Equity, diversity, and inclusion have been adopted into workplace culture and studio programming. But, justice — as a principle and directive — has catalyzed the effort for fundamental awareness and evident change within architecture. Why is justice a necessary design ethic? Virginia’s preeminent voices in equity, diversity, and inclusion weigh-in on why this question matters. As part of this series, Rasheda Tripp, AIA, an architect at GuernseyTingle, says that for justice to occur, it must be an ideal and a plan of action. “You have to throw big ideas up to make something stick. It can’t be a precise suggestion about improving things because it will get lost in the noise. But, then you have to follow the big idea with effective effort.”
I heard your podcast interview with Nakita Reed on “Tangible Remnants,” where you and Morgan C.B. Miles — the only three Black women to graduate in a class of 70 or 80 at UVa 15 years ago — and you talked about your shared experiences as students. What would you tell your younger self if you could?
Architecture is trying to evolve, but I’m not sure it’s where it needs to be. What I’d tell myself as a younger person about to embark on a career is that I’m needed in the profession. I’m needed because I’m different from everyone else in my experiences and my outlook, and I also need to continue to be different. If there aren’t different voices, it won’t change.
Why is justice a necessary design ethic?
The point of justice is to acknowledge what has been done to this point. Architecture has been exclusionary historically and I think an emphasis on justice helps us say, “This is what happened,” and then, “Here’s how we might be able to fix it.” It starts with architectural education. So much has been left out of the history lessons that, even in the last two or three years, I’ve learned so much that I was not taught or barely taught like red-lining about the GI Bill and about the structural challenges disenfranchised Americans face.
What are your hopes for what JEDI (justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion) represents as an ostensibly more inclusive acronym?
I think — and I’ve had a few really good discussions about it lately — the acronym JEDI isn’t perfect, but the principles behind it are good. How should JEDI inform the profession? It should make us more aware and create more inclusive environments. The standard has been set for a long time in terms of what architects represent, how they’re trained, and the culture of their profession, and it’s hard to deviate from that, but we have to deviate. We have to acknowledge there are problems in how we consider our differences and in how we talk about our ideals. Look at the pandemic. We’ve been operating in this mode, as a profession for so long, and the pandemic revealed a whole lot about how things work. The people who are the backbone of society are thought about the least. What happens when we prioritize those people? I think that’s a good place to start in terms of deviating from the status quo.
There’s a dichotomy in architecture between the practical, service-oriented work that firms undertake to be profitable and the aspirational “thought leadership” that architects proclaim to be influential. Where is the community in all of this?
I have been thinking about that lately a lot and, again, the pandemic has shifted my thinking. When a virus can travel across the globe and shut everything down, that’s a big deal. We don’t think about how interconnected we all are and how every person has a part in society to make it work well. In my current role, I am typically designing a single building or a single development, but now I am asking myself how it’s going to affect the rest of the community. When we talk to the client, we might address the need to bring the cost per square foot down, or we might address the need to add another bathroom, but we also need to address with them the impact every decision will have on the immediate context, on the people who use it, and even on the neighborhood, itself. Architecture has been so exclusionary. It’s not just about the bricks we throw up for a four-sided building. It’s about deeper implications.
We hear a lot about leadership and equity in the profession, and the responsibilities that those words represent. What do you think really prepares an architect to assume those responsibilities on the various pathways to licensure?
Both of those words imply an ability to be empathic, strategic, and build relationships. So much of architecture is about relationship building, but that’s not taught. We aren’t taught to interact with people like clients, consultants, and even coworkers. We have to put ourselves in situations with people who are different from us, who have different life experiences, and who have different motives. The profession will not change until it is more diverse and until there are different perspectives about what space should be.
So much of professional debate in architecture now is about creating statements of purpose. Where is direct action here?
I have seen dialogues that are promising. I have seen a lot of statements. But, are people doing the work to make the changes that those statements represent? I’m not sure. Where I have seen direct action and direct benefit is people trying to expose younger children of diverse backgrounds to the profession, and I think that is helping. If members of a younger generation know architecture is a career they can go into, then they stand a chance of making it a profession they can change.
What are some concepts that you think the next generation of architects will have to redefine or, in some cases, define for the first time?
I think the whole profession needs to be rethought, to be honest. Because we are just coming to terms with what architecture and its policies have done, we have not yet fully realized what it can be. I think we need to critically rethink the field as a whole, understanding how deeply it’s connected to shaping the human experience on every level for generations.
People don’t realize how political architecture is for some reason, though. We need to see the built environment as a political place that reflects individuals in power and a place where the collective will of those who have taken action sets the rules for everyone else. But, we have to be the ones to be willful. We have to be the ones who take action.
About the author
William Richards is a writer and editorial consultant based in Washington, D.C. From 2007 to 2011, he was the Editor-in-Chief of Inform Magazine.
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