Architecture School Deans Speak to the 'Urgency of Now'
As protests against racial injustice and police brutality continue around the world, the leaders of some architecture schools are speaking out about the killing of George Floyd and systemic inequalities in the United States.
Click the following links to read statements from Sarah Whiting (Harvard GSD), Nader Tehrani (Cooper Union), Hernán Díaz Alonso (SCI-Arc), Meejin Yoon (Cornell AAP), Milton S. F. Curry (USC Architecture), Iñaki Alday (Tulane School of Architecture), the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, and Monica Ponce de Leon (Princeton).
The following is a statement from Monica Ponce de Leon, dean of the Princeton University School of Architecture, released June 7, 2020:
Hearing the Call for Structural Change
The loss of life to police violence is appalling. The murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and countless Black lives across our nation must stop. Black lives matter.
It is time to not only speak up, but take action.
We should all join Kimberly Dowdell, NOMA National President in her call to action: “We must all leverage our positions of privilege to help our most vulnerable citizens, neighbors and colleagues strive for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I urge you to consider what’s happening right now as an American problem that we must all face together.” (See her full statement here).
While our individual actions may seem small within the enormity of widespread racism, in unity we have the potential to affect change. First, it is essential for us to acknowledge that the discipline of architecture and its institutions have always been complicit in social, economic, health and environmental discrimination. Without this acknowledgement, we will be powerless to impact the grotesque structural injustice that Black Americans and other groups have been subjected to for far too long.
We must—once and for all—end the inequities that plague our own discipline. For too many years, I have heard too many excuses about lack of diversity in the academy and the profession. Let’s be clear: while unconscious racial biases are never going to disappear overnight, we must work to ensure that our student body, our faculty and practitioners look like the rest of America. We must change admission policies as well as faculty recruitment and promotion practices. We need to correct the funding structures that for long have perpetuated the exclusion of Black Americans. We can do this, and we can do this now.
Ultimately academia and the profession will not change if we do not have access to precise information. Today the AIA, NCARB, and the NAAB provide fragmented, outdated or hard to decipher demographics. To address these issues, at Princeton we are developing an open database to bring together this disparate information, dig for more, and make it easily accessible. As we launch this project, we hope that other institutions will share their data with us and be willing to make it public. Data drives diversity.
These actions, however, will not be enough to address structural inequity in architecture. The system of licensure that has defined the architecture profession needs to be eliminated or radically transformed. We are one of the few professions that requires both a licensing exam and years of practical training. Both are structured to perpetuate discrimination and inequity. This exclusionary tactic is inexcusable, indefensible and must end.
The national crisis is bigger and more urgent than architecture. Architecture’s complicity in structural injustice cannot end without structural change of its own.
– Monica Ponce de Leon, Dean and Professor, School of Architecture, Princeton University
The following is a statement from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, released June 3, 2020:
Call to Action to Seek a More Equitable Future
Our hearts are heavy as we bear witness to lives lost as a result of deep-seated racial inequalities that pervade every sector of life in the United States and around the world.
The ACSA condemns the continual acts of violence against African Americans, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many others. We believe Black Lives Matter. The protests sparked by these events highlight the history of entrenched inequality experienced by people of color and Native/Indigenous people. We acknowledge the role of design in creating and perpetuating differential access to basic public services, including housing, green space, education, and health care, to name a few. We recognize the profession’s history of contributing to inequity through actions but also through inaction. We understand that architectural education has for too long accepted white privilege as the norm, limiting diverse voices and marginalizing the discipline’s impact on society.
We know some of our members have to navigate racism daily, while for others exploring racial issues will be new. ACSA needs to deepen our attention to racial equity. Through the training of our board and staff leaders, we are learning about historical systems of oppression and reflecting on reasons why past efforts to transform architectural education have not been effective enough. We have more to learn and more work to do.
ACSA is committed to making architectural education more accessible, inclusive, and equitable by initiating change through our volunteer committees and programs. From our growing understanding of overt and covert forms of racism and white privilege, we acknowledge the need for a comprehensive review of policies, programs, and procedural norms in ACSA and our member institutions to eradicate long-standing inequities.
Our recent efforts toward equity include presentations and publications related to race and racism, online discussions about equitable pedagogy, and data and research that highlight differential outcomes for women, people of color, and Native/Indigenous people in the discipline and profession. We also recognize that some of our members have been engaged in social-justice-oriented work for many years outside of ACSA.
Moving forward, we will use our forums to increase understanding and empower action. We invite members to join us in forging paths for a more just and equitable future for all people.
– Rashida Ng, President; Lynne Dearborn, First Vice President/President-Elect; Michael Monti, Executive Director
The following is a statement from Iñaki Alday, dean of the Tulane School of Architecture, released June 3, 2020:
A message to the Tulane School of Architecture community
We have just ended our academic year in a historic and tragic time, with the worst pandemic in a hundred years. Some of you have lost loved ones, or endured illness and fear. Our graduating students will have to wait to celebrate their commencement ceremony in the fall and face an uncertain job market. Everyone has a sense of loss, while hopefully learning about oneself and the world in a way that our previous daily life did not offer. But even more tragic events have taken place in the past several days. We witnessed the murder of George Floyd and, understandably, the outrage of the black community – and of many others equally and rightfully indignant. We are witnessing hate-inciting rhetoric that add insult and threat to those grieving and protesting George Floyd’s assassination. We are seeing honest demonstrations being overtaken by spurious purposes and violence.
As you know, I am Spanish, and I am still learning the history and the complexity of American society. But also my wife, partner and Tulane Professor Margarita Jover, is black. My daughter is dark skinned with beautiful curly hair. She graduated from high school last year and has shared with me a message from one of her classmates to the world: “Do you remember me? I am that black, smiley and kind guy, always in the back. But now I cannot stand your silence.”
We cannot stand the silence. As Dean of Tulane School of Architecture, I am fully confident that my words are aligned with the values of each and every one of us. We value the diversity and the unique value of every one of our members. Our school is deeply embedded in the New Orleans community, and most especially in black underserved communities where we build URBANbuild houses and support community partners with the public interest design work of the Albert and Tina Small Center for Collaborative Design. For us, architecture is more than the physical environments where we live, learn, work, pray, and gather. It is our duty to train the next generation of architects, designers, real estate professionals, and preservationists to have a deep understanding and sense of responsibility to also address the social, economic, and ecological environments that influence the health and safety of communities. We are absolutely committed to supporting communities in need, and it breaks our hearts that black communities are systematically underserved and in recent days, like in so many shameful past days, abused and assassinated.
We, at Tulane School of Architecture, demand justice and accountability, urgently now. And we demand long-term justice and equal opportunities for black and other underserved communities. We demand healthcare and do not accept that black Americans bear double the mortality rate from COVID-19 than their white neighbors. We demand the end to racially assigned poverty and unfair incarceration. Systems rooted in racism and oppression are the source of these injustices, and each one of us has the power – in both large and small ways – to rectify these systems through our words and actions.
Lastly, I recognize that the recent events we are witnessing may cause additional emotional distress and anxiety for members of our school community. If you know someone at the school who needs help, please contact Tulane's Case Management (cmvss.tulane.edu), CAPS for Counseling Services (campushealth.tulane.edu/caps), or the Line (504-264-6074). The staff at the Center for Intercultural Life (intercultural.tulane.edu) which houses the Office of Multicultural Affairs/Gender & Sexual Diversity, formerly known as “the O," is also available to support our students. And, as always, my door (now digital) and all the school’s faculty and staff doors are open for every one of you at any time.
– Iñaki Alday, Dean and Richard Koch Chair in Architecture, Tulane School of Architecture
The following is a statement from Milton S. F. Curry, dean of the University of Southern California School of Architecture, released June 2, 2020:
Statement on Protest Demonstrations
We at the USC School of Architecture mourn the tragic, unnecessary, and avoidable loss of another life, that of George Floyd, in the hands of law enforcement in Minneapolis last week. We also affirm the power and meaning of thoughtful protest and civil disobedience in service of structural change for the betterment of all of our fellow Americans. We also reflect on the many lives of Black Americans that have been taken by the ravages of slavery and colonialism, abject violence in the form of beatings and lynchings, racial capitalism and exploitation, the overt and calculated criminalization of Black bodies in public and private spaces, and the many forms of racism that pervade virtually every facet of our society.
The Fourteenth Amendment—one of the so-called “Reconstruction Amendments”—outlawed slavery in 1868. Yet, as historian Eric Foner states in The Second Founding, “a state action interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment can be debilitating. It has been used, for example, in rulings that do not allow race to be taken into account in voluntary school desegregation programs, on the grounds that segregation today results not from laws, as in the past, but from ‘private choices’ that produced racially homogenous housing patterns” (The Second Founding, 173). While the Fourteenth Amendment outlawed slavery, through subsequent Supreme Court rulings and established precedent, the Amendment has been rendered irrelevant as a deterrent to racially injurious discrimination from the actions that have come to replace the overt physicality and brutality of chattel slavery, namely other forms of racism that become entrenched in our society’s infrastructures.
Private actions, state actions, and intentionally racially harmful policies. While it is true that unconscious racial bias cannot be made to disappear overnight, an intersectional approach to address the root causes of racism (and other forms of discrimination) will yield the most productive results. The level of entrenched poverty, environmental and health precarity, underinvestment in public education and housing, dearth of public space, and the disconnection from viable sources of fresh food and water—in many urban and inner-city areas with high concentrations of Black Americans—represent a failure of our collective will and a failure of our collective imagination. The university must be an ally of those who seek to imagine new forms of justice, new forms of egalitarian conditions within our cities and metropolitan regions, and new forms of sociality that enable us to build social bonds with complete strangers within a commonly held set of values. The intellectual project of the university is simultaneously a deeply democratic project based on a core intention and determinate aspiration that accessibility for all yields opportunity and upward social mobility.
At the USC School of Architecture, we see architects as citizens with a unique set of skills to enable the co-creation of new knowledge and action, amongst and between students, faculty and communities. Collectively, we too are the guardians of the democratic space and civic imaginations that breathe life into the consciousness of persons of all races, ethnicities, and identities. To the greatest extent possible, we are collectively called upon to develop, curate, enact and learn from the desperately needed structural changes in our society that will banish structural racism to the annals of history—not at some point in the distant future, but within our lifetime. The principles and values that motivate us as practitioners, designers and scholars must be in alignment with how we organize our school, invest in our collective future, and innovate with purpose and intentionality. I am proud of our students, faculty and staff for assisting in executing our strategic plan for diversity, equity and inclusion. But I also want to challenge all of us to think about specific ways in the coming academic year that we can—together—develop syllabi, courses, seminars, and research projects on how to address structural racism in the built environment. I look forward to soliciting ideas in advance of announcing some specific actions that we can undertake as an intellectual community. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to inviting you to join the School for one of several discussion forums this summer to talk through our collective ideas for change.
– Milton S. F. Curry, Dean, Della & Harry MacDonald Dean’s Chair
The following is a statement from Meejin Yoon, dean of the Cornell University College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, released June 2, 2020:
The Urgency of Now
Dear AAP Students, Faculty, and Staff—
I want to take a moment to acknowledge the tireless commitment and tremendous effort you have all made to reach the end of this particular academic year. Alone together, remote and connected—our community showed an incredible capacity for resilience in a time of uncertainty. Thank you, everyone, for the care and support you so willingly showed for each other, our community, and your work. While I am so deeply grateful and inspired by what we accomplished together this semester, the tragic loss of life to racial violence demands deep reflection on hope in the face of uncertainty—and, where we stand on equity, justice, and progress in America.
George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis is a painful reminder that the roots of racism remain deeply embedded in our society and systems. Police brutality and mass incarceration; the disproportionate number of deaths due to COVID-19 among communities of color; and unequal access to services and opportunities, are among the smoldering conditions that ignite and perpetuate what Coretta Scott King has called the "cycle of anger, fear, and violence." The American history we know and share is haunted by racism, and it comes in many forms—from slavery to Reconstruction-era discrimination; lynching, terror, and white supremacist fear tactics; residual and new forms of segregation; implicit and explicit bias in our systems; and the ongoing perpetration of hate-fueled brutality. Over the past few days, we have seen both peaceful protests call for justice, and cities burn with a message that the cycle of anger, fear, and violence is still with us. The legacy of racial violence and discrimination in all its forms must be called out and come to an end. Here and now.
Many of us are still reeling—perhaps searching for our own words and reflecting on what we can do. Asking how we might break the cycle as we process unsettling waves of tension, divisiveness, and urgency. Earlier this year, as we returned to our classrooms and studios, hopeful for a new decade, I shared a reflection on both how far we have come, something that even today should be recognized, and how far we still have yet to go. And that, according to Martin Luther King Jr., "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable." The senseless death of Mr. Floyd and so many others confronts us, yet again, with what King called "the fierce urgency of now." And it is clear that there is so much more work to be done — that the project of progress, equity, and justice is gravely incomplete.
At AAP, we teach that problems of such difficulty and magnitude require us to grapple with the social and physical, the political and territorial, and the cultural. And, that these problems are shared within the context of our time and have the potential to connect us if we act and address them together—across, and respectful of difference. Only a week ago, I shared activist Ai-jen Poo's thoughts about 'our time,' and 'stakes'—and already, the stakes have again been raised. Rather than 'seeking' a more just or fairer world — we need to work together to make a just and fair world (without any qualifiers).
This year alone has shown us that the urgency is now. What we need next are real conversations about race and racism in our spaces and systems, about public health and access, and about fundamental shifts in thought that are carried over into a series of tangible, meaningful actions that shape tomorrow today.
While this is a particularly difficult time to make any certain plans, we are committed to informed action both at AAP and Cornell. Almost constantly, we hear the term 'new normal' applied to our changed (and changing) world. COVID-19 created a 'new normal' that was thrust upon us in response to the pandemic. The 'new normal' we actively need to construct is the one that transforms civic dialogue, public discourse, and civil disobedience into productive actions and systemic change for all people. AAP is in the process of planning a series of virtually facilitated round tables for discussing thoughts and actions related to race, repair, and urban politics; urbanization and equity; and mutual aid and design. I invite you to share your thoughts on these topics and to join for these dialogues.
Long-time activist Angela Davis said, "You have to act as if it were radically possible to transform the world. And you have to do it all the time." We commit to this knowing that our college and our disciplines are about acts of transformation—and I know we will continue to come together as a community, stand firm and tireless in our refusal to accept hate and violence, and work to create the world we need in the image of the equality we all strive to share.
The following is a statement from Hernán Díaz Alonso, director of SCI-Arc, posted to Twitter June 1, 2020:
It is an impossibility to capture the pain of this moment in words alone. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and countless others must never be forgotten, and justice for their unjust deaths served. We are not teachers today, but students. We must listen to learn; to confront our shortcomings; to reflect and grow—ultimately it is our responsibility to transform that knowledge into action towards real, systemic change in this world. We are listening, we hear you, and we pledge to do better.
– Hernán Díaz Alonso
The following is a statement from Nader Tehrani, dean of the Cooper Union's Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, released May 30, 2020:
The Present Moment Seen Through an Autobiographic Lens
Dear Fellow Members of The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture:
The final reviews are over, grading is done, and graduation is now concluded . With the formality of official narratives behind us, it has also given us a moment to sleep, catch up, think and confront the world in which we live. This morning, I woke up to the melodic tunes of Us3’s “You Can’t Hold me Down,” and despite the urge to get up and groove, I felt the weight of its lyrics “….ain’t gonna be pushed around” on top of me, and poignant to a collective sentiment recognizing the life of George Floyd—now lost. There is something deeply historic about the moment we are living today.
The song transported me to a telling moment in my childhood, from 1970 to 1974, when I lived in South Africa. Still in the Apartheid era, I had the fortune to be jolted from the familiar state of consciousness that children are usually buffered by and allowed to peer into a world that in all its inequity, was also protected by the laws and conventions that come with state-sponsored agendas. On a family trip from Johannesburg to Maseru, I recollect our first journey through the countryside, as my parents would have us sing along to West Side Story’s “I want to Live in America” with an innocent optimism, at that time not knowing in any way that my destiny would, in fact, bring us to this America. That period was by no means the end of Apartheid, but even at the age of seven, I was witness to the first signs of its waning moments. No, there were no official proclamations. The signs were somehow encrypted in everyday practices of the very people that were part of the fabric of our daily lives: the abrupt departure of close friends, the divestment in key businesses, and the suppressed murmur of Nelson Mandela’s voice as it found its way from his prison cell into the streets.
Little did I know that I was living in a historic moment, and yet the feeling was visceral: the excitement, the danger, the sense of urgency was felt by all of us, even by my father. In his capacity as Ambassador to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, he was the first representative of Iran in these lands, recognized in the category of ‘white’ denomination. For this reason, it felt all the more telling to my youthful eyes to see him re-designated as ‘colored’ by the state trooper who stopped him for speeding on our return trip to Johannesburg. My father’s concurrent dignity and impotence under the gaze of the police force would be forever etched in my memory. In that time, designations of white, colored and black were reserved for people of different racial classifications and their rights defined accordingly; living with and against Apartheid was indeed the ambassador’s plight. Many other daily episodes became part of our new normal for four years, but little did I know that even if it seemed to be the beginning of the end of Apartheid, that I might yet live through them again in another history across the Atlantic Ocean a half a century later.
In 1974, we returned to our homeland of Iran for what turned out to be only four years; as an eleven-year old boy, I was a foreigner in my own country—and because of that, had the privilege of peering into a familiar culture with alien eyes. Enrolled in The Community School of Tehran, I was once again transported into an entirely new reality. Originally founded as a boarding school for the Children of Presbyterian missionaries from the United States in 1830’s, the school had transformed by opening its doors to the diverse global population that characterized the emerging Iran of the time. In its liberal environment, we were also witness to the tensions it maintained with the less accepting doctrine of the Shah’s Iran. More strikingly to my eyes, though, was the more nuanced tension between the Community School, Iran Zamin and The Tehran American School, the other rival English-speaking high schools, whose conventional politics were played out through the American football teams. Equally pronounced was the politics that defined the demographics of each school, with TAS being defined predominantly by the children of American military personnel, whose presence in Iran characterized the country’s semblance of stability during the post-World War II era.
Rooted in a tacit contract on the use and price of oil, the American presence was not only taken for granted by many, but also defined Iran as “an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world,” as dubbed by former President Carter. Alas, Carter’s tragic fall from grace came just months after that statement with the Iranian Revolution, followed by 444 days of American hostages taken by Iranian students, as well as a failed rescue mission, all of which sadly cemented his image in the American mind of that era. The Iranian Revolution was prompted by many factors, among them inequity, the imbalance of cultural representation and the need for political representation along a wider spectrum of orientations than what the Shah’s regime could tolerate. Ironically, the theocracy that eventually took over the revolution was a far cry from the earlier democratic ambitions of the voices in Tehran’s streets.
I would experience the Iranian Revolution in America by way of the New York Times, and through little encounter with the streets of Tehran. But much like half a decade earlier in Johannesburg, I would feel again that I was living in a critical historical moment, made even more vivid by the daily count of hostages as read through the nightly news at 6PM. Reading American words, but knowing the Iranian mentality on the streets, I could also feel the disparity between the official narrative and the plausible actualities in Iran. With all the knowledge of the American involvement in Iran over decades, little would I know then how much the politics of that moment would remain so relevant to our cultural experience today. As a high school student, I would be sheltered from the overt partisan nature of American politics, but then again, it was an academic environment that was defined by a relatively conservative community.
As one of few international students, we were respected, protected and taken care of as if we were all of the same cloth. So much so, we were all required to go to Chapel every week and sing our hymns, no matter our faith or philosophical orientation. Having had already memorized my hymns from my South African childhood, I would give little thought to the mandates of the school. With a radically secular upbringing, I knew only one thing: that even if I was born into Islam, I was not Muslim. For this reason, I treated our weekly chapel with ample irony, and only took serious note when parents of certain students of other faiths took issue with the school’s regulations. This too did not make me Muslim, but simply ‘other’. As it would turn out, the theocracy in Iran took shape in many ways over the decades, and with hundreds of thousands of lives lost to the Iran-Iraq war, and a way of life at complete odds with notions of democratic leanings, it also became clear that it was not a country that would welcome me back any time soon.
Living out questions of identity and belonging have not been a central part of my mentality. Because of this very background, I already knew I was a mixed-breed and have lived out the hybrid lives of the many identities I have inherited from all the cultures I have been lucky to encounter. In my college years, during the 1980’s, it was gay culture that helped to challenge notions of orthodox identities. However, the very freedoms of expression that came with the euphoria of that moment came into a head-on collision with AIDS, the other crisis that our government denied for the longest time, and instead of leveraging the opportunity to address our health system, it identified blame on minorities and other victims, whose lives had already been compromised by the epidemic. Still, the gay environment of 1980’s RISD was liberating for everyone, no matter their sexual orientation, because it dared us to imagine an alternative to the world that was being mandated to us, but also to empathize from the position of otherness. That otherness, is the very thing under attack in the myriads of tweets that are communicated in the early hours of the White House each day; it is also the reason that many of us, no matter our cultural, racial, or philosophical orientations, feel a kinship towards the many groups victimized by these messages, be they Mexican, gay, Asian, Muslim or black. I am all these people!
As we come to terms with the world with which we are confronted today, and what we have inherited after almost four years of the current U.S. administration, we are forced to face not only some of the more immediate ramifications of the daily toil it has unleashed, but how this moment is, in fact, connected to the many layers of history that inform it, and the many possible trajectories that await us as a result. A brief view into the innocence of my childhood is but one lens into the ways in which those experiences bind me to the challenges we face today, and how relevant they were to our predicament. For you, it might only be a reminder of the patience that is needed for history to take its course; more importantly, that you cannot merely sit and await it, but use this very instant to mold the history you wish us to inherit in the future. For those of us who have fifty years to look back upon, our only hope is that for those of you who have the same amount of years in which to look forward, you seize this critical juncture to define your role in face of the difficult options that await. You are living through a historic moment and, I suspect, it will remain with you for many decades to come.
– Nader Tehrani, Dean
The following is a statement from Sarah Whiting, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, released May 29, 2020:
Minneapolis Affects Us All
Congratulations to all, especially our Class of 2020, for finishing out the academic year with the flourish of a truly memorable Commencement yesterday. While this week has been filled with mirth for so many, it has been marred by violence and injustice for others across our country, pain of various forms that directly and indirectly affects countless among us. As we celebrate our GSD community, it is equally imperative that we pause to acknowledge the events of racial violence and degradation that were permitted to take place in this week.
The death of a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis has resurfaced a national conversation about race in America. His murder, coupled with other racially charged occurrences this week, has reminded us that race textures the American experience. As a community of shared values, the GSD strives to recognize diverse perspectives and experiences, and to create spaces for them and their stories; this is an integral part of our mission as a design school. I asked our graduates yesterday to go out and lead the conversations that unite us as global citizens. This conversation happening right now across the country is one that needs all of our voices, and needs it now.
The GSD teaches students how to shape our world, engaging not only buildings, technologies, infrastructures, landscapes, and spaces, but also what it means for us to live together in the world. The death of Mr. Floyd and the events of this week have been tragic, with implications for every corner of our community and for each of our disciplines. It is important that while we have been forced to reframe what community looks like spatially in the face of COVID-19, we never lose sight of what community should feel like. No element or facet of your design work is too small or too isolated to impact our broader world.
As designers and as citizens of the world, I urge you to recognize and acknowledge the injustices that remain so persistent and so ingrained across our globe, and I ask you always to take the time to consider how the work we do as designers impacts how we live together.
In this moment, and as we move forward, I ask that you recognize and talk with one another about the different experiences, the different forms of pain and of understanding, that people may feel given what we're seeing in the news and on social media. I recognize that the recent events may cause additional emotional distress and anxiety, and I urge you to be in touch with either Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services or the Harvard Employee Assistance Program if you need assistance.
I so look forward to us all uniting again and continuing our work: educating and inspiring leaders who will create a more resilient, more beautiful, and more just world.
With respect and reflection,
This is an evolving story; please check back for updates.