Architects Leading the Way to Racial Justice

The fight for equality is reaching a tipping point. Metropolis highlights Black architects, educators, and thinkers moving us toward racial justice.

Tulsa Race Riot Inflames 1921
The Tulsa race massacre of 1921 decimated the urban fabric of what was then the wealthiest African American community in the United States. Efforts to rebuild the neighborhood floundered as city planners attempted to rezone the area for industrial use. Creative Commons

This time feels different. In the week since the killing of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer, large-scale protests demanding police accountability and racial justice have sprung up in cities across the United States, and even around the world. Despite curfews, violent provocations from local police and the White House, and the persistence of the pandemic, the demonstrations don’t seem to be fizzling out anytime soon.

Within this maelstrom of activity, advocates and thinkers have focused further attention on the built conditions that enable continued racial subjugation in America—and the role that architects, planners, and designers have in facilitating or countering those broken processes and patterns. Buildings and cities are products of the social and political priorities of their time; historically, these have skewed toward enforcing control and separation, and toward maximizing profit and production over community and wellbeing. Architects today—those who design prisons, shirk issues of gentrification, and work with odious clients—are still forced to operate within a system that sustains socioeconomic strife.

While planners, urbanists, and communities have made real progress in humanizing our towns and neighborhoods, police brutality continues to stun—even in progressive “livable” cities like Minneapolis. It reminds us of the work everybody can do in advancing equality, given the entrenched and multifaceted nature of structural racism in America.

Individual architects and educators have expressed anguish and solidarity over social media, encouraging their peers to support and act:


Meanwhile, a number of organizations in the architecture and design community have issued statements on the current situation, including the National Organization of Minority Architects, American Planning Association, American Institute of Architects, and American Society of Landscape Architects. Firms have also weighed in, reasserting their commitment to racial justice and social equity:



While it seems clear we’ve reached a pivotal moment in the long fight for racial equity—and in particular, the fight for police accountability—its eventual impacts on how our urban environments will be produced, how architects and planners will practice, and how it will fit into the country’s broader history of (in)equality remain to be seen. A first step in ensuring that those impacts will be positive and sustainable is to center the voices and experiences of people of color. Below, we’ve compiled recent coverage of African American practitioners whose work points a way to translate the current moment into concrete progress.

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