Let’s Make Some Noise

There has been some pushback from members who are perplexed at the emphasis being placed by our Institution on issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.  In this polarized environment, some believe that any mention or effort to celebrate one community over another or to acknowledge past injustices in our society is unwarranted and pits one group over another.  I realize that in my capacity as President, I represent the entire membership; that we form a broad coalition of every ethnic, gender, faith-based, stripe of multiple national origins and sexual identities.  It is my goal, this year, to celebrate the uniqueness of our membership in all of its splendor. 

Robert Easter, FAIA

But I have to be clear that acknowledgment of some contributions is long overdue.  Whitney Young, in 1968, said that the architectural profession had distinguished itself for its silence in addressing the social inequities experienced by racial minorities in our country.  The AIA response was the creation of an award named after him.  And more silence. In the 54 years since that address, little has changed.  In 1968, two percent of our professional licensees were African American. Today, it is still two percent.

Enrollment in our accredited programs has become more diverse. Increased numbers of women and persons of color and members of multiple ethnic and racial communities are being realized in most schools across the country.  But our profession is still indistinguishable from its silent past. 

The letters we have received expressing outrage and discomfort about the emphasis being placed on issues of social justice by our Institute, nationally and within our state, voice a real concern about human relations and social interaction.  Some are feeling left out.  I can only imagine that the discomfort being felt by those authors is palpable and beg for a remedy that will quell their uneasiness.  They want the messaging to stop and return to a dialog about good design and extraordinary buildings. 

As your president, I wish I could eliminate the awkwardness some might feel.  Just as I wish that presidents from 1968 until the recent past had felt the discomfort of their membership who were isolated and marginalized for their gender, their appearance, their life choices, or their God-given skin tone.  Change is uncomfortable, but it is also inevitable.  We either grow or protest; we embrace it or fear it.  Everybody won’t always be the center of attention, the beneficiaries of a tainted, flawed, and highly prejudiced system.  

It would have been nice if our collective voices had to be raised fifty years ago, or even forty. Thirty wouldn’t have been too bad. But instead… silence.  Please know that I certainly understand what it means to feel uncomfortable, and I am grateful that we as a profession are speaking up and speaking out.  For the past few years, architects are making some noise.  It is inspiring.  It is impactful.  It is uncomfortable.  And it beats the silence.

Robert Easter, FAIA
AIA Virginia President

Guide For Equitable Practice Supplement on Justice

“In relation to the built environment, justice is about how the rights and benefits of spaces, places, and resources are distributed in design and occupancy; how past injustice can be repaired and healed, and balance restored; and what the processes are for ensuring fair resolution of injustices.”

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) latest Guide For Equitable Practice supplement on Justice has been published.


Justice in the Built Environment >

Access additional topics found in the Guides for Equitable Practice >

Justice in the Built Environment executive summary >

AIA Virginia Statement Addressing Social Injustice

Architecture is for everyone. AIA Virginia commits to making this goal a reality. As an organization, we stand beside the people groups who have been excluded for far too long. We commit to fostering a sense of belonging for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, LGBTQIA+, women, and people with diverse abilities. We stand with components and chapters across the nation supporting the rights of many, over the privileged few.

We recognize the treacherous history of Virginia. A place where the most prominent rivers brought enslaved Africans in 1619. A place where the mountains uplift the power and privilege of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. A place where the coastal wetlands support an ecosystem of wildlife once navigated by thousands of Native peoples. A place where the booming agriculture industry reminds us of the prominence of plantations. A place where Loving did not always come without challenge. As Virginians, we cannot be silent.

Our goal is that architecture becomes a discipline that applies an equitable lens to create communities across the state. Said plainly, architecture should strategically design spaces that reallocate resources based on history and systems. Architecture can only be for everyone if we as architects are committed to making it happen.

Created by the AIA Virginia J.E.D.I. Committee and Approved by the AIA Virginia Board of Directors, December 2021.

An Update on the AIA Virginia J.E.D.I. Committee

Since its inception in September 2020, the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee has been dedicated to creating a more equitable architecture profession throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. Our efforts acknowledge the grave disparities that marginalized identities face and aims to provide opportunities for education, programming, and advocacy. This work serves everyone. To date the committee has 4 main areas of focus:

Education: Education and training serve as the foundational for the work happening in firms and architectural schools across the country. It is important to have a shared language and a common understanding of the history and systems at play in American society. That being said, the committee will provide opportunities to learn about the value of diversity, the obstacles facing historically underrepresented populations, and ways to combat the many forms of bias, bigotry and exclusion in the discipline. Moreover, it is our hope that architecture firms take that knowledge and begin implementing equitable practices that respond to the systemic barriers to entry and retention in the profession.

Acknowledgment: Already underway, the committee has proposed ways to honor firms and individuals that champion equity through their exemplary civic engagement and/or their proven record of policies and procedures that expand inclusion and reallocate resources to underrepresented people.

Advocating: Inherent in the work of any committee focused on equity is a duty to advocate. Our planned advocacy can take place in many forms. It can manifest as a public statement of support for climate action and environmental justice or as a conversation with elected officials in support of specific legislation. As we continue to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public, it is important for us to give voice to those who have not always had a seat at the table and this is where programming comes in.

Programming: In this initial year, the committee aims to create opportunities for dialogue between disparate groups with the hope of gaining more understanding and developing some shared values. In addition to original content, the committee plans to promote and circulate webinars, programs, and services offered by other components, organizations, and agencies.

As I said before, this work serves everyone. It extends far beyond the reach of the committee and the architecture discipline at large. In the words of the late John Lewis, I hope that you will join us in our efforts to get into some “good trouble” this year.

Kendall A. Nicholson, EdD, Assoc. AIA, NOMA
member of the AIA Virginia J.E.D.I. Committee