Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Architecture

Today’s Topics:

  • What is MLK Day?
  • Systemic Racism in Architecture
  • How are Things Changing?

What is MLK Day?

During the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, Martin Luther King Jr. sacrificed his life time and time again. He was a leader standing up for the rights of all African Americans and the injustices in our country.

Courtesy CNN

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

This day is not just another day off of work or another day off of school. It is a time to honor and celebrate the work of Dr.King.

This day was made to encourage everyone to go out and volunteer to improve their communities.

Systemic Racism in Architecture

Something we do not talk about much is how history still impacts our lives today in the architecture community. In this country there are 2,300 African American architects. That only makes up 2% of all architects.

This problem is a direct result from the oppression and open racism preventing African Americans from even dreaming of becoming architects.

As a result from the Jim Crow Laws, African Americans could not go into the same buildings as white people, we could not go to the same universities, and for minority architects they often would not be able to stamp drawings for buildings they designed, or even walk into them.

Red: African Americans White: Caucasians

Policy, planning, and architecture. All three of these are ways in which segregation occurred. The civil rights movement is over, but all of the infrastructure that was built around this idea still impact our country today. African American communities today are still impacted by redlining, jails are still being built to oppress black people, universities still have low proportions of African Americans.

How Things are Changing

Making the above statements is a way to show a glimpse of the severity of our experience. Sometimes it is overlooked how different things are to be an African American in this country.

But this is not to say that things are not changing in architecture. There are a host of things that Make me optimistic for what the future holds for people like me.

Courtesy NOMA

Something that I’m particularly interested in is the AIA Large Firm Roundtable 2030 Diversity Challenge of doubling the number of black licensed architects from 2% to 4%. This is something that spans across everything that I stand for and do.

I am currently a student planning to become licensed in this time period, I love engaging with other students encouraging more representation in the field, and I am an advocate for not just designers becoming licensed, but also holding executive positions within firms.

Courtesy NOMA

If there is anything I hope you can gain from reading this today is that there is still a long way to go to undo the injustices of history. It is a challenge that we can only succeed in facing if we work collectively to create change in our communities.


Thanks for tuning into this week’s blog post, I hope you have a great Martin Luther King Jr. Day and think about how you can have an impact. As always, Dream Big!

Published by Alonzo Colon

Architecture Student at Virginia Tech

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