Ayers Saint Gross Completes JUST Disclosure

March 4, 2019
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We’re excited to announce that our firm’s JUST Disclosure went live this week, check it out online here.

JUST is a voluntary reporting tool developed by the International Living Future Institute for organizations to describe operational, social, and financial actions that contribute to what equity looks like at that organization. The program includes 21 different social justice and equity indicators within six categories. Each indicator has three levels of achievement and reporting that must be updated at regular intervals to maintain a JUST Disclosure. Participants in JUST must disclose information on at least 18 of the 21 indicators and can only opt out of at most one indicator per category.

Our firm’s definition of sustainability has always recognized the careful balance between the unique needs of people and ecological systems with the economic realities inherent in each of our projects. Today we advance our commitment to sustainability by sharing more quantitative data about the social equity and justice issues embedded in who we are and how we practice design. We hope that our transparency will inspire others to engage in critical discourse about equity in design as well as how these issues manifest in the built environment.

Ayers Saint Gross’s culture has always valued social, educational, and cultural engagement that aligns with social sustainability. We actively engage with the United Way of Central Maryland and Valley of the Sun United Way; our staff serve as mentors and board members for the ACE Mentor Program of America across the country; we finance scholarship opportunities at a number of institutions to support students in attaining the education that will advance them in the design professions; we staff a Careers in Design exploration program to inspire fifth graders at Beechfield Elementary School in West Baltimore; and this spring we are hosting our first Jim Wheeler Day of Service in honor of our firm’s former president.

We believe in an equitable community. Our firm has already invested a lot in supporting equity, diversity, and inclusion in our professions and within the communities where we live and work, but we have often followed our instincts rather than evaluating against benchmarks. This JUST Disclosure helps us make and track measurable commitments and is the next step in our commitment to social sustainability. We look forward to advancing our discussion about equity, diversity, and inclusion in quantitative ways in addition to the activities we already qualitatively discuss across our practice.

Making our JUST Disclosure also supports our clients and projects. Third-party certifications for high performance buildings, including the Living Building Challenge and LEED, recognize the importance of social equity. Our JUST Disclosure will support the Living Building Challenge Petal Certification of Semans-Griswold Environment Hall and allow every one of our LEED projects to access LEED’s Pilot Credit for Social Equity within the Project Team. We are encouraged that third-party rating systems are increasingly engaging in dialogue on social sustainability and are enthusiastic to be a part of that conversation.

Our JUST Disclosure helps us walk the walk when it comes to social equity and we hope our colleagues in other organizations will join us in advancing this dialogue.

Top Blog Posts of 2018

December 26, 2018
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We explored a lot on our blog this year, from floating wetlands to Winston Churchill to equity in design. Here’s a look at our most popular posts of 2018. We look forward to more exploration, discovery, and design in 2019 with the clients, partners, and communities we serve.

  1. National Aquarium Floating Wetland Prototype Wins ASLA Honor Award for Research. This innovative design earned our firm its first ASLA award. The floating wetland was created in collaboration with the National Aquarium and our teammates at Biohabitats, McLaren Engineering Group, and Kovacs, Whitney & Associates as a continuation of Studio Gang’s EcoSlip concept.
  2. A New Model for Floating Wetlands. For a deeper dive (pun intended) on the award-winning floating wetlands, check out this explainer on how the apparatus was designed and how it works.
  3. Renewal of Mid-Century Campus Legacies. As more institutions decide how to handle mid-century buildings, these case studies provide progressive strategies that make investments in current students and future generations.
  4. Legacy and Leadership: Designing the National Churchill Library and Center. Because Winston Churchill was a man of true historic importance, we designed his namesake library at The George Washington University to reflect his august legacy in a new and modern way.
  5. Hack the Block: Notes from the Equity by Design Hackathon. This Equity by Design event brought together designers to tackle how to improve justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the profession of architecture and in the communities we serve.
  6. 30 Years of Embracing Change: Reflecting on Jim Wheeler’s Career at Ayers Saint Gross. 2018 was the first time in three decades that Jim Wheeler was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the firm, although he remains our Chairman of the Board. His professional legacy lives on in our commitment to forward-thinking business and design strategies.
  7. Comparing Campuses: Student Housing. We examined campus living in our 20th annual Comparing Campuses poster. (We also have online archives of all the Comparing Campuses posters and our student life portfolio.)
  8. The Little Gray Bath House and the Great Residence Hall: Adaptive Reuse at VCU. The integration of a Neoclassical façade into a modern building illustrates how a perceived design obstacle can be turned into an opportunity.
  9. Green Week 2018: The Carrot Awards. Projects at The George Washington University and Washington College earned this year’s top sustainability honors.
  10. WELL 101: Creating Healthy Places. The WELL building standard poses a people-centric, rather than planet-centric, question: How can a building support better health, happiness, and well-being for its occupants?

Ayers Saint Gross at KA Connect 2018

April 25, 2018
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If you’re going to be in San Francisco next week for KA Connect, I hope to see you there, especially on May 2 for my talk on change management in AEC firms.

Collaborative Communications: The Key to Business and Culture Change

Over the past five years, Ayers Saint Gross has crossed over a mountain range of change—including onboarding a new president (me) and leadership team, re-organizing the practice around integrated delivery of services, and converting to a 100% employee-ownership structure. Our team facilitated these business and culture transformations by building collaborative communication channels up, down, and across the business. In this talk, I will share strategies, tactics, and lessons learned from the firm’s business and culture change journey.

Presenter
Luanne Greene, President, Ayers Saint Gross

Details
Wednesday May 2, 2018
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

Eating the Whale: Equity in Architecture

February 15, 2017
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To illustrate the very serious task of fighting for equity, AIA San Francisco’s Equity by Design Committee uses the poem “Melinda Mae” by children’s author Shel Silverstein:

Have you heard of Melinda Mae,
Who ate a monstrous whale?
She thought she could,
She said she would,
So she started in right at the tail.

And everyone said, “You’re much too small,”
But that didn’t bother Melinda at all.

She took little bites and she chewed very slow,
Just like a good girl should…
…And in eighty-nine years she ate that whale
Because she said she would!

We in the architecture profession have slowly been “eating the whale” for more than 100 years, regarding the task of getting more women and minorities into the profession. There have been some great milestones along the way, including:

  • In 1881, Louise Bethune became the first professional female architect. (Like me, Bethune was from the great city of Buffalo, New York.)
  • In 1923, Paul Revere Williams became the first African American AIA member. He was also the first black architect elected into the College of Fellows and is this year’s AIA Gold Medal winner. He is the first black architect to be honored the AIA’s highest award.
  • Lou Weller said to be the first Native American architect* and was the first Native American awarded the AIA Whitney M. Young Jr. Award in 2000. Today, Native Americans represent less than 1% of licensed architects.

Despite these achievements, architecture still lacks diversity. As of 2014, 22% of licensed architects are female, 2% are African American, and 3% are Latino. That’s not great for a 136 year timespan. More than 50% of students enrolled in architecture schools are non-white, meaning that in five to 10 years, we should see this diversity reflected in our workplaces. But relying on diversity to happen over time only is not enough.

The Equity in Architecture Commission is the vehicle that creates a greater urgency within the profession (and AEC community at large). The percentages will continue to grow at a snail’s pace until the profession allows all of its members to flourish. We must create equitable and inclusive practices to encourage individuals from underrepresented groups to get licensed, remain in the profession, and ultimately thrive. Pushing for equitable practice will create the surge needed to make the diversity of our firms reflect the diversity of the clients and communities we serve. Hopefully, it will take less than another 136 years.

The Equity in Architecture Commission was approved in May 2015, as a result of the Resolution 15-1, approved in May 2015. The commission is a call to action for both women and men to realize the goal of equitable practice in order to retain talent, advance the architecture profession, and communicate the value of design to society. With increasingly greater numbers of women and minorities in architecture schools, it is vital that AIA addresses this opportunity to foster and support a more inclusive workforce across the profession.

The commission serves as the framework for developing a well-conceived and thoughtful action plan and set of recommendations. The initial charge of the 22-person commission, of which I was proud to be a member, was to:

  • Develop specific recommendations that will lead to equitable practices
  • Create measurable goals and develop mechanisms for assessing ongoing process
  • Present a plan of action based on the commission’s recommendations

Dr. Shirley Davis who specializes in organization transformation, diversity and inclusion, implicit bias, and strategic development, facilitated the commission. We started by asking, “When we achieve equity in architecture, what does it look it?”

The question prompted hundreds of responses, which were then categorized into five topic areas:

  1. Education and Career Development
  2. Leadership Excellence (within AIA and the profession)
  3. Firm/Workplace/Studio Culture
  4. Marketing, Branding, Public Awareness, and Outreach
  5. Better Architecture

We then focused on these five areas for the remainder of the year, creating actionable items that could create change in both the short and long terms.

All of the recommendations and initiatives are being compiled into a final report which will act as a road map for equitable practice. For the next three years, the commission has recommended the following eleven initiatives which were approved by the AIA National Board of Directors in December 2015:

  1. Equity, diversity and inclusion as a core value for the board of directors
  2. Measure and report how equity, diversity and inclusion permeates within the AIA
  3. Equity, diversity and inclusion training for AIA volunteers and components
  4. Guides for equitable, diverse and inclusionary practice
  5. Create a firm self-assessment tool
  6. Position paper on equity, diversity and inclusion and the profession
  7. Collect equity, diversity and inclusion data of project teams, firms and clients on work submitted for AIA Awards
  8. Advocate for equity in higher education
  9. Engage and expose kids to architecture through K-12 programs
  10. Tell our stories
  11. Ensure media reflects diverse range of architects

To download the entire Equity in Architecture report, click here.

My experience on the Equity Commission was one of the most fulfilling things I have done professionally. The Equity Commission was charged with taking action and making real change. As a Millennial, this was music to my ears. I’m encouraged that the eleven initiatives will make real, long-lasting change in the profession.

There are so many great resources out there to read (architecture and non-architecture related) and get involved in the conversation. Here are five to you get started:

I’d like to end this post with a challenge for everyone: imagine if Melinda Mae had help eating the whale. She could have accomplished her task faster, and had more fun doing it!

If everyone takes a bite out of the whale, we can achieve equitable practice much more rapidly. This is a conversation must be inclusive of everyone that everyone must join.

For anyone who is more interested in hearing more about the eleven initiatives, please do not hesitate to reach out! You can reach me at LGraff@asg-architects.com. Let’s eat that whale together.

* AIA did not begin collecting data on race and ethnicity until 2000.