The launching of the Designing in Color platform began last month at the 2016 NOMA Conference in LA. The theme of this year's conference was "Express Yourself: Unleashing the Power of Diverse Design." How fitting for our initiative! Personally, we thought the conference was an overall amazing experience and brilliant networking opportunity. Not only that, there was an overwhelming sense of joy and pride being among a collective of professionals who look, act, and share many of the same experiences, both personally and professionally, as you do. As a first time NOMA conference attendee, I felt like I was surrounding by individuals who wanted my success as bad as they wanted their own. It was like being among family.
Another great thing about the conference was because you are among peers and professionals who share many of your experiences and identities, some of the most heartfelt, honest and open dialogues where able to exist over the course of the three or so days the conference was held. Some particularly powerful interactions I witnessed was in the moments where attendees were vulnerable and spoke of their hardship within the architecture field, be that in their education or practice. Several woman mentioned feeling "invisible" in the office, on construction sites and among their peers. They felt that because they were women, specifically women of color, in this white, male dominated field, others didn't take their credentials, their directions or their suggestions seriously and would look towards a male peer for confirmation. Some women even mentioned fearing "being viewed as a bitch" if they spoke up, so instead, they almost shrunk themselves, passed off their knowledge to a male counterpart to disseminate, and lead from behind the scenes. To that, one attendee said "Be a bitch!" As women, we are constantly policing ourselves so our male counterparts aren't uncomfortable or to prevent ourselves from being labeled as a "bitch." Don't. Your opinions, feedback and knowledge is just as important as anyone else in the room.
Another powerful interaction was the discussion centered around architecture and real estate development, and what stops an architect from treading that fine line and branching into development. To which the answer was simply "Nothing." In some instances, it is actually encouraged. For example, look at the city of Detroit. Over 82% of the population of Detroit is Black or African American. Many industries in Detroit have been run out, leaving a large amount of vacancies, abandoned property and poverty. This leaves major development opportunity and who better to accomplish and orchestrate the goals and empowerment of the communities than the residents of the community and architects and developers who know about the community and share many of the same identities, goals and aspirations?
Lastly, lets discuss the Designing in Color workshop. We had between 60 to 70 highly engaged attendees, both students and professionals, engaging in the discourses of REPRESENTATION, OPPORTUNITY and CENSORSHIP within the field of architecture. Participants were split into three groups, each tackling one of the three topics, with conversations facilitated by a Designing in Color founder. After, the three groups were brought back into one larger group to discuss what their particular group talked about and the learning outcome of the conversation. The energy was brilliant. We had current students seizing the opportunity to speak and ask questions to the professionals in the room. We spoke on how being censored as minority architects have impacted our individual and group journeys, how open dialogue in the field of architecture and minority influence needs to be given the same platform as majority influence. Furthermore, we had conversations on how important representation was within the architecture field and how we can intentionally increase the number of minority architects who are getting licensed.
The room was buzzing long after the workshop officially ended. This is exactly the reason Designing in Color has this digital platform, to keep conversations going. Our identities have been oppressed for so long, it is time that we tell the world we are here, we will always rise and we will design the environments we know we deserve to exist in. How do you go about getting what you want? Design it.