By Rosa Sheng, AIA
Happy Columbus (& Indegenous People's) Day! #Architalks is back and no. 13 happens to be the topic of the "Citizen Architect" thanks to yours truly for suggesting it and Bob Borson with our lovely democratic voting process for allowing it to be chosen.
What is a Citizen Architect anyway? I am not quite sure how the term first evolved. If you Google it, here is what the internet came up with:
Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio is a documentary film on the late Architect Samuel Mockbee and the radical educational design/build program known as the Rural Studio that had its debut on January 1, 2010.
AIA Citizen Architect is a 2008 Resolution celebrating service of civically engaged architects and advocating for more architects within the Institute to engage in civic participation at all levels. This is an excerpt from the AIA website.
The Citizen Architect uses his/her insights, talents, training, and experience to contribute meaningfully, beyond self, to the improvement of the community and human condition. The Citizen Architect stays informed on local, state, and federal issues, and makes time for service to the community. The Citizen Architect advocates for higher living standards, the creation of a sustainable environment, quality of life, and the greater good. The Citizen Architect seeks to advocate for the broader purposes of architecture through civic activism, writing and publishing, by gaining appointment to boards and commissions, and through elective office at all levels of government.
Aside from Google, I also think of work in the realm of humanitarian relief related design like Architecture for Humanity founded by Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr as well as the many Citizen Architects involved in Public Interest Design and Impact Design movements.
So beyond these examples of what a Citizen Architect did/does and what a Citizen Architect could do, I would like to give you my own interpretation: mic and cue the music please...
The lyrics to this epically amazing song by Queen's Freddie Mercury have so many layers of meaning. I will share just a few here. (I have included this version from Jimmy Fallon's diverse talent to put you in the right mindset.)
In the Equity by Design conversations, we have talked about solutions to the bleak survey results regarding advancement. Based on our research findings and understanding of the pinch points, there are currently many phases in your architectural career to become disenfranchised and lose your way. This happened to me, despite early successes and without any idea that there were others who had or currently have similar challenges.
In the course of reading for solutions to the road blocks of advancement (structural or implicit bias), I came across examples inspiring the concept. of the Champion. "Women, Work and the Art of Gender Judo" an article in the Washington Post written by Joan C. Williams, a professor of law at UC Hastings sites that studies indicate women are more successful at negotiation when they are authentically advocating for others (individuals, or the greater good of a larger group). Additionally, studies have shown that women who self promote are not viewed favorably by other women and to some degree men as well. In order to get around this bias, Williams suggests finding advocates who will help support your case or promote your achievements to support your advancement. She calls this forming a "posse". I like to think of these people as "Champions" (compliments of Mr. Mercury's inspiring ballad and mic drop.) This concept can be applied to a larger audience to advocate for our profession, including those historically marginalized.
So Are Champions mentors? And are Mentors champions? The main differentiator for Champions is that they are actively and openly advocating for you and others. They are going to bat for you and they have vested interest in your success. They can be your clients, your "report to", your firm Principals, your peer colleagues, your consultants, and even general contractors that you engage on projects. They can even be people you meet thru social media who are endorsing you, your company, your cause.
And a further spin on Citizen Architect and Champions is the modern day superhero. Does the Hall of Justice and the Superfriends come to mind? Not necessarily your marvel comic incarnation, but a worthy do-gooder who cares about changing the world, improving the lives of others and making a difference. Because isn't that one of the reasons we all wanted to become Architects in the first place?
And while there is much about the profession that needs to be fixed, who do you propose will go about fixing it? So, as a Citizen Architect, I suggest we expand the definition and that each of us has a responsibility to ourselves and the profession to take action to improve Architecture and Practice. In the Shel Silverstein poem that I often reference about a little girl who claims she will eat an enormous whale by herself, she completes her task in 89 years by herself. If she had only known to ask others to be her Champion, to take a bite or two of the whale with her, she could have finished her daunting challenge much earlier.
At the AIA Women's Leadership Summit last month at our panel session "Defining the Problem, Crafting Solutions" we asked the participants to answer these two questions:
- What are 2 things that you would like to change about yourself? your firm? the profession at large?
- What would you prescribe as a plan of action to make that happen?
Here are 5 things to kickstart equitable practice in action today:
- Embrace Technology - Leverage technology and social media to share our stories of Practice, promote resources, strengthen communication and support each other's initiatives for change. Join Twitter. Follow your champions. Update your Linked In Profile. Start a Blog.
- Document, Document, Document - Take notes, Take photos, keep good records of projects, conferences, meetings, etc that will help tell your story. Submit your records to BWAF DNA. Write blog entries about events immediately after they happen and link to reference tools and resources. (Don't have the time to start your own blog? Write a guest blog for the Equity by Design blog!)
- Recognize - Help extract notable and inspirational women in architecture and write a Wikipedia entry so that we can create a legacy. Write about women contemporaries in architecture that you admire. Use the WiKiD guide developed by Justine Clark's Team at Parlour. Collaborate with other groups like SheHeroes.Org to expand our storytelling beyond our profession.
- Participate - If you don't see a panel with diverse participants including women and or people of color, speak up AND submit for future panels. Get on the selection committees that determine panels and awards. If you don't see women being recognized for awards or listed on project teams receiving awards, speak up AND submit for future recognition. You have to be in it, to win it. Buy your lottery ticket as proclaimed by Julia Donoho, AIA
- Advocate - Take action, start a group, start an initiative, start something that will move the needle. Use the Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice as a reference tool. Find others to build your tribe who will support you. Mentor future leaders and bring them with you. Become a Champion: be an advocate not only for underdogs, but for our whole profession. Celebrate and convey the value and power of design in everyone's lives. Equity is for Everyone, and Architecture is for Everyone.
So I challenge you to be a Champion for yourself, for others around you, your communities, and our worthy profession. We can be agents of change, but we can't do it alone. Get connected, find your Champions, be a Champion, because WE are the Champions...of the World.
Here are my Champions, writing their take on Citizen Architect for #Architalks No. 13. Enjoy and please let them know who sent you!