Architecture remains very much a white profession, but time after time, research has shown us that a diverse workforce increases creativity, productivity, debate, and problem-solving among companies. This story is presented across three articles: Part 1 explores the barriers that people of color face in entering the design profession; Part 2, below, describes organizations that are clearing some of these barriers; and Part 3 looks at firm initiatives to create a more equitable work environment.
Upon reading this series, head over to Hanley Wood University for the potential to earn 1 AIA Learning Unit.
Part 2: Designer-Led Solutions
Demographic shifts in the coming decades will demand change in the architecture profession if it is to stay relevant. Nonwhite and Hispanic populations are expected to become the majority by 2045. As mentioned in Part 1 of this series on diversifying the design profession, minorities have long been underrepresented in architecture and are more likely to be subject to barriers related to socio-economic, cultural, and historical factors than their white peers. However, many organizations are supporting current and aspiring architects of color in the hopes of turning the tide.
Charter High School for Architecture and Design
Originally conceived as a legacy project by AIA Philadelphia, the Charter High School for Architecture and Design (CHAD) is attended by 610 students in grades 9-12, admitted by lottery. Its robust design education has become the main draw for enrollment in recent years, but that wasn’t always the case: Simply the opportunity to learn in a clean and safe environment had been reason enough for parents to choose the school, says CHAD chief of innovation and design faculty chair Andrew Phillips. Most students come from families receiving some form of welfare, while others are homeless or live in a group home. “But they’re all—almost to a fault—wonderful human beings struggling through circumstances that [even] adults shouldn’t have to struggle through,” he says.
CHAD students study core subjects as well as receive intensive instruction in one of eight majors, which include architecture, graphic design, and industrial/product design. By the time the students graduate—at an impressive rate of 93 percent—they are “easily doing second-year college-level work,” says Phillips, who previously taught architecture at the University of Pennsylvania for 15 years.
About 80 percent of CHAD graduates are accepted into college. Phillips does not know exactly how many go on to pursue a career in architecture but he says there’s always “a handful” who apply to architecture programs. Many return during their college breaks to report that CHAD’s coursework had given them an edge in their courses. “The cool thing about that is for eight or more years [of primary school before CHAD], they’ve been hearing what they’re not good at,” such as reading, writing, or math, Phillips says. “Too often, that’s the identity they adopt.”
Last year, CHAD itself hit a stumbling block when its charter was recommended for non-renewal by Philadelphia’s now-defunct School Reform Commission. The school is in the process of addressing the issues that led to the recommendation, which include standardized test scores, financial management, and administration, and hopes to overturn the recommendation by spring 2020.
ACE Mentor Program of America
Many firms partner with local affiliates of the ACE Mentor Program of America, which introduces high school students nationwide—and often in underserved areas—to AEC professions. Each affiliate typically offers two-hour sessions biweekly, throughout the school year during which practitioner-volunteers guide student teams through mock projects. Students also attend industry talks and visit construction sites. At the end of the program, they present their own work and can apply for scholarships if they intend to pursue a related degree or vocational program.
Even if ACE participants decide not to pursue a related field, they will have benefited from the experience, says Christina Marconi, AIA, a project director based in the West Chester, Pa., office of Bernardon and a former ACE mentor and team leader: “ACE can still offer a skill set they can find useful in their future: thinking critically, responding creatively and speaking confidently about your ideas and abilities. Those skills will translate to any career.”
National Organization of Minority Architects
Founded in 1971 by 12 African American architects, the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) aims to promote and support architects of color. Currently 900 members strong, the association comprises 27 local professional chapters and 40 student chapters, all of which operate independently to host a variety of events and programs.
Although the majority of NOMA members are African Americans, the organization has been working to expand its tent. “We want members of every color,” says NOMA president Kimberly Dowdell, AIA, who is also a partner at Detroit-based real estate firm Century Partners. To date, the organization’s efforts have been most successful at the student level thanks to the annual Barbara G. Laurie NOMA Student Design Competition, which invites student members to present and showcase their work at the annual NOMA conference.
The organization also runs Project Pipeline, a summer camp for middle- and high-school students to explore social inequities in neighborhoods of color that result from residents being excluded from the design process. Twenty NOMA chapters across the country currently operate Project Pipeline programs in one of three ways: by participating in or organizing a career day, for which NOMA equips volunteers with discussion guides and templates for activities; a two-day camp that encourages students to think about social justice in their own neighborhoods through the lens of architecture and design; and a four- to five-day camp, during which attendees design a solution for social equity in the form of a building and a city.
For the New Orleans program, “We wanted to start something that spoke to the conditions of [the city] and to teach students about their place,” says Bryan Lee Jr., NOMA’s national Project Pipeline chair and founder of and director of design at Colloqate, a New Orleans-based nonprofit multidisciplinary design practice. The focus resonates with the young participants who want to effect change in their communities and “now can see it happening as a component of being an architect.”
Sites in Chicago and New Orleans also run yearlong workshops; the latter city has held a couple of events for college students. The programs, Lee says, are part of a larger structure—a full pipeline that will help guide individuals through college, design internships, and their professional careers.
Not everyone recognizes that the history of race is intertwined with the history of urban planning and architecture, resulting in environments that have “oppressed people of color for hundreds of years,” Lee says. “If we understand that history, then we can teach the students without judgment on anyone’s part to move forward.”
Designing in Color
Designing in Color (DCo) provides a social, online, and workshop platform for architects, designers, artists, and students to share and discuss their explorations of race, class, and social justice. Christopher Locke, a Los Angeles–based associate at ZGF, along with four other emerging professionals started the forum out of a shared frustration with the lack of diversity in the faculty and educational offerings at their respective architecture schools. Three of the original founders, including Locke, continue to manage the platform remotely.
DCo encourages design professionals to understand and address social issues through their work. For example, Locke says, “We should try to understand what it means to do housing in a black community or in Skid Row.” Inspired by digital architecture publications Super Architects and SuckerPunch, DCo’s online component welcomes built and unbuilt projects and functions as a digital magazine and resource.
Since launching in 2016, the organization has held workshops at the annual NOMA conference, where attendees discussed topics ranging from the asylum space of urban areas to Afrofuturism and equity politics. More recently, the organization along with Locke’s colleague Jonathan Sharp, an associate and architectural designer at ZGF, co-founded Small Talks:LA, a coalition that promotes community engagement and “challenges how designers organize with [people] to make changes.”
Latinos in Architecture
Started in 2010 by former Perkins and Will colleagues Yesenia Blandon and Jimmy Castellanos, AIA, as an AIA Dallas committee, Latinos in Architecture (LiA) has since expanded to other Texas cities—Austin, San Antonio, and Fort Worth—as well as to San Francisco, with a total of 200 active members. An honoree of the 2012 AIA Diversity Recognition Program, the group holds lectures, exhibitions, and other opportunities for Latinx/Hispanic architects and other minorities to network, collaborate, and showcase their work.
LiA also “serves as a liaison between the local community and the architectural profession,” says Iara Bachmann, AIA, founding chair of the LiA San Francisco chapter. “We inspire and provide role models specifically to students in high schools and colleges.” Members share work experiences, encourage students to pursue higher education—and perhaps an architecture degree—and collect art and architecture books for donation to schools and colleges, particularly those with underserved populations. LiA has also partnered with the Chicano Architecture Student Association, the Center for Architecture and Design San Francisco, and AIA San Francisco (AIASF) to establish a scholarship fund for students in the University of California, Berkeley environmental design program.
AIA San Francisco Equity by Design
The AIA San Francisco committee Equity by Design (AIASF EQxD) explores equitable practice through events and activities that include quarterly workshops, biennial symposiums, a comprehensive biennial survey of design professionals, Twitter chats, and a blog with topics that include disrupting bias, articulating values, charting career paths, and designing workplace culture.
Read ARCHITECT’s coverage of the 2018 AIASF EQxD Equity in Architecture Survey.
“While advancements have occurred in feminist discourse, we see that issues of inequity are slow to move and complicated by oversimplification of the issues,” says Rosa Sheng, FAIA, EQxD founding chair and a principal and director of equity, diversity, and inclusion at SmithGroup. “Our understanding must be broadened beyond the binary and limiting vocabulary.”
The organization also raises awareness on the intersectionality of issues that affect those who are historically marginalized. “This broader engagement of design discussion with our communities will help make equity, diversity, and inclusion a part of the DNA of how architects practice in the future to create new value,” Sheng says.
Hip Hop Architecture Camp
Launched in 2017, the Hip Hop Architecture Camp uses hip-hop as a catalyst to introduce middle-school students to architecture and the examination of their own neighborhoods. “[M]ost musicians are inspired by the communities they live in,” says the Madison, Wis.–based camp founder Michael Ford, also the owner and design director of BrandNu Design. Hip-hop lyrics, he says, offer an “unsolicited, unfiltered, uncensored critique of the urban environment. The trick is who is able to hear it.”
The free weeklong camp encourages participants to listen to music for clues on how to improve their communities and for ways to translate elements of hip-hop culture into physical structures. Students explore design ideas by building models and using Autodesk Tinkercad (Autodesk is a national sponsor of the camp). Campers conclude the week by creating their own rap, complete with a music video, about their observations of their neighborhoods and their design solutions.
See ARCHITECT’s coverage of a Hip Hop Architecture Camp experience.
The program has operated 34 summer camps in cities across the country as well as in Canada and Kenya. Volunteers help run the program, while local architects and hip-hop artists are invited to speak and provide inspiration. Ford hopes to hold the camp as an annual event in select cities, which will require long-term partnerships with local institutions, such as schools and libraries.
Launched in 2017 when the 400th living African American woman achieved licensure, 400 Forward aims to boost the next generation of African American women architects—who currently make up only 0.2 percent of all licensed architects—through exposure to architecture, mentorship, and financial assistance, says founder Tiffany Brown, Assoc. AIA, who is also a project manager for SmithGroup’s Detroit headquarters.
Participants learn about design through activities such as workshops, exhibitions, festivals, and firm and campus visits. The students also offer design input at local events and have built models in a shop. Activities and meetings occur about twice a month, which Brown hopes will inspire girls and young women to pursue the profession as a way to effect meaningful change in their communities.
On International Girls’ Day, Oct. 11, Brown plans to host an awards brunch and present scholarships to college students and emerging professionals sitting for their licensing exams. “My main goal for starting 400 Forward was to assist and provide support financially,” says Brown, who received a $50,000 matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for the program. “The camps, workshops, and activities are just a bonus.”
Brown envisions 400 Forward establishing a network of women to bolster college students across the country. She already counsels a handful of mentees enrolled in architecture programs who have reached out to her because they wanted “to connect to someone who looks like them,” she says.
Drafting Dreams founder Christian Hughes hopes to inspire the next generation of architects to help reverse blight in urban communities. His Pittsburgh-based for-profit business contracts with the public school district, charter schools, and nonprofits to teach architecture to K-12 students. Fifteen percent of the company’s income partially funds a nonprofit, also founded by Hughes, with the same name and mission.
Coming from a family of educators, Hughes developed the program’s curricula around five “Rs” that each targets a learning style suited to different grade levels. “Recognizing” teaches kindergarteners what architecture is. “Relatability” invites first through third graders to explore architectural elements, such as windows, ceilings, and doors, in the context of their location, size, and shape. “Refinement” introduces fourth and fifth graders to the architect’s scale and the production of accurate drawings. “Responsibility” encourages sixth through eighth graders to propose community-inclusive design ideas for their own neighborhoods and to learn drafting software. “Readiness” teaches high-school students the academic and professional requirements for becoming an architect.
Currently, Drafting Dreams operates six for-profit sessions and two nonprofit sessions, both of which meet two to three times a week in the afternoon or evening for eight to 12 weeks; a couple sessions run year-round. For classes held during school hours, Hughes often partners with art, computer, or science teachers.
The organization holds an annual luncheon to raise funds for four scholarships for high school and college students interested in or studying architecture. Hughes, who is in the process of obtaining licensure, also hopes to open a Drafting Dreams design firm to give students firsthand experience.
Upon reading this series, head over to Hanley Wood University for the potential to earn 1 AIA Learning Unit.