2020 Practice Plenary: Crisis & Inequity

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Event Description

Sparked by the George Floyd protests, structural racism, and the unfolding challenges of COVID 19, the GSD’s Practice Forum and the Department of Architecture invite the GSD community to a plenary investigating the relationship between crisis and inequity. This year’s Practice Plenary explores how crises unveil issues of inequity in the built environment, challenge the ethical role of the architect, and question new modes of disciplinary engagement.

Fifteen years have passed since the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, revealing numerous learned and unlearned lessons for the practice of architecture. The plenary will utilize this significant crisis and its robust discourse as a shared case study to develop an understanding of the effects of inequity in the built environment and to examine issues at stake for the profession.

The plenary features guest speakers, faculty, and students of the GSD courses, Frameworks of Practice and Elements of the Urban Stack. Students from Foundations of Practice and Innovations in Project Delivery will participate in the roundtable discussion. The plenary will be loosely structured in two parts, with an emphasis on the following questions:

  • Learning from Crisis: How did the case of Katrina uncover systemic inequalities in our built environment? What does this crisis reveal about the professional role of an architect and what changes are necessary?
  • Towards an Ethical Imaginative Profession: Despite limited powers of influence and jurisdiction, what is the role of architects in building a just city? How can the architect practice ethically from within a systemically racist and unjust profession? What new modes of practice can arise? How must the discipline be reimagined to generate a creative and effective response to structural racism?


October 31, 2020, Saturday, 9am – 12pm

9:00-11:00 am

Introductions and Opening Remarks

Elements of Urban Stack (PRO-7445, taught by Elizabeth Christoforetti and Paul Nakazawa) Student Presentations

Carol Reese, Tulane University

Toni Griffin, GSD, The Just City Lab 


Frameworks of Practice (PRO-7408, taught by Jacob Reidel) Students Presentations

Steve Dumez, EDR

Oji Alexander, Home by Hand

Breakout Rooms, Reconvene


11:00 – 12:00

Roundtable with invited guest speakers, students, and faculty.

Respondents include students from Foundations of Practice (PRO-7212, taught by Jeffry Burchard, Gregg Garmisa, and Tim Twomey) and Innovations in Project Delivery (PRO-7420, taught by Mark Johnson), and faculty members, Grace La, Beth Whittaker, among others.


Oji Alexander is co-founder and Executive Director of Home by Hand, a New Orleans based non-profit affordable housing developer. Previously, he was the Senior Project Manager at Project Home Again, one of New Orleans’ most prolific post-Katrina recovery endeavors. Since 2008, Oji has led the development and sale of over 195 new, energy-efficient, storm-resistant homes and has facilitated the return of over 275 vacant and blighted properties to tax commerce in the neighborhoods throughout New Orleans. Home by Hand has re-defined the method of design and delivery of affordable housing to low-and moderate-income homebuyers and is at the forefront of implementing stormwater management and green infrastructure into residential homes.

Steve Dumez is Principal and Director of Design of the New Orleans based design studio EskewDumezRipple. Under his design leadership, the firm has been nationally recognized for producing innovative projects grounded by a deep understanding of context, culture, and environment. Post-Katrina, the studio has been actively involved in the rebuilding effort in New Orleans, challenging conventional building typologies and engaging the community in the design process.  In recognition of their significant contributions to the profession and their community, EskewDumezRipple was the recipient of the 2014 Architecture Firm Award, the highest honor bestowed on a practice by the American Institute of Architects.

Toni L. Griffin is founder of urbanAC LLC, based in New York, a planning and design management practice that works with public, private and nonprofit partnerships to reimage, reshape and rebuild just cities and communities.  The practice designs, leads and manages complex, and transformative social and spatial urban revitalization frameworks, rooted in addressing historic and current disparities involving race, class and generation.  Over the past ten years, we have successfully collaborated with several major U.S. cities on the cusp of just economic recovery.  Recent clients include the cities of Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Memphis and Detroit.

Ms. Griffin is also a Professor in Practice of Urban Planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where she teaches design studios and seminars also rooted in issues of social and spatial justice.  She is Founder and Director of the Just City Lab, an applied research platform that investigates the ways design can have a positive impact on addressing the conditions of injustice in cities.

Carol McMichael Reese is Favrot IV Professor in the Tulane School of Architecture, where she has taught since 1999. She also directs Tulane’s interdisciplinary City, Culture, and Community PhD program with tracks in Sociology, Social Work, and Urban Studies, which involves the schools of Liberal Arts, Social Work, and Architecture. An art historian by training, she focuses on contemporary architecture and urban planning in the Americas.

Since 2005, Reese has been actively involved in the dissemination and evaluation of proposals to reconstruct New Orleans following hurricane Katrina. In 2006, she founded Project New Orleans with Michael Sorkin and Anthony Fontenot. For Project New Orleans, Reese, Sorkin, and Fontenot produced an exhibition documenting plans for the post-Katrina rebuilding of the city, a website, and a national conference. Their resultant book New Orleans Under Reconstruction, the Crisis of Planning appeared in 2014 (Verso, New York and London).

About the Practice Plenary

The Practice Plenary is a themed gathering in which students engaged in practice classes, faculty, and invited guests convene to discuss contemporary practice issues. Plenary Guests include global experts, alumni, GSD faculty from all departments, and exemplary practitioners. Students and guests will deliver presentations, setting the table for a collective conversation.  The Department of Architecture faculty will serve as hosts for this inaugural year and will convene students across four practice courses: Foundations of Practice, Frameworks of Practice, Elements of the Urban Stack, and Innovations in Project Delivery. We thank Dean Sarah Whiting and Chair Mark Lee for generous support of this event and for the work of the Practice Forum.

How to Join

Register to attend the event here. Once you have registered, you will be provided with a link to join the event via Zoom. This link will also be emailed to you.

If you have any questions about this event, please contact [email protected].


Anyone requiring accessibility accommodations should contact the Public Programs Office at (617) 496-2414 or [email protected].