Design for Spatial Justice Fellow Tackles Systemic Racism in Architecture

July 27, 2020

Headshot of Craig WilkinsDesign for Spatial Justice Fellow Craig Wilkins recently partnered with Curbed to call on the architecture profession to reflect on its moral imperative in light of recent uprisings, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the field’s long history of participating in redlining, working with banks who use predatory loans or discriminatory loan practices, and the design of prisons and public housing.

“So, for me, the question isn’t: What can architecture as a profession do? The better question is: What is the nature of the profession? Why is it that other professions understand their role and duty to promote the well-being of the public, but architecture does not? This is the question we need to ask, because if we did understand our role and our duty, the streets would not be on fire,” Wilkins told Curbed.

In early 2020, the Michigan-based black architect, scholar, and activist joined the School of Architecture & Environment for two terms as a fellow for the Design for Spatial Justice Initiative. Wilkins was also the Peitro Bellushchi Distinguished Visiting Professor in Architecture for the Portland Architecture Program. In February, Wilkins gave a talk at the White Stag Block titled “The Age of the Activist Architect,” and he spoke in the Design for Spatial Justice Lecture Series.

“As a profession, we don’t all talk about our role in redlining. We don’t talk about equitable resource allocation or argue for or against it. We don’t talk enough about the increased privatization of public space. We have been complicit in the design of public housing, which was nothing but warehousing people, when we knew better. And if we didn’t know better, we should have. And what’s the result of that? Whole generations of people have been lost because they were confined to spaces that we designed, and we keep refusing to acknowledge and own up to that,” Wilkins said.

“When you can’t barbecue and your kid can’t set up a lemonade or water stand outside your own home, whose lives on the street are we caring about and talking about exactly? The refusal to accept our responsibility and act accordingly is a tacit agreement to allow these practices to continue. And these practices target Black and brown bodies specifically. It’s our job, our responsibility, our duty to be that voice in the boardroom, in the policy room, in the public with clients, with each other, to fight racism.”

Read the full interview with Wilkins on