Robert Easter, a powerful force in the field of architecture, wasrecently elevated into the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows. This accomplishment is a direct result of his passion and success within the profession. Robert’s dedication to “elevating, increasing, and expanding opportunities for African Americans” has made a significant, lasting impact on the architecture community. While serving a two-year term as president of NOMA (National Organization of Minority Architects), he has raised awareness of the shockingly low percentage of African Americans in the field and has been working diligently to break the rigid mold of what is considered normal. Robert describes the nature of the architecture industry as a mirror to that of Major League Baseball back in the 1950s.
“Architecture suffers from a lack of Branch Rickey-ness.”
He believes that it is ultimately the decision-makers whose judgment is clouded by preconceived notions. As a result, “every time a Jackie Robinson emerges,” it’s an exception to the rule. This is the core of what Robert has devoted his time and efforts to change. Through his profound mentorship and leadership, he has shifted the way people evaluate others. He stresses that everyone must begin to see “people for people” and evaluate them based on “talent and ability,” in order for “everyone to engage in the things that will heighten their skills, talents, and passions.” Recognizing that other minority groups such as women, Hispanics, Latinos, and Asians are also enduring similar hardships, Robert actively strives to help give everyone a voice.
Transferring this forward thinking into the current state of the world, Robert is optimistic about the future of architecture amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Change is inevitable; however, he explains that architecture “is, by definition, a problem-solving profession.” It all comes down to understanding how people function in their everyday lives, then using that knowledge to provide spaces that support those behaviors. New habits will form, adjustments will be made, and buildings will be retrofitted to accommodate these changes.
Robert feels that new graduates in the field have a very unique opportunity during this time, to explore and discover where architecture can go from here. With their fresh knowledge, these young professionals have the chance to spearhead new ideas as “the pandemic is going to eliminate a lot of barriers” and allow them “to explore their creativity and their excellence.” This is no small feat and Robert is excited about what they can bring to the table. His advice to these graduates is this: “Just have hope and be patient.”
Now more than ever, it is important for people to remember where their passions lie. Robert finds joy in developing spaces that harbor group engagement, which stems from his long-term commitment to ministry. He reveals that “community work and community centers are a special kind of project”. His life’s work has been inspired by this appreciation and admiration for humanity, so this comes as no surprise. Dividing his time between teaching, ministry, and running his firm, KEi Architects, Robert reveals, “the three things that I do most are the things I really enjoy doing so it’s not really that difficult.”
Although it appears that society has slowed down, that is not the case for Robert and his team at KEi. A state-of-the-art athletic center for New Jersey is in the works with exciting features such as an indoor track, several basketball courts, seating for spectators, and covered outdoor fields for football, soccer, and lacrosse. Robert expresses, “We are excited about the opportunity to get involved in this type of work and a lot of that is dependent on the work that Marcus Thomas continues to do. He gets all of the kudos on that one.” As Robert has proven, there is always something new and challenging around every corner within the field.