How do you radically rethink a profession? It’s a question that’s constantly being posed by the tech disruptors of Silicon Valley, but one that perhaps isn’t asked as often in architecture. But recently, two activist-architects from AIA San Francisco’s Equity by Design committee (EQxD)—Lilian Asperin, AIA, partner at WRNS Studio, and Rosa Sheng, FAIA, principal and director of equity, diversity and inclusion at SmithGroupJJR—have taken a creative cue from the tech industry with a series of Hackathon workshops meant to provide a forum for architects and designers to tackle big issues, while rethinking the very ways they ideate and collaborate.
“This is about launching great ideas,” explains Asperin, the session organizer, who discovered the concept after attending a Hackathon at Facebook. The Equity by Design Hackathon 4: ArchitectuREvolution took place this Wednesday, when about 30 participants—from students to practicing professionals, as well as people from related fields like marketing and construction—gathered for a day of brainstorming and pitching. The concept is based on the tech model, where groups work collaboratively for a set period of time, with the end goal of producing a functional prototype. While some tech Hackathons can last for as many as three sleepless days, EQxD’s took place over the course of an afternoon at Syracuse University’s Fisher Center in Manhattan.
The workshop started with presentations from panelists including Katherine Darnstadt, AIA, of Chicago’s Latent Architecture; Martha Snow of Design Trust for Public Space; and Danny Guillory, head of global diversity and inclusion at event sponsor Autodesk, who spoke on strategies for creativity. From there, the participants split into groups to answer an open-ended prompt: What’s a problem in the profession you can identify, and how can you address it?
A few hours later, the teams presented their concepts, which ranged from new approaches to community engagement at the block level to strategies to combat inherent bias in the hiring process. The winning proposal came from Team “Value Menu” which presented a new standardized way of quantifying employee compensation in ways that take into account non-monetary benefits like social engagement and paid time off.
Team Value Menu member Yiselle Santos Rivera, Associate AIA, an associate at HKS, one of 10 participants who had won scholarships to attend, signed up for the Hackathon after hearing about the experience through colleagues. “[My friends who attended] felt really empowered, and they loved being able to network and meet people that were interested in the same kind of issues,” Santos says. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to meet people and see what's happening, and be able to take what I learn back to my firm and my community, to see if we can shake some things up and do something meaningful or in the process.”