Black Lives Matter Movement Inspires Donors: ZGF Emerging Black Architects Scholarship Fund
ZGF is a leading architecture, interior design and urban planning firm with offices in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, and Vancouver, BC. The firm is acclaimed for its groundbreaking work on sustainability, which includes designing the nation’s first LEED Platinum® lab building.
ZGF recently established the Emerging Black Architects Scholarship Fund at OCF. Principal Steven Lewis, who advises the fund, explains that the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent national protests inspired ZGF’s staff to confront the history of a profession that is still only 2% Black: “The recognition went ground up and top down to meet in this wonderful middle of a realization that we have to take action,” he says.
“The partnership decided to offer Juneteenth as a paid holiday to our staff,” adds ZGF partner Braulio Baptista. “They could take the day to observe Juneteenth in their own way or choose to work and donate their day’s salary to the fund. And that’s how we were able to raise $160,000. It was based on the amazing generosity of our staff."
OCF already manages another ZGF scholarship fund, making it a logical choice for their new fund. But as Braulio explains, there was a more important consideration: “We were really pleased to find that OCF has a socially conscious concern for its investments. We wanted to make sure that every aspect of this endeavor is supporting the mission of social justice.”
Each year, two students who identify as Black or African American and are in an accredited architecture or design program will be selected to receive $5,000 each toward university tuition and fees. Scholarship recipients will also be offered a paid internship with ZGF. “It’s really about supporting an individual who could not only increase social representation in the architectural and allied professions, but could also potentially impact the practice of architecture and the form of the built environment in a way that promotes more equity and justice for all,” Braulio notes.
“A diversity of race and ethnicity tends to equate to a diversity of lived experience. When you start to bring those lived experiences into the design process, it tends to enrich the thought process and what comes out of it.”
Steven points out that this entails recognizing how culture and history are encoded in the built environment. “When you walk into a place or a space, in order to feel like you're welcome there and that you belong there, you have to see yourself reflected in some way, shape or form,” he says. “There are very literal ways to do that through imagery and graphic design, and other ways to more subtly—and perhaps more spiritually—imbue a space with principles and characteristics that harken back to social ways of living among groups of people from Africa and so forth. And that holds true for any culture that has distinctive practices.”
Steven and Braulio hope the scholarship will inspire similar initiatives at other firms. As Steven observes, this would benefit the field as well as underrepresented architects: “A diversity of race and ethnicity tends to equate to a diversity of lived experience. When you start to bring those lived experiences into the design process, it tends to enrich the thought process and what comes out of it. And I think Black folks bring a sense of joy to whatever we do. I think this has evolved into our DNA from back in the slavery days. People had to be resilient. They had to have things to turn to—to nourish their soul in order to just persevere and continue.”
Braulio emphasizes that this new scholarship is just one step ZGF is taking to overcome the profession’s lack of diversity. “We won't stop here,” he promises. “We're going to continue to challenge ourselves to do more.”