The breakdown you need to know:
For architecture to resonate with diverse communities, the architects behind these structures must themselves represent a broad range of backgrounds and experiences. Asians make up 6.6% of all NCARB certification holders; Hispanic or Latino architects, only 4.9%; Female architects now make up nearly a quarter of the number of degree holders, an increase of 2.6% compared to 2018. In context, the company also notes that approximately 83% of NCARB record holders identify as white, a 2% decrease since 2018. Numbers have remained Black and African Americans have been relatively unchanged in the past five years.
Some critics attribute the disparity among black Americans to a pipeline problem. At the same time, NCARB and the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) found that Black or African Americans who began the licensing process were also more likely to encounter economic barriers, negative educational experiences, and lack of professional support, along with Black women. They are more likely to want to leave the field based on their experience working for a company.
Designing for a multifaceted world:
From community design to offering early education, one early-career designer believes that connecting authentically with black communities can help the cause of architectural diversity.
“I think architects need to create spaces where people can see themselves and feel represented, whether by adapting imagery or architectural representations of cross-cultural elements and models,” Ronald Osiogu, a designer at architecture firm Woods Bagot, tells CultureBanx.
Notably, black architects are leading the charge in addressing the issue of diversity in architecture, forming groups and initiatives to expand education, industrial awareness, and reframe the inclusivity of a multicultural society.
However, Osiogu believes that the responsibility should lie with companies to advocate for equality and representation in the architecture culture and design process.
“The possibility of being an architect or having a language of architecture wasn’t widely available and popularized among black people, so it feels like a space we don’t belong in, but we do belong,” he says, adding that it’s up to the companies. To do the groundwork for inviting and including voices of color and respecting their contributions so that they can be disseminated throughout the profession and in academia.”
Building a diverse architectural roadmap:
Research across industries and disciplines shows that professional diversity and inclusion enhance the bottom line. Consulting firm McKinsey points to potential revenue of $2 billion if financial inclusion efforts expand services for black Americans. However, diversity marketing as a smart business choice seems reductive when the cost of exclusion is collectively harmful.
In architecture, diversity and inclusion can encourage innovation in addressing pressing social issues such as climate change in the built environment.
“At Woods Bagot, we believe in people engineering or the belief that design values and end-user values are the same,” Osiogo says. “Architects must design public spaces that are flexible, adaptable, and sustainable, and have the flexibility to become centers for advocacy and the arts, encouraging multicultural community gatherings and experiences that bridge cultural gaps and promote socialization.”
Architecture deserves a place in popular culture, as the built environment is everyone’s business. Spending the most time in the media and the popular cultural zeitgeist, Black Americans have made significant contributions to the social fabric of American culture, elevating American popular culture from music to fashion to sports and more, while their influences extend globally. More importantly, blacks have been deeply influenced by architecture, so there must be an expanded black perspective in the architectural lexicon.
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