Tanya de HoogThornton Tomasetti, Inc.
April 22, 2022
An online program hosted by the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter (AIANY) and its Center for Architecture addressed public space research and design, exploring how to gauge security inequities and create inclusive and equitable public spaces.
“I would be remiss to say that every single person in New York City experiences public space in the same way when it comes to safety and security,” said moderator Fauzia Khanani, the Principal Architect of the award-winning New York firm Studio Fōr and the co-chair of the AIA New York’s Social Science and Architecture Committee. “Historically, the needs and perspectives of every community member have been rarely considered and incorporated into public space design.”
She encouraged the group to consider how design decisions and data can lead to creating equity in public spaces.
Linnea Tillett, the founder of Tillett Lighting Design and Associates, has lectured widely on the subject, asking whether it is possible to design a nighttime public space where everyone feels safe and secure. “My vigorous answer,” she said, “is no,” because feelings of personal safety are “deeply complicated and personal… but, design research and implementation do have the potential to create nighttime spaces which are warm and welcoming.”
Sharon Cotton, Tamara Greenfield, Layman Lee, and Isabel Saffon gave a collaborative presentation on how civic engagement can help drive the implementation of public health and public safety measures. An active community member in the Wagner Houses, a public housing development in East Harlem, Cotton has participated in community service going back 20 years as a member of the Neighborhood Watch; her most recent role has been as the Sergeant of Arms for the Wagner Tenants Association Board. Greenfield is the Deputy Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety. Lee is the Project Director of the Neighborhood Safety Initiative (NSI) at the Center for Court Innovation, a lead implementer of the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety (MAP), and Saffon is currently the Associate Director of Neighborhood Equity Design at the Center for Innovation at the NSI, which also supports MAP, reimagining public safety through civic participation.
Greenfield spoke about how the NSI works to build out resident networks, which help transform public spaces into safe public spaces. The Mayor’s Action Plan, which the group works to implement, was selected in 2014 as a response to a spike in violence in New York City public housing. The NSI builds residence teams by recruiting 15 residents from each development, and providing training and stipends.
NeighborhoodStat events engage the community in building public safety decision-making processes through a participatory process. Part of this involves residents discussing how to best invest $30,000 of funds made available by the initiative in a way that improves public safety in their communities. Saffon and her team collect data at the NeighborhodStat events that they use to tailor the process to better fit a diverse community. The action plans resulting from this process are “quick, tangible wins while we wait for long term policy change to happen,” Lee said.
Cotton laid out the specifics of some of these action plan success stories at Wagner Houses, where at the time of its implementation, the median income was around $25,000 a year. A group of community activists cleaned up a green space. Before they took action, it was unsanitary and unsafe. At night it was dark, people slept there, and it was a haven for drug dealing. After consulting with the residents, they all decided that it was the area they wanted to make safer. So the resident-activists ran night and day audits to collect data on activity in the green space.
Since implementing their action plan, the space has hosted talent shows, food giveaways, school bag giveaways, Christmas giveaways, and a variety of programs that foster community gatherings.
The audience asked Cotton about difficulties she had faced in completing projects. She said getting the timing right was often a “Some took a year, some two years” situation and that MAP was the first time she really saw progress.
In response to a question about the best ways to collect data, Lee explained that, while surveys are a ubiquitous tool, they would often run into survey fatigue. One way to counteract this fatigue is by offering monetary incentives for survey participation and having dedicated people collect survey data. For example, at an event where they were handing out food and knew there would be a crowd, she would make sure there was somebody on the food line to hand out surveys.
“Designers can be advocates when they see things happening which are not to the benefit of most… communities,” Tillett said. Smart Lighting could potentially be used as a form of surveillance. She emphasized that “these are choices which should not be made without much cooperation and collaboration,” and that “designers… [need to be] willing to work within the institutions and not stand outside it.”
Join the AIANY Social Science + Architecture Committee or drop into one of our monthly meetings. They are open to the public and typically occur at 8:30 am on the fourth Thursday of each month.
About the Author
Michele Rafferty is a freelance content coordinator working with PLASTARC, a consultancy that uses analysis and data to help companies integrate their employees’ and clients’ needs, while organizing and leveraging their physical space.
March 18, 2022
Text by Jessica Morris
On November 18, 2021, AIA New York’s Social Science and Architecture Committee hosted the first of two programs in a series on Public Space Research and Design. “Gauging Climate Inequities” brought together a set of research and practice perspectives that articulate the complexities, challenges, and imperatives for designers working towards just practices. “Just Practice” is the 2022 AIANY Presidential Theme. The discussion outlined approaches to interdisciplinary design research that both question and aim to support the best practices in process, through critical analysis.
Researchers and invited guests included Helen Cole, a post-doc researcher at Barcelona Laboratory for Environmental Justice and Sustainability, Timon McPhearson, Professor of Urban Ecology at The New School, Ibrahim Abdul-matin, an urban strategist and the founder of Green Squash Consulting, and Jessica Elliot, an architect with Hart Howerton, a Culture of Health Leader, and the Chair of East Harlem Community Board 11 Environment Open Space and Parks Committee.
Abdul-matin and Elliot have a firsthand, community-based understanding of the challenges involved in choosing a site for public infrastructure and building support for or opposition to public investment, as well as the socio-cultural realities that inform cohesive neighborhoods as they address built-environment preferences.
Cole drew from research that aggregates public health and built environment data to determine who benefits from Green Infrastructure investment in neighborhoods that are, or are at risk of, gentrifying.
McPhearson’s presentation highlighted the stacked-deck of vulnerabilities that high climate risk and historically under-resourced communities often bear, while questioning engagement methods and the lack of rigor, intentionality, and consistency in scoping criteria for public investments.
The speakers each shared a published paper or document that anchored their perspectives. Taken together, the suite of provocative research calls into question what designers are capable of in practice.
Cole’s research on green gentrification finds that benefits are not equitable. For planners and designers, these implications may serve to inform early project-planning assumptions. The paper raises awareness of how health-based data can be applied to spatial analysis, as part of a body of research that serves to define difficult terms—such as “gentrification”—in a way that can be measured and approached intentionally.
McPhearson’s research on siting criteria (how/where a building is situated on it’s lot), the scoping and regulatory processes that serve to locate a project, posits a smart and well-timed opportunity to identify a critical gap in an equitable process that can be addressed intentionally. Through analyzing codified language in public documents that precede green infrastructure investment, a picture of priorities centered on hydrology and economics emerged. McPhearson suggests that if environmental justice is to be a primary motivator in deciding where to put green infrastructure in cities, there is much work to be done in anchoring that “commitment” in the criteria that paves the way for project implementation. Furthermore, engagement and pre-planning should be codified to improve the process, accountability, acceptance, and outcomes in communities that have been subject to past planning injustices.
- Planning, Power and Politics: A Case Study of the Land Use and Siting History of the North River Water Pollution Control Plant
This case study examines legacy planning practices and their evolution through one project’s decades-long planning and development, which highlights past injustices while pointing to the legal protections and processes which are now in place. These processes ensure more and better communication about public investment prior to implementation.
One of the recommendations from McPhearson’s siting research—to engage, inform, and partner with willing communities early in the pre-design process—would be a stark shift from the current status quo, whereby informational design reviews are delivered at public presentations, with little opportunity to incorporate meaningful feedback. This is the usual current practice, too-little, too-late approach, that community members know all too well.
It is fair to recognize and acknowledge the limitations of our agency partners, but also to assert the importance of funding pre-design research and engagement undertaken in partnership with cities and communities, by trusted community-based design and planning professionals. Pre-design research builds capacity, acknowledges and harnesses local expertise, and embeds the potential for the benefits of the investment to be received more willingly and more equitably.
So, what can designers do? We can continue to work, personally and professionally, to build trust within our multidimensional communities. We can engage creatively in the civic processes that exist around large-scale public investment. We can be critical in our design tactics and processes, in order to consider the implications of these and other research findings, while advocating for process audits and changes to the status-quo that will result in more equitable design approaches.
While architects and design teams are not always at the seat of power and are not solely responsible for allocating funding or controlling regulatory processes and implementation timelines, our expansive knowledge before, during, and after the impact-cycle of the work that we collectively engage is vital to success and this knowledge must inform and pervade every aspect of client and stakeholder engagement and design decision making. We should always approach design through this lens of research-based understanding.
Want to get involved?
The AIANY Social Science + Architecture Committee meets regularly. Meetings are open to the public and typically occur at 8:30 am on the last Thursday of each month.
Ibrahim Abdul-matin, Co-founder, Green Squash Consulting; Board Member, International Living Future Institute; Board Member, Sapelo Square
Helen Cole, PhD, Co-coordinator for Urban Environment, Health and Equity, Barcelona Lab for Urban Environmental Justice and Sustainability (BCNUEJ), Institut de Ciència Ambiental i Tecnologia, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB)
Timon McPhearson, Director of the Urban Systems Lab and Professor of Urban Ecology, The New School; Research Fellow, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Stockholm Resilience Center, and the Beijer Institute for Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Science
Jessica Morris, Assoc. AIA is an independent design consultant and interdisciplinary professional working at the intersection of environment, cultural sustainability and human behavior. She engages in teaching, research and practice with a focus on innovative, integrated thinking across disciplines while reconciling relics of our pasts. She drives strategic advancement of client-side goals towards shaping healthy, mindful atmospheres in institutional, public and private realms. Since 2020, Jessica has Co-Chaired the AIANY Planning & Urban Design Committee.
February 14, 2022
Text by Celic Ruiz and Beren Saraquse
The “Decolonizing Design Research” series explores the ways research can create and reflect anti-racism and justice values within space. The fourth and last workshop in the series, “Measuring Justice,” was held on May 3, 2021, and began with host Tanya De Hoog, a principal at the engineering consulting firm Thorton Tomasetti and co-chair of the AIANY Social Science and Architecture Committee, inviting the panelists and guests to define justice within an architectural context. How do we, as design professionals measure and evaluate justice?
The panelists included Taylor Holloway, a designer, architect, and social impact strategist, who applies design-driven approaches to promote equity in the built environment; A.L Hu, Assoc. AIA, a non-binary architect at the Solomonoff Architecture Studio and an activist fighting for racial, class, and gender justice in design; Andrea Kretchmer, a founding principal of the affordable housing development company, Xenolith LLC; and Matthew Clarke, the executive director of Design Trust for Public Space, a group that advocates for lively and equitable communities.
Holloway opened the workshop by sharing how her travels in South Africa via a 2013 AIA Chicago Martin Roche Scholarship helped her establish her own criteria for a “just” practice. She observed more established architects and designers working within this space and formed a three-part metric that looks at organizational structure, community engagement strategies, and project creation and implementation. She also shared from her work as a core organizer with Design as Protest (DAP) collective, a non-hierarchical, BIPOC-led, action-based collective of design professionals dedicated to justice in the built environment. DAP created the Anti-Racist Design Justice Index to track accountability within design institutions and provide guidance for a just design practice. The index is an interactive tool that offers direction for institutions in the form of steps that move a project towards equality, equity, justice, and liberation.
A.L. Hu, another DAP core organizer, continued the conversation by explaining how sharing queer architect experiences help increase workplace justice in th field. “Nothing about us without us” is a slogan that was previously used during the disability rights movement, and is now being used to continue fighting for justice in workplaces. Hu explains that increasing diversity creates equity and inclusion and posits that this increases profitability, as well. However, the results of the Equity by Design surveys indicate that gender and race diversity is not well-represented in the architectural profession.
After experiencing positive interactions in graduate school, Hu wanted to stay connected to other queer designers. They have shared their experience of being a non-binary architect in podcasts and symposiums, but they acknowledged that every person’s experience is different. This acknowledgment prompted the start of Queeries, a survey for LGBTQIA+ architects and designers to share and document their experiences in the workplace, school, and personal life. Hu’s goal is to use this data to create discussions and community for queer design professionals.
A lifelong advocate of equitable access, Andrea Kretchmer shared a just-housing model—a project that will provide 72 affordable units and support services for formerly incarcerated individuals and their families in central Brooklyn. These support services focus on creating opportunities for health, wellness, and physical fitness in the complex, which includes 7,000+ sq. ft. of green space, 10,000+ sq. ft. of community facilities, and 3,000+ sq. ft. for health service providers. The project will create opportunities for economic empowerment, in addition to equitable community.
The final panelist, Matthew Clarke, discussed how a project in Wenatchee, Washington shaped the way he thinks about just cities and spaces. While building a new park in a predominantly Latin community, the team directed their efforts to meet community members at events they were passionate about, rather than only engaging with the community in official project meetings. These events included Mariachi festivals that took place over the course of the year. Showing up helped the planning team gain more perspective and learn about their community’s values organically. Not only did this engagement create a group of leaders in the community that was able to advocate for their own needs and interests within the context of this project, but the group of leaders continued advocating for their community in other aspects, long after the project was over. An unexpected outcome of the project was that, following completion, voter turnout increased 300 percent. Clarke and his team realized that there’s no one way for measuring justice, and that some measurements may be less-expected and less straightforward than others. “Community engagement is not enough,” he said. “There needs to be a collective understanding of what is good for each community and their values.”
Breakout sessions were convened to further discuss how justice is and should be measured within the built environment. Groups were able to share examples and personal stories that integrated experience with process in the quest for just design. The sessions were more about framing questions rather than trying to find the “right” answer.
Participants asked, “Who is the who?” when deciding metrics, and can justice be quantified?” Hu asked, “What does a queer architect bring?,” and said that justice is a process that involves everyone bringing their whole self to the workplace. We highlighted the importance of representation metrics and the concept that design must help advance people through acknowledgment of diverse sets of needs.
Holloway mentioned the concept of broadening the lens of designers and architects, even at the level of asking who is left out of establishing what metrics are being measured in a project. The act of amplifying, diversifying, and bringing queerness (otherness) into the process begins to challenge the norm—the accepted idea of who the designer is and who the design is for. Within a project, designers’ agendas have to exist and magnify the representation of the voices from the community.
There is a collective sense of wanting to fix the oppressive systems that have been in place. As the discussion came to a close, the panelists were asked to share a call to action. Holloway asks more firms to use the Design as Protest index as a tool towards liberation. Hu wishes to continue their research through the documented experiences of LGBTQIA+ architects and designers via the Queeries survey, in order to create an index of personal experiences.
Kretchmer stresses the importance of not discounting the voices you hear speak out, in addition to thinking of outreach methods to target the people you are not hearing from. Clarke echoed a participant’s comment to embrace individuality and recognize humanity in the design profession.
Overall, the Measuring Justice workshop reflected on the concept that designers and architects aren’t doing enough. Just design not only involves the designer but the voices of the community that are not currently represented.
Panelist recommendations include:
For those interested, please consider joining the conversation by joining the AIANY Social Science + Architecture Committee monthly committee meetings. They are open to the public and typically occur at 8:30 am on the fourth Thursday of each month.
A.L. Hu, RA, AIA, NOMA, EcoDistricts AP, Design Initiatives Manager, Ascendant Neighborhood Development; Rose Fellow, Enterprise Community Partners; Core Organizer, Design As Protest; Facilitator, Dark Matter University; Member, The Architecture Lobby
Andrea Kretchmer, Principal, Xenolith Partners
Matthew Clarke, Executive Director, Design Trust for Public Space
Taylor Holloway, NOMA, Core Organizer, Design As Protest; Founder, Public Design Agency; Manager of Programs, Education, & Community Engagement, Prospect New Orleans
Celic Ruiz is an architecture student at Pratt School of Design, who seeks to create a career around designing inclusive spaces.
Beren Saraquse is a graduating architecture student at Pratt School of Design, who seeks a career in designing engaging adaptive spaces.
January 28, 2022
Text by Tanya de Hoog and Jeremiah Reilly
The third part of AIA New York’s Social Science and Architecture Committee’s “Decolonizing Design Research” series, on February 4, 2021, focused on the power of thought convergence in a community. This workshop, “Collective Voice,” was a conversation between diverse professionals who practice and research design, as well as experts from the government and activism sectors. The panelists come from various backgrounds and geographies. However, all of them are connected in their desire to create change through their involvement in the Design as Protest Collective—which its website describes “designers mobilizing strategy to dismantle the privilege and power structures that use architecture and design as tools of oppression.
The group discussed “collective voice” in the context of personal experiences and the impact of convergence, as well as in aspirations for future action. Moderator Fauzia Khanani, the founder of Studio Fōr, asked the panel to explore questions such as:
- Where do motivation and opportunity to join a collective come from?
- How can involvement in a collective impact professional practice?
- What is the most important call to action(s) from involvement in a collective?
Given the diverse backgrounds and different focus areas of the panelists, responses varied considerably.
“Community voice is all about building relationships, empowering the community, and elevating the lived experience,” said Sharonda Whatley, an urban planner for The City of Cleveland and one of the founders of Design As Protest.
The audience and panelists had the opportunity to interact and share personal experiences related to creating inclusivity, collaboration, and synergy. Each panelist led a break-out group focused on a particular area of interest.
Navjot Heer, a planner at Thrivance Group, moderated a discussion about dignity-infused community engagement. Christin Hu, a designer, and urban farmer, led a conversation about digital organizing. Chazandra Kern, a designer and project manager at LA-Más, led “Community Engagement to Ownership,” and Whatley took “Cultivating Community Voice During Change.” The digital whiteboards were not shared externally to create a safe space for everyone to contribute.
The workshop concluded with a call-to-action and some organizations for design professionals concerned about the white lens and over-representation of white practitioners in the design fields.
The panelist-recommendations include:
Want to get involved?
For those interested, please consider joining the conversation by joining the AIANY Social Science + Architecture Committee Monthly committee meetings. They are open to the public and typically occur at 8:30 am on the last Thursday of each month.
Navjot Heer, EMUP; Planner, Thrivance Group; Art+Prop Co-Lead, Defund CPD Campaign; Core Organizer, Design As Protest
Christin Hu, MLA, BArch; Editor, Failed Architecture; Core Organizer, Design As Protest
Chazandra Kern, MArch; Program Manager + Design Lead, LA Más; Core Organizer, Design As Protest
Sharonda Whatley, MA in City & Regional Planning; Urban Planner, Cleveland City Planning Commission; Organizer, Design As Protest
Tanya de Hoog oversees social impact for the engineering consulting firm Thorton Tomasetti. She has collaborated with teams worldwide to find creative solutions to homelessness, education, and health equality.
Jeremiah Reilly is a freelance architect in Brooklyn, NY with a background in healthcare architecture, urban planning, urban economics, and sustainable development.
April 23, 2021
Text by Michele Rafferty, PLASTARC
In December 2020, the AIANY Social Science and Architecture Committee (SSAC) presented the second virtual panel in its series, “Decolonizing Design Research.” The four sessions, organized by AIANY, PLASTARC, and Studio Fōr, examine the history of design research as a profession and push practitioners to investigate systemic and cultural causes of bias and inequity in design.
The virtual panel, “Activist Scholar,” focused on the role of researchers and academics in ensuring that conducting design research is equitable. One of the perks of the virtual forum was that the panel easily could—and did—include guests from communities all over the country. Panelists included Shawhin Roudbari, Assistant Professor of Environmental Design at the University of Colorado Boulder; Dr. Deshonay Dozier, Assistant Professor of Human Geography at Cal State Long Beach; and Joseph Kunkel, Design Director at the Sustainable Native Communities Design Lab at MASS Santa Fe, NM.
Moderator Gabriel (Gabo) Halili, a Designer, and Urban Planner, and a committee member of AIANY, began the session by talking about the meaning of ‘decolonizing.’; stressed that colonizing cannot be separate from the exploitation of people. Colonization embedded within the history of the US and the rest of the world, and New York City, where the event occurred, is built on Lenape land. Panelists affirmed the influence of architects on our cities—intentional or otherwise—and Halili explained that the way we make decisions on land use plants seeds ensuring we don’t perpetuate colonization.
Roudbari, a professor and the founder of the Spatial Justice Design Collective, felt passionate that architects must involve themselves in contentious political issues. He cited his projects combining archival research, sociological texts, and visualization through frames to examine how society views white supremacy in colorblind ways. His company has been working on creative collage projects that highlight the role architects play in social problems.
These projects have been stepping stones for more research on political engagement specific to the architectural profession. Roudbari contrasted two examples from the 2018 AIA convention—a women’s flash mob outside that addressed equity and discrimination within the architecture profession and a protest based on class inequality. The former greeted favorably, while some participants of the latter were denied from attending the keynote address.
Another project Roudbari worked on was the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) project pipeline. NOMA was founded during the civil rights era to address racial inequality. It was instrumental in transferring the energy of the civil rights movement from the streets into the architectural profession. Roudbari talked about Jane McAlevey, a prominent advocate for organizing to attain social change, and John Wilson, who believes that working with existing systems is instrumental in transformation. Roudbari’s introduction segued into a discussion of Dozier’s work.
Dozier started her ethnographic fieldwork focusing on homelessness in skid row Los Angeles. Her work protected unhoused people’s property from threats like removal by the police, who funded $87 million to ‘take care of the problem. One of Dozier’s long-time goals has been to advocate for defunding the police. She believes that LA needs to house the homeless, and she hopes that these issues will resonate with urban planners, designers, and architects. Dozier is not convinced that these professions have the same vision that her organization does but is willing to continue her activism through conversations and education.
Kunkel’s approach harmonizes with Dozier’s vision. He is adamant that housing is a way to reflect identity and culture. Kunkel’s company collaborates with the community to promote justice and human dignity. However, he lives in Santa Fe, his work influenced by his own identity as a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation. Kunkel tries to approach the topic by asking questions like: What does housing mean to you? What does home mean to you? How do we connect to this place? How is our identity attached to a site?
Kunkel’s work on the Wa-Di Housing Project, which included 41 housing units, explored how reflecting on the community’s values could boost healing and connection to place. Kunkel tried to accomplish this through conversations with the community and understand how people gather and work.
The presentations concluded with attendees splitting up into breakout rooms to discuss how their thinking shifted due to the presentations and to explore the power architects have to decolonize design. The conversation generated many intriguing conversations, many encouraging a bottom-up approach to design. Others encouraged their colleagues to look beyond euro-centric patterns not just in what they design but in how they organize their design practice. One attendee pointed to the example of Minangkabau architecture, which reflects a more matriarchal culture.
The Center for Architecture and the SSAC, situated at the intersection of architecture, social sciences, and design, frequently offer programs intended to help architects make positive social impacts through their work. As our society looks for solutions to entrenched social problems around race and inequality, design plays an important role. Please follow our discussion on this topic and others through the Social Science and Architecture Committee, and here.
Fri, 5/27, 2022, 8:30am
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