At the beginning of September, the National Building Museum (NBM) in Washington, D.C. launched a new series of programs, called INTERSECTIONS: Where Diversity, Equity and Design Meet. Running through mid-December, the series includes six lectures, three workshops, and a roundtable discussion in a mix of virtual and in-person events that bring together a cohort of people whom organizer Jacquelyn Sawyer calls her “dream team of architects and designers of color.”
Throughout the fall, the INTERSECTIONS series will highlight architects and designers of color as part of the NBM’s initiative to promote equity in the built environment, which was launched in 2020 in response to the rising racial justice movement nationwide. “We wanted to make sure that we were creating space and building platforms to amplify the voices of those who had been historically underrepresented in design, namely people of color and women,” says Sawyer, who is vice president of education and engagement for the NBM. “We wanted a series around diverse stories and take a more nuanced and deeper look at representation, diversity, and equity through the lens of design.”
A BlackSpace Urbanist Collective facilitated workshop. Photo © BlackSpace Urbanist Collective
The program’s opening workshop on September 8, led by the BlackSpace Urbanist Collective, focused on the idea of creating and protecting Black spaces—as outlined in the Collective’s BlackSpace manifesto— and solicited ideas from participants as to what or where the locus of Black spaces might be. Two additional workshops, interspersed once a month throughout the run of INTERSECTIONS, are meant, says Sawyer, to “create opportunities and space for people to unpack the ideas that come about during the series.”
Kicking off the presentations part of the series was Demar Matthews on September 16, an emerging practitioner and the founder of OffTop Design, followed by a program on the legacy of Harriet Tubman and her impact on the cultural landscape on September 20. Another early program was led by Mabel O. Wilson, a lauded scholar whose accolades include the NBM’s 2021 Scully Prize as well as being one of RECORD’s 2019 Women in Architecture Award winners. Wilson, who is a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, was a co-curator of the Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America exhibition at MoMA in 2021, and is a co-editor of Race and Modern Architecture (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020).
Upcoming speakers include 2021 Women in Architecture Award winner Amanda Williams (October 21), multi-disciplinary artist and architect Germane Barnes (November 10), and architect Cory Henry (December 14). A large-firm roundtable discussion is set for November 29, during which Jonathan Moody—who is CEO of Moody Nolan and co-chair of the AIA’s Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) task force—will join STUDIOS Architecture principal Marnique Heath in discussing how firm leaders can drive change by calling for increased diversity and equity within the architectural profession.
Although the series closes in mid-December, Sawyer sees INTERSECTIONS as a jumping off point for the NBM in following through on promises the institution made in response to the events of 2020, with the museum continuing to build on the series’ platform to create opportunities for diverse and disparate voices to share their perspectives and experiences. “INTERSECTIONS is an opportunity for us as an institution to create space for people to learn how to navigate the built environment and how to advocate for themselves within it,” says Sawyer, “We will continue to engage with these practitioners to tell the stories of the American built environment.”