Black History Month: Tackling Racism through Architecture

Architecture has the power to shape our communities and the world around us.  The built environment profoundly impacts our daily lives, from the buildings we live and work in to the public spaces we gather in.  In a world that is still grappling with systemic racism and inequality, it is more important than ever to use the power of architecture to fight against these injustices.  In this blog post, we will explore how architects and designers use their skills and platforms to create a more equitable and inclusive built environment and how we can all work together to use architecture as a tool for social justice.  Whether it’s through designing spaces that promote diversity and inclusivity or advocating for policies that support communities of color, there are many ways that architects and designers can help to fight against racism and build a better future.  Join us as we examine the role of architecture in the ongoing struggle for social justice, and discover ways that you can use your skills and passions to make a positive impact.

It is important to remember and honor the black architects who helped shape the world we live in today.  Black architects have made essential contributions to the built environment in America since the earliest days of the nation’s history.  Despite facing significant barriers and discrimination, black architects have used their skills and creativity to help shape the country, designing buildings and spaces that reflect the values and aspirations of their communities.  From Vertner Tandy, the first licensed black architect in New York state, to Robert R. Taylor, who designed Tuskegee Institute’s campus, black architects have played a significant role in shaping the built environment of America.  Their work has helped create more inclusive and equitable spaces for people of color, and their legacy continues to inspire future generations of architects and designers.  Overcoming all the challenges they did, these historic black architects helped lay the foundation for the continued growth and development of the architecture profession, and their contributions continue to have a lasting impact on the built environment in America.

Not only did black architects help mold our country in the past, but they are still shaping our future today.  The Architizer Journal features a piece on the 12 Black Architects Making History Today.  These architects are using their designs to challenge traditional norms, promote diversity, inclusivity, and make a positive difference in their communities.  The article features a diverse range of architects, including emerging talents and established professionals, working on various projects, from residential and commercial buildings to public spaces and community-based initiatives.  By showcasing the work and achievements of these architects, the article aims to inspire future generations of architects and highlight the importance of diversity and representation in the field of architecture, which, sadly, has been scarce in the industry. But hopefully, by highlighting these black professionals, we can amplify their stories and encourage others to do the same until equality and equity are achieved.  Similarly, by having more black representation in the industry, there is more awareness brought around how architecture directly affect black communities, and thus architects alike can do what they can to positively impact those communities.

But we must ask why there is a scarcity of black representation in the architecture world.  Kendall A. Nicholson writes a beautiful piece on how breaking into the industry as a person of color is difficult and why that is.  Black men make up just under 2% of licensed architects, while the statistic for black women is 1 out of every 5 black architects.  This begs an even bigger question, why are black students less likely to choose architecture than any other service profession?  We have started out by asking a lot of questions, and will hopefully be able to shed some light on why being a black architect in America today is a triumph.  Another sad data point is that while there are 360 different honors awards for architects since 1907, less than 1% have been awarded to black people.  Less than 1%!  It is no wonder why young black students do not want to pursue a career in architecture, it has no long-term reward, no recognition, and no support.  In a sense we set these young people up to fail by not providing what is needed for them to succeed in the industry.  It is also made clear that architect firms around the nation cannot just do their necessary “diversity hire” to inflict a change, specifically on the architecture industry as a whole.  It starts through learning, educating staff on the racial inequities that exists, and how to fight them.  From there, amplifying the voices of current black architects are what their stories are, what it was like for them breaking into this industry.  And finally support.  Supporting black students through scholarships, getting into schools and speaking about the need for black architects and how we can support them so that one day their work makes a true difference, and is rewarded for that.  But first we must start where we are, recognizing the bias either conscious or unconscious, speaking up where we can, and supporting those who need it the most.

Being a black American architect in 2023 can be both challenging and rewarding. On one hand, there is still a significant amount of systemic racism and discrimination in the industry, which can make it difficult for black architects to advance in their careers and secure high-profile projects. On the other hand, there has been a growing recognition of the need for greater diversity and representation in architecture, and black architects are increasingly being sought out for their unique perspectives and contributions to the field.  Despite the challenges, black architects are making significant strides and leaving their mark on the built environment, using their designs to help create more inclusive and equitable spaces for communities of color. With hard work, perseverance, and a passion for their craft, black American architects are helping to shape the future of architecture in meaningful and lasting ways.

So how do we fight this?  How do we encourage and support black and other people of color succeed in this industry?  Architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms have a unique opportunity to help fight against racism and promote diversity and inclusiveness in the built environment. There are several steps that AEC firms can take to help advance this cause, including:

  1. Hiring and promoting a diverse workforce – AEC firms can work to create a more diverse and inclusive work environment by hiring and promoting employees from underrepresented groups, such as people of color and women.
  2. Encouraging diversity in design – By promoting diversity in the design process, AEC firms can help to create spaces that reflect and celebrate the rich cultural heritage of communities of color.
  3. Engaging with communities of color – AEC firms can work to build stronger relationships with communities of color by listening to their needs and concerns and engaging in open and respectful dialogue.
  4. Supporting policies that promote diversity and inclusion – AEC firms can advocate for policies and initiatives that help to create a more equitable and inclusive built environment.

By taking these and other steps, AEC firms can play a vital role in the fight against racism and work towards creating a better, more just world.

**Source: Architecture Has A Diversity Issue (