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Kimberly Dowdell: Architects Need to Be Part of the Solution to End Systemic Racism

Kimberly Dowdell HOK

In an article for Fast Company, Kimberly Dowdell, a principal in HOK’s Chicago practice and president of the National Association of Minority Architects (NOMA), writes about the impact of systemic racism and how architects can be part of the solution.

Excerpted from Fast Company:

I am an architect. I’m also the daughter of a man who lost his life to the coronavirus. My father was an African American artist from Detroit who was just shy of his 80th birthday when he died in April. Over 100,000 Americans will not be celebrating their next birthday with their families as a result of this pandemic. The statistics tell us that COVID-19 is disproportionately infecting and killing black Americans.

As I write this, people in cities around the nation are protesting another health concern that disproportionately affects blacks: police brutality. To be clear, racism plays a role in both these topics. With police violence, we see an overt racism that can be readily observed and even filmed. COVID-19 arrives more subtly, borne by the invisible racism of poverty, employment opportunities (blacks are more likely to work jobs deemed “essential” or that cannot be performed remotely), inadequate or nonexistent healthcare, and the very real issue of weathering—the fact blacks in the U.S. age faster than whites due to no attributable factor other than societal stressors associated with race.

When it comes to addressing how to safeguard all communities from future health crises, architects bring a myriad of skills to the table. Here are just a few:

  • Interdisciplinary expertise
  • Best practices for a healthy built environment
  • Diversity of perspectives

Architects have the power to “Design for Life” when our clients and public authorities demand projects that prioritize well-being. People like my dad perhaps could have had another birthday if we all made the conscious decision to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public in all communities, regardless of who lives in them.

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