With Malachi Pursley, Ryan Carlisle, and Amy Mielke
1. What is Ennead’s Environmental Justice Cohort?
Malachi Pursley: It is an in-house research group with a common desire to examine how our firm can better address issues that surround equity in the built environment.
Ryan Carlisle: As we were tapping into the collective experience of the office, we realized that there is a strong motivation we all share to strengthen our literacy in this area as we establish a framework for how we approach future projects.
2. How are we defining environmental justice?
Malachi Pursley: We are using the EPA’s definition on environmental justice, which is aimed at everyone enjoying the same degree of protection from environmental hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to ensure a healthy environment for all. We are also talking about the impact of race, gender, and socioeconomic status.
3. Why is Ennead focusing on this?
Amy Mielke: These are not new issues for us, these concerns have been an important part of the ethos of the firm all along, but we are approaching it now with even more intention and with the goal of developing more tools to inform our process. We have an ethical imperative to find equity in our design approaches, which has only been made more urgent by extreme climate conditions—how that is affecting communities in different ways and how the potential answers and approaches to these problems are tied up in power dynamics, resource equity, distribution, and representation.
Ryan Carlisle: With available technology, we now have more say in the parameters that we use to design and those parameters that we prioritize inherently convey our value system. We have greater capability to receive real time metrics on future environmental and social impacts.
4. What does this group hope to accomplish?
Amy Mielke: It’s a spectrum of goals including: specifications for ethical and clean materials; expanding site research to include more social and economic history; looking to different backgrounds for broader influence; partnering with more community groups; advocating for larger policies at the state and national level; encouraging individual civic participation; focusing on our professional code of ethics; building a project advisory group; and finding measurable frameworks for our work.
Malachi Pursley: We want to offer Ennead teams an added lens to their perspectives and empower them to know their ways of agency within the realm of environmental justice. And through that empowerment, maybe they can also transfer power to others.
Ryan Carlisle: On a smaller scale, we want to hold space for these conversations to come up throughout the life of a project. The study of environmental justice challenges us to grapple with how, as architects, every decision we make touches so many other aspects, like mobility, food resilience, energy resilience.
5. How does this effort connect with Ennead Lab?
Amy Mielke: Ennead Lab is the result of the firm’s commitment to taking on important issues that are outside of conventional modes of working. It is about expanding the definition of architectural practice. The research we do in the Lab enriches our ways of thinking and feeds back into our projects, and the Environmental Justice Cohort is a part of that. At Ennead we dedicate a lot of energy to the project prompt before we start designing anything. It’s imperative that we define the problem fully and that we think creatively and inclusively about what all the needs are. We have the agency to bring more people to the table, the expertise to evaluate a wider spectrum of solutions, and the ability to understand the solution as being more than a building.