Architect and design justice leader Bryan C. Lee Jr. of Colloqate Design is speaking in Chattanooga on Aug. 14 and 15. (Photo: Colloqate Design)

Architect and design justice leader Bryan C. Lee Jr. will be in Chattanooga next week.

The Chattanooga component of The American Institute of Architects is bringing the Lee to town for a series of events on Aug. 14 and 15. 

Lee will talk about how community members and leaders can work together to design a city that’s great for everyone, not just the privileged.

AIA President-Elect Jared Hueter said about the series:

We regularly hear how wonderful a place Chattanooga is to live, but it isn’t for everyone. Like many cities we have fellow Chattanoogans who have been left behind or negatively impacted by the very advancements that some celebrate. These discussions with Bryan are intended to help us all better identify those injustices and work toward some possible solutions. While I don’t expect us to solve everything in two days, I do think we can better understand design’s role in contributing to these injustices and also in correcting them.

Lee was a “military brat” before moving to New Orleans seven years ago.

He’s lived in 22 houses, six states and two countries, which influenced his perspectives on education, health care, politics and social justice.

Lee answered questions via email ahead of his upcoming events.

Why did you get into architecture?

Growing up in different places and getting an opportunity to see the way in which people experienced space made it extremely clear to me from a young age how important the physical environment was in our daily lives.

At a personal level, when I was 9, my grandmother lived in the house in a narrow row house in Trenton, New Jersey, and while the house was full of love and care and family, I couldn’t help but feel that she deserved a home more conducive to her lifestyle as she aged.

I decided to take up the effort and design her a house, and from that point forward I was hooked.

I think it’s important to note that the impetus for me engaging in architecture was, at its core, an imagining of a just and equitable space for a person I loved.

The work we do now is merely an extension of that initial consideration.

Tell me a bit about Colloqate Design? What would you want Chattanoogans to know about it?

Colloqate Design is a nonprofit design justice practice focused on racial, social and cultural equity in the built environment.

The core of our work based in design justice, which is a core belief that we should dismantle the privilege and power structures that use architecture, planning, design … as a tool to perpetuate injustice and oppression in our world.

We believe, and we hope every Chattanoogan takes away an understanding, that for every injustice in this world there is an architecture that has been designed to perpetuate it.

Our job is to not only recognize that injustice in our environment but actively seek to responsibly and beautifully neutralize it.

Talk about the topic “design as protest?” What does that involve? What does that mean to you? Are there any examples of this you can point to?

To protest is to have unyielding faith in the power of a just society.

It is fundamentally about our collective hope for a better world in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Design, at its very best, challenges the current state of being in place for the betterment of the people inhabiting that place.

There are plenty of examples of architecture in pursuit of justice, from Casa Familia in San Ysidro California to the elemental half houses in Chile that provide new methods of considering not only affordable housing but affordable neighborhoods.

From a conceptual space, you might look at the border city project by Fernando Romero, which seeks to create a binational city addressing immigration issues at the border in a brilliant manner.

In New Orleans, we are facing down the specter of white supremacist monuments through a project called Paper Monuments, which is a public art of history strategy for creating a systemic network of memorialization in the city of New Orleans moving forward.

These are Just a few examples, and we will discuss plenty more on Tuesday.

How does design impact social injustice?

The design profession, like all institutions, imposes its power through policies, procedures, and practice and is subject to its own inherited biases.

The institution of architecture has the power to speak to the language of the people it serves. We as designers are at our best when we are willing to serve the people without power.

The lasting permanence of our profession’s decisions requires us to pay particular attention to the injustices that result from our work and to seek design justice wherever possible.

What should participants expect to learn in the Design as Protest Workshop?

  • Develop an understanding of the design justice movement model, theories of social change, and how to work alongside community-led efforts for systemic change
  • Examine privilege and racial bias, and how that can impact a designers approach and analysis to work
  • Increase awareness of structural inequity and how it manifests in design practice, policies and institutions that profoundly impact communities
  • Analyze the extent to which the environment designers are working within, promote equity and engage in Design Justice work
  • Discuss Design Justice opportunities and challenges taking place at the national and local levels
  • Understand how to facilitate a Design Justice framework into current efforts and orient work toward creating justice