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Build Out Alliance
For years, construction workers have faced the risk of being ostracized, bullied or fired over their sexual orientation or gender identity. After a lengthy job search in 2008, Jackie Richter, who was transitioning from male to female at the time, says a concrete contractor who wanted to hire her said, “You’ve got the experience, you’ve got the knowledge, and you’d be a great part of our team … but leave your girl clothes home and come as a man.”

The same year, a successful architect, who wishes to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisals, said he was fired when the owners of his company monitored his texts and found out he was gay.

More recently, Guillermo Díaz-Fañas experienced microaggressions at a previous employer due to his perceived mannerisms, even though he wasn’t out as a gay man at the time. Things escalated to the point where unfounded rumors spread among his colleagues that he had AIDS, based solely on the suspicion of his sexual orientation. When he raised concerns to one of his supervisors, nothing happened. “That’s when I understood that it was the leaders who had the problem with me,” he says.

Today, all three have overcome these negative experiences and work to show how inclusivity benefits the industry. Richter owns two successful construction companies in the Chicago area. The architect started his own practice and Díaz-Fañas founded Queer Advocacy and Knowledge Exchange (Qu-AKE), one of the first construction industry groups in the U.S. for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) workers. He also moved to a more inclusive workplace, at WSP, where he thrives as an award-winning senior technical principal.
Steinberg Hart
While the architecture and design business might be a safe(r) space for gay men, it remains in many ways a white man’s world. According to the 2017 Women in Architecture report, more than 50 percent of women surveyed experienced discrimination, usually in their own offices; 60 percent believe the building industry has not “fully accepted the authority of the female architect.” In the design field, almost 90 percent of students graduating from design schools in the United States identify as female, but once they enter the workforce, white women will earn on average 79 cents to a white man’s dollar; women of color will earn on average far less.

Bisexual and queer women experience this institutional and structural misogyny with added layers of implicit or explicit homophobia—and in most states and at the federal level with no job protection. Meanwhile, surveys of professionals who identify as transgender, non-binary, and/or gender non-conforming are, apparently, yet to be conducted, although an American Journal of Public Health study indicates that perhaps one in 250 people in the United States claim the identity.

Clearly, while progress has been made over the last few decades, work remains to be done to remove barriers to equality for women, trans, and non-binary professionals. To get a sense of what life is like on the ground, Interior Design talked to designers, architects, and academics in the field across the country.

Jane Greenwood is a managing principal of Kostow Greenwood Architects in New York. “I began architecture school already out as lesbian,” she says. “And I was really privileged to have joined Michael Kostow at the firm in the early 90s. New York was a little bit of a bubble, but I’ll tell you this story. My wife, who was my partner at the time [because same-sex marriage was illegal], was working as an executive assistant at a major architecture practice. She’d been hired just before the end of the year, and invited me to the holiday party. At one point, there was dancing, and she and I danced. The next week she was fired. We did some digging, and sure enough, HR felt having a lesbian Hispanic woman did not fit with their ‘model.’ It happened all the time and and it still happens.”

Outraged, Greenwood went on to cofound the Organization of Lesbian and Gay Architects + Designers, which helped convince the AIA to institute job protection policies for queer workers.

Such efforts form a crucial building block for progress. A good next step, particularly for transgender and non-binary professions, says A.L. Hu, associate AIA and designer at Solomonoff Architecture Studio in New York, would be unconscious bias training in offices—and including the trans community in equity and diversity measures. “Data sways people at the top,” Hu says. “If we really want to solve the problem then we have to be counted.” Hu, who identifies as transgender and non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, also argues that it’s not enough to go out looking to recruit queer people of color. “The AIA will do great work mentoring high school kids or college students, but once they enter the profession, they realize they’re not getting paid a lot, and getting harassed. It’s not just about convincing people to come here. It’s about convincing people to stay.”
Christa Holka
London's queer community needs architects and designers to help them create new social spaces, says Ben Campkin, co-author of a report charting the decline of LGBT+ venues across the city.

Campkin's research, carried out with Laura Marshall for the UCL Urban Laboratory, found that London's LGBT+ venues were fast disappearing – down by 58 per cent in just 10 years. This research is the basis of an exhibition on show now at Whitechapel Gallery, Queer Spaces: London, 1980s - today.

Campkin, who is also professor of urban history and theory at The Bartlett, is calling for architects and designers to take a more active role in supporting the city's queer community, as well as other marginalised groups.

"There's an opportunity for architecture and design to play a more prominent role in some of these campaigns that are happening around queer space," he told Dezeen.

"It's important for any professional in the built environment to think of social inclusion, especially in relation to people who have legally protected minority characteristics, because they're not necessarily the ones that are benefiting from development," he continued.

"There's always a need to proactively address those groups."

Campaign for new LGBT+ community centre

There have been no non-commercial LGBT+ venues in London since the closure of the London Gay and Lesbian Centre in Farringdon, an initiative by the Greater London Council, which was open from 1985 until the early 1990s.

Meanwhile gay clubs, pubs and bars across the capital have closed as a result of property and rail development.

Campaigners have been trying to address the issue – last year a group raised over £100,000 towards a new LGBT+ community centre in east London. But Campkin believes they need architects to get involved.

"At the moment you have campaigns for new community centres and spaces that could really benefit from architectural knowledge and design, as a way of addressing the challenges of contemporary development," Campkin said.

"A lot of these activists have been engaging with queer space through writing, architectural-listing applications, as well as these direct-action campaigns," he explained.

"There's a role for professionals to share their knowledge of these structures, laws and the planning system, to be able to maximise the potential of these cultural spaces to have a value beyond queer communities."

Problems facing new LGBT+ venues

Campkin told Dezeen that a lot of the challenges facing the LGBT+ community are different now than when the first community centre opened in 1986.

"A lot of these spaces in London that have been open since the 80s or the 90s are in buildings that would need to be radically retrofitted in order to be accessible for people with disabilities for example," he said.

"There are different pressures on people now. We are more aware of issues around mental health and how that relates to sexuality and gender. There's more attention to trans groups and whether or not they’re being provided for."

Campkin said that, while there are plenty of events being put on for London's queer community at large, more marginalised groups are finding it difficult to come together.

"A lot of the more formal, licensed premises are owned by white, gay men, whereas if you look at the more marginalised communities, they find it more difficult to establish places," he stated.

Big development often behind venue closures

The Queer Spaces exhibition brings together archives of past and present LGBT+ venues, to trace how the pattern of closures relates to the wider development of the city, and to measure the impact on the community.

Exhibits include newspaper clippings and fliers from parties, community meetings and events, as well as video interviews with community members.

There is also a rainbow flag from the Joiners Arms, a legendary east London venue that was closed when its building was controversially redeveloped into luxury apartments.
Iwan Baan
Every year, June is Pride month, a festive time for the LGBTQ community and allies. But this year, June is especially notable: it marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in New York—a landmark event in the history of LGBTQ rights. There’s even further cause for celebration at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which is also turning 50 this year. Located in the heart of Hollywood, the Center’s $141 million new Anita May Rosenstein Campus has just opened, presenting a striking, dignified face to the neighborhood.

Designed by New York–based Leong Leong, a 2011 RECORD Design Vanguard winner, and Killefer Flammang Architects (KFA) in Los Angeles, the 70,000-square-foot building dramatically expands the Center’s capacity to serve the LGBTQ community. Rendered in white stucco and located across the street from an existing Center facility, the new building includes activity centers for youth and seniors, an educational and work-training academy for young people, event space, offices, and 100 beds for temporarily housing homeless youth. The firms also developed the master plan for the campus; Phase II, currently under construction and slated for completion in 2020, includes 98 units of affordable senior housing and 25 supportive apartments for young people.

Both the intergenerational nature of the Center’s clientele and the diversity of programs offered to them informed the design, says Dominic Leong, principal of the firm he founded with his brother Chris Leong in 2009. “We had to create a campus that negotiates this idea of cohesion and unity, but also holds space for differences and multiplicity.” A series of internal courtyards brings daylight to areas deep within the plan while buffering different program spaces from each other, yet also creating connections between them.

The main entrance and a flexible event space called Pride Hall are located just off a large plaza, which fronts the sidewalk and connects by elevator to underground parking. Five other entrances to the facility allow staff and visitors to enter through a door that gives them access to the program area—and level of privacy—they may desire. “It fits the Center’s mission to have multiple points of entry, so you feel welcome however you approach,” says KFA partner Barbara Flammang.

The massing and materials of the steel-frame building work to engage the project’s urban context. The building comprises volumes of two to four stories, keeping the senior and youth centers at a more intimate scale, while allowing staff offices and the temporary youth housing to become taller. Because function generated form, the building has a unique profile from each side: “There isn’t one singular, iconic point of view,” says Dominic. “We thought that was important, because the Center isn’t about the singular; it’s about multiplicity.” A frit pattern on the glazed upper stories adds to the lively street presence (while also reducing solar gain); from certain perspectives, oblong cutouts in the frit align to form circles, echoing the Center’s logo.

Creating a space for clients to feel safe, both physically and emotionally, was paramount to the Center and the designers, so security comes primarily in the form of on-site personnel, rather than an abundance of cameras or tightly controlled entrances and exits. “As an organization, the Center is very open, and they wanted that to be maintained in our design,” says Jesse Ottinger, the lead designer and project manager of KFA. “They’re very sensitive to the youth population and don’t want them to feel as if they were under surveillance, because many people come to the center after having traumatic experiences.”

The project is Leong Leong’s largest building to date. “It affirmed our belief that architecture is fundamentally about self-actualization,” says Dominic. “It’s about how we relate to ourselves and others, and how we create spaces that meet our needs as we evolve as individuals and as a society. Architecture can nudge us along that path, and this project was validation of that.”

KFA has operated in Los Angeles for some 40 years and, for their part, says Flammang, “If we can look back and say we’ve helped make the people who live here more comfortable, with access to the things that they need to live a good life, then we’ve done a good job.”
John Medina/Getty Images for New York Times
Salesforce chairman and co-CEO Marc Benioff has dedicated a lot of energy, and money, to the homeless crisis in his hometown of San Francisco. In 2018, he poured $2 million into the Proposition C ballot initiative campaign for a new business tax that promises to raise around a quarter billion dollars per year for housing and homeless assistance. (It passed, but has been tied up in the courts.)

Today, he and his wife, Lynne Benioff, have pledged $30 million to create a new program at the University of California San Francisco focused on studying causes of and possible solutions to homelessness across the country. (This comes on top of about $30 million donated to other housing projects, such as $6.1 million last November to lease a renovated hotel.)

It’s a common joke in public policy to say something like: What this urgent problem really needs is … another study. And at least some aspects of the homeless crisis in San Francisco and other U.S. cities are obvious. The rent is too damn high–due to an influx of well-off people bidding off constrained housing stock. Growing income inequality exacerbates the problem.

“We know for sure that the solution to this crisis is going to involve a massive investment in deeply affordable housing or subsidized housing. We don’t need to do research on that,” says Margot Kushel, director of UCSF’s Center for Vulnerable Populations, and now also director of its Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative.

But details of solutions are still foggy, she says. Rent subsidies can keep people from falling into homelessness in the first place, for instance; but it’s not obvious which people are most at risk and the best candidates for aid.

There’s also more need to understand subsets of homeless people, says Sam Lew, policy director at the nonprofit Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco. (The Coalition is unaffiliated with the Benioff Initiative. Lew learned of it the same day I did–yesterday.) “We have very little data on undocumented [immigrants] who are homeless or LGBTQ-identifying people who are homeless, or other marginalized populations,” says Lew. (There’s now a generational split, too, says Kushel, between homeless people in their 30s and 40s and a new elderly contingent.)

The coalition is preparing its own research project, together with San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley, to survey the shelter, mental health, and substance abuse treatment systems used by the homeless and those at risk of homelessness.

But Lew knows and values Kushel’s work, such as research showing that homeless people in their 50s have health problems like the general population in their 70s and 80s. Data like that bolster the case for better assistance programs and funding, says Lew.

Making information more accessible is a goal for the Benioff Initiative, says Kushel. That can be a combination of conducting new research, evaluating other research, and presenting data in a user-friendly way for the public, journalists, politicians, and program managers. The goal, she says, is that, “when they act, they can act with confidence, and they can make sure they’re spending the money the best way possible.”

There are reasons for optimism already. “Of the [homeless] people who get engaged with permanent supportive housing, about 85% stay housed long term,” says Kushel. But that statistic raises new questions. How many people never make it into those support programs in the first place, and why? And of those who do get help, “How about the other 15%?” says Kushel “What do we need to do to get them to safety?”