Who: Bryan C. Lee Jr.
What: Architectural designer, artist, and writer
Where: Central City
Q: What is a part of human nature you’d like to overcome?
BCL: We as people have this innate ability to push down the traumas and injustices of others in ways that I find to be really depressing at times. For instance, looking at Aleppo right now is devastating. There’s this threshold of ‘Can we actually do anything?’ People have the feeling of wanting to help, but also wondering how to help. We get that at every scale–the community level as well as on a larger, national level.
I wish that we could get past the pushing down or ignoring of other people’s traumas. I want us to see the humanity in all and see the ways that we can help regardless of our disbeliefs in our own ability to make an impact.
My mom was in the military, and my dad was a drug and alcohol counselor who has worked with the the youth in New Jersey for decades. I think those traits get passed down inherently, and my parents have always pushed that idea.
It’s funny how that flows over into my work because ever since I was about eleven years old I have wanted to be an architect. Although, there was one point when I thought about being an animator. All I wanted to draw was buildings, though, so that made it pretty clear that architecture was the way to go. Yet, I almost left architecture because it did not care about the people that I wanted to work with. I found myself asking why would I dedicate myself to a profession that didn’t work with or serve the people it needed to. Instead of leaving the profession, I decided to seek out how to make the profession what I wanted to exist in.
Q: Name one dance move you wish was never invented.
BCL: I am going to say…all of the new ones. [Laughing]. Alright, I’ll give you two. One is going to be the nah nah. That’s a tough one because it’s not like you can just refuse to do it. You got to do it, but I just wish the opportunity wasn’t there.
Then I’d say the worm. It’s just too difficult for its worth. I mean, it’s cool, but it’s a lot of work. The worm needs to dial it back. It usually gets busted out at a wedding with that one drunk uncle.
I mean, I’m an 80s baby but a 90s kid, so I’m a beast on the dance floor.
Q: What do you have a solution for?
BCL: I know that I’m never the smartest person in a room, so I think more toward process and allowing people to explore their own creativity at its highest level toward a just cause. My solution is wrapped around being a conduit and creating frameworks that allow for people who are way smarter than me to put those things in place.
I don’t know if I have resolved or have solved anything, but I am trying my best to be a voice of action when it comes to justice in the built environment.
Q: For a long time, aesthetics and economics have been linked together, so how do you think beauty can be available to everyone?
BCL: Design justice for all. One of the things we talk about in the class I teach is that there are policies, procedures, and practices that have direct implications on how architecture manifests itself. The policies come from on high–whether that’s at the federal, state, or local level–those things direct the values and ideals we want to put into the world. The procedures become the steps that government officials use to actualize those policies. Then the practice is how the architects or the planners navigate those policies to make design happen.
What we want to do is figure out the way that the policies allow for the dollars to be used appropriately. Right now we kind of ignore the data because it’s a lot of data, so the voice of the masses doesn’t get heard. It’s not because of malicious intent but because of an ingrained system of supremacy and oppression that has been tied to our financial and political system for ages.
It manifests itself when we have policies that segregate. Also, real estate agencies have the power and have used the power to take away opportunities from certain cultures to purchase houses in certain spaces. It is less about separating the capital system and more about making sure the system operates in a way that is better for all.
Q: What stops routines from continuing?
BL: Staring them dead in the eye. We have to acknowledge data and not skirt around it. We can’t live in this world that we are presently about to enter with the new administration, which is one of ignorance on all topics of our societal condition. We have to face down these injustices and look to our aspirations for our city.
That’s the beautiful thing about design. Design is fundamentally about hope. It’s about the potential of a just society and a just place for people to live and work. We want to utilize design as a tool and as a method to seek those aspirations and put those into action. We want to find the routes in which the policies and procedures line up with those aspirations.
Bryan C. Lee Junior is a member of the Arts Council New Orleans, the president elect for the Louisiana chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, and on the AI Diversity and Inclusion committee. He is holding a Design As Protest gathering on January 20 from 12:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. for anyone interested in discussing and addressing issues of injustice throughout the built environment.