Recently I spent two whole days at the Harvard law school at two very different conferences. The first was called “Building Communities of Care Wherever We Are” and was sponsored by the Massachusetts Restorative Justice task Force. Being a little bit obsessed with Restorative Justice I knew I had to be there. I walked into room full of round tables and sat with a diverse group of students, non-profit organizations, lawyers and city officials. Within the hour we were in a sharing circle connecting around our shared values and identities that formed our sense of self. When I identified myself as a designer of spaces for peace making and reparation I was embraced with interest, questions and offers to work on projects with the various members of my table. I also sat that day with Native America elder Strong Oak and passed the talking stick sharing about my ancestors and how I dealt with conflict in my life. I felt nourished, grounded and connected to a primarily heart centered community that previously seemed absent in my experience at Harvard. However the learning I hoped to get implied by the conference title had not come to fruition for me. I hadn’t really learned anything that I didn’t know before about restorative justice. As we closed the day in a giant circle reciting the Declaration of Interdependence I decided it didn’t really matter. I felt grateful to have been received as a design professional trying to explore the intersection between space and reparation as well as someone trying to be in their heart space perhaps more than their head.
The following Thursday in a room next door to the first, I attended the second of the two conferences titled Tribal Courts and the Federal System sponsored by the Harvard Law School. Again I walked into a room of round tables and sat down with a group of women near the front. I introduced myself as a Loeb Fellow at the Graduate School of Design working on spaces for peacemaking and reparation. However this time I received a slightly different reaction. Mumbles of my having to hang out with boring lawyers were uttered and then a general silence and what I perceived to be a lack of interest in engaging with someone who was not within the legal profession. Several people came up to introduce themselves and quickly walked away once I mentioned I was an architectural designer. They didn’t seem as excited as the attendees from the first conference or perhaps they didn’t know what to say. It was not the first time I had experienced the wall of ignorance on design but it had never been this luke warm of a reception. Throughout the day we heard from law scholars, tribal judges and even the Honorable Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. My hand moved quickly across my sketch book soaking up the incredible amount of information coming my way. As the day drew to a close I was reluctant to approach anyone in case I got another cold shoulder. However as the chairman of the Indian Law and Order Commission came out of the room I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to connect the dots between the work of his organization and The Center for Court Innovations Tribal Justice Division who I had been in dialogue with around spaces for peacemaking. He seemed mildly interested and I was given a quick anecdote about the round rooms being created in native communities. Two business cards were quickly produced and then off he went. The commissioner seemed in a rush to go. I left that day with a head full of information but feeling undervalued.
After these conferences I was reminded once again that leaving our industry silos means the professional identities we cling to for our narcissistic supply will get cut off and we’ll be left standing in a room alone, our egos screaming for recognition. Ouch! Despite the bruises I did come away from the heart and cranial conferences with a deeper belief that we will need to incorporate and have facility with both our hearts and minds if we want to solve problems and possess healthy professional lives. With this as my goal I keep stepping outside the nest of traditional architecture knowing that sometimes I might be embraced as part of the tribe and others times an alien.