The end of the year is nearly upon us and while it feels hard to imagine, 2021 and the unknown changes it will bring are right around the corner. Last week we had a managers’ retreat where a handful of us sat around a table in the same room for the first time since March and discussed the future of SR/A. We focused on how we can further bring our values into the work we do each day and how we want to make an impact in our industry.
One of our main focuses of the day was the Black Lives Matter movement and how, even as a small firm, we can do our part in effecting change. Design is the perfect example of how the sum of something can be greater than the parts which make it up. When varied voices, experiences, and creations come together the result is truly magical. As we put actionable plans in place for how we can elevate the Black experience and those within the community, we consistently come back to the BlackSpace Manifesto.
What is BlackSpace?
“BlackSpace challenges architects, planners, urban designers, artists, and all curators of built spaces to unlearn traditional values and rethink Manifesto-based practice. We create spaces for Black urbanists to use talent, culture and rituals to design Black futures. We continue to demand a present and future where Black people, spaces, and culture matter and thrive. #blacklivesmatter #blackspace”
The above Manifesto is a wonderful resource to refer to during each step of the design process to ensure that Black people, and in truth all marginalized or often over-looked demographic groups, are considered in every decision along the way. While each of the 14 principles is important and applicable in various ways, we found ourselves as a group gravitating to a handful of them as valuable pathways to making a difference in the way we work.
Create circles, not lines.
As designers this is already a principle we incorporate in our aesthetic choices, so this is a great touchstone to taking the conversation a step further. We love to balance geometric and linear visuals with something smoother, softer, and more abstract. But through the Manifesto this also provides the opportunity to dialogue about how that can also be used to create a sense of inclusion. A sense that there is no center, no hierarchy, and no division.
Be humble learners who practice deep listening.
Humility is one of our company values and because of that, not something we take lightly. While of course, this means listening to our clients and residents, it also means listening to the surrounding communities. As individuals and as a company we strive to always be open to feedback and criticism while doing our research on how to best serve those who will be living in the spaces we build day in and day out.
Celebrate, catalyze, & amplify Black joy.
Existing within a system that was created to divide and disparage is an unquestionably heavy burden. Our team believes, that at the end of the day we are all more alike than we are different, and rejoicing in those shared human experiences, whether large or small, can help us find vital common ground. In a design setting, this can mean a lot of things – establishing spaces for celebrations to occur, highlighting Black artists, or even creating the perfect seating nook to read books by Black authors about their experiences of life and love. (With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo is a personal favorite.) Let us all find ways both big and small to celebrate the beauty that is Black joy.
Reckon with the past to build the future.
SR/A loves a good retrofit project. Injecting the energy of a multifamily space into a building that used to be a factory, church, or anything else is exciting. In a design venture like that, one must look deep beyond the façade and understand what was, before creating what can be. We treat the building with respect so of course, those who live there deserve more than the same honor. Sometimes that history can be gritty and tough but acknowledging and validating that is necessary for the creation of a brighter future.
Protect & strengthen culture.
We consider it our job to be not just designers, but community builders. Our primary goal is always to make the building we’re working on more than just a structure. It is first and foremost the homes created within and the gathering opportunities formed within those four walls. For us, this often means researching local businesses, connecting with local artists, or assisting property management in planning for spaces to hold cultural events. Given that many of the residents we design and plan for are from the Black community, we want to honor that culture and that history to not only protect it, but to rejoice in it.
These are just a few of the ways we have been discussing the Black Lives Matter movement and our place within it. We would love to hear from you on other ways we can help, steps you’ve taken, resources to share, or Black artists and artisans you’d like to lift up.
About the Author:
Katharine Gatz is a Senior Designer and Projects Manager at SR/A Interior Design. She holds a passion for helping multi-family developers create communities that both attract and retain residents through functional, innovative, and buzz-worthy designs.