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MORE RESOURCES:

Do you want to learn more about our Pre-Professional Mentorship program? Email info@jonesarch.com for more information.

Jones SXSW EDU submission to speak about Inclusive Design, a topic that plays an integral part in bettering design for learning spaces.

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4. Make sure “ordinary” applies to everyone. What may seem expected and ordinary to the mainstream is not so for excluded people, whether it’s an easy and convenient way to enter a building, a chair that fits your body, or enough variety of settings to meet the needs of neurodiverse people. Location speaks loudly – think carefully about the arrangement of spaces and what it communicates, for example “back entrances” for people with mobility challenges. Spend time and design energy on things that people generally pass over or deem unimportant or code-driven.

5. Look for opportunities for flexibility.  Use design to give users more power by providing a light sense of infrastructure that gives people the chance to use the space the way they want to. In 2023, Boston University asked Jones to renovate a 3,000 square foot space to become an LGBTQIA+ resource center.  The project came up in April, and needed to open in time for fall quarter — September. BU had yet to hire a director for the center and the team had little context to work from. We did some peer benchmarking and also brought the project to the Jones EDIB(J) council.  The council recommended that BU build in the potential for visual and acoustic privacy when desired and to “empower the community by making the space flexible. Encourage them to rearrange the space to meet their needs over time – either on the fly or week-to-week.” Jones developed a list of over a dozen potential use cases and then came up with furniture layouts for several of those. We kept the materials neutral and gave the future users to build an identity of their own into the space.

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2. Design with not for. In other words, don’t assume how a space will be used — ask instead. This seems obvious but the fact is that end users are not always asked about what they’d like to see in a space being designed for them. When it comes to work on college campuses, this often means students. Seek unheard perspectives that go beyond a token member of a pre-selected stakeholder group.” While clients may initially view this as “opening the problem;” i.e., creating headaches for the project team, our experience has shown that the process avoids costly backtracking because it confirms the design criteria for the project, and thus leads to more successful outcomes. 

3. Use multiple means for feedback.. You’ll get more, and higher quality, responses when you use a variety of communication channels. Understand that people  — especially those who are used to being dismissed or ignored may not be comfortable speaking up in a group situation, or may not be able to put their finger on what it is that makes them uncomfortable.  In Jones’s work at Massasoit Community College, which involves renovations to two buildings to house science programs, nursing, allied health, and respiratory care laboratories, we’ve designed a multi-phase engagement process to help build trust with the community. We started in the project’s study phase and conducted another round in schematic design. 

We’ve used online surveys, in-person conversations via open houses, sticky notes, and yes/no votes. We have fliers with more information if people don’t feel comfortable engaging right off the bat — they can get their bearings and come back to us, either in person, or by linking to the survey. We’ll also reach out to student clubs via social media, and offer hybrid small group discussions . For owners concerned about the amount of time (or money) involved in user engagement, we were able to gather feedback from more than 100 people in two days during the study phase, and about 90 people, including administrators and faculty, in the second phase. It is not an arduous process and adds tremendous value.

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1. Get your own house in order.  Early in 2023, Jones worked with a consultant to help us examine ways to improve our practice relative to leadership, career development, pay equity and ensuring an explicitly inclusive culture. As a result , the firm established a robust performance review process that ensures people’s background and skills are recognized and valued in ways that promote equity. We also created a formal mentorship program that creates a variety of types of conversations so that everyone in the firm has opportunities to talk about career goals and establish development paths that capture individual needs and strengths.  We also created the Jones Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging and Justice (EDIB (J)) Council with a rotating cohort of 6-8 members. The EDIB(J) Council’s vision is to build a more inclusive culture at Jones with goals that include diversifying staff and leadership, creating equitable performance metrics, refining the firm’s onboarding process, community outreach and evaluating projects the firm takes on. Each year, half the members rotate off the council and new members join.

Finally, we recognize that a more diverse set of lived experiences among designers themselves would enrich design outcomes. We are working toward building a more diverse pipeline through outreach, including the development of what we call “pre-professional” mentorships , wherein we invite high school students (two at a time) to join the office for up to six weeks. Our first “class” will convene in summer of 2024 for a group project.

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Synthesis

Architects are synthesizers by nature and by training; it is our job to ask, listen, observe and respond in ways that take myriad and often competing variables into account; we are obsessed with elegance and economy — how can we resolve this messy set of variables in a unified fashion? How do we make something as beautiful as it is useful as it is welcoming? How can we make this place work for as many people as possible with the least number of moves?

We start by simply saying it out loud on new projects: we prioritize belonging as a design goal. Why? Because inclusion has too much value to ignore. Like sustainability, it has become, for Jones, a non-negotiable element of design. We are convinced that if we are not working toward improving DEI in our industry, we are contributing to the problem. And it is a problem.

Historically, architects have discounted many voices, namely those belonging to people who are not white or male but also people with low incomes, or less than a college education.

Fortunately, that’s changing. For the profession to be a better reflection of the world we live in is both right and necessary. When more people of diverse backgrounds — including cognitive diversity as this study shows —  have a voice in architecture, more effective and enduring design is the result. (More food for thought on design and inclusion here and a book list here.)

To achieve more inclusive design, we are challenging our approach to user engagement, recommendations to clients, and hiring and recruitment; we are identifying and dismantling exclusionary processes. And here’s the best part: We never know what may come out of these processes, but it’s certainly never going to make a project worse. It’s only going to get better.

Inclusive design is less about checklists and standards than an expansion on what architects already do — engage stakeholders, get information from them, and implement accordingly. We’re learning as we go. That said, since formalizing our inclusive design efforts in January 2023, we have a few insights to offer.

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Definitions

First, let’s revisit the terms. Most familiar is accessibility: ensuring access to and throughout buildings for people of all abilities has been the law for more than 30 years.

Universal design takes that idea and expands on it, relying on seven key principles to create a building (or a can opener or software for example) that can be “accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability,” ideally in ways that don’t differentiate or relegate some people to a lesser status. It reaches beyond code and compliance to achieve a more intuitive and gracious experience for everyone. A common example is a building that is accessed via a gentle slope, as opposed to, say, a grand front stair with a ramp or elevator around back.

Inclusive design moves beyond the realm of physical characteristics that affect a person’s experience of their environment to acknowledge the full range of human diversity, from gender and culture to age and ability. Inclusive design centers on process, wherein a diverse set of voices inform design, the better to ensure a better response, i.e., one that meets multiple needs for multiple and distinct users. Inclusive design eschews assumptions about how people use a space in favor of asking them. (Imagine!)

“But!” Some may think, “Architects have always done that – they listen to owners, board members, facility managers and so on; they assimilate input from engineers, IT experts, builders, etc.” And we do. What’s different now is as simple as it is profound: we’re trying to fold in voices that have been traditionally overlooked.

Think of it as “designing with” rather than “designing for.” The inclusive design leader Susan Goltsman may have said it best:

“Inclusive design doesn’t mean you’re designing one thing for all people. You’re designing a diversity of ways to participate so that everyone has a sense of belonging.”

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Accessibility. Universal design. Inclusive design. What does it all mean? When it comes to the built environment, each concept is different, and all are related. As the most recent addition to the lexicon, inclusive design is perhaps most elusive. Is it a noun or a verb? What does it look like? How is it different from the other two? Owners might feel some trepidation at the term. (Yet another requirement? What will it cost?). To designers, it feels good; that is, it feels like good design. And to users? It feels like being respected and heard; it feels right.

At Jones, inclusive design comes down to making as many people as possible feel comfortable and accepted in their environment. Shaping an “architecture for belonging” is part mindset, part process, part product (verb and noun). Step one: when defining goals for the design of any project, put “belonging” on the list. And no, it doesn’t have to cost more money, or take more time. In any case, a better question might be, what are the costs of exclusion?

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We are a small office of creative people enriched by both our differences and our similarities. As a group, we are committed to the following principles of conduct:

  • Be willing to broaden your horizons
  • Hold courageous conversations
  • Lead with respect and curiosity
  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

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Created systems of support, dialogue, and advocacy that are strengthened by our differences as well as our similarities.

Set a goal to provide at least two leadership opportunities for non-white, non-male people in the coming year.

Committed to broaching client sustainability conversations at project onset that include DEI. For example, at Massasoit Community College we have teamed with a small M/WBE architect to give us a more fulsome understanding of the population that MCC serves. With this partner, we are engaging the campus DEI team to establish processes that ensure planning and design meet the needs of the student body.

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Engaged a leadership training consultant through 2022-23 for a one-year project to educate staff and examine firm practices related to employment and advancement, strategic planning, and organizing our team around inclusionary policies.

Established an equitable staff support and mentoring policy, recognizing that each person has different circumstances and needs, and therefore people need different resources and opportunities allocated to them to thrive.