Alumni Q&A / Mark Lee MArch ’95, Chair of the Department of Architecture
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On Wednesday, June 10, 2020, leaders of two student groups at the GSD—the African American Student Union and AfricaGSD—shared a statement with the Dean and senior leadership of the GSD, titled Notes on Credibility. In their message, student leaders reference one of Mark Lee’s answers to a Q&A that previously appeared on this page—a conversation that occurred in 2018, when Lee was appointed Chair of the Department of Architecture. On Thursday, June 11, Lee disavowed his comments and regrets their implications, and has addressed them in full in the acknowledgment below. The original Q&A can be accessed here.
Message from Mark Lee, Chair of the Department of Architecture and Professor in Practice, shared with student leaders of the African American Student Union at the GSD and AfricaGSD:
For centuries, architecture has privileged the stories, cultures, and lives of a select few. I have grown increasingly aware of this essential failure of our field, and my own complicity in this fundamental shortcoming is evident in a statement I made in 2018, as you have rightly pointed out, in a Q&A I participated in on the occasion of my appointment as Chair of the Department of Architecture. Black architects, theorists, and thinkers have framed, built, moved, and shaped the field in fundamental, profound ways, and we have failed to recognize that work and those contributions.
We hold the responsibility, so clear and so urgent now, to stop participating in and perpetuating the exclusionary and degrading tendencies of our field. So many of us have allowed, even celebrated these prejudices and biases whether we realize it or not. This responsibility starts with leaders like me, and others who hold positions of influence and power.
In its synthesis of art, science, and society, architecture holds the potential to narrate cultural stories and histories, to be a global practice that benefits all people, cultures, and geographies, as a source of humanity, of healing, of fundamental rights of safety and health. Architecture should offer the promise, as a field, to be as diverse, complex, and human as our world itself—a reflection rather than a curation of our world, a benefit for all rather than a luxury for some. I understand that architecture has not only excluded voices, cultures, and stories from its cultural production, but also has actually created or amplified pain and harm for some. My own learning and practice has not exposed me deeply enough to the stories and histories that so clearly demonstrate architecture’s, and architects’, shortcomings. I see it is now my responsibility to do what I can to correct this.
As a practitioner, as an educator, and as a person, I commit to interrogating and correcting the biases I have been complicit in perpetuating. Here at the GSD, I am committed to leading the Department of Architecture’s efforts to develop and implement an anti-racist strategy of active changes to the structure of our courses, the composition of our faculty, staff, and administration, and we will pursue such vital changes with the utmost transparency and accountability to our community and student body. Lasting change, real change, begets participation and awareness from all of us involved. I will be interrogating not only my own teaching and practice, but that of the entire Department of Architecture. Our mandate is clear.
I know that in order to conscientiously think through further actions and changes that both our moment and our history call for will demand constant vigilance, discipline, and time to help guide our field toward a more just and human practice.
Chair of the Department of Architecture & Professor in Practice