlighted members range from sole practitioners to commissioners of city agencies to AIA fellows. This ongoing initiative has become a full exhibit that has been displayed at New York’s Center for Architecture, the United Nations Visitor Centre, and at S9 Architecture during the 2018 AIA National Convention.

The SAY IT LOUD exhibition elevates the work of minority architects, engineers, and designers of color in a culture that often omits them and their contributions to the built environment. The exhibition features projects by twenty-one designers and includes quotes and video interviews on their experiences. The concept of this exhibit, according to Sablan, is “To see our faces, hear our voices, feel our impact within the colorful tapestry of our heritage.” This initiative has become an international movement, with local SAY IT LOUD exhibits slated for numerous states, conferences, and United Nations Information Centers worldwide.


Pascale Sablan, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP, is a Senior Associate at S9 ARCHITECTURE, the 2017–18 historian for the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), and the NOMA Northeast Now What!? Exhibition Planning Grant 18 Regional Vice President for 2018–19. Pascale is past president of the New York Chapter of NOMA, serves the AIA National Planning Committee for the 2018 Design Justice Summit, and is a member of the AIA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Pascale was selected as a 2018 AIA Young Architects Award Recipient and was featured in the CTBUH Research Paper: “Ratios - Voices of Women in the Tall Building World.” She was recently named Building Design + Construction 40 Under 40 and was featured on the cover of the September issue of their magazine. She has lectured at universities and colleges all over the US. In 2017 she curated the Say It Loud: Distinguished Black Designers of NYCOBA | NOMA exhibition at the Center for Architecture in New York City. She is the 315th African American female architect in the United States to attain her architectural license. As of 2017, there are only 400 women who hold this distinction.

Blacklines of Design

Kathleen Ettienne

Blacklines of Architecture originated in a publication by a few ambition visionaries, resulting in about four issues. Printing costs were very expensive, and eventually the idea was put to bed until 2011, when I decided to revamp the concept. The focus shifted to include other related trades, such as landscape architecture and lighting design. I also shifted the project to an online publication called Blacklines of Design.

My vision for Blacklines of Design is for it to be a channel for diverse and developing architects and designers of color to showcase their contributions to the global architectural community. The quarterly publication acts as a resource for those seeking to learn about the diversity of style and design that can strengthen the foundations of modern design as well as further an understanding of historic architecture.

The online publication was received well by many designers who welcomed a place to finally exhibit their work. I was just as excited—but very nervous at the same time, as I was alone in the undertaking. I had to finance the project out of pocket.

My first online issue included an article on a hot topic: hip-hop meets architecture. As a graduate student of cultural studies at the University of Minnesota, Craig Wilkins was struck by how people defined space at hip-hop raves.

A group of college students started this dialogue at a National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) conference by a group of college students. It was a thought-provoking session to ignite a conversation about how hip-hop culture influences the built environment. The fresh discussion earned a positive response, and Wilkins went on to further investigate and document the relation between the dynamic shared components of the urban art form and design.

#Roadsidemarker Series: an Interview with Dr. Alyssa Mt. Pleasant

Elsa Hoover

Elsa Matossian Hoover + Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, Central NY Waterway Systems, photograph courtesy of Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, 2017.

Elsa Matossian Hoover + Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, Central NY Waterway Systems, photograph courtesy of Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, 2017.

Dr. Alyssa Mt. Pleasant’s #roadsidemarker series is a personal archive that considers the spatial implications of memorial markers and political signage. As a Tuscarora scholar of Native American and indigenous studies at the University at Buffalo, Dr. Mt. Pleasant’s travel draws her along the highways and backroads of New York State, which has been contested space for over 200 years—and her people’s homeland for much longer.

A 2017 interview between Dr. Mt. Pleasant and myself (an architect) brought this project into architecture’s orbit. #roadsidemarker series’ historical lens, archival approach, and biographical qualities create important points of reference and discussion for architects and spatial thinkers. For the last 18 years, Dr. Mt. Pleasant has watched—and now photographed—signs playing out a microcosmic fight over the future of these lands through historical representation, a fight occurring simultaneously in judicial, academic, public, and commercial spaces along these roads.

This includes:

  • historical markers recalling the violent Sullivan Campaign and land surveys directed by Gen. George Washington (what native people here remember as the invasion);

  • towns, parks, roads, and other places named in ways that represent a long-standing anxiety toward indigenous presence; and

  • political signs contesting the Cayuga Nation’s litigation and earlier landmark legal fight by the Oneida Indian Nation of New York to reclaim land in the region between the 1970s and the first decade of the twenty-first century.

History is directed through physical remembrance along the highways of the Haudenosaunee homeland, some of which is called Upstate New York. Contemporary legal battles resurrect the invasion—and with it a zombified history told by parts, reanimated and made to walk the highway. The spatial experience generated by these signs and their documentation are sites of indigenous memory work that make room for future visual practice by indigenous designers, builders, and communities.

Universal Design

Leslie Kanes Weisman

My work as an activist architectural educator was profoundly shaped by the civil rights, anti-war, environmental, women's, and disability rights movements of the 1960s and ’70s. I began teaching in a traditional school of architecture in 1968, and in the ’70s I co-founded the Women’s School of Planning and Architecture (WSPA). In the ’80s, I participated in protest marches with friends and colleagues in the disability community, whose years of persistent activism eventually resulted in the passage of the Americans With Disability Act (ADA) in 1990. The ADA was a sweeping piece of civil rights legislation that, among other requirements, mandated access to public buildings and spaces for people with disabilities by removing physical barriers. The universal design movement grew in the US in the early ’90s to incorporate and build upon minimal access codes by embracing a human-centered approach to design that strove to create inclusive products and spatial environments with the same level of comfort, accessibility, and assistance to users of all ages, cultures, abilities, and lifestyles.

In 2004, to promote universal design education and practice, Elaine Ostroff and I created a free online slide presentation with full lecture notes called “Tools for Introducing Human-Centered Design.” This teaching unit compared the civil rights, disability rights, and universal design movements; illustrated the principles of universal design in several design disciples, including architecture and planning; and included a user-friendly building survey that, for the first time in one form, included universal design performance criteria, ADA requirements for public buildings, and sustainable design principles. That same year, Ostroff and I also made available online the “Universal Design Building Survey” for architects, planners, facilities managers, and others to use to conduct post-occupancy evaluations of users’ experiences of public spaces across the spectrum of age and ability.


Leslie Kanes Weisman is Professor Emerita of Architecture at the NJIT and the author of Discrimination by Design (1992), “Diversity by Design: Feminist Reflections on the Future of Architectural Education and Practice,” in The Sex of Architecture (1996), and “Creating the Universally Designed City: Prospects for the New Century,” the epilogue to the Universal Design Handbook (2001).

Riding the Vortex

Katherine Williams

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I did not meet a black woman working in the architecture profession until I went to college. Once I graduated, I lived and worked with very few other black architects. In 2007, I was invited to be on a panel of black women in architecture titled “Riding the Vortex.” As a collective, we have presented the session eighteen times since 2007 at various architecture conferences across the country. Typically the session has been presented as panel of women, usually exclusively black, in architecture, talking about their experience in the industry and offering a place for other people to share their stories. The original panel members were Kathryn Prigmore, FAIA; Kathy Dixon, FAIA; Barbara Laurie (deceased); and me. The four of us presented, and at the end of each session attendees gave testimonies and asked questions.

We reach out to a woman in whatever city the session is held and invite her to be on the panel. This has led to an increase in the number of shared voices and experiences. In February 2013, Barbara unexpectedly passed away, leaving us with a missing piece. The session had originated out of Barbara’s work attempting to document as many of the more than 200 licensed black women architects as she could. Continuing these sessions is continuing her work.

As a group, black women make up 0.4 percent of licensed architects in the United States. The “Riding The Vortex” sessions have been popular year after year because they offer connection for black women. Many of us do not see other black women in our offices, at project meetings, or on our job sites. We may not have a regular way to connect with those with similar experiences. “Riding The Vortex” is the place for that annual connection.

400 Forward

Tiffany Brown

KnightArtsDetroit2017-AP-9.jpg

Growing up in Detroit’s inner city, I didn’t see much art or architecture of any kind. I attended school in what was considered a failing district. I didn’t have many professionals coming to my schools for things like career day.  

I’ve recently realized I was indirectly exposed to something I would grow to love. I was good at drawing, art, math, and creative writing, which I would eventually learn are related to architecture.  Against all odds, I managed to receive three college degrees, as well as become an adjunct professor in the college of architecture at my alma mater.

My journey toward architecture inspired me to make the road easier for girls following the same path I did.  In August 2017, the 400th living African American woman became licensed (as of 2018,there are over 110,000 licensed architects in the United States). My goal is to seek out the next 400 women architects through 400 Forward.

Through this initiative, I can show girls in our inner cities they can accomplish anything, and that they can make needed change in our communities. I use my story as a tool of empowerment to create the next generation of women leaders in architecture. I aspire to be the face I was looking for growing up and look forward to using this initiative to shape the future of our profession while promoting social change.

Sybil Griffin, the woman who saw something special in me and gave me my first job in architecture, inspired me to make a difference in my profession. The work and research of Roberta Washington on black women in architecture is also a source of motivation. These women and many others encourage me teach the next generation to change our world for the better.


Tiffany works diligently to raise awareness on how planning and design makes a significant social impact in urban communities, and seeks to examine the influence of the built environment and its impacts on culture, behavior, and health. She is dedicated to rethinking architecture education for the traditionally underserved.

When Ivory Towers Were Black

Sharon Sutton

This photo, taken in front of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) Department of Architecture in Kumasi shows some of the Kinne Award recipients during the Ghana trip. In addition to KNUST, the group toured the city of Accra, a slave castle, and various projects Max Bond had designed for the government, most notably the Bolgatanga Regional Library.  Left to right : Lloyd de Suze, Ghanaian professor, School of Architecture student, David Kirkwood, Sharon Egretta Sutton, and Marva Britt. Photo courtesy of Stanford R. Britt

This photo, taken in front of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) Department of Architecture in Kumasi shows some of the Kinne Award recipients during the Ghana trip. In addition to KNUST, the group toured the city of Accra, a slave castle, and various projects Max Bond had designed for the government, most notably the Bolgatanga Regional Library. Left to right: Lloyd de Suze, Ghanaian professor, School of Architecture student, David Kirkwood, Sharon Egretta Sutton, and Marva Britt. Photo courtesy of Stanford R. Britt


When Ivory Towers Were Black tells the story of how an unparalleled cohort of ethnic minority students earned degrees from Columbia University’s School of Architecture during the Civil Rights Movement.

Chronicling a little-known era in US history, the book begins with an unsettling effort to end Columbia’s exercise of authoritarian power—on campus and in the community. It ends with an equally unsettling return to the status quo.

The book follows two university units that steered the School of Architecture toward educational equity. It illustrates both units’ struggle to recruit ethnic minority students, while also involving them, and their revolutionary white peers, in improving Harlem’s slum conditions.

The book is narrated through the oral histories of twenty-four ethnic minority alumni who, after receiving the gift of an Ivy League education, exited the school to find the doors of their careers all but closed due to Nixon’s racist policies.

The book assesses the triumphs and upending of this experiment to achieve racial justice. It demonstrates how the triumphs lived on not only in the careers of the alumni but also as best practices in university/community relationships and in the fields of architecture and urban planning.

Through its first-person portrayal, When Ivory Towers Were Black can catalyze contemporary struggles for educational equity as injustices increase and historically marginalized students remain excluded from elite professions like architecture and planning.