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There has been much discussion raised about "Why are women leaving Architecture? and more broadly, Why is the profession losing key talent?"  Both women and men practitioners are disillusioned by the myth of work/life balance: Women are grappling with "have it all" expectations of juggling family time with the demands of full-time work.  Men are struggling to support their families solely on an architect's salary and fall back on asking spouses to maintain their jobs. The lack of affordable childcare and high cost of living only magnifies the challenges.  How did we end up in this modern family dilemma? What can we do to improve the situation?

NOMA RISE 2015 - Social Justice by Design

by Rosa Sheng, AIA, LEED AP BD+C


This past Friday, I was invited by the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) to deliver the opening Keynote at NOMA RISE 2015 - Social Justice by Design -  the 43rd Annual International Conference was hosted by the NOMA Louisiana Chapter in New Orleans (aka NOLA).  "While the design profession has seen a shift towards a more socially-conscious practice in recent years, NOMA has always been an organization centered around community engagement and social justice through the design process. With that in mind, this year, we are challenging our members and partners to rise in support of diversity in the profession and design justice in our communities." 

I was greeted with a warm southern welcome by the host chapter NOMA Louisiana at their reception on Thursday night. There were many friendly familiar faces in the room - the twitterati who I have engaged in meaningful "virtual" conversation, but have only met in person the first time that evening. During my visit, I also got to enjoy some of the sites, sounds and food of The Big Easy during my "30 hour" adventure near the French Quarter.

On Friday morning, I was honored to share the work of Equity by Design for the keynote session. "We are the Champions! Citizen Architect" from last week's #Architalks blog challenge served as a point of inspiration and call to action for all attendees. Kevin Holland, NOMA National President 2015-2016, gave a powerful opening that emphasized the need for action beyond discourse to improve the dire social landscape of our communities. He cited a story of racial profiling and the unjust arrest of Lyle Dotson that happened during an architecture tour of the French Quarter with a group of Ball State University architecture students and two faculty members.  Most of us are privileged that we would never need to worry about being arrested while walking through the French Quarter alone. It begs a deeper conversation about racism and social justice in our society.

The giant whale of inequity and social injustice is ominous. Divided, the task seems daunting to overcome these challenges. In order to make progress, we need to band together and share the responsibility of moving the needle. Equity is Everyone's issue on many different levels and it is all tied together; where we live, how we live, the quality of public vs. private spaces, who gets access and who is the advocate for designing these places. In order to inspire the next generation, we need to share our stories, our design work, our impact in our communities by communicating, documenting, recognizing, participating and advocating. We have compiled a Storify recap of the amazing topics, speakers, projects (like Project Pipeline), and people that make NOMA the phenomenal organization it is today. I shared the tools that we have used to spread the Equity in Architecture findings that has launched a parallel movement for equitable practice and talent retention. I encourage everyone to join twitter, LInked In, etc so that we can continue to engage in conversation and inspire the future generations of leaders that will come.

According to the US Census, by 2045, the minority population will become the majority. And in 2023, the student population will have reached this tipping point. How will we reframe our profession to engage and retain talent that will serve the transition of population and community demographics. Cultural awareness, competence and equitable practice will be important skills to learn; it is critical that we leverage this opportunity to convey the value of design in creating meaningful, influential and just environments where we live.


This week at AIASF, don't miss our last EQxD "U" Workshop of the year!


EQxD "U" Workshop 4 ! Architecture AND...Exploring Meaning & Influence by way of Multidisciplinary Practice.

Thursday, October 22, 2015 from 6pm - 8:30pm @AIASF 130 Sutter St, San Francisco

We will explore alternate models of practice that expand the avenues of influence for architects. More than 50% of all respondents to the 2014 Equity in Architecture Survey stated that they were dissatisfied with their current job situation. A large number responded that they were interested in alternative career paths. Rather than leave architecture behind completely - and have the profession lose ever more talent to other fields - how we can cultivate expansive multidisciplinary practices that are innovative, exploratory, and meaningful? 

The workshop will feature four professionals who have taken their work beyond the traditional boundaries of the field. After a review of key survey findings on the topic we will hear from the panelists about their paths, entrepreneurial thinking, and lessons learned in a question and answer session. This will be followed by design thinking exercises to guide us in thinking freely and widely about our career futures and the new kinds of practices we can create. Gain the courage and knowledge to turn your interests and ideas into a new work reality at our workshop!

10/22/15 Architecture AND… Workshop Agenda
Networking & Refreshments 6pm - 6:15pm
Introductions/Welcome 6:15 - 6:25pm
Panel Discussion 6:25 - 7:15pm
Break/Transition 7:15 - 7:20pm
Design Thinking Exercises 7:20 - 8:10pm
Conclusions 8:10 - 8:30pm

We are the Champions! Citizen Architects

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...

We Are The Champions” (lyrics by Queen)

I’ve paid my dues
Time after time
I’ve done my sentence
But committed no crime
And bad mistakes
I’ve made a few
I’ve had my share of sand
Kicked in my face
But I’ve come through

And we mean to go on and on and on and on

We are the champions - my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting
Till the end
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
’Cause we are the champions of the World
— Freddie Mercury

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.

The Hall of Justice was modeled after the Cincinnati Museum Center

The Hall of Justice was modeled after the Cincinnati Museum Center

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: 

  1. What are 2 things that you would like to change about yourself? your firm? the profession at large?
  2. What would you prescribe as a plan of action to make that happen?

Here are 5 things to kickstart equitable practice in action today:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!)
  3. 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. 
  4. 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
  5. 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! 

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
Citizen Architect ... Seems Redundant

Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
Citizinen Architect

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Good Citizen Architect

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
What Does it Mean to be a Citizen Architect?

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
small town citizen architect

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
#ArchiTalks: The everyday citizen architect

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
Citizen Architect: #architalks

Jes Stafford - Modus Operandi Design (@modarchitect)
Architect as Citizen

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
My Hero - Citizen Architect

Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Meet Jane Doe, Citizen Architect

Amy Kalar - ArchiMom (@AmyKalar)
Architalks #13: How Can I Be But Just What I Am?

Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
Help with South Carolina's Recovery Efforts

brady ernst - Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
Senior Citizen, Architect

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Citizen Architect

Tara Imani - Tara Imani Designs, LLC (@Parthenon1)
Citizen Starchitect' is not an Oxymoron

Jonathan Brown - Proto-Architecture (@mondo_tiki_man)
Citizen Architect - Form out of Time

Eric Wittman - intern[life] (@rico_w)
[cake decorating] to [citizen architect]

Sharon George - Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
Citizen Architect #ArchiTalks

Emily Grandstaff-Rice - Emily Grandstaff-Rice AIA (@egraia)
Citizen of Architecture

Daniel Beck - The Architect's Checklist (@archchecklist)
Protecting the Client - 3 Ways to be a Citizen Architect

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept)
Citizen Developer??

Greg Croft - Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
Citizen Architect

Courtney Casburn Brett - Casburn Brett (@CasburnBrett)
“Citizen Architect” + Four Other Practice Models Changing Architecture

Jeffrey A Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
How Architects Can Be Model Citizens

Aaron Bowman - Product & Process (@PP_Podcast)
Citizen Architect: The Last Responder

Samantha Raburn - The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
Inspiring a Citizen Architect

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
What Does it Mean to be a Citizen Architect?

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)