These banners are not new and easily understandable by many, although it has taken many tears, blood, and even lives. The constraints can be called White supremacy, Jim Crowism, social fragmentation, or even in simple words- Racial discrimination. It resulted in the quest for equality, making people suffer from days- to days, decades to decades, and even centuries to centuries, but never reaching the finishing line.
Alas! We have forgotten that discrimination not only destroys mentality, people, and community, but also the environment we reside. Nevertheless, the question lies, what Architecture and its branches can do to nullify racism is a dilemmatic question?
Statement 1: Suchi Reddy(Founding principal ,Reddymade Architecture & Design)
“I remember during my first two internships, I would finish all my tasks really well, and they would be joyous with everything I did, but I never got the tasks that the white men got.”
Statement 2: Norma Sklarek(One of the founders, Siegel, Sklarek, and Diamond)
“I was one of the two female students while graduating class at Columbia University(1950), and was rejected 19 times before finding the first job.”
Statement 3: Juan Gabriel Moreno(Founder, JGMA)
“After working on projects all over the world, the day I opened my office on my name Juan Gabriel Moreno, all of a sudden I was considered into this category, ‘Oh, he is a Latino architect.”
The three statements described above are just about racial discrimination in the architectural profession, but what about the varied spectrum of oppressions outside this periphery? Whom should we blame?
1.Somebody got lost- The values and training given in the past have turned upside down in present architecture education due to unrecognizing the challenges faced by society.
“Architects need to understand people and places so that we can read between the lines.” states Alejandro Aravena(Chilean architect).
2. H-O-U-S-I-N-G- The 1972 photograph of Minoru Yamasaki Pruitt-Igoe public housing depicted mid-demolition debris clouds coming from the remains in St. Louis. The remains were the harshness suffered by the low-income groups who lost their shelters due to the unavailability of accessible and affordable housing. On that day, modern architecture died and might repeat this with a different name in the next five decades?!
3. Environment(that is unfair)- On one side, we talk about sustaining our surroundings through varying technologies(photovoltaic panels and electric vehicles) and certifications(LEED materials and buildings) the other, we only contribute to the postimperial military complex. The environmental justice mask in front is injustice at the back due to the condonation and participation in processes of militarization, desertification, and destruction-desecration of indigenous territories from our side. Therefore, ecological justice cannot be fair if architecture continues its unfairness with environmental racism.
4. Old thoughts and one example- For decades, policymakers, planners, and even realtors have continued to shape the cities with such a concept that people bear the racial discrimination tradition till today. In the 20th century, Robert Moses(an American public official) with intention designed a few overpasses in the San Francisco Bay area that were too low that buses could not pass under them, resulting in inaccessibility for low-income residents to reach the beaches. So why does the orthodox mentality still expect people to settle for less if the institutions still sponsor architecture for anti-blackness and racial oppression for marginalized groups?
5. The horrific history- People to date indeed feel isolated due to the worst history written by the worst people. The first is about the Jim Crow laws(U.S.A) and Apartheid(South Africa), legally sanctioned systems of anti-black cruelty. The second is the promotion of monuments that depict racism and exploitation, which now are continued and recreated through different architectures and scales, such as bridges, train stations, schools, fortresses, and palaces of colonial administrators.
6. Blindness- Is it worth it if the people who plan, design, resolve, and build our cities and communities are unaware of the communities and cities they are serving? Is it worth investing our(designers) technical, communicational, spatial, and critical-thinking skill sets if it’s not benefiting the right people? Is it worth it? As Jose Saramago described in the essay ‘blindness’, architecture is suffering the same agnosia as others. The field relying on to guide itself through sensations of white, masculine, geriatric hands has led to multiple issues and grievances in public spaces and facilities, quality housing, transportation, environmental conditions, and so forth.
7. Architecture ≠ Freedom- If we consider minorities as suspect, illegitimate, or criminals everywhere due to systems and institutions, including the discipline of architecture, then where is freedom? Where is their freedom if the built environment(public, private, and civic spaces) we, as architects provide, are inadequately examined designs, planning, and land-use decisions? Where does freedom lie if the negligent or malevolent mindset is reflected in infrastructures, harming the poor and minority neighborhoods? Where is freedom if the aesthetics, technological, historical norms, and values cannot provide basic shelter or need to the society? Eventually, Architecture created and maintained the unfair status quo world for many.
8. Let us ignore- Architectural discussions have always ignored talk about the historical laws and ideologies on racial discrimination noticed through the urban spaces like discriminatory housing laws, urban renewals, and predatory lending. The organizations fear due to clash of varied experiences caused by people like immigrants, women, of different color, artists, misfits, and elders, with the old-fashioned development of the surroundings. Moreover, it clarifies that the architectural industry intentionally is not addressing their discipline and racism, even raised as a question in occasional events.
9. Is it really worth it? – A doubt by many students who have just started their journey in architecture and are facing the biggest challenges of racial discrimination. Low exposure, multiple publics, and relatable situations in the environment might make them think–Is it really worth it?
10. Architecture– A boon or bane? – “Architecture is an instrument of domination. It organizes bodies in space with a varying degree of coercion, from what may appear as voluntary to the most extreme instances of violence. It does not invent racism, but it provides the spatial and territorial conditions for racism to exercise itself.”– Leopold Lambert, French architect, and writer.
What is the value of Architecture if it is not equal for all?
What is the value of Architecture if it supports racial discrimination?
What is the value of Architecture if the field is not for the community?
Diversity: A range of solutions.
Dig deep and undo
The radicality in architecture can get into the roots of the past, present, and future by helping design professionals and education systems find the blind spots(social racism, oppression, colonization, and fragmentation) and keep working on the social constructs and spatial contexts we need to serve. Whether it is about undoing tasks or redesigning the designers, we shall recover the damages done by us. Recovery through unmaking the prisons, un-narrating the history, and unmaking the architecture, will move us forward to new narratives while exposing the racism, settler-colonial roots of its capitalist development, and desperate afterbirths.
Buildings and theory
Being aware that buildings can act for cultural destruction, ethnic segregation, and historical erasure, architects shall be alert to what they are designing and be accountable for it. Furthermore, eliminating the architecture that brings an extension of control, domination, and tyranny while implementing new theories and practices is also mandatory.
Challenge the law
A challenge to architectures of gentrification, racist occupation, and environmental devastation, even if we disobey that law of unfair development. A challenge to the system, by demolishing Jim Crow laws, the Apartheid, and legacies of colonization. A challenge to militarized territories that investigate and violate people(blacks, immigrants, trans, indigenous, queer, and much more) in public spaces.
Dismantle and preserve history
Dismantling those historical monuments, architectural schools’ curriculums, and questions about their style depicting power and domination by anti-racist architecture will act as the first step. The second one is the preservation of the historical sacrifices and contributions by people against racial discrimination. Saving such past through the study of housing projects, partitioned schools, prisons, monuments, streets, and the environment minority has lived in will improve to make a powerful legacy and new beginnings for them.
New public spaces and a questionnaire
Bringing people together through public spaces usually supports the notion of trust and makes a stronger bond with each other. So, the places like libraries, community centers, public pools, and much more are required for people to come together and discuss current issues. Moreover, by data and technology, a questionnaire can be prepared to ask everyone about their income, where they have traveled from, whether the environment is welcoming or not, their participation in communal activities, and others. We shall remember in public spaces, the collapse of the gap between people considered experts and those who are seen least in conversations make a difference.
Let us expand
Traditional ideas of designing a building or landscaping seem unworthy today because it exacerbates problems only, therefore, an expanded definition of design is the need of the hour to re-envision legal and economic systems distributing growth and investment benefits. Architecture and its branches play a vital role due to its voice, its commissions, and the skills it brings as democratic visionaries and utopian pragmatists. We need to think about the scope and re-evaluation of the design.
A strong foundation is made in architecture when:
– We architects, be an ear for someone in a situation of racial discrimination and can dedicate a support system for recruiting and retaining young architects of color.
– We understand there is more than just designing buildings, such as how master planning can impact the lives of people and how communities work.
– We question racial concepts, think racially, and look at things and tools to learn the ‘Real’ architecture. Race in modern architecture is not about inclusiveness but togetherness.
Work for Architectural schools
The learning educators of Architecture in schools, places, or anywhere shall be about going into the architectural field without the difference of color. The students might meet people of color, women, men, lesbians, transgender, gay, and so forth, but we shall teach everyone to feel embraced in this world. Even iterations in curriculum and the availability of higher numbers of scholarships for marginalized groups will be advantageous.
Equity over equality in architecture
Equity in architecture is about emphasizing the User’s experience, including listening to the problems and needs in the shared environment by the society and providing suitable solutions to the intentional or unintentional damage the past has caused.
Architects shall have an inclusive approach towards design that they not only look at equity in architecture but equity in education, work, day-to-day lives, society, and much more. As a result, through collaboration, innovation, and creativity, architects help contribute by reducing anxiety, leading to a healthier lifestyle, promoting safety, and a more equitable environment.
Architecture can solve segregation, inequality, and poverty– Alejandro Aravena
“Architecture is about finding imaginative, creative solutions to improve the quality of life of people.”
“If there is any power in design, it is the power of synthesis. More complex the problem, there is more need for simplicity.”
The two statements by Pritzker prize winner Alejandro Aravena narrate his objective to resolve global challenges such as racial discrimination and poverty. His famous projects in Chile, such as Villa Verde in Constitucion, Innovation center UC- Anacleto Angelini, and Post-Tsunami Sustainable Reconstruction Plan of Constitución, provided three cases urgently to looked for:-
Case I- Cities: Global challenge of urbanization
By 2030, we will soon face the three menaces: Scale, Speed, and Scarcity. Therefore, it is very important to resolve these slums and social housing issues compulsorily with the help of people’s power of building.
Case II- Co2: How can design contribute to sustainability?
We can design any building with sustainability which only requires a rigorous use of common sense.
Case III- Tsunami: How can design provide a comprehensive way to prevent natural disasters?
Be it the force of self-construction, the force of common sense or the force of nature, design needs a translation through form, modeling, and shaping of life itself rather than by cement, bricks, or word.
Everything above proves that we can nullify racial discrimination in architecture by saying YES to all rather than a NO to everyone.
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- STRACHAN, F., 2017. Architecture can help solve poverty, inequality, segregation. [online] UNSW Newsroom. Available at: <https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/art-architecture-design/architecture-can-help-solve-poverty-inequality-segregation> [Accessed 16 June 2022].
- The Architect’s Newspaper. 2020. Un-making ARCHITECTURE: An anti-racist architecture manifesto. [online] Available at: <https://www.archpaper.com/2020/06/un-making-architecture-an-anti-racist-architecture-manifesto/> [Accessed 16 June 2022].
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- Syrkett, A., Warekar, T. and Sisson, P., 2017. 16 architects on why race matters in the profession. [online] Curbed. Available at: <https://archive.curbed.com/2017/2/22/13843566/minority-architects-diversity-architecture-solutions-advice> [Accessed 16 June 2022].
- TED, 2014. Alejandro Aravena: My architectural philosophy? Bring the community into the process.Available at: <https://youtu.be/o0I0Poe3qlg> [Accessed 16 June 2022].
- Sisson, P., 2017. 11 pioneering architects of color who made their mark. [online] Curbed. Available at: <https://archive.curbed.com/2017/2/22/14677250/historic-minority-architects-paul-revere-williams-takeo-shiota> [Accessed 16 June 2022].
- Hickman, M., 2020. Architecture and design organizations speak out as protests over racial injustice continue. [online] The Architect’s Newspaper. Available at: <https://www.archpaper.com/2020/06/architecture-design-organizations-speak-out-racial-injustice/> [Accessed 16 June 2022].
- Lambert, L., 2016. Architecture and Racism: A Much Needed Conversation. [online] THE FUNAMBULIST MAGAZINE. Available at: <https://thefunambulist.net/editorials/architecture-and-racism-a-much-needed-conversation#:~:text=Architecture%20is%20an%20instrument%20of%20domination.%20It%20organizes,and%20territorial%20conditions%20for%20racism%20to%20exercise%20itself.> [Accessed 16 June 2022].
- Curbed. 2017. On race & architecture. [online] Available at: <https://archive.curbed.com/2017/2/22/14677844/architecture-diversity-inclusion-race> [Accessed 16 June 2022].
- Anderson, M., 2017. How can architecture schools increase diversity?. [online] Curbed. Available at: <https://archive.curbed.com/2017/2/22/14653054/architecture-schools-diversity> [Accessed 16 June 2022].
- Srivastava, T., 2022. Equity in Architecture: An Inclusive Approach Towards Design – RTF | Rethinking The Future. [online] RTF | Rethinking The Future. Available at: <https://www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/rtf-fresh-perspectives/a4496-equity-in-architecture-an-inclusive-approach-towards-design/> [Accessed 16 June 2022].