This editorial appeared in the July/August issue of Contract magazine. To read the digital edition, click here.
I had the rare honor to serve the profession and 2014 AIA National President Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA, as chairman of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) National Convention in Chicago in June.
A number of excellent speakers invigorated the convention experience, including keynote speakers that we thoughtfully selected. But two of the most memorable highlights were award-related speeches by leading women in the profession: Ivenue Love-Stanley, FAIA, and Beverly Willis, FAIA. Their powerful words are worth repeating here.
A pioneering African-American architect based in Atlanta, Love-Stanley accepted the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award for her career, helping underserved communities through design. She has been passionate about making education, in general, and design education, specifically, inclusive and accessible. The Whitney M. Young Jr. Award, named after the civil rights–era president of the Urban League who urged the AIA to commit to socially progressive advocacy at the 1968 AIA National Convention, honors architects and organizations that embody a proactive social mandate through their commitments.
Here is a portion of Love-Stanley’s speech: “I, for one, will continue to advocate for change. I want to simply ask you to search your soul and honestly ask the question: Is this profession what you really want it to be? There is such a scarcity of minorities and women in key leadership positions at the major architectural firms in the country—it is astounding.
“I would suggest that we start by aggressively increasing the minority enrollment at major schools of architecture. Then aggressively work to increase the representation of minority and female faculty members. Then shore up the entrance level programs at junior colleges and provide support to historically black colleges and universities, which are the paths that so many choose to travel. These improvements are long overdue.
“Although women make up an increasingly larger percentage of the students in schools of architecture, the number of female professionals who eventually enter the practice pales by comparison. We still have a lot to do in our own profession and within the Institute as well. We stand to lose an entire generation if we do not act fast.”
In the closing general session, Willis, who is 86, spoke with great conviction in honor of Julia Morgan, FAIA, who posthumously became the first woman to receive the AIA Gold Medal, the institute’s highest honor. Willis, who was a practicing architect for decades, has established the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, which is working to change the culture of the industry so that women’s work is acknowledged, respected, and valued.
Here is a segment of Willis’s speech: “It’s a great honor and a historic moment to be here speaking on behalf of Julia Morgan. From my heart and as a woman, I thank you. Change does not come easily—or quickly.
“Julia Morgan died in 1957. I opened my Atelier Art and Design studio in 1955. More importantly, I had never heard about [Morgan]. She was not in the history books, or known past her death. We women, who graduated in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, were denied a phenomenal role model of an incredible designer and successful practitioner. Would you believe that as recently as 1978, the president of AIA declared to the press that he would never hire a woman architect?
“On behalf of these women practitioners, I express our collective, and respectful, anger. Historically important women designers are still not in the history books. But at this moment—on this day—in the history of the AIA, I express our collective joy.
“With the award of this Gold Medal to Julia Morgan today, that her family proudly accepts, the AIA has indeed reaffirmed its commitment, as architects, to its democratic ideals. This is a proud moment for us all.”
In their speeches, Love-Stanley and Willis—who both received well-deserved standing ovations—shined a much-needed spotlight on issues that the profession has often preferred not to address directly. They deserve great credit for being bold and courageous in their moments on stage.
John Czarnecki, Assoc. AIA, Hon. IIDA
Editor in Chief