Are you part of a movement?
Young architects reflect on their part in a continuum of activism.
Last week was our spring break. I spent time with my family, much of it outside in the fresh air. I caught up on sleep, read a trashy novel, and binged a TV crime thriller. I’m back and ready for the second half of the semester, to edit episodes and launch this podcast in mid-April. Which, somehow, is right around the corner.
Today, we’re hosting a big event at the school: a Town Hall gathering with three of our podcast guests. Our current students will have a chance to hear about their journey from architecture students to the office. They’ll field questions about how they live their eco-values as young interns in this time of climate emergency. And we’ll be recording for our final, wrap-up episode of the season.
We’ll be back Friday with some thoughts on the challenge of balancing activism with professionalism. To prime that conversation in our interviews, we asked these young visionaries where they are in the bigger picture. Are they part of a movement, and if so, how would they define it? Their answers were as varied as their projects.
Christian felt a bit constrained in his current position as an intern architect after his experiences crowdsourcing the design of housing and community facilities for people living in his grandmother’s village of Guisquil in El Salvador. Still, he has translated his thesis document into Spanish to share with people there and looks forward to standing on his own as an architect. “Once I get my license and I'm free to work on my own and confidently say I can stamp these drawings for you, it is a movement, right? It’s a movement where the users get to decide. It's not just me, the expert, giving you a design anymore. It’s a crowdsourced movement that focuses on the people, for the people, by the people.”
I love the ways that young people are leading the way to change how architects work with communities. Rather than come in as the expert with all the answers, Christian allowed himself to be open to what the people of Guisquil had to teach him about living a good life. Through a creative, collaborative process, he found a way for their individual voices to enrich his design vision.
Ava sees herself on a continuum of the environmental movement from the early days of Rachel Carson’s alarm-sounding to the current era of action. “From the seventies, when the environmental movement really kicked off, the movement was more like, believe us, this is a thing. Pollution, it’s a thing. Climate change, acknowledge it, it's real. Now, though some people still deny it, most everyone sees it. Now they feel it. That's not really the conversation anymore. And so I'm part of this movement of people who are saying, we need to put the action in, we have to be biased towards action.”
Melonee’s perspective draws from personal connections. “Sure, I know though that I bring something different to the table just by existing. My different experiences enrich the design conversation. That's very important for me. I volunteer for the Kids In Design Committee. We do portfolio reviews for students who are in high school in Baltimore City. It’s really important to me to make sure that these different voices are included in the design of the future. Who are the architects in fifty or a hundred years from now? What do they look like and how can I start to change that and make sure that everybody is included in the design process? We need architects from all different kinds of lifestyles and all different backgrounds.”
Melonee is also humbled by those who came before her. “I see movement in my mind and think of my grandparents, they're part of the NAACP. They're getting arrested at lunch counters, they're like speaking out and I'm like, yeah, I'm just, uh, making a thesis and looking at kids' portfolios, it's not that serious. It feels like movement to me is reserved for like the elders who have had to go through so much more. So for me, I'm just a person who's trying to be good.”
We loved how each of them brings a unique perspective that colors their values and daily actions. Several of them also identified a tension between speaking up and listening to their more experienced mentors in the office. They’re aware that they have much to learn before they can stir things up, even as they feel a sense of urgency. Next time, we’ll dig into that conversation.
Do you see yourself as part of a movement? If so, how would you define it and how is it going?
This project is supported by a Faculty-Student Research Award from the Graduate School, University of Maryland, as well as grants from the University’s Sustainability Fund and the School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation.