An Open House For Equity in an Inclusive Community

  

In an article from the New York Times by Anna Holmes, the meaning of diversity highlighted a disconnection. It takes more than a simple box-ticking to tackle this issue. Important questions need to be asked that could help any industry:

“(The African-American director Ava) DuVernay, who made ‘‘Selma,’’ pointed out that of the 100 top-grossing films last year, only two were directed by women. She urged constant vigilance and proactive searching within the industry: ‘‘We have to ask our agents about that script by the woman screenwriter. We have to ask, ‘Hey, are there any women agents here that I could talk to?’ We have to ask our lawyers about women in the office. We have to ask, when we’re thinking about directors or D.P.s, ‘Will women interview?’ ’’ Her words were powerful and refreshingly specific; they were also further evidence that the work of articulating and creating diversity often — usually! — falls to those who are themselves considered ‘diverse’.’’

Similar questions can be raised in the architecture and design industry including our professional organizations.

For the American Institute of Architects, as an example, in selecting Knowledge Community leaders and board members, ‘Will women and people of color apply?’ When you’re a member of an awards jury selecting an awardee, ‘Have we sought enough nominations that represent a diverse demographic?’ When you’re a member of a scholarship jury selecting a winner, ‘Will we attract women and people of color to apply?’

The Housing + Community Development Network, [also known as AIA Housing Knowledge Community (AIA HKC)] seems to answer these questions well and have kept an open house for equity. AIA HKC is a Knowledge Community that tracks housing issues and develops relationships with industry stakeholders to encourage and promote safe, attractive, accessible, and affordable housing for all Americans. They seem to take the words, “for all Americans” seriously, as they represent probably the most diverse demographic among the AIA’s national groups.

An open house for diversity begins with their advisory group, the people who decide which initiatives, awards, and project stories are told.  

(The AIA HKC Advisory Group, from left to right, top row to bottom: R. Denise Everson, Assoc. AIA; Emily Roush-Elliott; Kathleen Dorgan, FAIA; Katherine R. Williams, AIA; Simon Ha, AIA; Jamie Blosser, AIA; Thomas Burns, Assoc. AIA; Victor Mirontschuk, AIA; Chad Askew; Stephen D. Schreiber, FAIA; Casius Pealer, Assoc. AIA; Elizabeth Debs; Etty Padmodipoetro; Melissa Daniel)

Its current Chair, R. Denise Everson, Assoc. AIA, who is honored with the 2016 AIA Associates Award, promotes equity, resilience, and wellness has been called upon when she’s represented the AIA both nationally and abroad, that includes championing professional exchange through presentations of new approaches to affordable housing in the East, particularly China and in the Philippines, during the Leapfrog from Disaster symposium (Organized by the Leapfrog Project, it was held during the one-year anniversary of category five typhoon Haiyan to an audience that included the country’s National Public Housing Director).

The group’s Secretary, Emily Roush-Elliott, a registered architect who won the prestigious Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship, has rebuilt homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina with Hands on Gulf Coast and the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio in Biloxi, Miss.

Serving as the group’s Treasurer, Kathleen Dorgan, FAIA, who was elevated to the College of Fellows Class of 2016 and past Chair of the AIA Housing Knowledge Community, contributes to the development of incremental strategies for neighborhood-renewal and community-building.

Their immediate past Chair, Katherine R. Williams, AIA, is an Assistant Professor at Howard University and focuses her research on Affordable Housing Development including Diversity and equity in the architecture profession.

Their Chair-Elect, Simon Ha, AIA, is an engaged community leader in Downtown LA serving on various boards and committees including Central City Association, Downtown Center Business Improvement District, Skid Row Housing Trust, and City of LA’s Zoning Advisory Committee.

A closer look at the rest of their Advisory board members such as Jamie Blosser, AIA of Atkin Olshin Schade Architects in Santa Fe, NM, Thomas Burns, Assoc. AIA of Davis Square Architects in Boston, MA, Victor Mirontschuk, AIA of EDI International, Inc in New York, NY, Chad Askew of Housing Studio in Charlotte, NC, Stephen D. Schreiber, FAIA of University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA, Casius Pealer, Assoc. AIA of Oyster Tree Consulting in Los Angles, CA, Elizabeth Debs who's a community development consultant in Providence, RI, Etty Padmodipoetro of Urban Idea Lab in Boston, MA, and Melissa Daniel of KCCT in Washington, DC,  clearly demonstrate their diverse demographics that include AIA membership, geography, race, gender, as well as representation from both professional practice and the academe.

Their initiatives address local, national, and even international housing issues — a relevant direction in today’s global economy where estimates suggest that there are over 8.7 million non-military U.S. citizens living abroad. One of the highlights of their international outreach was their Yunnan Sustainable Housing Study Tour in China.

 

“The delegation included as diverse a group of participants as possible, including members at all stages of their careers and practitioners with various areas of professional and volunteer focus.”

 

An important value the AIA HKC offers the AIA by representing the diversity of its members, is ensuring that all voices from all backgrounds are heard, not just the voice of the majority or those who have been in the profession longer. One can see this in the programs they produce.

They have reignited their webinar series, with a kick-off on July 11th with “Creating more than housing”. They also host an annual AIA Housing Awards Presentation Grant, a research grant focusing on Innovation and Practice in Housing Design, and a national awards program called the “AIA Housing Awards”. They also have an accompanying publication, produced as an ongoing effort to document the good works featured in the AIA Housing Awards and AIA/HUD Secretary’s Awards for the past 16 years.

Katherine Williams, AIA, shares one of the things the AIA HKC does to address diversity, "(Consider) who is in the room and proactively seeking people who are not represented whether that is by gender, geography or ethnic background." How can the rest of the AIA leadership groups emulate this open house policy for diversity to give our members a sense of belonging too?

(All photos courtesy of AIA Housing Knowledge Community.)

Lira Luis, AIA is a two-term (2014 - 2015 and 2015 - 2016) presidential appointee to the national AIA Diversity Council. She has also been in the leadership group of the AIA Practice Management Knowledge Community (AIA PMKC) Advisory Group since 2014.



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