Civil Rights activist, Whitney M. Young, sparked a movement when he stepped onto the stage of the 100th convention of The American Institute of Architects (AIA). He condemned the audience for enabling the dominance of white males in the field. He also called out the architects for their “thundering silence” in the wake of urban decay.
Young placed a proverbial mirror in front of the architects faces by stating, “You share the responsibility for the mess we are in terms of the white noose around the central city. It didn’t just happen. We didn’t just suddenly get this situation. It was carefully planned.” His candor stirred the group to act.
A group of Baltimore architects answered Young’s call and formed the Neighborhood Design Center to begin working with low and moderate income communities to rebuild after the uprising and white flight that swept the city in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination. From there, things moved fast. By 1970, we were incorporated as a non-profit institution. That same year, we opened our first office at 3901 Park Heights Avenue, which we shared with the Lower Park Heights Coordinating Council.
Shortly thereafter, grants via the American Institute of Architects and Architects in Partnership allowed us to hire our five original full-time staff members and our first Executive Director, Doris Johnson.
A bit more about Doris Johnson. She was an action centered visionary. Not only did she lead us during our early years, she also served as a member of multiple boards, including the city school board, and those of the American Red Cross, the Maryland Hospital Association, and Associated Black Charities. She also opened the Homestead Montebello Clinic, which uses a sliding scale model to meet the needs of community members lacking the ability to pay even today!
Decades later, we still agree with activist, Whitney Young. As builders of place, the responsibility falls on us to ensure that our cities are thriving spaces for all. If places are detrimental to community health and wellbeing, that responsibility falls on us. That’s why we believe in Design that brings everyone to the table. The more inclusive the process, the better the design, the stronger the buy-in, and the longer-lasting the project.
Feeling stirred to act? Click here to learn about getting involved!