What Architects and Anarchist have in common

In two nights, in two very different settings I got the same message and it is a message that needs to get through.

My father was an architect.  He got a lifetime achievement award from the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) and felt like this award should really be bookended by an outstanding young architects award, so he created one.  My father passed in 2009 and my mother continues to give out this award at the BSA gala each year.

I went this year for the first time to the BSA gala.  It was black tie and probably the fanciest dinner I have ever been to.  It was held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Boston.

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shiny – The Intercontinental in Boston

Before the event my mother noticed I was not wearing any socks and asked me to put some on.  I went to my pathetic bag and could only find one sock, so I put it on (one qualifying as “some”); fortunately, no one seemed to notice.  My mother sat next to the award winner who was friendly and charming.  On her other side was the Boston Globe architecture critic, a long time family friend.

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The Field School – one of the award winners

At this awards dinner a life time achievement award was given to Theodore Landsmark.  I had met Landsmark before when he gave my mother an honorary doctorate from the Boston College of Architecture.  Landsmark certainly deserves a lifetime achievement.  He was the president of the very cool open admission Boston College of Architecture for 17 years.  He has been on the board of multiple arts-related institutions including the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  He has a bunch of advanced degrees from a number of fancy schools.  But in my mind the thing he is most famous for is being the right person in the wrong place as depicted in the Pultizer Prize winning photo below.

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The Soiling of Old Glory

 

Landsmark is a great public speaker, but his message was not a comfortable one for the architects in the room.  He observed that he and one other architect were the only black faces in the room and had been for the last 30 years.  He told the black tie crowd that they had to do better promoting people of color and women to positions of responsibility in the field of architecture.  He noted that since he had joined the Boston Redevelopment Authority, they had approved scores of projects worth over $2 billion and only twice had the presentations been done by a women or by a person of color.  He pointed out that companies with diverse senior management are more profitable.  Further, that the emerging architecture markets in the global south are expecting to see greater diversity from partner firms in the north.  He observed that the city of Boston was “Majority Minority” and that most of the graduates of architecture schools are now women.  He attacked architecture and especially architecture management as being a bastion of old white men.

But I probably would not have written this blog post at all, if a similar conversation were not happening in a completely different context the next day.

I’ve written several times about the Baltimore Free Farm.  It is one of the most inspiring urban projects in the US, and is affiliated with the Point A project.  BFF does a “Fancy Dinner” fundraiser once a year.

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Anarchists can have nice things too

BFF has done a bunch of work on diversity and inclusion issues and provided important support — in the form of free food — for the protests in Baltimore last April.  Despite this work, there was a powerful critique of this year’s Fancy Dinner on the event’s Facebook page.  It included the following text:

People think about racism as an individual act of prejudice or discrimination from one person to another. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about systems, structures and institutions.

One of the principal organizers for the BFF collective read this critique during the Fancy Dinner.  BFF was being called out to support more local black businesses.  The audience of the Fancy Dinner was mostly white, and I believe quite sensitive to this critique.

There has been a huge jump in whites’ understanding of racism as a problem in the US. And at both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, at fancy dinners of dominantly white participants had this brought up in uncomfortable and powerful ways.

 

About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

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