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January 26, 2017
by Karen Kubey

Among the more than half a million protesters at the Women’s March on Washington were representatives from at least 10 different architectural and urbanist groups. These marchers, many in pink hard hats, came together from New York, Washington, Detroit, California, and other locations across the country. The group, made up of architects, designers, urbanists, community organizers, housing advocates and everyone else working to make the built environment more equitable for all citizens, marched in support of a statement from the Women’s March itself: “We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families, recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”

Some of the marchers, including Beverly A. Willis, FAIA, were participating in a mass protest for the first time in their lives. The idea for joining the Women’s March as a group of architects and urbanists emerged during the Center for Architecture’s post-election program with Michael Sorkin and Michael Murphy, which itself drew members from several urbanist organizations. Asking what architects can do in the face of climate change denial, unjust infrastructural projects, and the potential dismantling of affordable housing programs and defunding of the arts, among other alarming issues intertwined with our profession, attendees considered their potential responses, not only as individuals, practitioners, and members of institutions such as the AIA, but also as part of mass movements.

Marchers in the Washington group represented the Neighborhood Design Center, Open Architecture DC, Impact Design Drinks DC, Open Architecture Collaborative, the Institute for Public Architecture, Architexx, the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR), The Architecture Lobby, and the AIANY Women in Architecture Committee. The day before the Women’s March, the Center for Architecture joined sites across the United States by hosting a Design as Protest workshop, coinciding with the Inauguration.

As activists at large form plans for continued protest and resistance, architects and urbanists are promoting post-election design activism, arguing that architects’ “critical speculation” is “nothing less than an act of radical hope,” urging architects to “realize their collective power as agents of change,” and asking, What roles might we play as citizen-architects?” At the Women’s March in New York, one of us spotted a protester’s sign we can all get behind: “Pay your architect.”

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