Embedding Justice in Design Practice – ARCHITECT Magazine | Candle Made Easy

In this studio session, ARCHITECT Editor-in-Chief Paul Makovsky dives into a lively discussion with Kimberly Dowdell, AIA, HOK Director and 2024 President-elect of AIA; Rosa Sheng, FAIA, Associate Director of SmithGroup and Founder of EquityxDesign; and Royce Epstein, Mohawk Group A&D Design Director. Their conversation examines how architects and designers can work to promote equity in their businesses and in the built environment.

Last December, the American Institute of Architects published the AIA Hastings report (“An Elephant in the ‘Well-Designed’ Room: An Investigation into Bias in the Architecture Profession”), which examined biases in the architectural profession – and strategies for dealing with them proposed . The report, which included a workplace experience survey, found that black architects and designers reported experiencing high levels of racial prejudice. 52.4% of Black women and 50% of Black men reported dealing with negative racial stereotypes at work. As the study points out, one price of racism is the time and effort people have to invest in dealing with it, and that is definitely stopping it without arousing resentment or retaliation. Architects often blame the lack of racial and gender diversity in the profession on the education pipeline, the AIA Hastings report highlights, but it’s also a cultural issue. Open racism and sexism play a role given the multiple challenges in the world we face today. What role does architecture play in solving them?

“I think a big part of what we need to do is also to empower our profession to be more diverse so that more and more people from the communities are affected,” says Sheng. “And have the skills, resources and connections to actually help solve the problems in their own communities.”

Epstein observes that we can choose to harm or to help. “As we think about equity and diversity and how we can embed that into our practice, there are so many things we need to do and I think a lot of designers have the intention and maybe the mindset, but they don’t really know how they should express it and put it into practice,” she says. “Recognize all challenges and really work on them individually. What are my biases as an individual? How do we overhaul the system?”

Sheng also believes now is the time to disrupt long accepted systems. “For so long we have devalued workers with low wages and long hours,” says Sheng. “If we keep thinking that ‘my building is my creation,’ we’re going to, if you will, just dig that hole and bury ourselves.”

Dowdell argues that architects, as a profession, need to better promote their value and identity. “The general public has a pretty big misconception about what we’re doing,” she says. “Improving this understanding will actually help to add value to what we do so that we can be better rewarded. If our customers compensated us accordingly, I think that would actually help to correct some of the injustices.”

View Notes

This studio session is handled by the Mohawk Group.

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Kimberly Dowdell
Courtesy of HOK
Kimberly Dowdell

Kimberly Dowdell, AIA, is a director at HOK and works with other members of the leadership team at HOK’s Chicago studio on strategic business development and marketing initiatives. In addition to cultivating and nurturing relationships with customers and partners, she is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and events and a mentor to HOK’s emerging leaders. She is co-chair of HOK’s Diversity Advisory Council.

In 2021 Kimberly joined the board of directors of the Architects Foundation, the philanthropic partner of the American Institute of Architects. She also joined the board of directors of the Chicago Central Area Committee, which works to shape the city’s growth, equity and location quality. She is a board member of Ingenuity Chicago, which improves the access, equity and quality of arts education.

Kimberly is past President (2019-2020) of the National Organization of Minority Architects and a member of the National Organization of Minority Architects Council, the organization’s highest level of recognition.

She was a 2020 AIA Young Architects Award recipient and was recognized for her activism efforts by Architectural Record’s 2020 Women in Architecture Awards program.

Kimberly is also a member of the Urban Land Institute. She initiated the concept behind Social Economic Environmental Design, an organization she co-founded in 2005, and has been recognized as a 40 Under 40 honoree in both Crain’s Chicago Business and Crain’s Detroit Business. In 2019, Kimberly delivered the 19th Annual Dunlop Lecture at Harvard Graduate School of Design. This year, Kimberly was elected AIA’s 2023 First VP/2024 President-elect. She will be AIA’s 100th President and the first black woman to hold the role.

pink sheng
Scott R Kline
pink sheng

Pink T Sheng, FAIA, is Vice President of SmithGroup and holds multiple roles as Head of the Northern California College Studio and National Director for Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. She is also the founder of Equity by Design (EQxD) and the first Asian American to serve as President of AIA San Francisco (2018) in the organization’s history. Recognized as a designer, architect, strategist and thought leader, she is known for delivering design solutions with transformative impact in the built environment. When asked “What kind of architecture do you do?” Her response: “The kind that’s never been done before.”

This mindset has led to a variety of award-winning and internationally recognized projects, including the aesthetically minimalist, highly engineered glass structures for Apple’s high-end original retail stores; revolutionary workplace of the future at Pixar Animation Studios’ Steven P. Jobs Building; and recent work promoting equitable and sustainable design solutions for higher education in California. These include the Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of Business at Mills College and STEM projects at UC Davis, SF State and many community colleges to nurture underrepresented students in academic tenacity and future-ready resilience.

Rosa has presented her work nationally and internationally, including Why Equity Matters for Everyone: A New Value Proposition for Architecture and 2020 The JEDI Agenda – An Intersection Approach to Designing a Just Future. In 2019 Rosa was honored by Metropolis Game Changer. Additionally, she has been featured in Architect Magazine, Architectural Record, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times including speaking at the ILFI Living Futures Conference, Harvard GSD, Stanford University, SxSW, TEDxPhiladelphia, KQED/NPR and Cannes Lions Festival.

Royce Epstein
Courtesy of Royce Epstein
Royce Epstein

Royce Epstein is both a Philadelphia-based historian and futurist who shares her passion and vision for design, cultural trends and the importance of materials in a broad context. The graduate art historian worked for two decades as an interior designer and material specialist in architectural offices before she worked in product development for contract textiles and carpets. Royce is currently the A&D Design Director for the Mohawk Group. She is always looking for new trends in all aspects of culture and brings these insights to the touch points of our industry as a strategic designer, trend researcher, professor, lecturer, critical thinker and author. She is co-founder of Dissent by Design, a website and Instagram account exploring the role of design in social movements.

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