June 19th — Juneteenth, Freedom Day, Liberation Day, Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day — is a day that embodies the struggle for equality in the United States. Although slavery was outlawed in 1862 through the Emancipation Proclamation, it wasn’t until June 19th of 1865 that enslaved people in Texas were finally freed. This day is one for celebration but also a reminder that no one is free until we all are. The past year has been very trying for a multitude of reasons, ranging from a global pandemic to continued issues with police brutality.
As designers, we can’t fix all the problems in the world, but we can do our part to ensure that whatever we put into the built environment gives everyone a bit more freedom, safety, and joy. On this Freedom Day, the KPF community celebrates the African Americans who have fought for freedom, and we are committed to doing our part in designing a free world. – KPF Public
KPF has made real efforts over the past year to create meaningful and measurable progress toward the firm’s goals for diversity, inclusion, and anti-racist activism. The impact has been felt in the firm’s culture, practice, and operations. We have taken a democratic approach, harnessing grassroots efforts from all levels within the firm and taking into account outside perspectives.
We recognize some of these initiatives are in their infancy, and that we have a great deal more to achieve. We are taking this moment to check in on our own progress and hold ourselves accountable.
Understanding the pervasive issue of our industry’s challenges in the education and hiring pipeline, we have partnered with the National Organization of Minority Architects to reshape our own part in this. Through their extensive network, we have expanded KPF’s recruitment efforts to include successful hires of new grads from HBCUs. NOMA’s programs have also connected KPF architects and students to provide mentorship to up-and-coming architects from a broad range of backgrounds, at different points in their education.
Efforts such as the ACE Mentoring Program, of which KPF has been a supporter for decades, traditionally involved in-person events. Because these have proven difficult to maintain during the pandemic, we reached out to new contacts from New York City mentoring programs such as Students Sponsor Partners (SSP) and forged relationships that we hope to sustain for many years to come.
In the fall of 2021, we will be teaching a design studio focused on public housing at the Yale School of Architecture. We will share our experience on the rehabilitation of the NYCHA Red Hook Houses, and engage NYCHA officials in the process. These types of projects rely on community input and engagement, an aspect of the profession which gives our work clear purpose, and particularly inspires the next generation of designers.
We also know that mentoring goes both ways. We have a lot to learn from the experts and scholars who have spent their life’s work studying racial discrimination and the systems that have led to the unacceptable lack of equity in our society today. KPF Public was established in the summer of 2020 as a platform to address issues of racial and social inequality and combat the inequities that exist within the profession and the built environment.
Almost one year later, members of this group have become key voices in influencing the firm’s actions, organizing internal educational programs such as a recent lecture by April De Simone, a social impact designer and strategist. Ms. De Simone presented her work and research titled “Spatialized Psychologies of Inequity” to the global staff and participated in a Q&A via Zoom.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, our new practice of holding a weekly global Town Meeting in virtual space has allowed us to learn from and about each other. Many KPF staff members shared highly personal and inspiring stories, particularly as they related to the recent wave of deplorable anti-AAPI racism. We hosted a talk by Nancy Yao Maasbach, director of the Museum of Chinese in New York, and grew stronger as a community thanks to this series of candid and moving presentations.
KPF Public members have been essential in the previously mentioned recruitment and mentorship initiatives, as well as our Neighborhoods Now project. There, we joined the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation to create public space as part of The Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute program to channel pro-bono resources from New York-based design firms into community-driven recovery strategies. We are committed to staying involved in the Bed Stuy community beyond the scope of this program, and we are seeking additional opportunities to revitalize underserved communities through such pro bono project work.
From an operational standpoint, KPF required a mandatory Unconscious Bias Training for all staff members this year, and we worked with an outside DEI consultant to shape the firm’s CSR Charter. We are actively bolstering our corporate diversity and social responsibility infrastructure to lead and identify future opportunities for change, ensuring that these values become even more entrenched in the fabric of the firm’s operations and culture. We are coordinating our efforts between all offices to ensure that, while some aspects of social responsibility are defined differently in different contexts, we advocate for certain basic principles of social responsibility wherever we practice.
We are proud of these actions and the progress the firm has made in the past year, and we look forward to expanding these efforts to meet the challenges to equity throughout the design and construction industries.
Read more about KPF's commitments and those of the industry at large via Architectural Record: