Brentin Mock is a staff writer at CityLab. He was previously the justice editor at Grist.
The American Institute of Architects’ CEO apologized for issuing a congratulatory message to Donald Trump. But AIA member Bryan C. Lee Jr. wants more than that: He’s issued “a call to action around designing for justice.”
Many of the American Institute of Architects’ general members were already taken aback by the tone of a letter from the organization’s CEO, Robert Ivy, congratulating Donald Trump for winning the presidential election and stating that the group’s members “stand ready to work with him.” Ivy received so much blowback as Kriston Capps reported, that he’s given at least two apologies.
Count a growing number of African-American AIA members among the most displeased, despite Ivy’s mea culpas. Bryan C. Lee Jr., education chair for the National Organization of Minority Architects, posted an open letter to Ivy in Medium today on behalf of a group of black architects assembled under the hashtag #AIAforDesignJustice. Lee, who works as the director of Place and Civic Design for the Arts Council of New Orleans, wrote that the architecture profession as a whole “has suffered from a crisis of internal and public confidence for a while and is currently going through a bit of a revolt after Robert Ivy’s ill-advised, unwarranted, and unnecessary letter of support for the President-Elect.”
Lee wrote that “it was wholly irresponsible to conscribe all 89,000 members of the AIA into a commitment to work with this objectively bigoted administration.” He also referenced a similar controversy from 1968, when civil rights leader Whitney Young blasted the AIA at its own national convention for remaining silent in the wake of Jim Crow. Lee called on the AIA to commit itself more to the principles of design justice, a set of principles cultivated by architects of color to incorporate racial equity into urban design and planning.
Asked why his letter needed to be published after Ivy’s apology, Lee told CityLab that he wanted to make a deeper statement about how the organization should operate going forward:
This is less about an aggrievement with Mr. Ivy, whom I know to be a good, well-intentioned person, and more about calling out and defining the faulty mechanics that allow institutions like the AIA to make such a mistake. Far too often apologies are issued as a means to move past and through an uncomfortable situation without forceful action to back it up. I hope that this note can frame this conversation outside of a political lens and to serve as a call to action around designing for justice as a core tenet of our profession.