Black Lives Matter in Architecture Schools

John Hill
18. June 2020
Overhead photo of the Black Lives Matter Mural in Capitol Hill, Seattle, created by local artists supporting the George Floyd protests. (Photo: Kyle Kotajarvi/Wikimedia Commons)

The broad support for the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States since the murder of George Floyd has extended to schools of architecture, which are voicing their support for change in the face of structural racism.

While the Black Lives Matter protests after Floyd's killing on May 25 have been focused on police reform, conversations are extending to just about every aspect of society, including architectural academia. Schools of architecture, like the wider architecture profession, are overwhelmingly White, something the BLM movement is drawing attention to and demanding administrations to address.

Below are excerpts from the statements of four East Coast deans — all women — concerning the protests and the desire to affect change in the racial makeup of their faculties and student bodies, and therefore the wider architecture profession. Ultimately, the diversity of architecture schools and the profession is needed to create quality, sustainable spaces and places for communities of color — communities that are often overlooked by architects just as they are often mistreated by the police.

“Toward a New GSD” — A letter from Dean Sarah M. Whiting, Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD), June 14, 2020:


Four days ago, I received an ardent and thoughtful message from the GSD’s African American Student Union (AASU) and AfricaGSD, laying out 13 directions for change in response to the structural racism that has directly impacted this country’s Black population. This message coincided with communications across the faculty, also asking ourselves how we might change. I am writing you today with the beginning of a response, a response that we must all usher forward in unison. GSD students, faculty, staff, and alumni share one humanity, and the only human response to this moment is to recognize that changes need to be enacted that are real and targeted. Black Lives Matter at the GSD, and I am committed to taking the steps necessary to make sure that this becomes a lived reality for everyone at our school.

[...]

On behalf of the GSD community, I apologize that we have not served our Black community members better, historically and at present. I resolve that the school will make progress, not just with words, but with actions. I propose that we work together as a community, including our faculty, students, staff, and alumni, to enact real change... 

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"Black Lives Matter" — A letter from Dean Deborah Berke, Yale School of Architecture, June 11, 2020:


Like so many around this country and the world, I am filled with grief and anger over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others. To the Black and African-American members of our community I recognize your pain, I am with you in solidarity, and I understand that our institution must do more to support you.

By now many of you have signed or seen an open letter written by your fellow alumni demanding changes at the Yale School of Architecture to address past injustices and structural racism. I value each of you and believe that alumni constitute an important part of our community, now and into the future. ...

... From our conversations thus far, I recognize the need to reconsider how we have defined the “canon” of architectural knowledge, broadening its limits to encompass a wider range of works, and identifying the embedded biases that have protected its boundaries that are in such need of dismantling. To do so, we need a more diverse faculty with perspectives that challenge us. Similarly, I realize that we must admit, matriculate, and support more students from diverse backgrounds, particularly the future generations of African-American architects, still woefully underrepresented within our profession. Our approach to architecture must include sustained dialogue with the community, not only as part of the building project but throughout the curriculum. We need to commit to equity, diversity, and inclusion, both in institutional infrastructure and support and in training.

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"Hearing the Call for Structural Change" — A letter from Dean Monica Ponce de Leon, Princeton University School of Architecture, June 7, 2020:


The loss of life to police violence is appalling. The murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and countless Black lives across our nation must stop. Black lives matter.

It is time to not only speak up, but take action.

[...]

While our individual actions may seem small within the enormity of widespread racism, in unity we have the potential to affect change. First, it is essential for us to acknowledge that the discipline of architecture and its institutions have always been complicit in social, economic, health and environmental discrimination. Without this acknowledgement, we will be powerless to impact the grotesque structural injustice that Black Americans and other groups have been subjected to for far too long.

We must—once and for all—end the inequities that plague our own discipline. For too many years, I have heard too many excuses about lack of diversity in the academy and the profession. Let’s be clear: while unconscious racial biases are never going to disappear overnight, we must work to ensure that our student body, our faculty and practitioners look like the rest of America. We must change admission policies as well as faculty recruitment and promotion practices. We need to correct the funding structures that for long have perpetuated the exclusion of Black Americans. We can do this, and we can do this now.

[...]

The national crisis is bigger and more urgent than architecture. Architecture’s complicity in structural injustice cannot end without structural change of its own.

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"A Message of Solidarity" — A letter from Dean Amale Andraos, Columbia University GSAPP, June 2, 2020:


I write to express my commitment to addressing how racial injustice, bias, and violence course through and underpin our own discipline in visible and invisible ways. The deep pain, anger, and suffering that we have experienced and witnessed this past week is the pain, anger, and suffering of a long history of violent discrimination, disinvestment, and harm toward Black people in this country. To everyone grieving and calling for action in our community—our admired and beloved faculty, students, alumni, and staff—GSAPP stands with you in solidarity.

[...]

We must ask ourselves: Have we done enough to undo the systemic racism that is at the foundation of our disciplines and practices? Have we done enough to register the biases we all carry? While we have strived to be better and to do better, we must persist and be resolute in doing more.

We must stay present in this moment to recognize its specificity, to resist the urge to reduce it to yet another episode of repeated history, and to speak not empty words of change but take in what is being asked of us in this moment of intense racial trauma.

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