ARCHITECT's Ned Cramer asks: A half century after the turbulent unrest of 1968, how much progress has the profession made in the march towards equity?

Few periods in modern U.S. history have proven as momentous as the year 1968. It was a time of awakening conscience, and of loss and protest. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, sparking violent reactions in cities across the country. Robert Kennedy, too, was gunned down, while campaigning for president. Cesar Chavez underwent a hunger strike on behalf of Chicano migrant workers. Two hundred Native Americans met in Minneapolis to form the American Indian Movement. Women’s liberation groups picketed the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City.

It was a pivotal year for architecture as well. Uber-modernist Ludwig Mies van der Rohe completed his late-career masterpiece, the National Gallery in Berlin, while James Stirling pointed the way to a less formally rigid, postmodern idiom with his History Faculty building in Cambridge, England, and Lina Bo Bardi championed humanitarian regionalism with her São Paulo Museum of Art in Brazil. In San Francisco, Chip Lord and Doug Michels founded Ant Farm, introducing counterculture to a decidedly establishmentarian profession. Buckminster Fuller published Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, a foundational document of the green movement. Architecture students participated in protests in New York, Paris, and elsewhere, ultimately compelling the reform of university design curricula.

But arguably the most significant event for the profession, at least in the United States, was the keynote that black activist and National Urban League executive director Whitney M. Young Jr. gave at the convention of the American Institute of Architects.

“You are not a profession that has distinguished itself by your social and civic contributions to the cause of civil rights, and I am sure this has not come to you as any shock,” Young told the assembled crowd. “You are most distinguished by your thunderous silence and your complete irrelevance.”

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