Just 478 out of approximately 116,000 licensed architects in the US in 2019 identified as black women. And there were only 1,847 licensed African-American male architects. Altogether, black-identifying women and men make up 2% of architects in the US.
If that does not sound distressing to you, here are some numbers to put things into perspective: African-Americans represent about 13% of the US population. At the very least, the profession should look like the world we live in.
As Architect magazine puts it,
“The underrepresentation of many ethnic groups translates not only to inequities within the profession, but also to missed opportunities in business.”
The problem needs to be attacked at every level from creating a high school pipeline to the profession, to rethinking the cost of college (architecture is more expensive than many majors because students have to pay for equipment and materials for their work), transforming firm culture so that hiring and retention are not obstacles, and making sure that firms are intentional in their choice of clients, projects, and communities.
Every architecture firm has a part to play in this process. David Sisson Architecture has worked with high school students from underrepresented backgrounds through the Rhode Island College Upward Bound program, and The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center to provide internships. We were excited to work with two high school students from Central Falls, RI, Eliane and Karen, in summer 2019. They shadowed our architects on site visits, meetings with clients and city officials, research trips to libraries and local archives, and sat next to us as we developed designs on Revit. As part of this program, we have nurtured relationships with black-identifying consultants such as architectural historian, Ito Osayimwese, who have spoken with our interns about their experiences attending architecture school and working in the profession.
National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), https://www.noma.net/
Alice Liao, “Increasing Diversity in Architecture: Barriers to Entry,” Architect, May 13, 2019
National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, “Demographics, 2017”