By Maria Rojas
New to the industry of Architecture, I was curious to learn about experiences within the industry for people of color and minority groups. Being interested in and passionate about social justice, I felt it was important to share these experiences with my peers regardless of the status quo.
Finding the data on minority groups in the industry wasn’t hard to find, but understanding the underlying issues is the best way to interpret the numbers, and to do this you have to learn about history. Ask yourself, why are the number of minority groups that are NCARB record holders (type of Architecture License) so few? What issues are keeping minority groups out of Architecture? While it is encouraging to see numbers grow from year to year, it is interesting to know why that growth is important. To answer these questions, I investigated the history of Architecture and to do that I went back to the root of it all: Land.
You can’t build something without property and to many, property is seen as a type of power. Sadly, the common trend in American history is the disenfranchising of minority groups when it comes to property. Native American land was stolen from them and after the abolishment of slavery many were given land only to have it taken away later on. The hierarchy’s excuse to take land from minorities: Eminent Domain. Used as justification to take “condemned” property away from minority communities. Who is the one to define “condemned”? Whether for government control or private corporations, there has always been a land grab and power grab from POC. Ironically, when the government is seen as a champion of the poor with programs like food stamps, and affordable housing, it is those very communities that get disenfranchised through government land grabs. For example, when local mom and pop shops are demolished to make room for a shiny, new, social services building. The immediate and long term financial benefits of the transformed property doesn’t go back to the original owners. Similar to commodity trading like coffee, pink salt, and other imported products, the farmer doesn’t get fully reimbursed for the money earned. This history of land grabbing from minority cultures has developed a distrust of developers and subsequently, architects.
Understanding that history, you can understand why the number of POC as architects has started so low. Additional issues also contribute to the slow growth.
By looking at the current state, new questions like salary, care giving, and equality play into the decisions for choosing a career in Architecture. For many minority groups, other factors in their home life play a big role in the decisions of their future… Factors other groups do not face. It is also worth taking a look at the possibility of growth within the industry. Promotions and senior positions within the industry have traditionally gone to the status quo. Thus, making it hard for POC within the industry to progress. Why should one pursue this career if they can’t move up? These numbers and the history around Architecture, explain why there are not very many minority groups in Architecture, thus leading to a lack of representation in the industry.
Eminent Domain and Race, (2015) Alison Smith, The Federalist Society, https://fedsoc.org/commentary/blog-posts/eminent-domain-and-race
Paying Dues: Equity in Architecture Survey 2016,(2017) Annelise Pitts, Equilty by Design, http://eqxdesign.com/blog/2017/7/2/eqxd-metrics-from-equal-pay-for-equal-work-to-pay-equity
NCARB by the Numbers, (2015) Michael Armstrong, NCARB, https://www.ncarb.org/sites/default/files/2015NCARBbytheNumbers.pdf
Why Diversity in Architecture Matters for communities and Bottom Line, (2017) Taz Khatri, Redshift by Autodesk, https://www.autodesk.com/redshift/diversity-in-architecture/