Words to Actions

by Karen Lu, AIA, NOMA, AIA Minnesota President

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

                                                                                — Maya Angelou


It has been one month since the murder of George Floyd – yet it feels like it happened both days ago and ages ago. Too many people’s eyes are just now being opened to hundreds of years of Black oppression and trauma caused by systemic racism in the form of racial covenants, gerrymandering, and mass incarceration, to name but a few. Our communities are experiencing a wide range of emotions – anger and grief, numbness and paralysis, guilt and denial.


The events here in Minnesota have been broadcast around the world. Our actions are being watched, and they will be remembered. As an architecturecommunity, we must hold ourselves accountable for our complicity in racial injustice; we must transform the way we live and work; and we must hear and heed the voices of our Black and POCI colleagues:


“Justice and equity are part of any architecture worth doing.”

Letter to the Editor: Minneapolis’s Sam Olbekson on building a just community.” The Architect’s Newspaper, Midwest. 9 June 2020. Sam Olbekson, ACAE, AIA, NCARB, citizen of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe, immediate past president of the American Indian Council of Architects and Engineers, CEO of Full Circle Indigenous Planning, and principal of Cuningham Group Architecture.


“What role can we play in shifting the narrative from ash to phoenix?”

Letters to the editor: Thoughts from the ground.” The Architect’s Newspaper, National. 11 June 2020. Lyssa Washington, Assoc. AIA, NOMA, President of MSP AoA NOMA and project manager at 4RM+ULA.


“Change is necessary. It is inevitable. …I ask people to be more inclusive. To be open to partnering. To be able to be silent and listen to the realities of people who don’t share your privilege. …Think bigger, think broader, think more inclusively, and think a little bit more humbly about people that have not had your shared experience and have not had access to the opportunities that you have had access to – over, and over, and over.”

“Podcast: James Garrett Jr. Hopes George Floyd Is the Final Wake-Up Call Architects Need.”  Architect Magazine. 11 June 2020. Wanda Lau interviewing James Garrett Jr., AIA, NOMA, founding partner of 4RM+ULA, 2019 AIA National Young Architects Award winner, and 2016 AIA Minnesota Young Architects Award winner.


In the past few weeks, AIA Minnesota and MSP AoA NOMA leadership have met with members, architecture students, allied partners, community organizations, contractors, and philanthropic foundations. We have attended and supported meetings and panels on developing equity, the commodification of Black protest art, and Design Justice for Black Lives. Together, we have developed a program to match the needs of businesses and organizations impacted by the unrest, with services provided by architects and designers. We are also advocating for long-term visioning and design efforts led by affected communities and by Black and POCI architects and designers.


At the beginning of June, the national AIA Board of Directors released a statement and confirmed that systemic racial injustice is now a top organizational priority alongside the climate crisis. AIA members and stakeholders were invited to “hold us accountable in the coming months and years to ensure that our deeds match our words.” In addition, members of the AIA Large Firm Round Table wrote an open letter to members of theNational Organization of Minority Architects and pledged to create “a design profession that mirrors the diverse voices of the very communities we serve.”


We have long known that the impacts of climate change and social inequities are inextricably intertwined. What we now need to acknowledge is that environmental justice and racial justice are also ethical imperatives for the profession of architecture. Addressing these priorities requires steadfast progress focused on impact, not just intention. It will require deep resolve from all of us to learn from our mistakes and keep moving forward – together.

View the July 2020 edition of Matrix.