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:

· Design As Protest

· Design Justice Network

· Failed Architecture

· Arch + Design Orgs on the BLM List  

· Women’s Center for Creative Work

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.

Event panelists:


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.