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Equity in Design: Michelle Obama on Challenges in Architecture

Why equity in architecture was one of 2017’s hottest topics at AIA

Cracking the code behind equity in design is an ongoing challenge.

“You can’t be an architect if you don’t know that architects exist,” an eloquent Michelle Obama told a packed crowd of architects, designers, and contractors at the American Institute of Architects conference. The former First Lady chose to make her first public appearance since leaving the White House this past Thursday at the 2017 AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando, at a hot ticket event that beckoned her supporters from browsing booths and those who were just plain curious to hear Mrs. Obama’s thoughts on architecture and design.

Addressing racial and gender inequalities in the field of architecture and the impetus to change, Mrs. Obama told the crowd, “that’s where all of you come in.”

Following a request by AIA President Thomas Vonier, FAIA, for “any advice or insight about things we can do better,” Mrs. Obama added:

“With any profession… not just… in the field of architecture, but if you look at law, if you look at science, if you look at STEM, if you look at so many professions, the struggle is still real. You can’t start recruiting from a pool that doesn’t exist. So you have to build that pool. And when do you start building that pool? You start building it at a very young age.”

“…There are a lot of people (in this room),” she noted, looking from one side of the hall to the other at the 5,500 or so listeners before her.

“If everyone found a child to mentor at a young age, if you got ‘em early and gave them a sense of possibility and opened their eyes to what they can be,” it would mean the world of a difference to that child’s potential, Mrs. Obama noted.

“You know, so many kids don’t even know what an architect is. They don’t think about how buildings are built. They don’t know anything about economic development or planning. I know I certainly didn’t. And, I was an educated kid, right? I went to a good public school. I went to an Ivy League university and law school. I came out at the end of all that, and I didn’t know the options for me because I didn’t live in a community where there were architects and lawyers and doctors.”

“So you imagine kids who are growing up in communities where people don’t even have the opportunity to work, period,” she continued, pressing. “How can they begin to envision what life can be?”

The conversation doesn’t stop there. This is part one in a five-part series of Hunter Douglas Architectural’s coverage of Michelle Obama’s message at AIA and those of other speakers and thought leaders who are also working to crack the code behind equity in design. Join the discussion with @FluentinDesign.

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