December 5, 2020

Cheryl S. Durst Teams Up With Cindy Allen for DesignUnity on DesignTV by SANDOW

Capping off the first week of Interior Design‘s Best of Design 2020 festival, which featured a Hall of Fame roundtable and documentary film festival, Cheryl S. Durst, EVP and CEO of IIDA, joined Editor in Chief Cindy Allen for an impactful afternoon of discussions centered around diversity in design. As “DesignUnity” on DesignTV by SANDOW got underway, Durst reminisced with Allen about her own experiences with racial discrimination, such as being trolled as head of IIDA around the time of her 2016 Hall of Fame induction, noting the importance of asking: “What can we as individuals do to affect change?” 

Though Durst said her Hall of Fame induction enabled her to feel validated during an especially vulnerable moment, she acknowledged that many people of color in the industry do not have the same opportunity to share their stories with the broader design community. “I wish every single person who has felt diminished can have that feeling of being seen and heard,” Durst offered. Allen then pointed out that during Durst’s induction speech she “brought the house down,” stressing the importance of helping others. 

Both Allen and Durst agreed change starts with open conversations—and open minds. “I think it’s vital for design and designers to understand that even if you don’t live that experience [as an underrepresented person], that there are communities that navigate the world differently and therefore navigate space differently,” Durst continued. “We need to ask: How can we make experiences more relevant and meaningful and equitable?” 

As a step, Interior Design and IIDA teamed up to create the Talent Collective, which serves as a platform to connect esteemed yet underrepresented members of the A&D community with opportunities to more widely share their portfolios, peruse job openings, and build their network. 

Up next, Allen hosted a conversation in partnership with the Savannah College of Art and Design featuring Latinx design creatives heralding from Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico entitled “The Power of Play.” Throughout the discussion, Clarice Semerene, Marisol Centeno, and business partners Inés Guzmán Mendez and Gregory Kahn Melitonov, shared insights into forming community in new cities, finding inspiration in their cultural roots, and the challenges of working on projects that span years. 

“I’m not only a woman but I’m a Latina, so i have to work even harder,” Semerene told Allen, describing her experiences breaking into the design scene in New York City after leaving her native Brazil. When asked to offer a word of advice to student viewers, she said: “Do not be afraid of using your life experiences and your heritage to find your own unique voice as a designer… and don’t be afraid to ask for help in your community, and to help others.” 

“DesignUnity” on DesignTV by SANDOW concluded with a riveting panel moderated jointly by Allen and Durst: “Place+Power: The Intersection of Design and Equity.” Throughout the discussion, panelists George Bandy Jr. (Consultant), Gabrielle Bullock (Perkins and Will, Los Angeles), Karen Compton (A3KConsulting), Dina Griffin (Interactive Design Architects), Gisue Hariri (Hariri & Hariri Architecture), Mike Johnson (Perkins and Will, Washington DC), Krystal Lucero (Edwards+Mulhausen), Carlos Martinez (Gensler), and Mavis Wiggins (TPG Architecture), shared their experiences as people of color in the design industry with Allen and Durst. 

“Today, I see progress just having a conversation with term ‘race’ in it,” said Bullock. “But it can’t just be a moment—it’s either now or never to really address what ails us as a profession… We need to change the way we design and we need to change who is designing it.” The group spotlighted the urgency of the need for change and the ongoing work that must be done, especially in terms of wider access to design education and more diverse mentors for underrepresented students in the field. “Every little door that opens, you have to put your foot in there and push,” added Hariri, to which Allen and Durst nodded in agreement. 

Closing out the panel, and the day of programming, Durst emphasized the importance of inclusivity. “The story of design is told in so many different ways that embrace humanity—not a segment of humanity, but all of humanity,” she said. “We need to re-tell our story.” 

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