Black Architects Claim Columbia Denied Them Role in Harlem Expansion

The Arch527 collective says the school has only delegated small tasks to the team rather than employ them for larger projects.

Posted: 12/20/2012 02:43 PM EST

Arch527 members Mark Barksdale and Kevin Barnes.  (Photo: Courtesy of DNAinfo/Jeff Mays)

A group of African-American Harlem architects are saying that Columbia University has delegated its members to small tasks rather than give them legitimate parts in the school's $6.3 billion campus expansion. Arch527, whose members have worked with famed architect I.M. Pei's firm and other multi-million dollar projects, claim the school has insulted its members by asking them to only move furniture around.

"It's like training for the theater and someone offers you a part in your daughter's school play. It's insulting work," architect Zevilla Jackson Preston told DNAinfo.com New York.

Columbia University is expanding onto 17 acres in Manhattan's Morningside neighborhood beside Harlem, with its first phase due for completion by 2015. The entire project is expected to be finished by 2030.

DNAinfo.com New York writes:

"In exchange for permission to build, the university signed a community benefits agreement that calls for it to apply affirmative action guidelines that require 25 percent participation by minorities, women and local businesses.

The agreement also set a goal that 35 percent of non-construction contracts go to minority-, women- and locally owned outfits, and that large contracts be broken into pieces so that smaller contractors can compete.

Tanya Pope, executive director of construction business services for Columbia University, wrote in a Nov. 13 email to a member of Arch527 that the community benefits agreement did not require the college to hire minorities for anything but construction work."

"The (community benefit agreement) does not have goals for professional services," Pope wrote in the email, which was obtained by DNAinfo.com New York. "The work we are doing with MWL (minority, women and local) architects is at our discretion and outside the requirements of the (community benefit agreement).

Community members have complained that the school has not held up its end of the bargain while the school says that it only has a limited amount of design work available and they will work with architects at their discretion. The West Harlem Local Development Corporation is also receiving blame for failing to take the university to task and focusing instead on its own internal issues

 

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