10 Asian American and Pacific Islander Design Creatives on Finding Their Niche, Shaping their Future, and Honoring Their Past | Architectural Digest

10 Asian American and Pacific Islander Design Creatives on Finding Their Niche, Shaping their Future, and Honoring Their Past | Architectural Digest

The best architectural spaces are often designed to be so unobtrusive that they blend into their surroundings. But a similar feeling of invisibility can make the industry feel stifling for those within it. According to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), only 6% of licensed architects in the U.S. were identified as Asian American in 2020. Meanwhile, data collected from the Census Bureau in 2019 shows that 5.93% of interior designers were Asian. That’s a fundamental reason why a group of Asian American and Pacific Islander creatives within the home and design industry formed the national AAPI Design Alliance this May for AAPI Heritage Month. “We want to foster collaboration, visibility, and representation,” interior designer Jessica Davis, one of the group’s founding members, explains, within an industry that is sorely lacking in diversity.

The real fire starter for the group was something much bigger than the design world, though: It came together as the country was seeing a massive uptick in violence against people from the AAPI community in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. One study shows there has been a 77% increase in hate crimes toward Asian people between 2019 and 2020, and it doesn’t seem the trend will slow down anytime soon.

“It felt like a pivotal moment to use our voices to speak out,”  Jessica emphasizes. During the pandemic, she contacted fellow interior designer Young Huh about starting the group and says the ball quickly started rolling from there. Its founding members have now grown to include design editors William Li and Benjamin Reynaert, interior designer Jean Liu, design PR specialist Go Kasai, and Joanne Hallare Lee, cofounder of Dowel Furniture.

It’s an important movement, and one that feels especially fraught considering the design community’s past. The New York–based architect Michael K. Chen tells Clever that he has a complex relationship with notions of heritage within the design space, especially when he considers the confines he’s working within. “Much of our work is concentrated in the historic fabric of New York and the East Coast, and in contexts that have historically excluded people who look like me,” he says.

That’s a big reason why he rejects the “traditions” of design, which he says are so synonymous with the whiteness that has dominated the space for so long. Instead, he uses his craft to actively resist and challenge the status quo. More meaningful to him is collaborative work that makes room for variation and includes and magnifies the perspectives of others. It’s “less individually authored, more textured, and more open,” Michael adds. “To me, the work is most compelling when it has a distinctly diverse quality.”

Here, we spoke in depth with Jessica, Michael, and eight other AAPI individuals in the design world—from creatives in architecture to furniture design and interiors—who are helping to reclaim the space. We asked them how they made their start, how their work is shaped by their past, and how they hope to make space for underrepresented members of the community.