June 29, 2020
Dear American Institute of Architects,
Two years ago, you honored me by awarding me a Fellowship for my work as an architect in the realm of Interpretive Design. Now, I am writing to convey an interpretation that I hope will lead to positive change for the better in the AIA.
The architectural profession is notoriously and traditionally misogynist. When I was at MIT, the architectural predecessors about whom I was taught were almost exclusively male. Charles Bulfinch comes to mind as an example. I remember learning that he was the first professional American architect, who studied at Harvard and then toured Europe, thanks to an inheritance and connections that gave him both entry to ancient and contemporary buildings, as well as the time to study them.
It was only with persistence and interest (something I shared with other female architecture students and a few professors) that I was able to uncover and study women in architecture. There was one memorable tour of houses near Boston where I met both Dolores Hayden and Sarah Harkness. But the gatherings of female architects at the time, while exhilarating, also felt subversive. Years later, I was able to revisit my reflections of women in architecture when I was invited to design a humble exhibit about the work of female architects for Pratt Institute and for which I developed an insurgent and controversial show. I hung the work on clothes lines among articles of clothing and kitchen utensils, and added provocative quotes about how female architects have barely made it out of the house. The show led to a heated panel discussion and a long-desired invitation to teach (which I ironically relinquished in order to move to California and start a family).
I am grateful, therefore, to the Institute for rewarding me with a Fellowship as I hope that I am representative of an opening of mind and action in this otherwise largely exclusive realm.
But the issue of misogyny and/or a re-envisioning of Bulfinch is for another time. This letter is not a call to integrate the field of architecture with more female architects, nor even necessarily to shake up the systemic isolation, inequities, or outright resistance to female participation in this worthy profession. This letter is to make a strong request in support of people of color (POC) who are so direly under-represented in the world of Architecture. The current culture is both embarrassing and cruel. Furthermore, it leaves the world bereft of the insights and perspectives of a diversity of thought and design. It leaves us all poorer.
What I am requesting is this.
- More and better access to architectural education for POC.
- Outreach to parents and students who are POC to spark an interest and to reveal opportunity in this field.
- A wide range of design classes (and class types) offered and made accessible to diverse and often under-privileged populations, starting in elementary school and continuing through high school.
- Scholarships to educational programs for POC.
- More and wider celebration, reward, and reference to designers who are POC.
- Offerings of accessible and affordable design advice to people and communities of color.
- A development of further opportunities to reach and to support POC in our field.
- Looking for more and continued acceptance and a welcoming and supporting of new voices in our field. This should include collaborations of all people.
- More “advertising”/publicity about architects and designers who are POC.
- A general push for people to better understand Design – wherever and whenever, since it so consistently affects their/our lives yet remains so seemingly exclusive and out of reach.
Let’s begin now. Let’s get in touch.
Mindy Lehrman Cameron, FAIA
Mindy Lehrman Cameron, FAIA
Lead Architect / Principal
LEHRMAN CAMERON STUDIO