Office Hours was inspired by a simple, honest idea: to share industry knowledge with BIPOC students, recent graduates and practitioners all over the globe. Through the vision and organizing effort of artist and writer Esther Choi, Office Hours formed as a direct response to floods of requests from young, passionate BIPOC creatives in search of professional advice.
Simple as the idea may be, Office Hours emerged to fill a crucial and accelerating void; Addressing the long-standing problem of BIPOC underrepresentation in creative industries, Office Hours harnesses intimate, intergenerational conversation as an engaging platform to empower and support emerging practitioners. Since July, speakers have included Sean Canty, Shumi Bose, Asad Syrkett, among countless others. “Every speaker at Office Hours has provided invaluable and brilliant insight,” shared Raja Maupin, a designer in Washington, DC.
Providing connection in a period plagued by uncertainty, students and emerging practitioners have tuned in from the United States, Canada, India, New Zealand, Jordan, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Germany, and Hong Kong. “The current format of Office Hours works amazingly for the circumstances. The sessions are held online, making them accessible to a large audience,” shared Baïna-Lyssa Jean, a M.S. Arch Candidate in Maplewood, NJ.
In just four months, Office House has gained impressive momentum — a testament to what it means to those already involved and an inspiring indication of its future potential. “I learned that being a successful BIPOC designer in the design world can actually happen,” shared Amanda McGillvery, a designer from Memphis, TN. “It’s possible to make my career work for myself regardless of racial/gender biases and unequal opportunity. I learned how important it can be to pivot paths in my design career in order to find the path that best fits my goals and interests.”
By placing BIPOC students and young practitioners in lively discussion with cutting-edge BIPOC creatives, Office Hours is shifting the landscape. Office Hours is currently raising money to grow its platform by funding speakers, media, technology, and future programming. All donations can be made online. Inspired by this work, Architizer caught up with Baïna-Lyssa Jean, Darien Carr, Amanda McGillvery, Shaina Yang and Raja Maupin— five young BIPOC creatives — to hear in their own words just how formative the experience has been so far.
How did you hear about Office Hours and what made you want to attend a session?
Baïna-Lyssa Jean, Maplewood, NJ – M.S. Arch Candidate: “Three months into the pandemic and in the midst of a reawakening of racial unrest, there were tons of online lectures highlighting BIPOC professionals and I started signing up for all of them. I remember being filled with joy and belonging seeing so many other architectural designers, especially since I’ve always been part of the minority (Black and woman) when entering a lot of “architectural” spaces.”
Darien Carr, Somerville, MA – M.Arch Candidate: “I first heard about Office Hours on Instagram when my friend, Jeremy Benson, posted about one of the sessions. I wanted to attend because, as someone in architectural school right now, I have found it difficult to learn about the profession from the perspective of a black person.”
Amanda McGillvery, Memphis, TN – Designer: “I saw an Office Hours post shared on Instagram by one of my design activist colleagues. I was thrilled to hear about a small Zoom meeting that was created to connect emerging BIPOC designers with experienced BIPOC design professionals.”
Shaina Yang, Cambridge, MA – M.Arch Candidate: “I learned about Office Hours on Instagram, but stayed away for the first handful of sessions. Even though I’m a young BIPOC in architecture, I still hold a lot of privilege and thought it would be best to leave the space for others. Later, a good friend of mine — who had attended every single session — reached out and encouraged me to participate, assuring me I was welcome. I did so on his personal recommendation and absolutely do not regret it.”
Raja Maupin, Washington, DC – Designer: “I attended a Bauhaus Centennial at the Hirshhorn Museum where Dong-Ping Wong was a speaker. Through that event, I started listening to the Office Hours podcast and from there learned about the program. I attended a session because I had been looking to apply to an M.Arch program and wanted to ease into the field.”
What have you learned from Office Hours so far?
Baïna-Lyssa Jean, Maplewood, NJ – M.S. Arch Candidate: “Each small group discussion offers a lot of insight on the architectural field that I’ve taken notes on to later apply as I’m building my career. Whether it’s starting an office, teaching and practicing, or becoming a design journalist, there is plenty to learn from peoples’ experiences. Seeing them occupy these spaces and roles, gives me the reassurance that I can do the same.”
Darien Carr, Somerville, MA – M.Arch Candidate: “A grounded, realistic approach to what starting your own office means, in addition to a larger awareness of the various paths available within the profession of design. After one of the sessions, I remember describing to a friend the clarity I felt after a session. So often I find myself entertaining every possible career option with but after an Office Hour call, it feels like I have the right amount of information to approach my career with a more grounded set of intentions. I really appreciate it.”
Amanda McGillvery, Memphis, TN – Designer: “I learned that being a successful BIPOC designer in the design world can actually happen! It’s possible to make my career work for myself regardless of racial/gender biases, and unequal opportunity. I learned how important it can be to pivot paths in my design career in order to find the path that best fits my goals and interests.”
Shaina Yang, Cambridge, MA – M.Arch Candidate: “Plenty of great success stories, as well as very salient advice shared between underdogs. But perhaps more than that, what I’ve really taken away is a sense of shared purpose and experience, learning that we truly are all here looking out for each other.”
Raja Maupin, Washington, DC – Designer: “I’ve learned so much in a short span of time. A common theme throughout the sessions was to remain authentically true to your values and individuality. It was not necessarily a new idea, but I was truly moved by having that constant reminder each week from such accomplished speakers with diverse backgrounds.”
Reflecting on a memorable exchange during Jonathan Jackson’s lecture, Yang shared that she was positively caught off guard by a particular moment of raw honesty. “When I asked an emotional question about my worries taking up space, the resultant discussion was full of vulnerability and empathy over the kinds of internal conflicts we, as BIPOC, face when attempting to exist in these spaces.”
Office Hours is currently wrapping up its formative first season. Learn more about Office Hours on Instagram and support the collective’s upcoming work via online donation.
Correction: October 25, 2020
An earlier version of this article incorrectly credited Dong-Ping Wong as a primary organizer of Office Hours. He was a speaker for one of the initial sessions. Esther Choi is the artist behind the socially-engaged art initiative Office Hours.