“One need only take a casual look at this audience to see that we have a long way to go in this field of integration of the architects.”
That’s how civil rights activist Whitney M. Young, Jr., then the executive director of the National Urban League, opened his impassioned remarks to a convention of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1968. Young’s speech has become a touchstone in a profession that, nearly 50 years later, still struggles to increase the racial diversity in its ranks.
Progress is slow: It wasn’t until 1996 that the AIA—which celebrates its 160th birthday this year—appointed its first president of color, Raj Barr Kumar. (Its first woman president, Susan Maxman, served from 1992-93.) And the organization’s first African-American president, Marshall Purnell, began a yearlong term in 2007.
Beyond the AIA, change has come only incrementally to the profession: As in other industries, people of color remain underrepresented in architecture.
Though African Americans made up 13 percent of the total U.S. population at the last census, only 2 percent of licensed architects in the U.S. are African-American, according to the National Association of Minority Architects (NOMA). In 2007, African-American women made up a scant two-tenths of a percent of licensed architects in the U.S., for a total of just 196 practitioners. (The University of Cincinnati’s database of African-American architects reports an increase in that number, to 385, of a total 107,581 licensed practitioners in the U.S.)
So what’s to be done? To better understand the dynamics at play—and suss out some solutions—we set out to speak with professionals, academics, and architects-in-training about their work.
From young designers who run their own businesses, to established players with high-profile projects under their belts, we heard about the race-related challenges people of color have faced over the course of their time in school and at work. They told us about the architects of color, renowned and unheralded alike, that served as sources of inspiration, and how they forged paths for themselves where there were no pioneers.
They also offered advice to students of color in architecture wending their own way from hushed libraries and leafy quads to boardrooms and office towers.
Finally, and perhaps most crucially, each offered advice about how the profession can break down barriers to entry for people of all backgrounds—and explained why this matters.
What we found is that race is inextricably tied to socioeconomic issues and gender representation. And that the seemingly innocuous—from the figures that populate computer-generated architecture renderings to the cost of balsam wood for project models—have contributed to the gulf between the architecture profession and the people it serves. —Asad Syrkett
Architects of color—from the upstart to the experienced—on race-related challenges they have faced throughout their careers and their advice for how the profession can break down barriers to entry for people of all backgrounds.
College deans across the U.S. are tackling architecture’s pipeline problem, working to foster a new generation of students who are racially and ethnically diverse.
Depicting more people of color in renderings is a simple way to promote diversity and inclusion. So why isn’t it more common?
From Julian Abele and Norma Sklarek to Takeo Shiota, here are 11 inspiring stories that history often overlooks.
A compilation of mentor programs, volunteer opportunities, scholarships, and professional groups for architecture students and practicing architects of color.
An interview with Pascale Sablan, an associate at FXFOWLE and the curator of “Say It Loud: Distinguished Black Designers of NYCOBA | NOMA” at New York City’s Center for Architecture.
7 architects of color you need to know
See some of stunning buildings and structures designed by Julian Abele, Maya Lin, David Adjaye, Billie Tsien, and more.
Writers: Melinda Anderson, Emily Nonko, Patrick Sisson, Asad Syrkett, Tanay Warerkar
Photographers: Scott McIntyre, Kevin Miyazaki, Andre Wagner
Illustrator: Sunra Thompson
Editors: Jessica Dailey, Kelsey Keith, Sara Polsky, Asad Syrkett
Photo editor: Audrey Levine
Copy editor: Emma Alpern