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  • February 12, 2024
    Confronting Modern Slavery in Construction Supply Chains Image 01
    Confronting Modern Slavery in Construction Supply Chains Image 02

    By Ian Wach

    How is modern slavery embedded in the built environment? More than 12 common building materials—including timber, copper, silicone, and PVC—are at risk for forced labor in their supply chains. 

    Bringing awareness to this issue and highlighting potential solutions was the purpose of the Social Science and Architecture Committee’s event Forced Labor and Supply Chains: Its Prevalence and the Design for Freedom Movement, which took place at the Center for Architecture on December 12, 2023. This was the first event in a series of panels and workshops designed to invite stakeholders in the building industry to think about ways to reduce the ethical footprint of our buildings by working to eliminate forced labor.

    This series kicked off showcasing the work of Design for Freedom, a movement to create a radical paradigm shift and remove forced labor from the built environment. Design for Freedom emerged from the Grace Farms Foundation, whose mission is to end modern slavery and foster more grace and peace in our local and global community. Sharon Prince, CEO and Founder of the Grace Farms Foundation, initiated Design for Freedom following a series of conversations around ethical sourcing, after realizing that designers often do not know where the materials used to construct their designs come from and under what conditions workers produced them. 

    Today, Design for Freedom engages with a broad spectrum of professionals and students to address the problem of modern slavery in the built environment. This entails architects, engineers, owners, construction teams, suppliers, and academics in order to extend the conversation to the entire building ecosystem. 

    In light of these roots and to kick off this series, Social Science and Architecture Committee member Nadine Berger (Sustainability Senior Manager at AECOM) introduced the speaker, Brigid Abraham (Design for Freedom Project Manager at Grace Farms). Abraham brings experience in architecture and information science, as well as a passion for architectural research, to furthering the goal of Design for Freedom. 

    Abraham discussed that modern slavery is defined as situations of exploitation that persons cannot refuse or leave because of threats of violence, coercion, deception, or abuse. According to the 2023 Global Slavery Index by Walk Free, an international human rights group working to end slavery, there are 50 million people living in modern slavery. Forced labor, which Abraham described as a subset of modern slavery, can be identified by factors including “restrictions on workers’ freedom of movement, withholding of wages or identity documents, physical or sexual violence, threats and intimidation or fraudulent debt from which workers cannot escape,” according to the International Labor Organization. There are an estimated 28 million people living in forced labor.  

    Abraham continued by stating that construction is the second most at-risk sector for forced labor, following manufacturing. This includes site work, as well as the procurement of the various raw and composite materials used in construction. Material procurement, which accounts for about 45% of construction expenditures, is obfuscated through a complex network of subcontractors, manufacturers, and raw materials producers. Construction lags behind other sectors, such as agriculture and clothing manufacturing, in terms of awareness of issues of forced labor and working conditions in the supply chain.  

    Moreover, Abraham posited that forced labor in construction also intersects with the decarbonization movement. For example, the Global Slavery Index identified solar panels as one of the five most valuable high-risk products for forced labor. To ensure we are on a path towards ethical decarbonization, the Design for Freedom lens asks us to identify and eliminate exploitative labor practices, as well as ecologically harmful processes, in raw material extraction, manufacturing, and construction. 

    Given the complexity and scale of the issue, Abraham listed a series of avenues being pursued by Design for Freedom and others, including: 

    • Embedding standards in existing codes of conduct and industry certifications: Design for Freedom worked with the AIA on the Social Health and Equity section of the AIA Materials Pledge. Design for Freedom is also in conversations with the U.S. Green Building Council, Health Product Declaration Collaborative, and WELL.
    • Technology for Supply Chain Mapping: Companies are providing novel approaches to understanding and identifying potential issues in the supply chain. Altana AI is developing tools for companies and customers to understand their supply chains. Fair Supply provides ESG compliance assessment tools that help identify supply chain risks for forced labor.
    • Laws and Regulations: The German Supply Chain Act in 2023 suggests the potential for additional regulation in the EU. In the U.S., the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act created a framework for the Customs and Border Protection to impound and reject products and materials made with forced labor originating from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. 
    • Dialog with Manufacturers: In November 2023, Design for Freedom held an Ethical Supply Chain Forum to bring the manufacturing community into the conversation. Manufacturers can be hesitant to pull out of certain regions and economies. It is important to note that this is not the intent of Design for Freedom. An ideal next step for manufacturers is to seek remediation in their supply chains by ensuring freedom of movement and adjusted living wages. 
    • Pilot Projects: Design for Freedom’s pilot program currently includes 8 projects located in the U.S., the UK, and India. For each pilot, Design for Freedom acted as a collaborator advising on ethical and transparent materials procurement. The new round of pilots for 2024 will be announced at the 3rd Annual Design for Freedom Summit

    Additionally, Design for Freedom has created a series of resources to help spread awareness of the issue of modern slavery in the built environment. Their resources page contains a list of reports and statistics. Furthermore, the Design for Freedom Toolkit provides a deep dive on the 12 at-risk building materials and points to strategies for design and construction professionals to mitigate their use of materials created with forced labor. 

    If you are interested in continuing or joining the conversation, please see below for a list of upcoming events:

    About the Author:

    Ian Wach is a researcher and strategist with a background in real estate and architecture. He is a member of the Social Science and Architecture Committee and works as a Senior Consultant at Buro Happold.  

  • October 16, 2023
    Toward an Architectural Education with an Awareness of Advocacy Event Photo 02
    Photo: Kuan-Ju Chen
    Photo: Kuan-Ju Chen

    Architecture is a potent instrument for addressing societal, cultural, and environmental challenges. As practitioners, we can leverage design to tackle issues like climate change, inequality, and urbanization, crafting solutions that empower and uplift – and architects will need to do even more of this in the future.

    On September 15, 2023, the Social Science and Architecture Committee hosted a panel titled Toward an Architectural Education with an Awareness of Advocacy. This gathering brought together architects, educators, and students to explore the pivotal role of advocacy in architectural education. Their insights shed light on the challenges faced by architectural education and the innovative approaches required to address them.  

    Committee member Sara Grant (Partner, MBB Architects) moderated, and our panelists were: 

    This panel was the third and final event of the Advocacy and Agency in Architecture series, the first two events of which looked at architects’ advocacy in their work impacting communities (“Evolving Beyond Participatory Design”), and architects advocating for themselves through non-traditional organizational models (“Organizational models – Acceleration in Practice”). 

    Architectural education has traditionally focused on technical skills and design principles, with the demands of accreditation failing to leave room for much else. However, the profession needs to adapt so that it – and its newest generation – are equipped to address the myriad of global climate and social crises that continue to emerge, impacting the built environment.  

    Kelsey, who is taking a year off from her architectural master’s program, had felt that her architectural studies were disconnected from both her individual interests as well as what was happening in the world. This was in stark contrast to the progressive primary school in Spain where she had worked, where students were encouraged to take control of their own learning. The focus was on nurturing agency and self-confidence, allowing students to set the agenda and teach classes, emphasizing the value of collective capacity. 

    The lessons learned from this pedagogy serve as a foundation for reimagining architectural education: encouraging students to learn through exploration and self-discovery, and ultimately preparing them for the dynamic and evolving field of architecture.

    Jieun’s experience with Habitat Workshop and CUNY highlighted the importance of engaging students early in their architectural education. She discussed her pre-college program that introduces students to architecture through the use of simple prototyping materials and practical experiences such as taking time to understand and document their neighborhoods and working with local community organizations, using the city as a laboratory. For many students who believe “there’s nothing” in their neighborhoods, Jieun pushes them to look again: “There’s got to be something.” 

    In her eyes, architecture is a form of inviting relationships. Her approach not only provides a solid foundation for future architectural studies but also demonstrates to students a new way of seeing and thinking about the world around them and how they can have a tangible impact. 

    Sanjive, the architectural department chair at City Tech, highlighted the unique opportunity and responsibility of his program, given the extreme diversity of his students. The discussion raised questions about how to reframe architectural education, shifting from a focus on final products to celebrating the process, and how to make space amidst stringent accreditation requirements for needed changes – such as developing skills for critical inquiry, or ensuring the diversity of the student body is represented in the available coursework. 

    Recognizing that anyone coming into architecture has optimism and hope, Sanjive sees it as the responsibility of architectural programs to steward and cultivate that hope. Equipping students with the ability to ask meaningful questions and seek answers is an essential skill for tomorrow’s architects, as they are increasingly expected to be problem solvers who must help our society adapt to a changing world.

    Kristen, representing Hester Street, highlighted the significance of community-centered design and exposing architecture students to this process, with the goal of architects being more aware of the communities they serve, particularly in underrepresented areas. Hester Street is engaging students in this practice through a new paid fellowship program called the Jim Diego Fellowship. She noted that there is a lack of design firms that truly represent the communities they work with.

    Architects need to understand that their role goes beyond creating structures; they are catalysts for change and transformation. Inclusivity is key, ensuring that materials for engagement are understandable, accessible, and applicable to the communities they serve. Building relationships with community members is paramount to effective and ethical architectural practice. 

    As the architecture profession evolves, so too must architectural education. There is a need to teach students alternate modes of practice, focusing on programmatic longevity and adaptable design thinking, if architecture is to stay relevant in the future. 

    Architects must be prepared to engage with community members and empower them to have agency over their built environment – and that must start in students’ formal architectural education. Architecture is no longer just about designing beautiful structures; it is about empowering architects to shape a better world. We must cultivate the next generation of architects who can ask meaningful questions, build relationships with communities, and embrace an ever-changing landscape. It’s about training architects to understand the value of vulnerability, and recognize that building relationships is as important as constructing buildings.

    In this vision of the future, architects lean into their role not just as designers but also as changemakers. It’s a future where architectural education is not limited by tradition and stifled by standards but is dynamic, inclusive, and responsive to the changes our society needs from architects. In this future, architects are better equipped to create a built environment that truly protects and serves the needs of all, and provides a place for all to thrive. 

    For those interested, please consider joining the conversation by:

    • Attending our upcoming public events. Our next event series kicking off on November 2nd, will focus on the prevalence of forced labor in building materials – and what you can do about it. Details will be posted to AIANY’s Calendar prior to each event.
    • Joining the AIANY Social Science and Architecture Committee Monthly committee meetings. They are open to the public and typically take place from 8:30am-10am on the fourth Friday of each month.

    About the Author

    Kate Ganim is a designer and strategist with a background in architecture. She is currently a co-chair for the AIANY Social Science + Architecture Committee and a Strategy Director at Artefact

     

  • September 15, 2023
    Design Firm Organizational Models And Their Role In Workplace Satisfaction Event Photo 003
    Design Firm Organizational Models And Their Role In Workplace Satisfaction Event Photo 002
    Event Photos

    The May 2023 edition of our AIANY Social Science and Architecture Committee conversation series, “Advocacy and Agency in Architecture,” was titled Organizational Models – Acceleration in Practice. The goal of the evening was to highlight the organizational models that help guide the architecture and engineering practices of four different firms. Each of these firms’ business models prioritizes an abiding sense of respect and trust, along with an open acknowledgement of employees’ need for work-life balance. 

    The purpose of the panel was to discuss how we design organizations so that people’s work reflects the modus operandi of the firm, with a specific focus on the interplay between an organization’s structure and the work that its practitioners get to do, including the design solutions they produce. We asked whether more progressive business models change a practitioner’s experience and commitment to do their best work. Melissa Marsh, PLASTARC founder and co-founder of AIANY’s Social Science and Architecture Committee, moderated the four-person panel of design professionals, who addressed these questions by reflecting on the organizational models that shape their practices.

    Diana Ostberg, COO of Saam Architecture, a 15-year-old WBE based in Boston, shared some of the innovative methods that Saam has implemented within the framework of a traditional ownership structure. Most importantly, she emphasized Saam’s “flat hierarchy” and how its radical transparency and flexibility help to shape its work culture. Employees have the choice to work remotely or in person, and they also have the ability to flexibly plan their schedules, so long as they remain accountable to their clients and colleagues. The availability of unlimited PTO, she noted, has not led to abuse of the policy. Furthermore, every employee is able to take advantage of their principals’ accessibility by meeting with them on a regular basis. 

    Ostberg also noted that the acceptability of working remotely has allowed Saam to expand geographically and attract employees from across the country. While redefining the physical office has led to less in-person collaboration, the firm has implemented new programs—such as peer groups, quarterly in-person meetings, and firm-supported dinners—that serve to foster connection. This employee-sensitive organizational structure has resulted in a 91% retention rate, and the Saam CO2 emissions footprint has been greatly reduced by hybrid work opportunities.

    Danile DeBoo, Director and Educational Leader for DLR Group, pointed out that DLR’s organizational structure is rooted in its Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). She shares the firm’s philosophy that when you own a firm, you buy into its thinking. She argued that DLR is an overarching business, which is organized as an ESOP and happens to oversee a design firm. Both the business and the design firm aspire to elevate the human experience through design, and the overall business priority is to “focus on how to make things better.” 

    Founded in 1966, DLR currently has 30 compact offices in the United States. As such, the company represents itself as a small firm with a big footprint that can influence policies happening across the US. DeBoo also shared that no employee owns more than 3% of the firm, which ensures the existence of a level playing field. Moreover, every five years the firm hosts a planning exercise that attracts 100% participation—an impressive figure for a company with more than 1,400 employee-owners. The firm’s equitable philosophy and commitment to improving the world is also manifested in its community impact: DLR donated over $1.6 million in fiscal year 2022 and logged over 3,000 hours of volunteer hours in 2022. These contributions came about as a result of decisions made by employee-owners in the spirit of teamwork

    Paul Sanderson, Director of New York Operations for Epstein, spoke about the evolution of the firm’s organizational structure and culture. Though Epstein was originally a family business that was passed down from father to sons, it is now also 100% employee-owned, with an ESOP organizational model similar to DLR’s. As employee-owners, each practitioner at the firm tries to address their client’s needs with the question, “what does the owner need for this project to be successful?” The goal is to align the client’s needs with those of all participants and stakeholders in order to create a more holistic solution. Additionally, Epstein nurtures a mentoring environment in which colleagues support one another. This serves to enable each employee-owner to follow a personal learning path that they can pave for themselves. Epstein’s inclusive and cohesive project solutions aptly reflect its culture of cooperative and supportive learning. 

    Victoria Cerami offered a very different perspective. Although she served as Chief Executive Officer of Cerami & Associates for 37 years, she has segued into a new venture—a social enterprise start-up called NextCube—that she hopes will nurture “active caring.” While at the firm she inherited from her father, Cerami spent much of her time building and cultivating client relationships. She also helped staff members become technical experts and thought leaders in acoustical and audiovisual consulting, along with a suite of IT and security services. Her modus operandi was to chase people and tend to them, without chasing money—a more humanistic approach to client relations.

    Since the start of her career, Cerami had noticed that people frequently gave her help without an expectation that she would ever reciprocate. This realization led her to recognize that the act of helping others can evoke a personal sense of joy. It occurred to her that such “micro-exchanges” exemplify what she has come to call “active caring.” While employee engagement implies the existence of a hierarchy, active caring presents a different kind of tool for interpersonal connection. NextCube aims to further the belief that “active caring” can be foundationally built into a business model if its owners proactively choose to adopt its precepts. Toward this end, NextCube is creating a new certification category, called HUMANKIND Certification, that works much like the sustainability certifications offered by LEED. According to Cerami, “becoming a certified HUMANKIND company” is a way to “normalize active caring” in the workplace and make it a “place where people want to come to work.” 

    After presenting individually, the panelists took part in a discussion that was moderated by Marsh. The conversation, which orbited around business structures and approaches to employee accommodation, shed light on a shared ethos amongst the panelists’ respective firms. All three resoundingly agreed that inviting workplaces must cultivate trust, flexibility, human kindness, transparency, sharing across distances, mentorship, and connection. 

    Sanderson noted that while an ESOP business structure often embraces many of these workplace priorities, a sense of trust on its own doesn’t necessarily result in a fully transparent organization. DeBoo agreed with this statement, but noted that trust is the cornerstone of DLR’s ESOP structure. When employees are also the owners, she asserted, they are expected to collectively determine their organization’s direction, and they therefore must trust one another to succeed. Ostberg added that at traditionally-structured firms like Saam, an inviting workplace can only exist when leadership first openly espouses its foundational priorities. As firms continue evolving, it’s possible that progressive organizational structures such as employee ownership will only represent a component of their evolution. Perhaps future firms will also adopt philosophies of pervasive kindness and proudly bear a HUMANKIND certification, or ones like it, such as the B Corp Certification

    Event attendees were surveyed afterwards, and the response was largely positive. Some suggestions for future events included a greater focus on research, along with a panel exploring organizational models for engagement with consultants and contractors. The AIANY Social Science + Architecture Committee welcomes all input for future events.

    Want to Join the Conversation?
    The AIANY Social Science and Architecture Committee meets monthly. Meetings are open to the public and typically occur at 8:30 am on the fourth Friday of each month.

    Thanks again to our panelists:
    Diana Ostberg, COO, Saam Architecture 
    Victoria Cerami, Founder NextCube, CEO Emeritus Cerami Associates and Angel Investor
    Paul Sanderson, AIA, Vice President, Director of New York Operations, EPSTEIN
    Danile DeBoo, Northeast Region Higher Education Sector Leader, DLR Group

    Melissa Marsh, Assoc. AIA, Founder, PLASTARC

    About the Author
    Maura Smotrich is a freelance architect, planner, Forest and Nature Therapy Guide and Trails Consultant with her own company, Nature Therapy Placemaking LLC.

  • March 7, 2023

    Project Description:

    From late 2021 through spring of 2022, the AIANY Social and Architecture Committee hosted three virtual, public-facing events as part of committee’s “Public Space Research + Design” series. The three events focused on climate change, safety and security, and gender and sexuality, shedding light on social injustices and inequalities in New York City’s built environment and data and research methods to support more equitable and inclusive design outcomes. Especially in lower income neighborhoods, built environment conditions perpetuate the social, economic, and health inequities.

    The committee feels the information gathered in these events should be shared to a larger, multidisciplinary audience to illustrate how more inclusive pre-design research can result in the creation of more equitable built environments.

    Role Title: Grant Implementation Coordinator

    Role Description:

    The AIANY Social Science and Architecture Committee is looking for someone who shares our enthusiasm and passion for sharing the lessons from the Public Space Research + Design series to act as a Grant Implementation Coordinator to facilitate the collection of data and media from the events and develop the content into a traveling exhibition. The Grant Implementation Coordinator will work with volunteers from the Committee Excellence Grant (CEG) working group to identify and follow up on actions required to complete the information gathering and synthesizing process.

    Key Responsibilities:

    • Create a project
    • Schedule working group meetings for project team You will be responsible for setting the agenda, assigning follow-up action items, and following up on delivery.
    • Create a system to organize the project data/research.
    • Work with the project team to develop the exhibition

    Required Skills & Abilities:

    • Strong organizational
    • Ability to work well with and provide support to other team members as
    • Ability to review and synthesize volumes of information and draw out common

    Support & Compensation:

    • Opportunity to be mentored by senior industry leaders and gain experience in project
    • Stipend of $1,000.

    Length of Appointment: March-June 2023, with the potential to extend through 2023 pending additional funding.

    Time Commitment: Funding allows for remuneration for approximately 50 hours concluding June 30, 2023.

    Location: Remote with the opportunity to meet in-person.

    Application: Please send CV to the following committee members by March 15, 2023.

  • November 26, 2022
    AIANY Engagement PLASTARC

    A recent conversation at AIANY’s Center for Architecture called Evolving Beyond Participatory Design explored ideas about how architects can act as advocates and agents for change both within the field and within the greater community, whether through elevating the voices of marginalized communities or fighting for just working conditions.

    Melissa Marsh, PLASTARC founder and co-founder of AIANY’s Social Science and Architecture Committee, moderated a panel of design professionals tackling community agency from various angles and at different points along the process. Christine Gaspar, a community-engaged design practitioner, noted that public participation for certain communities may include processing past harm at the impetus of decision-makers and allowing space for them to work through this trauma in an engaged process. Building professionals working within these communities need to find ways to use these difficult perspectives.

    Gaspar worked for seven years rebuilding low-income communities after Hurricane Katrina with the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio, a project of Mississippi State University’s architecture program. Since then, she worked for thirteen years at CUP, a design studio that focuses on culturally relevant, easily accessible campaigns to help the public understand their rights, policy debates and more. CUP partners directly with community members–organizers, designers, artists, students–to create these impactful materials. Designers need to reframe the way they present work to marginalized communities–have less of an “isn’t this great” and more “what are we missing?” approach, according to Gaspar.

    Community involvement from start to end and allows for more place to plug in, according to Alexa Gonzalez, the Principal at the Hive Public Space. Her work focuses on the power of public spaces to create memories and connections, while evolving the identity and impact of each community. Genuine, engaged conversation with community members creates ownership and incentive for everyone. Often people limit their choices in participatory work by thinking of it in terms of a short-term project, rather than a long-term process. “Our roles in… facilitating public spaces should be simply connecting the dots.  It’s important to reassure those who are on the ground and already doing the work that we’re there to amplify their voices and their efforts,” she said. Successful participatory work is about building processes, not products.

    Marsh draws a distinction between art and architecture: Architecture is art that people occupy, and architects are responsible for the safety of the occupants. She asks, what is the purpose of a space when people occupy it?

    Cheriyah Wilmot, a B.arch Honor Student at the NYC College of Technology and President of NOMASNYCCT takes this further: What does community culture look like in NYC? And how do we represent that in the built environment? How do we design for a specific culture or multiple cultures? What is the difference between place-making versus place-saving?

    She discussed making the design process transparent and accessible to the public. This broadens the perspective of inputs that designers have access to and offers unique angles, such as an analysis of history or demographics. Sometimes pushing the conversation into uncomfortable categories are necessary, according to Gonzales.

    However, people who attend meetings are not often representative of the whole community or are simply the loudest voices. And some people have trouble making community meetings work, in-between jobs and childcare. Gasper notes that one way to value community members’ time and particular expertise is to pay people to participate in a project.

    In the context of community collaboration and transparency, it’s important that communities see an image of the end project. This shows them that the architects and designers not only listened to what they had to say, but took it on board and followed through. A one-size-fits all design is antithetical to true participatory design. Smaller steps throughout the process, taken together, builds trust and commitment to the project even after a project is finished.

    Want to Join the Conversation?
    The AIANY Social Science + Architecture Committee meets monthly. Meetings are open to the public and typically occur at 8:30 am on the last Thursday of each month.

    Thanks again to our panelists:
    Christine Gaspar, Faculty Design Futures Student Leadership Forum
    Alexa Gonzalez, Principal at the Hive Public Space
    Cheriyah Wilmot, B.arch Honor Student at the New York City College of Technology

    About the Author
    Michele Rafferty is a freelance content coordinator working with PLASTARC, a consultancy dedicated to increasing the flexibility and desirability of space using social research and occupant engagement.

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