A New Portfolio Competition and Micro Grants for Minority Landscape Architects

Check out @nationalamla on Instagram for more from the National Association of Minority Landscape Architects. / images courtesy of NAMLA

Since its 2020 founding and being covered by Landscape Architecture Magazine last year, the National Association of Minority Landscape Architects (NAMLA) has had lots going on, from the formation of student chapters to launching a NAMLA Talk Series. Today on The Field, we’re highlighting two NAMLA opportunities with a deadline of this Sunday, September 18, for submissions. Act fast!

Landscape Architecture Portfolio Competition

NAMLA has announced their inaugural Portfolio Competition, open to landscape architecture students, interns, and apprentices. Winners will receive a cash award and will be featured on NAMLA’s social media platforms.

Submission checklist:

  • Number of images: 20
  • Aspect ratio: 1:1 or 4:5 (portrait)
  • Resolution: 150 dpi
  • Format: JPEG
  • Captions for each image (2,000 characters max., including spaces)

Portfolios must be submitted via email by September 18, 2022.

This competition is a collaborative effort with Vectorworks and OJB Landscape Architecture.

Apply for a NAMLA Micro Grant

NAMLA’s seventh Micro Grant opportunity is sponsored by OJB Landscape Architecture. The prompt for applicants to respond to is:

How can minority groups empower one another to help create pathways to leadership opportunities within landscape architecture?

Submissions via email are due on Sunday, September 18, 2022, by 11:59 PM PT, and must be 2,000 characters or less, including spaces.

Previous NAMLA Micro Grant prompts and winners’ responses have included:

What do you think of a non-degree self-taught or apprenticeship trajectory to becoming a landscape architect? How would this impact racial and cultural diversity in landscape architecture?

“History has proven that a degree in landscape architecture or architecture is not necessary to be successful in the field.

Degrees are expensive and unattainable for many, especially minorities who, through prejudicial and discriminatory practices, have been prevented from breaking the cycle of poverty and gaining the intergenerational wealth that is often required to graduate without crippling lifelong debt.

The self-taught or apprenticeship trajectory allows for further flexibility and individuality, increased equitable opportunities for career advancement, and greater inclusion and integration of racial, class, and cultural diversity. With a self-taught approach, individuals can tailor their education to their abilities and career goals.

Although landscape architecture degrees typically involve greater opportunities for individualization, there still exists a degree of homogenization.

While it is important to attain a standard level of proficiency regardless of career trajectory, an apprenticeship provides participants with a broader perspective, allowing for greater originality in design. Additionally, a self-taught approach offers aspiring landscape architects who do not thrive in a classroom environment a chance to excel in the field.

Furthermore, by equalizing the various routes of career development and by removing the degree requirement that typically privileges the already privileged, firms might hire and promote talented individuals who would ordinarily never have had the opportunity to be interviewed.

This shift away from institutionalized education goes a step further than affirmative action to confront the systemic policies that limit minority advancement in landscape architecture.

By revaluing unconventional forms of skill acquisition and by giving aspiring landscape architects greater agency over educational and career opportunities, we can further integrate disadvantaged groups and increase the racial, class, and cultural diversity within the field.”

– Micro-Grant Winner Madison Main, Associate ASLA

See NAMLA’s Instagram for quotes from other respondents.

Basquiat once said, “I am not a Black artist. I’m an artist.” Are minorities being pigeonholed to focus on “cultural” landscapes in order to get exhibited or published? If so, how do we ameliorate this?

“A minority designer must navigate a complex array of sociocultural and socioeconomic obstacles in the profession to “prove themselves” at the same table as that of a white counterpart. The disparity in diverse representation of people in leadership positions could be the root of this problem. A network that embodies a predominantly white representation indicates that BIPOC will be less likely to lead. Landscape architecture has come a long way from holding traditionally eurocentric values to analyzing and synthesizing design for diverse communities or specific groups of non-white people. While design representation of diverse communities is essential, “cultural” landscapes should not be the minority designer’s only focus.

As diversity in clientele and project types evolve, so should diversity in designers.

In order to ameliorate this inherently racist issue, we must view minority designers through the same lens that we view the white counterpart and trust that we are capable of performing proficiently. Since to say that minorities are pigeonholed to focus on “cultural” landscapes in order to get exhibited or published is to say that we’ve succeeded at getting a spot at the drawing board to begin with. This means that we have been hired because we have the necessary technical expertise and educational background to accomplish the same type of projects as anyone else. Needless to say, we must be cognizant and accepting of the differences in the soft skills necessary to communicate between minorities and other groups of people who may not be minorities.”

– Micro Grant Winner Adriana Garcia, ASLA

How can we go beyond “participatory design” workshops for public projects that disproportionately go to white-owned firms to minority-owned firms being selected to lead public projects, especially in communities of color?

“For minority-owned landscape architecture firms to be selected to lead public projects, especially in communities of color, the advantages of doing so must be more widely understood. Minority landscape architects have experiential knowledge that can be integral to developing and utilizing best practices, especially in the setting of minority-owned firms.

Minority experiences vary. Here the term minority includes self-identifying as BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, disabled, multicultural, multi-racial, and multi-ethnic. What unifies minority experience is that one does not identify with the majority culture.

Experiential knowledge originates from lived encounters and participation. It is individual, continuous, and multifaceted. Awareness of one’s own experiential knowledge reinforces an understanding that others have independent, unique, and complex experiential knowledge. This understanding provides a foundation for practices of intention, empathy, and authenticity. The experiential knowledge of minority landscape architects is important because it offers perspective on the specialized work needed to better understand and serve people and populations that are outside of majority culture. This perspective can only be forged through the experience of living as a minority.

A minority-owned firm, with minority leadership and practitioners, presents an opportunity to draw on a diversity of experiential knowledge, collaborate and innovate beyond current practices. Workplace culture can mirror and support practices with communities. The immense potential for utilizing experiential knowledge in minority-owned firms, especially for public projects with communities of color, cannot be replicated or replaced by majority culture firms. It is imperative that this potential be more widely understood throughout the field of landscape architecture.”

– Micro Grant Winner Cynthia Cukiernik, Student Affiliate ASLA

See NAMLA’s Instagram for quotes from other respondents.

Social and environmental justice through landscape architecture: what new ways can landscape architects marshal solutions toward social and environmental justice?

“A way landscape architects can marshal solutions towards social and environmental justice is by incorporating just one word: Natives. In the environmental sense, incorporating native plants in the chosen area can greatly benefit nature, due to the impact of natural plants on the environment like supporting its local ecosystem through protecting the local species around them.

Another benefit of growing and caring for native plants in an area is it can draw tourists. Because if you think about it, why travel across the country to see the same flower that you can plant in your backyard while it harms the local ecosystem. If you only have native plants to a certain state, tourists will be more willing to travel to experience the native plants in their home.

People native to the chosen area, who have cared for and grown these plants for many generations, have proficient knowledge of how to appropriately care for these plants. Hiring people of Native descent as plant specialists to an area promotes social justice as well as environmental justice.

For generations, we have removed native plants that have been here long before us, native plants that were being taken care of by Native families. By removing them we have removed their history—we should pay people of Native descent to grow plants that were here long before us to honor their culture.

By paying plant specialists a living wage and benefits it can also improve the environment most people of color tend to live in. Like better access to doctors and health specialists. Better quality food for themselves and their loved ones.

Overall, including more native plant species can greatly improve the environment, and by embracing Natives into the landscape community there will be a better social environment for people of color and healthier earth.”

– Micro Grant Winner Stephanie Navarro

See NAMLA’s Instagram for quotes from other respondents.

Should courses on race, gender, and class be part of landscape architecture curriculums?

“The practice of landscape architecture is essentially humans’ efforts to change the built and natural environments. Yet the definitions of so-called humans and environments are never innocent of racial, gender, and class meanings. Capitalism and colonialism have a long history of dismissing colored people, women, and people of the lower class as “cheap nature.” Their bodies are used like trees and soils and are shaped into the landscape for capital accumulation.

Learning the history of race, gender and class enables us to traverse the binary thinking of human and the environment. When working on design projects, I am always troubled by the spatial power play that pictures an existing place as a passive “site” for human intervention. Too often, I feel unsettled about extracting certain elements to represent the site while trivializing other underlying and entangled relationships and processes that make up the space to design. Therefore, I feel an urgent need to critically examine existing spatial practices and revisit the underlying power paradigm through the curriculum.

Only by realizing the entangled human hierarchies and organizations that constitute space, landscape architects can consciously forge the relationship between space and humans that they favor. When seeing and designing landscape, we must realize that the environment we are making is not independent of human labor and activities. Species activities make the environment and vice versa. Therefore, what we are designing and who we are designing for are entangled and interrelated. As landscape architects, we must make conscious decisions about who can enter, use, and change the space as they want, without the unintentional negligence of a certain group. The consciousness cannot be fostered without the education and realization of race, gender, and class contexts.”

– Micro Grant Winner Esther Xie

See NAMLA’s Instagram for quotes from other respondents.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for minorities in obtaining leadership roles in landscape architecture?

“Landscape architecture in the U.S. is a historically white profession guided by Western pedagogy, thought, practice, and bias. This fact underlies the biggest barrier for minorities to achieve leadership roles in the field. Though the discipline is growing more diverse, changing dominant structures and perspectives is a challenge.

Today, over 55% of landscape students are white. Only 19 professors of U.S. accredited programs are black. Only 10% of professionals identify as Latino and only 3% as black, both of which are disproportionately less than their representation in the U.S. population. Data on indigenous student enrollment was not even recorded until as recently as 2016. Leaders of landscape architecture, predominantly white and male, hold significant decision-making power over who joins their ranks. Though these principals and tenured faculty can indeed support and realize diverse leadership, it takes great effort and courage to upend conventions to do so. Often, the status quo is upheld.

The key to increasing diversity in landscape architecture leadership relies on active advocacy and collective empowerment of minorities. This undertaking goes beyond inclusive hiring policies and quotas. In fact, no single solution exists. Instead, the remedy requires redefining what landscape architecture is and can be; it mandates more access to opportunity for BIPOC; it begins with outreach and education; it is sustained by mentorship and advocacy. The field must be promoted so that “landscape architect” becomes as commonly known to aspiring youth as “doctor,” and its mission should be as clear. It is about the care and future of communities, which all people should be encouraged to engage in—especially BIPOC. If more minorities join the field, there will be stronger collective power and pressure applied on institutions to meet demands for more leadership roles. As a result, the diversity of voices will renew the importance and relevance of the profession at large.”

– Micro Grant Winner Dana Tinio, Student ASLA

See NAMLA’s Instagram for quotes from other respondents: part 1, part 2.

Micro Grant winners’ submissions reposted with permission from the National Association of Minority Landscape Architects (NAMLA).

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