This Architect Is on a Mission to Foster Anti-Racist Workplaces — With a Pack of Cards

Architect Wandile Mthiyane believes that building more equitable cities begins with building more equitable workplaces — especially in the design world.

Francesca Mercurio Francesca Mercurio

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Workplace culture is unequivocally linked to our built environment. When we think of the workplace of an architect, we often imagine a collaborative, assiduous and dynamic space — one that fosters innovative ideas and avant-garde designs. And while, to some degree, this image remains true, there are still pervading biases and unsustainable practices that live on and, consequently, emerge in our built world.

As we enter a new year and reflect upon the practices that work and those that don’t, we must ask ourselves, do our workplaces reflect the equity and inclusion we aspire to see in today’s world? Do our studios foster disarming environments that produce the best architectural solutions? Solutions that are attuned to the rich diversity found within our society. We often forget the tremendous social responsibility architects shoulder — a responsibility perhaps too large for any individual to take on.

They are responsible for erecting a built environment that not only meets the client’s needs but equally one that will mature and evolve along with society. We have bestowed immense responsibility upon the architectural community, and architects must be equipped with the tools to help them succeed. One of the first steps to ensure their success is to unequivocally disarm the workplace.

The Anti-Racist Hot Dog Party, Chicago, December 2022.

Before we can erect socially-responsible and ethical designs, we must address the biases and patterns of discrimination that live within the workplace. Architect and activist Wandile Mthiyane recognized that preempting racist design begins in the workplace and founded Anti-Racist Hot Dog (ARHD), an organization that aims to help build equitable workplaces through humor, food and disarming conversation. Recognizing that many existing Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) tools struggle to mitigate workplace discrimination, Wandile and his team tried something new: they hosted a party. Just the other week, Anti-Racist Hot Dog hosted their first-ever ARHD Party — an event for AEC leaders to connect with other industry professionals and discuss issues surrounding inclusivity.

Hosted in Chicago, the event was designed to give leaders in the architecture industry a chance to to connect, share experiences and ultimately, develop actionable equity-building tools they can implement in the workplace. After all, today most firms recognize the importance of building more just cities; this starts by building more equitable places where ideas and designs are generated. In attendance were some of the most prominent players in architecture, including directors from Gensler, Perkins&Will, Stantec and JGMA to name a few. These AEC leaders gathered, mingled and exchanged stories in a welcoming space while eating delicious — and anti-racist — hot dogs. Their conversations were also guided by a new tool recently developed by the organization: Conversation Cards.

“One of the things that really resonated with me a lot today on actionable items was how do we make it safe for everyone in our workplaces to actually feel safe expressing themselves and be who they are, I think that is probably the first step in making sure that everyone can feel heard and feel included.” – Raymond Lee, Vice President, FMG Architects

An ARHD Conversation Card

The ARHD Conversation Cards are designed to lead culture-transforming conversations in architecture studios surrounding race, the workplace and inclusion. Through a series of thought-provoking questions, the cards nurture diversity and equity by leveraging the most effective tool in all our back pockets: dialogue. The beauty of the conversation cards is how naturally they facilitate conversations that can, at times, feel too challenging to have. They get right to the heart of issues that we too often tiptoe around, sidestepping yes or no answers and inviting open-minded self-reflection. Divided into three themes — the story of self, us and others — the cards are designed to make players open up and reexamine internalized, interpersonal and structural racism.

“One of the things we talked about is just making room for employees to bring their whole selves to work and making that environment very inclusive so we all have a common place and that we can work together as one.” – Valencia Muhammad, Director of Human Resources, Chicago Architecture Centre

An ARHD Conversation Card

The success of a design is a direct reflection of the conditions in which an architect works. The ARHD Conversation Cards are intended to help shift the culture of architecture into one that encourages personal expression and prioritizes wellbeing. By discussing biases, sharing grievances and recognizing the experiences of others, the goal is that designers will be more attuned with themselves, their peers, and ultimately, with the needs of society. And through an acute understanding of self and of others, the culture of architecture can change and addressing the racism within our built environment becomes that much more accessible.

“It was really refreshing to have these conversations around diversity, anti-racism and really coming together to come up with strategies on how we combat those things. And so, partnering together with leaders in this industry, it was really good to see people having these conversations and hopefully, implementing some of these strategies in the workplace and taking it beyond what we learned and talked about today.” – Kimberly Morris, Director of Real Estate and Community Development, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives 

The Anti-Racism Declaration, signed by AEC leaders in attendance of the ARHD Party.

The ARHD Party came to a close with attendees selecting four actionable steps they intend to implement after the event. Each leader designed a declaration of independence, holding them accountable and incentivizing them to uphold their promises.

The success of all Anti-Racist Hot Dog initiatives lies in the organization’s ability to make education engaging, disarming and fun. Whether it be through cooking classes, parties or cards, leveraging universal mediums — such as food, dialogue and game — prove that erecting a culture devoid of racial biases is certainly within our reach.

Architects: Want to have your project featured? Showcase your work through Architizer and sign up for our inspirational newsletters.

Francesca Mercurio Author: Francesca Mercurio
Part of the Architizer team, Francesca covers a broad scope of topics related to the built environment. Trained as an art historian at McGill University, Francesca is interested in architectural conservation and the ways designers are using historical spaces to better society today. Francesca is based in Toronto, Canada.
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