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Social Justice and the AIA: Time for New Work

  • 1.  Social Justice and the AIA: Time for New Work

    Posted 06-25-2020 00:06
    June 24, 2020
    An open letter to the AIA [as sent to AIA feedback@aia.org]
    from Ronnie McGhee, FAIA, NOMA, LEED AP:

    I have never found the AIA to be very inviting; or friendly. Architects yes, the AIA not so much. My first encounters 30+ years ago confirmed to me that the AIA was a white, boy's club, not so much resistant to my participation as an African American architect – just not interested. I was in and out of the AIA in my early career, both put off and interested at the same time. It was reinforced when sustainable design was new and shiny. [It's still shiny.] The old heads, leaders at least in DC were resistant to this new additional review and regulatory paradigm. Much of the resistance was based in the fact that young architects were pushing it, folks not yet steeped in the ways the business worked. It would cost more, require retraining etc. etc. A lot of young female architects were involved in the SD movement also. What could they know? When the youngsters came back from AIA meetings and seminars disappointed at the lack of acceptance and support for this new direction, I was surprised. My accepted take on my lack of welcome was based on my race and my boy's club history with the AIA. I had to adjust my opinion that my relationship to the AIA and it to me was more nuanced than I was willing to accept or see. Young white architects put off by their ideas being rejected or at least not well received? What did it mean? Maybe race was only one factor.

    Years later as the leadership of the local and national AIA took up SD as a natural outgrowth and factor in doing architecture, many other attitudes have changed. Benign neglect of the architect of color is still a part of the AIA just as blindness to the forces at work in the lives of African Americans and people of color is part of the USA. I/we have accepted this as a way of life for too long. I recently heard a decision maker of a local firm say that he does not know where to find architectural candidates of color for his firm. How is this possible in 2020? It IS easier to look in the same places every time. It IS easier to promote those like us, every time. It is easier to think of a technical failure or missing skill from a young architect of color to be more than that. An African American executive and thought leader once called them a "CLM:" a career limiting move. I knew I had no safety net if I failed at any task in my formative era. I watched young white architects make mistakes….and they were…mistakes. Not some sign of a character, educational flaw or flaw in skill. How do you rate and review your interns, up and coming architects, PM's, designers? Is it color/gender blind? Pay scales: of course, the young architect of color will need more seasoning or mentoring because….

    Are you making project selections based on how the client will receive your making someone that looks different from them the project leader? I loved working as Chief of Engineering at Bolling Airforce Base and having consultant firm leaders turn to my subordinates to ask for approvals and decisions thinking this guy or that guy MUST be the boss. So of course the project lead must be that guy who looks like me. As firm owners, and leaders your leadership flows to whomever you designate as the lead. Your confidence in the assigned team leader should be clear and obvious to all, and color blind: this can make gender, race, etc. irrelevant.

    In the end the AIA is people. Architects, interns, artistic and hopefully socially conscious business people. AIA will go the way its people say. However, the AIA role in providing guidance and best practices, now even in the social justice arena, should be visible, easy to find and compulsory to follow. There should penalties and/or benefits to complying, just as with AIA ethical guidelines. The AIA should set the table for methodologies aimed at eliminating these unconscious (unconscious to some) biases. I still see too many firms that have no diversity at all. Is this a choice? It must be: conscious or not. Have we promoted architecture as a career to people of color, women effectively? Do you, have you gone out of your lane to do so? African American, Latino, Native American designers are out there waiting for that push, pull or spark, yes, the one that you have. The one that you and I have had the opportunity to take advantage of. Believe the opportunity stairs are longer, each step higher and with no railings or rest stops for most people of color.

    The AIA and its people must get involved in reducing the inequity of opportunity, recognition (yes architectural publications need a do-over too), treatment, and pay. Recognizing the problem has come. Now the work must start.

    Peace,
    RMc

    Ronnie McGhee, FAIA, NOMA, NCARB, LEED AP
    Principal

    R. McGhee & Associates
    Architecture – Interior Design – Historic Preservation
    2031 Florida Avenue, NW – 3rd Floor | Washington, DC 20009
    Phone: 202 626 0690 | BLACK LIVES MATTER
    www.rmc-architects.com | CBE/DBE/ROB/MDOT/SBE certified firm
    Help ensure a sustainable future…please consider keeping this message electronic

    ------------------------------
    Ronnie McGhee FAIA
    Principal, FAIA, LEED, AP
    R. McGhee & Associates
    Washington DC
    ------------------------------


  • 2.  RE: Social Justice and the AIA: Time for New Work

    Posted 06-26-2020 18:36

    Ronnie: your message is clear, concise, and so very helpful to me.   I feel its coming from a place of pain and hope...and that resonates strongly with me.  Yes.  It is time for me to 'step outside of my lane' and seek out opportunities to connect, learn, and respectfully engage.  If the work feels hard, then it must be so.  With appreciation, Bob


    Robert Hastings FAIA
    Agency Architect, Transit Oriented Development
    TriMet
    1800 SW First Avenue, Suite 300
    Portland, OR 97201
    (503) 962-2128
    website: trimet.org





  • 3.  RE: Social Justice and the AIA: Time for New Work

    Posted 06-26-2020 19:30

    Bob thanks for the comments. Your accomplishments and position can make a difference. At my darkest moment, 1 person's voice made me think I could be an architect.   

    Peace.

     

    RMc

     

    Ronnie McGhee, FAIA, LEED AP

    Principal

     

    R. McGhee & Associates

    Architecture – Interior Design – Historic Preservation

    2031 Florida Avenue, NW – 3rd Floor | Washington, DC 20009

    Phone: 202 626 0690 | 

    www.rmc-architects.com  | CBE/DBE/ROB/MDOT/SBE certified firm

    Help ensure a sustainable future...please consider keeping this message electronic

     

    **R. McGhee & Associates (RMc) has been closely monitoring the situation with COVID-19. Our office will remain open at this time. We are fully prepared to maintain the level of service you expect from RMc over the coming weeks. We will routinely communicate effectively via email, phone and other remote desktop protocols and can assure you that we will endeavor to maintain our high level of service and to as close as possible, conduct "business as usual." At this time our staff will not be attending meetings in person, instead we will maintain continuity by calling in to meetings or using screen sharing technology to facilitate conversations and collaboration. **

     






  • 4.  RE: Social Justice and the AIA: Time for New Work

    Posted 06-26-2020 19:16
    Ronnie,
    Thank you for your letter. We as a community need to open our eyes and ACT - the time for talking is over.

    ------------------------------
    Edmond Gauvreau, FAIA
    Washington, DC
    ------------------------------



  • 5.  RE: Social Justice and the AIA: Time for New Work

    Posted 06-27-2020 08:20
    Ronnie,

    Thanks for writing this. It needed to be said. Be safe my friend.

    Larry

    Larry Barr, FAIA
    Quinn Evans
    d 202 591 2506
    m 703 795 0969




  • 6.  RE: Social Justice and the AIA: Time for New Work

    Posted 06-27-2020 20:15

    Larry thanks for the support throughout the years.

     

    RMc

     

    Ronnie McGhee, FAIA, LEED AP

    Principal

     

    R. McGhee & Associates

    Architecture – Interior Design – Historic Preservation

    2031 Florida Avenue, NW – 3rd Floor | Washington, DC 20009

    Phone: 202 626 0690 | BLACK LIVES MATTER

    www.rmc-architects.com  | CBE/DBE/ROB/MDOT/SBE certified firm

    Help ensure a sustainable future...please consider keeping this message electronic

     

    **R. McGhee & Associates (RMc) has been closely monitoring the situation with COVID-19. Our office will remain open at this time. We are fully prepared to maintain the level of service you expect from RMc over the coming weeks. We will routinely communicate effectively via email, phone and other remote desktop protocols and can assure you that we will endeavor to maintain our high level of service and to as close as possible, conduct "business as usual." At this time our staff will not be attending meetings in person, instead we will maintain continuity by calling in to meetings or using screen sharing technology to facilitate conversations and collaboration. **

     






  • 7.  RE: Social Justice and the AIA: Time for New Work

    Posted 06-27-2020 11:49
      |   view attached
    Thank you for your reminder of how important it is for architects to recognize the important role we have in shaping the social context and addressing the injustices that permeate our society. Architecture can be an instrument of change and architects must be the agents of change. Exactly 12 years ago, I wrote a response to an editorial that appeared in "Architectural Record" regarding the lack of diversity in the profession and a challenge to do something. Attached is that editorial response.  I have been engaged in that effort for almost 25 years. I was inspired in college over 50 years ago to recognize our role as social interventionists and the obligation we must have to changing the landscape for our collective preferred future. What I said in 2008 is just as significant and, perhaps more so, in 2020.

    We must be engaged and recognize there is something terribly wrong. But, then we must act. "Vision without action is just a dream, action without vision just passes the time, and vision with action can change the world", Nelson Mandela. Join me in sharing vision with action.

    ------------------------------
    Judson Kline, FAIA
    President
    CIVITAD Services, LLC
    Cleveland, Ohio
    ------------------------------

    Attachment(s)

    pdf
    ArchRec_art_June08.pdf   78K 1 version


  • 8.  RE: Social Justice and the AIA: Time for New Work

    Posted 06-28-2020 12:51
    Ronnie:

    Thoughtful words during a time of change. Thank you.

    Scott

    ------------------------------
    Scott Kelsey FAIA
    CO Architects
    Los Angeles CA
    ------------------------------