Equity in Design

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This article is written by AVID Intern Architect Joy Olagoke

Architecture can either help or hinder.1 It has many shining fruits and what initially lured me to the profession has since expanded into an array of intriguing branches, each a stem to a multitude of possibilities.

Architecture as a narrative device, architecture as a lens, architecture as shelter, the list of affordances continues. When architecture is viewed as a single peg within design, something beautiful happens: a necessary cognitive shift towards a collaborative understanding. What is architecture’s role in all this? We can maximize and increase its affordances when we pair it with other disciplines and ways of thinking, echoing the many varied influences on our lives.

In June 2020 myself and some other students founded Advocates for Equitable Design Education (AEDE). Our goal was to create an open and evolving dialogue to help challenge conventional approaches to design education and practice. We wanted to provide resources and critique the exclusionary way design is taught in North American schools. Why was privileging Western design and accomplishments over other cultures normalized? This wrongfully implied that the majority of the world was not home to incredible designers, works, ideas, and philosophies. What can we learn from other cultures about design practices that reduce inequality, or foster more trust in communities? We all watched the world react in shock to the murder of George Floyd and the huge uptake in the Black Lives Matter movement that ensued. We held our breath waiting for our universities and other organizations we held dear to respond. Many did not respond in haste nor in ways that we found satisfactory. But soon we realized that our voices carry weight, especially when compounded, and although we were students, we did not have time to wait.

Today we continue to create workshops for students and practitioners of design to help diversify their practice and knowledge base in efforts to acknowledge and continually challenge issues of equity in design. We believe this is a crucial step in widening perspectives and achieving a more just future.

The state of the world right now is concerning, but with tools like Zoom, we are now able to see into the minds of designers who are making efforts to improve things, via online panel discussions, lectures, and workshops. This helps me mitigate my feelings of hopelessness. As long as we’re breathing, we still have an opportunity to change, we have an opportunity to redefine our present and our future. It’s if we give up and say “well, everything is irreversibly damaged” and that “there’s no point,” that we would seal that fate. The more of us that show we’re still fighting, researching, learning, and have a will to change, the better we can influence the collective consciousness and tip the scale to that of hope. Society’s value systems have failed to mitigate suffering and inequity apparent in our current world. So, we need to change and challenge value systems wherever possible both in our design profession and outside of it, because it’s all connected.

Architecture’s ability to help and its irrefutable potential to be used as an emancipatory tool, amongst several other positives, is what I held on to throughout my degree, and I am happy to have found a place to execute this in the profession.

[1]: MASS Design Group