AIA Conference on Architecture 2018

Tamara Eagle Bull Steals the Keynote

 John Hill
22. June 2018
David Adjaye on stage at Radio City Music Hall (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
Last night, the three-day AIA Conference on Architecture 2018 opened in New York City, culminating in a keynote at Radio City Music Hall headlined by architect David Adjaye. But it was Whitney M. Young Jr. award winner Tamara Eagle Bull who stole the show.
Adjaye spoke for about an hour, pushing the event 40 minutes past its scheduled time, presenting six projects at a variety of scales, most in the United States. But before Adjaye took to the stage...
  • Carl Elefante, 2018 AIA President, rolled through a series of pronouncements ("Dare to be relevant, dare to be accountable. The work we do is key to curtailing climate change.") clearly designed for applause. Overall, he focused on the relevance of architects, particularly in regards to the problems faced by cities in the 21st century ("Blueprint for Better Cities" is the theme this year). With the need to make the profession more diverse and inclusive; with equal pay and opportunity; and no harassment, architecture is poised, in Elefante's words, for a "relevance revolution."
  • Sarah Williams Goldhagen, author of Welcome to Your World, spoke about a "new paradigm" in how environments shape lives, rooted in research coming out of psychology, science and medicine, and cognition. She reeled off illuminating results from just a few studies (such as how patients recovered faster in rooms with views of nature versus brick walls, and how students tested better in rooms with high ceilings versus short ones) that led her to a conclusion that all architects can agree with: more-enriching environments are a public good and a human right.
  • Marc Morial, former mayor of New Orleans and current CEO of the National Urban League, spoke about the legacy of Whitney M. Young Jr., the civil rights leader who told a roomful of architects at the AIA Convention in 1968: "You are not a profession that has distinguished itself by your social and civic contributions to the cause of civil rights ... You are most distinguished by your thunderous silence." He called on architects to focus on three i's: Inclusion, Infrastructure, and Intersectionality, so architects will finally "be active, not spectators."
  • Tamara Eagle Bull, an architect and the 2018 Whitney M. Young Jr. award recipient, took up Young's cause 50 years later, telling the sold-out room of architects that while things have improved in some ways there is still much work to be done to achieve a truly diverse profession. She woke up the audience to the "statistic irrelevance" of Native Americans (there are "a few of us," as she said, but the numbers are so small as to register as 0% among the tens of thousands of registered architects in the US) and how Donald Trump's separation of migrant children from their parents echoes the governments legal practice after World War II of removing Native American children from their families and placing them with white families in order to assimilate them. In the end she stated simply that "diversity is good, diversity is necessary." The standing ovation she received from many in the audience (the only one of the night) was certainly justified.
  • Julie Snow and Matt Kreilich of Minneapolis's Snow Kreilich Architects, the recipient of the 2018 Architecture Firm Award, spoke briefly about their practice following a short film that gave some glimpses of their projects and their office. Then the curtain rose and the whole 30-person firm came forward to receive the award.
  • David Adjaye, who needs no introduction here, was the last speaker of the evening, though his talk was the most "architectural" and typical: he stood at a podium in front of images and ran through six projects in order to "map out a methodology of craft" at various scales. (For an hour Radio City Music Hall felt like the lecture hall of an architecture school.) The projects included the Gwangju Folly, a pavilion and reading room in Korea; the Francis A. Gregory Library in Washington, DC, a small neighborhood library that impressed me highly when I visited it during the AIA Convention in 2012; the Sugar Hill Development, which houses formerly homeless people north of Harlem; 130 William, which will house rich people when it's completed in Lower Manhattan in a couple years; the Studio Museum in Harlem, which just broke ground on 125th Street; and of course the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC, a project that has changed Adjaye's life and made him known to many people outside the profession.
Snow Kreilich Architects on stage (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects

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