Flash Mob NYC: Voices of Plurality

On the heels of Venice Biennale Flash Mob, I worked with the wonderfully diverse group to build Voices of Plurality Flash Mob. Over 200 gathered in solidarity to show support and solidarity for the push towards fairness, justness, inclusion. We come from many walks of life. For Beverly Willis, FAIA, the key focus now is women. In the post #MeToo world, harassment, discrimination and disrespect is the main concern. Read her controversial op-ed in ARCHITECT Magazine: Beverly Willis on Sexual Misconduct in Architecture: Here’s what individuals and organizations, including the AIA, can do to rid the design profession of its rotten apples.  On behalf of the American Institute of Architects, Emily Grandstaff-Rice wrote a reply: The AIA echoes Beverly Willis, FAIA’s commitment to equity and diversity. 

As Emcee to the Flash Mob, my main responsibility was to draft a Manifesto, subject to many iterations, that everyone could agree with. In the writing of the text, immediately the discordance between “Equality” and “Equity” became the crux of the debate. What is the key issue now? Hopefully Voices of Plurality seemed like a choir of voices where not every voice has the same pitch, message or motive. Instead, it demonstrates that there is unity in the principles of fairness and respect, however the paths to seeing the profession and world we want to live in are still a long ways off.

with A.L. Hu, Julia Murphy, AIA, Caroline James, Pascale Sablan, AIA, Rosa Sheng, FAIA, and Beverly Willis, FAIA 

Caroline James (Emcee)

Thank you for joining us today. We are Voices of Plurality, and represent a broad range of groups and perspectives regarding issues of inclusion in our discipline. We are assembled here at the AIA National Conference 2018 in NYC to make a collective commitment to pursue equitable practice, equality, recognition, fairness and inclusion.

Five years ago with Arielle Assouline-Lichten, we launched the Petition to the Pritzker Architecture Prize to Recognize Denise Scott Brown for the work that garnered the 1991 Prize.

In 2014, Julia Morgan became the first woman to receive the AIA Gold Medal in the 108 years’ of the Award’s existence. The award was granted nearly six decades after her death. Also in 2014, with AIANY spearheading the charge, the AIA made a rule change to Gold Medal proceedings in order to award partners, not solely an individual. While AIA Firm Award had a longer history of recognizing diverse practices—Andrea Leers and Jane Weinzapfel, Founding Principals of Boston-based architecture firm won the 2006 AIA Firm Award, breaking gender barriers. Yet until the Gold Medal rules acknowledged joint creativity, we were only hearing half the story.

In 2016, Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi became the first partnership to receive the AIA Gold Medal.

In 2017, Paul Revere Williams became the first African American to receive the AIA Gold Medal. All three of these Gold Medal pioneers were championed through the tenacity of brilliant Julia Donoho AIA, Esquire. She would be on stage with us today, yet she’s in Sonoma County, leading a process to rebuild communities after the devastating forest fires.

In 2018, the lack of diverse professionals remains a challenge. Only around 18% of licensed architects are women. Point thirty-nine percent (.39%) of licensed architects, or 433 living architects, are black females. And the 315th black female to be licensed is on stage today. Around 10 black female architects have passed. People of color account for 22% of architecture staff, and just 11% of principals and partners who are licensed and run their own firms. Clearly, Architecture has a recognition and inclusion crisis. Fortunately, we have a power team. Be a fan.

The first voice is A.L Hu:

A.L. Hu

In light of deep challenges and uncertainty with in the profession, our communities, and the world, we remain steadfast and committed to our collective progress. We join hands with co-workers, students, clients, collaborators, and our colleagues to create a new path forward toward equitable work and educational environments that promote respectful discourse and open exchange of ideas that will lead to a change in the present culture of Architecture. This is a crucial moment of awakening.

Julia Murphy, AIA, with Beverly Willis, FAIA

As architects and representatives of our industry and speaking personally on behalf of the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation and given our history of working for women in architecture and design, we are building conversations and taking actions to raise awareness to combat pervasive prejudices and disrespectful behavior towards women that appears to be systemic in our culture and discipline. Women are a majority in the world, though a minority in architecture. We are united in denouncing discrimination, harassment and aggression against any member of our community. We will not tolerate it. We will not stand silent.

Be a fan of Voices of Women – Voices for Equality and Equity. Make a VOW to uphold fairness, transparency, and collaboration in Architecture…NOW at the AIA National Conference in NYC.

Pascale Sablan, AIA

The Architecture profession and discipline must reflect the diversity of the people and societies that we serve. Historically underrepresented design professionals of diverse identities and backgrounds must be included now. We are embarking to build a culture of inclusion where people of all genders, races, nationalities, sexual orientations and religions are able to thrive. Together we are forging a path of inclusion.

Rosa Sheng, FAIA 

We must work together to identify and minimize barriers to maximize our collective potential for success. This starts with the root causes of a broken professional culture, creating just access for all, and giving everyone a fair chance to thrive. Working in collaboration with partners at all levels of practice and academia, we will champion the difficult conversations, implement actionable policies and identify work that still needs to be undertaken to further our mutual goals for a better future. Now is our time to lead. Each of us has an integral role to play in developing our empathy and awareness, advocating for our collective values, and paving a new path to shape the future of architecture that is just, dignified, transparent, and respectful.

Caroline James

With these Voices of Plurality, we are making a commitment to you, us and one another. We ask you to consider for yourselves — what can you do in your workplace, your community, your school? To whom can you tell a story about belonging in Architecture, or navigating first year of core studio? You’ll probably discover common ground — and people to work with. Thank you all for participating in Voices of Plurality. Come find us, speak with your neighbor. The importance is that we each do something to change things for the better.


A.L. Hu is a queer, non-binary person of color working as an architectural designer at Solomonoff Architecture Studio in New York City. Their activism is at the intersection of architectural labor and gender equity, and manifests in written and visual media forms. They are a member of as well as a conduit connecting many organizations, including The Architecture Lobby, QSPACE, ArchiteXX, and the AIA. They have a Master of Architecture from Columbia University GSAPP, as well as a B.A. Architecture and minor in Sustainable Design from UC Berkeley.

Caroline James is a Boston-based architectural designer, community organizer and advocate working on a range of residential and institutional projects. While a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, she launched with Arielle Assouline-Lichten the Petition for Recognition of Denise Scott Brown to the Pritzker Architecture Prize and resuscitated GSD Women in Design, which is now a thriving student group of over 100 students. Caroline is building global alliances through Voices of Women/VOW Architects, working in tandem with other groups including RebelArchitette in Italy, and Parity Group at ETH Zurich. She recently orchestrated the successful Voices of Women FLASH MOB at the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture.

Julia Murphy, AIA, is Director at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in New York City. She re-started SOM’s Women’s Initiative in 2010 when she and her colleagues realized the firm didn’t have any women partners. Murphy and her colleagues took the reins and helped the firm confront unconscious bias and make structural changes. They focused in particular on professional development, including preparing young hires for accreditation exams. After its first year, 33 percent more women became licensed at SOM than in the previous year.

Pascale Sablan, AIA, is an architect and mentor, and the 315th living black female architect to have received licensure in the United States. She is a Senior Associate S9 Architecture. She is recipient of the 2018 AIA Young Architects Award Recipient, AIANY’s emerging Professional Award in 2014, and in 2015 was National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA)’s Member of the Year. She was 2016 & 2017 President of the New York Coalition of Black Architects. Through NOMA, Sablan has developed programs to educate and empower minority architects. Her chapter’s Project Pipeline introduces elementary school students to architecture by sending design professionals to New York City schools, and was curator of the AIANY Center for Architecture, and United Nations Exhibit “Say It Loud: Distinguished Black Designers of NYCOBA|NOMA.” In keeping with her beliefs that representation matters, Pascale has given lectures at Universities and Colleges all over the US including Columbia University, Georgia Technical College, Tuskegee University, Pratt Institute, Parsons School of Design at The New School, Madison Area Technical College and California Polytechnic State University.

Rosa Sheng, FAIA, is a Principal at SmithGroupJJR and Director of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion. She is AIASF President 2018 and Founding Chair of Equity by Design. As a licensed architect with 24 years of experience in architecture and design, Rosa has led a variety of award-winning and internationally acclaimed projects. Rosa’s thought leadership and activism has been recognized for catalyzing a national movement for equitable practice in Architecture catalyzed by three pivotal surveys and public speaking outreach nationally and abroad. National press coverage of her critical work with Equity by Design include Architect Magazine, Architectural Record, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, TEDxPhiladelphia and KQED/NPR.

Roberta Washington, FAIA, is founding principal of Roberta Washington Architects, founded in 1983 in Harlem. She worked as a health facility planner/designer and ran a design studio in Maputo, Mozambique prior to starting her own firm. In her own firm, Roberta Washington has designed and acted as project director for dozens of new and renovated housing projects, schools, and health facilities. She was President of the National Organization of Minority Architects and past chairperson of the New York State Board of Architecture. For 6 years she served as Housing Committee chairperson and co-chair of the Land-Use Committee for Central Harlem’s Community Planning Board. She was 2009 President of the AIANY’s Center for Architecture Foundation and currently sits on the Board. In 2006, Roberta Washington was elevated to the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows.

Beverly Willis, FAIA, is a fearless and irreplaceable advocate for the contribution of women to the built environment. She founded the nonprofit Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation (BWAF) in 2002, to push the boundaries of the “male dominated, macho culture of the building industry” and support the rise of female executives in the world of architecture. In 10 years, BWAF has grown from providing a grant program for individuals and national organizations doing research to delivering numerous core programs about women in architecture, including education, research and outreach. BWAF has also collaborated on projects with major exhibitors, including the Museum of Modern Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the National Building Museum. Willis is the winner of numerous design and leadership awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from Professional Women in Construction in 2011 and Top Women in Real Estate from NY Residential Magazine in 2010. Willis is also a founding trustee of the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. and a leader of the BWAF Industry Leaders Roundtable, a group of the world’s largest engineering and architecture firms.

Conference on Architecture 2018
Friday June 22, 12:30 PM
Outdoor Plaza, Javits Convention Center
Assemble outside along 11th Ave between 35th St and 36th St
Bring a fan to show solidarity and because it’s hot.

with A.L. Hu, Julia Murphy, AIA, Caroline James, Pascale Sablan, AIA, Rosa Sheng, FAIA, and Beverly Willis, FAIA 

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