Black Lives Matter

Opinion submitted by Melissa Weese

Events in recent weeks have made me examine where I, as an architect and as a white person, can further expose systemic racism and work to eliminate it.

In the context of the ASAI, I could talk about how it’s important to include people of color in our illustrations, and how we shouldn’t limit that to illustrations of diverse college campuses, or “proper” representations of a context where a project might be. These are small token gestures that pay lip service to the idea of diversity and inclusion.

Instead, I’m going to talk about broader ways that we can as illustrators address the issues. Here are 3 areas that we should consider.

Recruitment. How many illustrators of color do we have within our ranks? How can we recruit more?

A lot of architectural illustrators come from the architectural profession, in which people of color are notoriously under-represented. This therefore even further constricts the pipeline for a Black or brown person to become an architectural illustrator.

So at its very root, we need to get more people of color into the architectural profession, which means we need to make sure that more Black students are encouraged to enroll in architecture school, or digital arts or other arts programs, which means that high schools need to provide the opportunities for Black students to experience the arts, which means those schools need arts funding or there need to be ample educational programs where Black students can learn to draw, which means that we need to make sure as citizens that equal educational access is provided to schools where there are Black and brown students.

We can also work with other educational programs, providing digital art and drawing classes in prisons, in transitional programs like Delancey Street, in homeless support organizations like Glide Memorial Church (both Delancey Street and Glide are internationally recognized organizations in San Francisco).

Mentorship. Again, how many illustrators of color do we have within our ranks? Have they asked for mentorship and are we providing it and supporting them in the process?

For those of us who work in firms, is the firm doing enough to recruit people of color? Is it providing proper mentorship to the people of color that it does recruit and employ? Is it making an effort to understand the needs and experiences of people different from their own?

Collaboration. Do our clients have a good record of recruiting and employing people of color? Are equality and diversity represented in our clients’ core values? If not, we can ask why not. And, if the answer is unsatisfactory, we can consider terminating our working relationship with that client. Yes, we may lose that job, but think of all the people of color who are losing so much more.


Artist Credit: Melissa Weese

A friend of mine once sent me a postcard of Poussin’s “The Triumph of David” and on the back he wrote “I can’t see David’s Triumph anywhere – he must have parked it behind the picture plane.”

Subsequent to this, I imagined David’s Triumph as an older model, a little run-down, with a dent where he backed into a pedestal.  The car’s slightly disreputable aspect necessitated parking it behind the picture plane.  Perhaps if David drove a brand new Prius, he might have parked it in front of the picture plane.

A few years ago, I was studying the Weybosset Arcade in Providence, RI and I decided to watercolor a view of its main facade.  A couple of guys were unloading plants from a local nursery from a big yellow truck parked right in front of the entry.  I waited a while for the truck to go away, realized that they were there for the day, and decided to paint the truck in.  Afterwards, architect colleagues said I should have left the truck out.

There’s a schism between the perception of architecture as a pure formalist art piece and its pragmatic role in accommodating some of the more messy and prosaic aspects of human existence.  Architecture is really only a backdrop – just as the Weybosset Arcade’s facade is the backdrop for a couple of guys to unload and replace some planting.

I was reminded of this schism again while listening to Eric de Broche des Combes’ terrific talk at the annual American Society of Architectural Illustrator conference in Hollywood this October.  The renderings by Luxigon in their portrayal of architecture are more exciting to us because of their inclusivity of all types of people and their representation of the messier elements of our environment, like a rainy day.

Artist Credit: Melissa Weese
Artist Credit: Paul Marie Letarouilly

The people that occupy typical architectural renderings today tend to veer towards the more perfect representations of our species – handsome men and lovely women in crisp suits, chatting on their mobiles while striding purposefully towards an entrance.  It’s interesting to compare them to Letarouilly’s 19th century engravings of Roman palaces that show beggars, peasant girls, priests and noblemen.  Somewhere along the way, we lost sight of the fact that all kinds of people inhabit our world and we have relegated those that don’t measure up to behind the picture plane.



Article by Melissa Weese

Melissa Weese has led a peripatetic life, living in many cities in the US and abroad, practicing architecture while employed at firms such as SOM, Woods Bagot and Gensler, and teaching at various universities. She currently practices architecture at TLCD Architecture, in Santa Rosa, California, where if it isn’t under water, it’s on fire. Melissa continues to draw for work and for pleasure (isn’t it the same thing?) and is currently working on a comic series about the life of a middle-aged female architect.