My name is Claire Blaylock, and I'm the executive director of the Architecture Foundation of Oregon. I have a background in public history, museums, and urban spaces. I work on art educational programming for AFO, and it's an exciting time because we're transitioning to a lot more virtual programming. There are exciting opportunities for community engagement and access to architecture and the arts across the state. My pronouns are she and her. About the future from the perspective not only with the architecture field, and the built environment communities I'm sort of looking towards, but also a parent of three young kids. A lot of what I do, I'm thinking about what kind of world we're creating for them.
I've been super lucky to have the opportunity to have a pretty extensive background with education. Education is the silver bullet. So from that lens is how I approach not only what we do at AFO programming but also my values as a community member in Oregon.
I came to architecture sort of from the field of public history, which is a big catch-all area of study. General history is how events kind of leave a mark on the world around us. One of the pieces of research that I did when I was a graduate student was actually around sort of epidemiology and how the cholera epidemic shaped industrialized London. I used a computer mapping program called GIS, and I was on a team that looked at how infant mortality rates corresponded with slum clearance and changes in different areas of London.
There's this strong trend to see the built environment changing as a result of the kind of situation that we're in with a pandemic, but just with like, a public health mindset, what you're going to start seeing our communities focused on urban spaces and focused on environmental health.
You're going to see a lot more open-air buildings. You're going to see, from an office perspective, hopefully, people moving away from an open office plan and into slightly more boxed off spaces, which is both a good and a bad. But from a creative perspective, it will force designers and the architecture community to think about what people are after when they're using a space, and what's going to make them feel comfortable. That's something that I've seen a little bit talked about, is people are going to be nervous about being in large groups, and around people they don't know for quite some time, even after we get a vaccine for COVID, that kind of anxiety is going to linger there. With that in mind, how do you design a space? How do you change that experience so that it's something comfortable for people?
The Architecture Foundation of Oregon has been around for over 30 years, and we are made up of all the people who are involved in architecture, that's not just architects, that's architects, construction, engineering, artists, designers, the people who use the buildings that are created. Architecture is an all-encompassing term.
AFO operates from the point of view that our communities are healthier when more voices participate in creating our world. It's not just one point of view that should be represented in how our communities are designed. We believe that the sort of strategic thinking and the creative thinking that frequently goes into the design process is a transformative approach for both the designers and the professionals, but also community members involved in the process.
We take that idea and that mission of participation, and we execute on that through educational programming. Our third through fifth grade program, Architects in Schools, is our flagship, probably our most well-known. In the 2018/19 school year, we were in 174 classrooms across the state and served 5400 students. But we're also working on building our educational programming through Hip Hop architecture, which is aimed for middle and high school students. We also support our burgeoning professionals with our Hatfield scholarship, which is given to a college student, and then our sort of mid-career professionals through the Van Evera Bailey Fellowship. We do a lot—we do a lot.
We as an organization, from an AFO perspective, we've taken access to heart, and access as a key to something fundamental about our mission, because you can design all these beautiful buildings. You can create these fantastic communities and worlds, but if people don't have access to them, then it's elitist and more divisive than anything else. It's access to those kinds of spaces.
I firmly believe in access to architecture, design, urban planning, all of that, and its access to that as a career choice. You see so many students who don't even know that it's necessarily an option for them. the ones that do are pretty speaking for the architecture in the architecture realm, they take a look at the field and realize it's at the top levels, at least, very, what I jokingly say is "male, pale and stale." Education is the silver bullet. You know when you cannot be what you cannot see. It's such a huge responsibility, for us, as a community to go out and cultivate diverse voices and opinions and participation at an early age.
We are excited to work with third to fifth graders. Some folks would say, "Look, why are you starting that earlier? Why are you focusing then?" it's for so many reasons, but not the least of that—when you start this kind of creative problem solving, it is original, thinking early. When you begin presenting careers like architecture and design and urban planning, when you start giving that early as an option, you know, it sticks. You're cultivating that little seed, right? That's what you're hoping to grow because none of these fields will change unless you get diverse voices involved. That's important.
You bring in new perspectives. We're not just talking about ethnicities here. You're also talking about different social classes or economic classes, excuse me, and different abilities. What does it mean to design a building for someone who's differently-abled? What kind of skills do you need to be taking into consideration? Then also, just think about the user. As a mom, I spent a long, long time looking for places to either pump or nurse my kids when they were little. If you're designing a space that is ostensibly for families or anyone, always include moms. What do moms need? What do people want to see in the area they are using?
It's refreshing to watch the architecture community, which in some ways, and I don't feel bad saying this, is slow to change and can get set in their ways. But it's been exciting over my involvement with AFO to see how architecture as a practice and as a community, including more than architecture, is changing. You have some great leadership going on. Especially here, Portland, lever architecture is doing a lot with CLT and mass timber. you're seeing how companies like Adidas, double down on that and say, "Okay, if we want to take sustainability seriously, we've got to start designing like we're taking sustainability seriously." But even more than that, you're starting to see these conversations around how environmental justice is social justice. That's, I think, going to be a massive theme that we're going to see in design as we move forward. Environmental justice means access, right, access to a pleasant, healthy, clean environment, things like clean water, green spaces, fresh air, clean air, and the ability to get outside and feel safe in that kind of situation.
We as Oregonians feel proud that we have this vast, natural world that we get to go and enjoy. But that's not the case for everyone. We've seen a few events that have kind of highlighted it, not necessarily here, but as the Flint water crisis is undoubtedly a great reminder of that. But to have any sort of social justice or social equality, you have to have access to clean and healthy environments.
One of the pieces from an organizational perspective and working in the nonprofit sector, one of the things that you see is that a lot of sort of the up and coming generation, "millennials," one of the things that matters a lot to that generation according to the data is the mission, right? You don't want to support something that's just next, you want to help something that's going to make a difference. From a fundraising perspective, it tells our story and the impact that we have from an AFO perspective, we have a huge impact, and we have a lot to talk about with that. From an education perspective, AFO is trying to look forward when it comes not just to trends within the architecture and design community, but also like, what kind of world are we preparing these students to be part of? How does our programming reflect that?
We were getting ready to start a curriculum redevelopment when the pandemic hit, so that's going to change a few things, undoubtedly. But we also are... even before the pandemic. We wanted to go through the curriculum and update it to include more about equity and inclusion in the design process and environmental sustainability. It's vast—It's going to be the number one issue that the up and coming generation faces.
I hate to keep bringing it back, but one of the things that this situation has illustrated is that broadband and internet access is something that should be considered a utility. Once that is more equitably available to folks, regardless of who they are and where they are, the educational opportunities are pretty boundless, at least from our perspective, with kind of some of the virtual learning and the virtual teaching that we can do as an organization, especially into communities that don't necessarily have architects or designers who maybe live there. But if we can bring them virtually to classrooms, that can have a considerable impact. I'm hoping that when we see the future sort of arriving, it's a future that is far more inclusive and provides a lot of access to these fields using whatever methods we can.
You shouldn't be afraid to try things that don't work, experiments. That's a fundamental principle. When architects and designers are kind of sussing things out and puzzling things through, is they try a lot of things that don't work and a lot of ideas that don't pan out necessarily, but it's all part of the creative process, right? You have to try a lot of things to get to your endpoint.
But I also think designing and making choices for your life and your environment and your space, and all of that that meets the user needs is super important. That sounds basic, but think about what it is that you need, what is it that makes you function as a person? Trying to design around that, be it, making choices for your career and the people you surround yourself with, all the way to, you know, where you put your kitchen table, and how you organize your cabinets in the bathroom, those types of things. That perspective is valuable.
There are two pieces that I kind of go back to consistently. I have a background in theater, and it's something that I wish somebody had told me when I was a young performer, but I always go to Ira Glass' piece on: "It's okay to make bad things when you're first starting. It's incredibly essential advice. But it's about this idea that you can't expect to be…If you sit down to write a novel, you can't expect to be a genius right out of the gate. It's going to take some trial and error. It's okay, that is part of the process. Don't think of art, and don't think of your creative outputs as merely an end goal. The whole journey is essential. That's something that Ira Glass talks about just beautifully, beautifully. The second one is in times of crisis, make good art. in times of change, make good art. when nothing makes sense, make good art. It just speaks to the heart of what I want to be as a person.
The built environment and architecture, in general, have the opportunity to be so transformative in people's lives. Because we can create better spaces, we can create spaces that nurture and support and encourage people to be their best selves and to be happy, and to thrive. That's a critical concept. It's keeping that in mind in the design process. It's exciting to see how our folks are doing that. There's a fantastic project that is happening in Portland. It's a collaboration with a couple of architecture firms and construction companies called the Living Building. There's been some press around that, but it's one of the first living buildings in the country. It's going to have everything from composting toilets to green roofs and reusable and sustainable energy sources for all of the building's power. It's a pretty incredible piece of design that's happening right here in our state.
If that becomes the standard moving forward, I mean that every building has to meet a certain degree of sustainability right now. But what if we raised the bar? What if we asked people to reach even farther? It's always amazing to me how people rise to the occasion when presented with new challenges.
One of the development companies leading the way on that, and showing people how it can be done, works with our organization. We've seen amazing collaborations between the nonprofit environment and developers. You can do it. Kevin Cavenaugh, who runs Guerrilla Development, did a TED talk in Portland a few years ago, and he talks about the concept of "enough," like, what is enough? That's a vital mind frame when you're going into development in the future of, you know, what is enough? What is enough for you to meet your costs and to make an appropriate amount of capital, but that doesn't force you... but it will allow you to prioritize other things that are better maybe for the community and the environment and for the people you're building for, rather than the bottom line. It's a different way of thinking.