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      /  Uncategorized   /  Celebrating AAPI Month

    Celebrating AAPI Month

    The month of May is Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and as it draws to a close we would like to take a moment to shed some light on AAPI leaders: past and present. From architecture to planning, to civil movements and advocacy, here are Asian-Americans who have made changes in the world.

    Remembering I.M. Pei (1917-2019)

    If you’ve ever seen a photo of the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France and wondered who in the world put those pyramids in the middle of the courtyard, the answer is Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei. Born and raised in China, he moved to America and pursued architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and continued to the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. Pei would go on to become an American citizen in 1954 at age 37. A modernist, Pei made a name for himself with his strong use of geometry within his work, often incorporating proud and unapologetic uses of simple shapes like triangles and squares, and elevating them into statement pieces.

    The pyramid at the Louvre, the Suzhou Museum in China, the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, and the Museum of Islamic Art is Qatar are among many projects that showcase his signature style. Pei was the recipient of a number of awards and honors for his works, including the Medal of Liberty and Presidential Medal of Freedom, and remains the only Asian-American to be awarded the Pritzker Prize for his work on the National Gallery of Art East Building in Washington, D.C.

    Although born and raised in China, Pei considered himself a Western architect. When John Tusa asked him how much of his Chinese upbringing influenced his architecture, Pei replied: “Unconsciously I would say there must be something there, but I consciously speaking I don’t see any at all. I came, I studied architecture in America, so my technical background’s completely western. But my seventeen years, the formative years of one’s life, and I can’t say that the Chineseness in me is not there.” (BBC Radio 3) Regardless of the nature of his education, however, Pei emphasized again in 2004 that “I feel that China is in my blood no matter where I live. China is my root.”

    Stop Asian Hate: Manjusha P. Kulkarni

    Manjusha P. Kulkarni is an Indian-American born in 1969 who has campaigned for racial equality for over two decades. Executive Director of the Asian American Pacific Islander Equity Alliance (previously known as A3PCON), co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, and recipient of the White House Champions of Change award, Kulkarni has advocated for the advancement of health, well-being, civil rights, and racial equality of AAPI individuals for about the entirety of her career.

    Focusing early on in efforts to heal and advance her own South Asian community, Kulkarni continued to branch out as her career furthered, eventually testifying before the Congress of the House Judiciary Committee in March of 2021 regarding data and policy recommendations for addressing the wave of racism and discrimination AAPIs faced with the spread of COVID-19.

    In 2021, Kulkarni (as well as her co-founders) were recognized by TIME magazine as being among the 100 most influential people of the year for her work with Stop AAPI Hate. According to their website, the “coalition tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning, and child bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.” While the main mission of the coalition is to end anti-AAPI hate, the organization also acknowledges that “in order to effectively address anti-Asian racism, we must work to end all forms of structural racism leveled at Black, Indigenous, and other communities of colors.” (Source)

    Girl UNinterrupted: Juliet Chun

    Juliet Chun, AIA, is the Korean-American co-founder of the national initiative with her friend and colleague Zhanina Boyadzhieva. The initiative is aimed at bridging the gap between (young female) designers and experienced leaders in the architecture profession. They hope that the project “will impact the profession by bringing transparency to current challenges that emerging designers face and create a bridge between generational perspectives in order to jump start future growth. Our goal is to collectively build a culture of equity in the architecture field where the full potential of all designers can evolve.” (, 2017)

    Chun believes that “architecture struggles with equity, diversity, and inclusion because not enough people are exposed to the profession at a young age. To combat this, she has given career talks in venues such as the MIT Museum’s biannual Girl’s Day Event, where spoke about her career and asked attendees to think about design through an interactive game she called Wonder Women in Architecture.” (, 2020) Chun was awarded the AIA Young Architects Award in 2020 for her efforts.

    In regards to how her heritage as a Korean-American has shaped her and her approach to the profession of architecture, Chun says that “early on, I learned that everyone is unique and has their own customs, cultures, and experiences that shape who they are. It’s that diversity of knowledge and perspectives that’s critical to our everyday lives.” 

    When asked how non-Asians could be better allies in advancing and creating more inclusivity in the profession and society, Chun says, “Listen to your AAPI community…Reach out to your peers, and say something if you witness injustice. Each person has something to say, a unique perspective to bring, and is a critical element to our society. Don’t just invite everyone to the table; make them feel welcome.

    In 2017-2018, Girl UNinterrupted performed a survey in five major U.S. cities to identify specific issues emerging professionals may face in architecture today. To see the results, check out the interactive data visualizer powered by the Sasaki Foundation HERE.