By Abigail Brown, AIA
Disrupt for enduring change
Disruption. The very founding of the Young Architects Forum was based around change and interruption of our profession. It’s most often in the context of practice models, project delivery, emerging technologies to name but a few. Occasionally, a disruption comes along that demands the attention of all of us. Rarely does disruption occur as the sum of the factors we are witnessing today. A global pandemic, the reckoning with inequality, and catastrophic events brought about by climate change, have coalesced to make this year a call to action into every corner of our society. As I am sure it has for those of you reading this issue, 2020 has thrown the YAF’s plans for the year into disarray. It has also brought our most important priorities into focus.
Within the span of just a few weeks earlier this spring, the entire profession of architecture was forced to pivot to a fully remote model. Anxiety levels rose in all of us as we navigated technological change, remote firm and project leadership, a crashing economy, childcare and/or homeschooling, and social isolation. There is fear that the gains that women have made in the workplace over the last fifty years will be set back by the pandemic, as many working moms are cutting back on hours or leaving the workforce altogether. The protests and outrage sparked by the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others this summer put into sharp focus the inequity and racism that had been there all along — both in society and within our profession. And just last month, our country lost an icon and lifelong advocate of women’s rights, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which has put the future of LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, affirmative action, environmental regulations, and access to healthcare at risk for millions of Americans.
We have had a lot of difficult conversations this year, both within the AIA and within our firms, and it’s humbling to see emerging professionals leading the response to the challenges we are facing. Members of the Young Architects Forum and National Associates Committee have had several earnest conversations with AIA National leadership about our experiences and reactions to the pandemic and systemic racism. We have led webinars and speed mentorship sessions for students and recent graduates to share our experiences of starting careers during the Great Recession. The YAF Strategic Vision Director, Matt Toddy, is serving on the Equity and the Future of Architecture board committee this year. 2017 YAF Chair, Evelyn Lee, compiled a COVID-19 resource document for firm leaders, then went on to host many engaging conversations about equity, diversity, and inclusion with young architects on her Practice Disrupted podcast with Je’Nen Chastain, Assoc. AIA. National Associates Committee At-Large Director Jessica Parmenter, Assoc. AIA, led a group reading of “Me and White Supremacy” through her Architects Book Club. And there are so many women in architecture and equity, diversity, and inclusion conversations happening at local AIA chapters around the country that former New York YARD, Graciela Carrillo, AIA, started a website with a consolidated calendar so the list is available to everyone.
Of course, our work is not yet finished, and the YAF remains committed to continuing the work to make architecture a more equitable and inclusive profession. We invite you to roll up your sleeves and help us make an impact. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said: “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”
Abigail Brown, AIA
Brown is an Associate at Hickok Cole in Washington, DC, where she works on multifamily and mixed use projects. She serves as the 2020 Vice Chair for AIA National’s Young Architects Forum.