Architecture and design organizations speak out as protests over racial injustice continue

A Chorus of Outrage

Architecture and design organizations speak out as protests over racial injustice continue

As Washington, D.C. devolves into a police state, protestors and allies continue to make their voices heard. (Koshu Konii/Unsplash)

Earlier this week, AN published a mission-redefining statement written by Kimberly Dowdell, president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was killed in public view at the hands of members of the Minneapolis Police Department on May 25.

“As architects, how can we protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public if our country is not properly including Black Americans as full members of our society?” wrote Dowdell.

In the days—now weeks—since Floyd’s death, protests and demonstrations, ranging in size from less than a dozen people to crowds numbering in the thousands, have been staged in all 50 states as Americans demand accountability and a swift end to racial injustice and police brutality. Leading organizations and professional networks within the architecture and design community have also been quick to respond in solidarity with official statements. All of them have expressed their outrage and sorrow regarding Floyd’s death—and the current state of affairs in America—while also acknowledging that meaningful conversations about race, inequality, and the built environment need to happen as do sweeping changes.

Below are some of these statements published in full. AN will add additional statements to this list accordingly.

From Jane Frederick, president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA):

“As Americans, we are mindful of this nation’s dark history of racial inequality. We are appalled by any actions that further threaten the universal respect and human dignity that everyone deserves. As architects, we remain committed to advancing civil rights protections, fair housing policies, and accessibility in the built world to help achieve the more perfect union we all seek. The fact is that architects and AIA, in our more than 160-year history, have not always felt compelled to share our perspectives. But the times we live in, the horrific nature of the events we witness, and the role we see for every member of our society demands that we speak out.”

From the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA):

“After hearing feedback from our membership and after much reflection, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) issues the following statement regarding the killing of George Floyd:

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) joins millions of people around the world in mourning the death of George Floyd, a black man who was murdered by a police officer.

ASLA recognizes that the brutal systems of slavery and Jim Crowism have dehumanized black people and weakened their communities. We also acknowledge that the planning and design of the built environment, including landscape architecture, has often had a disproportionate adverse impact on black communities. Systemic racism in the built environment has taken many forms, including redlining, urban renewal, and disinvestment. Environmental injustices, including lack of equitable access to clean air and water and greater concentrations of pollution, continue to plague these communities. Further, gentrification and displacement make it impossible for black communities to continue to exist. The landscape architecture profession can play a critical role in reversing these trends.

Public spaces have always been a critically important platform for the protest movement and democratic change. They have also become sites of violent confrontation and oppression against the black community. It is important that ASLA and others amplify the black narrative of these spaces.

ASLA stands in solidarity with black communities in the fight against racial injustice and police violence against black people. Moving forward, ASLA will deepen our partnership with the Black Landscape Architects Network (BlackLAN) to create a meaningful, sustainable plan of action to help guide the profession in addressing the wants and needs of black communities—no matter how much work and time it takes. Black Lives Matter.”

From the Black Landscape Architects Network (BlackLAN):

In the shadow of the racialized murder of George Floyd and the history of violence against black communities in America, the Black Landscape Architects Network (BlackLAN) stands in solidarity with the protests against such killings and associated acts of terrorism. As black design professionals working within public and community realms, we are keenly aware of the need for our presence as stewards of equity and equality.

This racialized shadow has long been present in American communities, places, and practices. It has been 100 years since the Red Summer of 1919, when black people were attacked and murdered across the United States. Two years later, the prosperous black neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma—sometimes known as the ‘Black Wall Street’ — was attacked by a white mob. The legacy of the death and property destruction is still being addressed today. Within this 100-year timeframe, there have been countless other acts of hate and violence against black people and their communities. These events all speak to a need for our nation and our profession to truthfully reconcile the legacy of systemic racism and violence rooted in landscapes of institutional slavery. The continued refusal to reconcile this legacy does not pay respect to the role black people played in creating American landscapes.

We are committed to fighting these transgressions and omissions through cultural, historical, and social practices. We embrace cultural research that reveals the history of black people living in and building the American landscape. The BlackLAN values working as a collective to bring voice to the importance of black landscape architects in American society.”

From Paul Edmundson, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation:

Like so many others, I have been profoundly dismayed and deeply saddened at what is happening in our country. George Floyd’s horrific and inexcusable death in Minneapolis; the shooting of peaceful protestors in Louisville; the fomenting of violence; destructive outbreaks in cities across the country; and the politicization of what should have been a compassionate response by leaders in our society: I would like to think that America is better than this. It is evident, however, that we have a long way to go to ensure that justice and equity are applied to all Americans.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has made a commitment as an institution to ensure that our own work reflects the equal value of every single American in our history and in our culture. A major reflection of that commitment is the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, created by the National Trust in response to the tragic events in Charlottesville in August of 2017.

We believe that historic preservation can play a critical role in acknowledging and healing the divisions in our nation, by telling the full story of our often-difficult history, by elevating and preserving the enormous and important contributions African Americans have made to our nation, and by carrying that powerful legacy forward through places of truth and reconciliation. We also believe that recognizing the dedication of communities of color to the American experiment through the places we work to save—from Rosenwald schools to the home of Madame C.J. Walker—will help to inspire innovation, investment, and faith in our democracy.

Each of us, in our own communities, businesses, and institutions at all levels, must commit to do all we can to create constructive spaces where justice and peace can flourish—including in those places that reflect our history as Americans. If we are successful, we will find our way to a more unified society, where outbreaks of pain and outrage will become only a thing of the past. We have much work to do in this country to acknowledge and shift a legacy begun hundreds of years ago, but I firmly believe we can find a way to healing and peace by respecting the humanity of every person, and by making that evident in the very fabric of our communities.”

From the American Planning Association (APA):

The American Planning Association is heartbroken over the brutal, senseless killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this week, and the immense pain inflicted on the black community, which continues to suffer from the insidious and blatant effects of structural racism nationwide.

We are also profoundly saddened by the additional burdens being visited on our cities, which are still reeling from the devastating effect of a global pandemic, and concerned for the tens of thousands of planners across the nation who strive daily — despite setbacks and frustrations — to raise the voice of the voiceless.

The impact of Mr. Floyd’s death and other recent grave injustices like it must be viewed in light of the historical trauma inflicted on African American communities, including discrimination wrought by the planning profession itself, which led to structural disadvantages in housing, transportation, education and employment that last to this day.

APA recognizes this reality and is working to center equity in all planning processes in keeping with our mission of creating great communities for all. From our landmark Planning for Equity Policy Guide, to the ethical principles that undergird the professional practice of planning articulated in the AICP Code of Ethics, to the new online public engagement toolkit to ensure that all voices are heard, we’re working to help planners and others recognize and eradicate the bad policy decisions of the past.

Together we can take an active role in rebuilding and transforming communities to create a society that ensures safety, health and prosperity for all its inhabitants. APA will continue to develop and deliver tools, techniques, support and encouragement to planners tirelessly combating all forms of racism and inequity.

Let’s stand in solidarity with communities of color nationwide at this painful time, moving beyond righteous anger and advocating for peaceful dialogue that educates and builds the bonds of great communities for all.”

From Docomomo US:

At this time of profound sorrow and frustration over the murder of George Floyd, Docomomo US honors the call put forth by the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), ‘to condemn racism and take an active role in eliminating the racial biases that account for a myriad of social, economic, and health disparities, and most importantly, result in the loss of human lives.’

We recognize that we are all part of the structure of American racism, and we re-affirm our ongoing, never-ending commitment to identify, oppose, and eliminate racial inequality and injustice wherever it occurs, including within our own organization. We will encourage our chapters to do the same.

As a very first, humble step, Docomomo US will focus on updating and highlighting our online register to better feature and recognize the important work and contributions of African American and minority modernist architects and designers to our culture, our cities, and our architectural heritage. This is a struggle that we all must take part in; we encourage you to participate in this effort by submitting a minority architect or designer for our website.”

From Diane Regas, president and CEO of the Trust for Public Land:

We mourn the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all other Black Americans who have been unjustly killed. This week we have seen just how dangerous simple acts that many White people take for granted can be for People of Color in this country.

The heart of our mission is rooted in our belief that everyone has a fundamental right to enjoy the outdoors —regardless of race, socio-economic status, or zip code.

No one should face a threat of violence while jogging, birding, or visiting with friends. We need a new way forward. In order to do the real work of building a more just society, we must acknowledge the history of racial discrimination, injustice, and violence that has and continues to harm generations of People of Color in this country.

The Trust for Public Land is redoubling our commitment to engage communities in creating inclusive parks and open spaces where People of Color are welcome and safe to enjoy the outdoors.”

From the Architectural League of New York

The murder of George Floyd by the police in Minneapolis—and the murders of Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many others—lays bare, yet again, the pervasive and enduring racism that disfigures American society.

Simultaneous with these deaths, systemic racist violence shows itself as part of all of the converging crises of this moment: the coronavirus pandemic and its attendant economic collapse; climate change; our ongoing “everyday” crises of police brutality, housing insecurity, lack of access to healthcare, radically unequal and unjust education and criminal legal systems, and overarching economic inequality. Each of these sources of oppression in American society has had and is having massively disproportionate impacts on Black and brown Americans.

Every system, every institution in American society, including the discipline of architecture, is implicated. The built environment—our public, private, and civic spaces, and the ways we design, construct, and inhabit them—reifies lopsided power relationships, economic inequality, and thwarted opportunity. Through inadequately examined design, planning, and land-use decisions; through the negligent or malevolent location of infrastructure, “renewal,” and noxious uses in poor and minority neighborhoods; through embodying and failing to challenge the aggrandizement of Whiteness and the depreciation of Blackness and all other cultures in aesthetic, technological, and historical norms and values; through our inadequate commitment to helping provide the human right of adequate shelter and other basic needs, we perpetuate the status quo and the unjust world it has created.

Dismantling and rebuilding these systems and practices—and the very structures of American society—is not the work of a month or a year; it is work that must engage all of us, immediately, continuously, for a lifetime. We commit The Architectural League to ongoing action for change.”

From Sarah Curry, president of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS):

It is almost impossible to put into words the feeling we get in the pit of our hearts when we are unable to distract ourselves from the egregious manifestations of racial inequality in the United States of America. Some of us are new to feeling, or do not regularly feel, so angry, helpless, and disgusted. Some of us have lived with that scary discomfort for so long now that it is as familiar, as anxiety-inducing, and as exhausting as a recurring nightmare. During times like these, all of us have the potential and responsibility to embrace empathy, seek justice, and uplift those who need it the most, no matter how difficult it may seem to be.

Though we may wish it otherwise, racism has always been and will continue to be inseparable from the realm of architecture. This profession we’re inheriting has a long history of excluding people of color and underserved groups from the design process, even when their homes and livelihoods are repeatedly the first to be demolished to make way for ‘bigger and better’ developments. Between the 1960’s and today, the percentage of licensed architects in the United States that are African-American has not exceeded 3 percent; and as of right now, in all of this country’s recorded history and among the over 110,000 currently licensed architects in the U.S., there have not yet been 500 licensed architects who identify as African-American women. Though most of us were not taught these facts in architectural history classes, a few of us have had to live these lessons in our very real present and, unfortunately, for the foreseeable future. Our education and experience in this field is a reflection of society’s privileged ability to disregard the minority and benefit the majority. There are no more excuses—we cannot un-know or un-see what the pandemic has exacerbated and what advocacy has brought to light over the past few months; and as Desmond Tutu said, ‘if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’ The pursuit of equality is an interdisciplinary issue that we, as students, designers, recent graduates, and almost-architects, should be excited to do our part to solve.”  Read more here. 

From the Professional Association for Design (AIGA):

AIGA, the professional association for design, stands in solidarity with Black designers, creative business owners, educators, students—as well as their families, cultures, and communities—in the condemnation of racism, intersectional discrimination, fear, and acts of violence, including murder.

It’s with great sadness and anger that we reflect and take a stand against the violent deaths of George Floyd and Black adults and children across the United States. It’s a pattern of loss that spans generations and directly impacts the safety, health, and liberty of Black Americans. Members of our community are weighed down by the knowledge that they or their loved ones may be killed in their homes, community parks, driving in their cars, or walking in their neighborhoods. Whether they live in Saint Louis, Minneapolis, New York City, Louisville, or countless communities across our Nation and around the world.

As designers, we understand the power of a well-designed and human-centered system to drive health, security, and justice in our communities—and to protect and ensure the rights of all people. We are attuned to identifying unethical systems. Systems that exclude certain individuals or groups, lead to dead ends, anger, and in the most monstrous cases, the consistent loss of life from historically abused and disenfranchised communities.

This is a problem that’s crossed generations and centuries, and enough is enough. These wrongs can no longer be permitted to stand.

No problem can be solved that is not first identified and soberly acknowledged. AIGA acknowledges the issues and pledges to do its part to confront this egregious reality by both empowering and supporting our members and community to do the same. Even though the full effects of our investments aren’t likely to be fully realized by our generations, it’s time for designers and the organizations that support them to do our part to shift the tide of change toward solutions, peace, and justice.” Read more here.

From the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH):

The wrongful murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police has proven a tipping point in the attitudes and actions of many Americans. Protesters around the country have taken to the streets, during an unprecedented pandemic, to demonstrate their commitment to securing for black Americans the basic rights and protections of every person. We share in their hurt and anger.

It was nearly seven years ago that Dianne Harris penned a poignant essay for the Society of Architectural Historians entitled ‘Race, Space, and Trayvon Martin.’

In this essay, Harris describes the way that the structures and ideologies of anti-black racism were made material in the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. How histories of spatial segregation and gated communities came to a head in what was described as a young black man literally ‘out of place.’ Her conclusion that race and space are inextricably linked in deadly ways for many minorities should not come as any surprise to us today. As these insights were made during the, now retrospectively, optimistic Obama years, writing such words seemed to hold the promise of better things to come. Yet instead of witnessing a decline in violence against black Americans, we find ourselves facing more and more tragedy, sometimes on a daily basis, as cell phone footage and investigative journalism reveal the routine character of anti-black racism in the United States.

From the signs of young black children reading ‘Stop Killing Us’ in Tampa to the human barricade willing to stand between black protesters and police officers in Louisville, we can find examples of people deciding to take action to ensure that our nation lives up to its promises of life and liberty. These individuals are joined by hundreds of other Americans—people of every age, color, and economic background—who support their efforts, but feel powerless, afraid, or unsure about how to contribute. ‘What is it that I can do to help?’ ‘What can I possibly do that will make a difference?’

If our peers can take to the streets and risk their health and lives for a political principle, even as the White House threatens to respond to such lawful protests with military force, then we must at least summon the courage to publicly acknowledge the importance of their sacrifice. Their work is essential to maintaining a healthy democracy and we stand in solidarity with their efforts.” Read more here.

From AIA New York and the Center for Architecture:

The events of the past week and the injustices that these events are forcing us to confront have been heartbreaking and overwhelming. On May 25, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, MN. His name was added to a long list of victims of unjust violence towards black communities and other communities of color in America. This is nothing new, we have crossed this ground before in our history. The 1968 Kerner Commission Report warned that, ‘our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, and one white—separate and unequal.” The burden of this pain and suffering, while not felt equally, must fall on all of us.

AIA New York and the Center for Architecture, as two organizations dedicated to furthering the practice of architecture to the highest of standards, place design excellence at the very core of our mission. In the most fundamental sense, we rely on our built environment to provide spaces for shelter, for employment, for governance, for entertainment, and for public gathering—including, when necessary, spaces for protest. Architecture and architects have a vital role in healing injustice, and we must hold ourselves accountable.

The current COVID-19 crisis and resulting economic fallout have only served to underscore the existing structures of racial inequality in our society. While we have all been experiencing this crisis, we are not all impacted equally. Black people and people of color have felt health and economic impacts most acutely, including within the architecture profession. This glaring inequality serves as a call to action, and our organizations feel this at the deepest level.

Now is the time to have more difficult conversations about what our community and profession can do to make change, and to work for justice and fair access to opportunity and wellbeing. An architect offers society specific skills that are not accessible to everyone and is often in a position of privilege; thus it falls on our community to put our hard-won problem-solving skills to work in the struggle for a more just and equitable society. This cannot be done if our profession continues to fail to reflect the diversity of the communities we serve.” Read more here.