They’ve worked with world-famous architectural firms such as I.M. Pei & Partners and designed projects for the Durst Organization that cost millions of dollars. They have the highest certifications in the American Institute of Architects.
But Arch527, a loosely organized group of African-American Harlem architects, claims that when its members went to Columbia University looking for work as part of a $6.3 billion campus expansion into West Harlem, they were offered only small projects such as moving a reception desk a few feet.
“It’s like training for the theater and someone offers you a part in your daughter’s school play. It’s insulting work,” explained architect Zevilla Jackson Preston, who said she was asked by the university to submit a bid to move the desk.
“This is a $6.3 billion project in our community, and we are not getting to participate,” said another architect, Mark Barksdale.
Columbia is expanding onto 17 acres of land from West 129th to West 133rd streets, between Broadway and 12th Avenue. The first phase of the project is scheduled to be completed by 2015. Later phases won’t be done until 2030.
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)…
Read more: Jeff Mays, dnainfo.com