February 17, 2021
by: Stephanie Jones, Jean You, Sarah Ahmad, Chris Perrodin and Corey Arena.

Community can be simply defined as “a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality or shared government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.” Community can also be more profoundly felt as the essence that gives each neighborhood its respective character and identity.

In the past nine months, we have seen the architectural field open up and respond to the needs of communities by offering a massive amount of pro bono work during our shared health and financial crisis. The volunteer effort helped neighborhoods prioritize health and wellbeing and enabled local communities to safely support their local businesses. Inspired by this collective effort, the 2020 AIANY Civic Leadership cohort wanted to learn how architects could go beyond “pro bono” and chart a sustainable community-focused career path.

Reacting against the barriers to progress that the CLP members felt impede growth in the architecture profession, the cohort reached out to offices they viewed as having significant community impact. Rather than a survey of their community-based work, they interrogated their modes of practice, fee structures, research methods, and collaborative networks.

Titled “Actionable Pathways for Community-Focused Careers,” the event aimed to share the career paths and lessons learned by the invited panelists. The December 3 event was curated by five members of the 2020 CLP class: Stephanie Jones, Jean You, Sarah Ahmad, Chris Perrodin and Corey Arena.

The invited guests:
June A. Grant, RA, NOMA, blink!LAB architecture
George Aye, Greater Good Studio
A.L. Hu, Ascendant Neighborhood Development
Masha Konopleva, Ennead Architects

The speakers discussed the paths they have taken to be where they are now, their community partners and collaborators, and their suggestions for reforming practice and research. They cautioned that community work cannot be superficial and cannot be an architect’s “therapy session.” Instead of showing up to a community meeting and claiming leadership, they advised that practitioners should humbly attend and introduce themselves. They also reminded design professionals to stay present and consistent in support of community initiatives and to wait to be invited to the community table. The speakers also challenged architects to recognize their role in existing power structures and begin redesigning the table itself to make it more inclusive.

As part of the event, the CLP class presented a working guide that highlighted key points from the many interviews and discussions they conducted over the course of the event’s development. The guide is not a comprehensive “how-to,” but a working set of suggestions that CLP hopes community engaged fellows will add to over time. Below are takeaways from the guide and the event:

  • Connect, collaborate, and partner
  • Seek: Mentorship, resources and funding
  • Locate meaningfully
  • Invest time and energy
  • Fabricate and produce tangible resources
  • Work better: Are you working at the right practice for the type of work you want to be doing?
  • Engage better: Are you including the whole community?
  • Build better: Is the health of the people, materials, and environment a top priority?
  • Equity in architecture: Increased resources for students, young professionals, and startups.
  • Diversity in a not so diverse profession

Download the working guide to get more information on the takeaways listed above, along with many more from the dozens of contributors who shared methodologies that have allowed them the freedom of taking on more community-focused projects.


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