Justin Garrett Moore is a 41-year-old architect who works in New York City, planning, developing and implementing architectural ideas. His work is primarily focused on ideas that revolve around social or cultural components through his work as an urban designer.
Growing up in a largely Black neighborhood in Indianapolis, Moore became aware of the structural difficulties in his community at a young age. Through projects he undertook with his family and neighbors, he tried to reimagine things within his neighborhood, which sparked his interest in architecture. His ideas allowed him to think outside the box when it came to designing, problem-solving, and gaining resources in order to better his creation.
“I sort of was aware and could tell that things weren’t necessarily fair, equitable. In our neighborhood, our Black neighborhood versus the white neighborhood, frankly. Parks or schools, the inequality was the thing that even as a child, I sort of became kind of aware and interested in my community, in my environment, which in my field we call the built environment, the way that things are built, the way that they’re cared for, it’s something that you can see and experience in it, it affects you,” he said.
He recalls trying to find ways to deconstruct monuments created of racist historical people in America during his time as a college student at the University of Florida, where he was pursuing a degree in design and architecture. Garrett Moore, who went directly to graduate school at Columbia University after graduating from undergrad, graduated in 2004 and landed a job as an urban designer at the NYC Department of City Planning. During his time as an urban designer, he realized that the vast majority of the spaces he worked in were occupied by privileged white men who dominated decision-making.
Garrett Moore expressed that when he worked in the de Blasio administration as the head of the public design commission he understood the challenges that Black architects and urban designers faced in gaining respect in predominantly white spaces. As a member of the design commission, he had the opportunity to assist in the examination of large new public buildings, one of which was the borough-based jails project. There has been a lot of talk about closing Rikers Island in New York, but there are still people in positions of power who prefer to put public money into jails rather than schools, mental health, or housing.
“You put me by myself, in a room of 40 white people who were there to make billions of dollars putting Black and Brown people in jail. And what I say doesn’t matter. Despite all of my actual expertise, despite all of my credentials, they would advance different conversations and issues about how these deals are going to be designed, and they would not listen to me, even though I was the person that was in theory empowered to do it. But all the different systems in place, are put in place to marginalize even my voice that did have some kind of power. And so that’s just something that’s very difficult and challenging, and it happens to Black people in my field all the time, because there’s only one or two of you, and if you’re in a space of 10, you don’t win,” he explained.
Garrett Moore has worked on major projects such as the Coney Island Plan, the Brooklyn Cultural District, and the Greenpoint and Williamsburg waterfront; however, Hunter Point South Park in Long Island City, New York, is home to one of his works that he is most proud of.
“I can go and sit in that park. And I know that a Black man, meaning me, designed that whole neighborhood, and it never gets old, fulfilling the accomplishment that I was able to, you know, create a space that is of a wonderful space that people enjoy,” he said.
In June, 2021 President Biden appointed four new members to the Commission of Fine Arts with Garrett Moore being one of the four. The Commission of Fine Arts is an independent federal institution tasked with advising the president, Congress, and the federal and District of Columbia governments on questions of design and aesthetics that influence the federal interest.
“It’s an incredible honor. It’s just a great opportunity to have a say and impact on some important issues and concerns whether it will be our public and built realm. Our public buildings, our monuments, our parks, all of these things that help define and shape and reflect who we are universally, we are the people we are in America. And I hope that I can bring some insights to that,” he expressed.
Garrett Moore, in addition to being an urban designer, is also an educator. He currently teaches urban planning and architecture at Columbia University, but he has also taught at Yale, Morgan State University, and Tuskegee University. Throughout his teaching career, he has attempted to engage students in discussions about the world around them and current social issues.
In addition to his normal work he runs an independent company called Urban Patch. It is a social enterprise that specializes in design and development. The company is currently planning and constructing housing in Rwanda, East Africa. Garrett Moore’s group has created a mixed-income housing development in Rwanda that includes some inexpensive accommodation. Over time, he aims to have a greater influence in terms of the quantity of housing units and development, demonstrating that smart design and planning on a much wider scale may result in positive outcomes and communities for people. In the long run, he wants to create a new development model that employs Black designers to build things in a new light. He aspires to see that happen anywhere in the Black diaspora where it is possible, whether in Africa, America, or the Caribbean.
Garrett Moore has stated that he enjoys working in groups and collectives, and that he is a member of the BlackSpace collective. “It’s important to sort of identify the work of an individual, but it’s also really great to highlight people doing work with collectives, whether that’s working in public service, like for the city government, or working with sort of independent groups like BlackSpace,” he expressed.