Many of us grew up studying the work of Cesar Pelli, the recently passed, Argentina-born architect who, from 1977-1989 served as the dean of the Yale School of Architecture. His transformative work includes the expansion of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, and the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles. During Hispanic Heritage Month, we pause to remember this great American architect and the countless thousands of our colleagues who share the Hispanic culture that adds to the vibrancy of our nation.
It reminds me that representation matters; cultural diversity is a strength worthy of celebration. Too many of our children watch images in the media that denigrate, marginalize and malign those who share their culture. Whether it is law enforcement tasked to restrain the free movement of immigrants by building cages and separating children from their parents, or politicians flying people across the country to make a statement, the images and the accompanying reports are heartbreaking and suggest a country that is losing its capacity to show compassion. The message that the young audience receives can only add to the trauma of life in these difficult times. We need to produce different visuals; the reality is that the communities that we live in were built by a myriad of creative thinkers who are solving critical issues related to sustainability, affordability, and resilience.
In June, we hosted the Design Forum devoted to Latin American designers, entitled “South is Up.” It was a wonderful introduction to the work of Smiljan Radic, Enrique Norton, Viviana Pena, Alberto Kalach, and Cazu Zegars and was marvelously steered by Juan Burke, a professor of architecture at the University of Maryland. I wish more of our members were able to see and hear the fascinating presentations about architecture that impacts culture, climate, and context.
Among my many architecture heroes is Dr. Carmina Sanchez del-Valle, a valued colleague at Hampton University and one of a few Latina educators acknowledged as an ACSA Distinguished Professor. Her impact on our students and our program has been extraordinary. There have been many who have contributed to the success of our profession, our communities, and our students. Everardo Jefferson and Sara Caples of the New York form Caples and Jefferson lectured at Hampton University several years ago and continue to mentor our students and provided a source of inspiration for the women and Hispanic students in our program.
In AIA Virginia we have recently crossed the threshold of 2400 members, nearly 100 (less than 4%) of whom self-identify as Hispanic. They include firm principals like Kim Smith at VMDO, who has been a leader in design excellence with a focus on academic structures. Tony Dockery, the principal and owner of AGD Associates, LLC specializing in aviation. But there are countless others who are contributing to large and small firms across the Commonwealth.
In Kendall Nicholson’s article, “Where Are My People? Hispanic & Latinx in Architecture” published by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), we learn that the Hispanic population in the United States is approximately 18.5%, making them the largest minority community in our nation. They comprise 8.5% of the architecture professionals in our country. There are 20 accredited architecture programs at Hispanic Serving Institutions.
Our nation is embroiled in political and social unrest around the idea of ethnic and racial identity. I hope that the architecture community can provide some balance and civility to the discourse by reminding our profession and our nation that the genius of creation is the blend of human culture and experience, race and ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation that creates the unique and diverse fabric of America. Hispanic Heritage month, spanning September and October provides another opportunity for us to celebrate the influence of that diversity on our built environment. It provides an opportunity to teach young children that their dreams can become reality; that their contribution makes us all better. Because representation matters.
Robert L. Easter, NOMAC, FAIA
2022 AIA Virginia President