Architects love awards, perhaps second only to gossip. Put two of us in a room and we can dish dirt all
day. Assemble a few thousand for a conference, and the same can be said of awards.

I was reminded of this at the 2023 American Institute of Architects national conference last week. (The
awards part, not the gossip.) Before each keynote, at least one award was handed out to a deserving
recipient. Having been to many AIA conferences – national and state – this wasn’t anything new. If I was
running late to the keynote session, I knew I had a few minutes to spare as someone was always
recognized prior to the featured speaker.

Except had I been late to the opening keynote this year, I would have missed a first for the AIA national
conference. For any architecture conference really. This was the year an award winner did a mic drop.
And did it in front of the national leadership who handed him the award.

Robert J Easter, FAIA was recognized as the 2023 Whitney M. Young, Jr. award winner. Named after the
civil rights leader, the award distinguishes an architect or architectural organization that embodies social
responsibility and actively addresses a relevant issue, such as affordable housing, inclusiveness, or
universal access.

With a career spanning 40 years, including serving as the 15th president of the National Organization of
Minority Architects, Robert was more than deserving. However, in his time in architecture, the
percentage of Black architects has remained at 2 percent, a fact he pointed out in his tribute video and
reiterated in his brief acceptance speech before the keynote. Then the shoe dropped, along with the

“I hope one day we are able to get past the award and increase the number from 2 percent.”

Then he walked off stage.

My only wish in the moment was to be in the heads of the AIA President and EVP/CEO who had just
presented him with the award (and were probably wishing they had applied a bit more antiperspirant
that morning). I don’t know that anyone has ever called the AIA out publicly, especially at the national
conference. Especially for an industry issue they have been working to address for the last five years.

Quite the moment in history. Except I am not sure which part I was surprised by. The static 2 percent
representation of Black architects? That he called the industry out so publicly? Or that he said what I
suspect so many of us think? Receiving an award was nice, but we have to get past that. But what would
we do at conferences?

This was definitely a first and a great way to start the conference. At least I thought so. I missed the
openings of the other two keynotes, but I didn’t hear any buzz about other mic drops. I’m sure one this
year was plenty.

But next year? Let’s create an award for that.