News Brief

“An Obligation to Speak Up”: New Strategies for Design Justice

Architects can use their positions to counter injustice in the built environment. An Equitable Communities Resource from AIA shows how.

Image: The American Institute of Architects
Impact, agency, and power. These are the focus of a new publication from The American Institute of Architects (AIA): Architects’ Role in Creating Equitable Communities. Through ten focus groups with 67 designers and architects, the authors gathered insights, tools, and strategies for advancing design justice and equity in practice.

There is a difference between perception and reality when it comes to community engagement, for example. “Perception: Engagement decreases design potential. Reality: A relational process increases design potential,” reads one chart, which explains how, contrary to widespread disparagement of “design by committee,” “the more overlap between the interests of the designer, the client, and community, the greater the opportunity for successful design.”

Based on a foundation that raises awareness of historical and still rampant inequity in the design process, the resource then goes into detail about tools and strategies individuals, firms, and professional organizations like AIA itself can use to dismantle these injustices in the future.

Justice begins at home—or, in this case, at the firm. The resource offers guidance on how to have difficult yet productive conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion at architecture and design firms. It includes a nuanced critique of predominantly white firms doing pro bono work in predominantly BIPOC neighborhoods (due to a “potential [for] displacement of BIPOC-owned or community-aligned firms”) while also encouraging such pro bono work when “there is strong intercultural competence and demographic diversity within the team.” It also offers tips for funding pro bono work.

The authors then move on to the topic of design justice on projects. “During each design phase for the project, there are a number of opportunities to impact equitable outcomes,” they argue. With advice on building representative teams, saying no to projects that aren’t equity aligned, and using data to identify gaps in community resources, the piece also has extensive guidance on equitable community engagement throughout all stages of a project’s process, from pre-design through occupancy.

Architects “have power that, history reveals, is farther reaching than many of us realize or acknowledge,” the report concludes. “It is within our abilities and best interests as citizens and designers to create environments that provide for the needs of all.”

More on design justice

No More Red Lines: Undoing Our Legacy of Urban Segregation

Equity in Design and Construction: Seven Case Studies

Re-forming the Building Industry: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

For more information:

American Institute of Architects

Published November 7, 2022

Melton, P. (2022, October 26). “An Obligation to Speak Up”: New Strategies for Design Justice . Retrieved from

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