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“A Rising Tide” Elevating API Design Leadership Launches This Month

A Rising Tide (ART), a landmark new initiative to cultivate leadership and increase visibility of Asian and Pacific Islanders (API) working in the built environment, launches in May 2022, API Heritage Month. The organization is founded by a coalition of leaders from ground-breaking architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, and interior design firms, including Neri & Hu, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, Atelier Cho Thompson, Spiegel Aihara Workshop, BIG, and SOM.

“We founded A Rising Tide to be a resource for all: a platform to build a community of API designers seeking to shape a better world, a springboard for API designers just getting established, and a beacon of hope and inspiration for young people.” said Ming Thompson, Co-Founder of Atelier Cho Thompson. “Growing up, I didn’t have Asian role models to look up to. Meeting Billie Tsien, one of ART’s founding members, in my first architecture studio changed the course of my life; I saw that Asian women could be industry leaders, and that we could lead in a way that was true to ourselves.”

A Rising Tide has three key goals: to showcase API designers and bring visibility to their work; to elevate API designers to leadership roles; and to connect API designers to potential collaborators, clients, and consumers who are increasingly seeking to support diverse voices.

Key programming for A Rising Tide’s first year includes the launch of the API Design Directory, a series of online features on API design issues, and a panel series coordinated with local community gatherings. The API Design Directory is a first-of-its-kind public directory of U.S. based firms owned and operated by API designers. This directory was assembled in order to link API designers to potential collaborators, clients, and media, and to create new opportunities for these designers. The ART workshop series will commence in August with an intergenerational conversation on API design; subsequent workshops will cover topics including barriers to API leadership and a vision for an American museum of API history and heritage.

“As architects, design means giving form to function – but more than that, design is influenced by culture, shared narratives and experience. At BIG, we have over 40 nations represented and it is inspiring to see how the diversity of cultures can bring nuance to discussion and innovation in ideas. Looking at the larger field of our profession, there is an astonishing dearth of API representation and the perspectives and insights we can bring. For me, A Rising Tide is a way to strengthen that voice and by doing so, enrich our shared milieu for everyone.” said Catherine Huang, Principal at BIG.

A Rising Tide was launched in response to a set of challenges facing API designers: lack of visibility and opportunities for API design leaders, a growing activism among design students recognizing unique challenges for API students, and a climate of Anti-Asian rhetoric and violence. Asians and Pacific Islanders are entering the design professions in ever-increasing numbers, but there is a notable absence of API designers among industry leaders, including firm owners, partners, and principals. A 2018 Harvard Business Review analysis of national EEOC workforce data found that API professionals are the least likely group to be promoted into management — less likely than any other race.

“Many API leaders I know were used to being the only Asian in the room growing up and simply working hard and figuring things out on their own, myself included,” shares Christina Cho Yoo, Co-Founder of Atelier Cho Thompson. “Over the past few years, I’ve seen the power of the collective to achieve together what might not be otherwise achievable on one’s own. Motivated by the notion that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’ we started this group not only to encourage API leadership but also to see what greater things we can achieve when we rise together.”

Cover photo: Atelier Cho Thompson’s Interwoven pavilion. Photo by Martin Seck.

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