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Diversity in Architecture: When Flooding the Pipeline Is the Right Answer

by thelawrencegp

If someone said, “we’re going to flood the pipeline,” plumbing professionals would be shocked. However, when it comes to building an inclusive architectural profession, flooding the pipeline with a diverse student body is exactly what needs to happen –  contrary to professional plumbing recommendations.

Today, more than ever, there is a need to increase diversity in the profession of architecture. A diverse group of architects ensures our designs and the built environment are inclusive and embrace different perspectives and experiences. Unfortunately, the profession of architecture struggles with this. There is a common response that there is not enough diversity in the candidate pool when hiring for architectural positions. And oftentimes, this is true. One of the largest challenges prohibiting diversity in architecture is the money it takes to invest in higher education. Architecture schools typically require individual laptops for students and supplies for model building, drafting and various artistic mediums. That’s in addition to the required tuition, books and fees each semester of a six-year program. The demanding classes can also prevent students from taking a job while on campus to help pay for these expenses.

The AIA St. Louis aims to change that by establishing a Diversity Scholarship. According to their mission, “the future of our profession is dependent on our profession’s diversity. We must reflect the communities we serve and to that end, the AIA St. Louis Scholarship Fund is announcing the AIA St. Louis Diversity Scholarship Fund that will help to fund a minority student in his or her first year of architecture school, establishing a new fund criteria.  Industry data shows that minorities are still underrepresented in the architecture profession and this scholarship will give more students a chance to pursue a successful career in architecture.”

In addition to local AIA efforts, AIA National also has their own programs targeted at increasing diversity in architectural students. The Architects Foundation is the AIA’s philanthropic partner and offers scholarships, fellowships, grants and prizes through eight different programs. Additionally, the Diversity Advancement Scholarship is awarded to a student enrolled in an NAAB-accredited architecture program and provides up to $20,000 over five years.

The National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) is another great organization aiming to increase diversity in the profession. They founded their own foundation in 1976 and created a NOMA Foundation Fellowship program that extends its reach to students as well as firms. The program pairs students with firms for a 12-week paid internship. During the internship, students complete a research project with deliverables that are presented at the end of the 12-week program. It also allows the firms to expand their expectation of what an architect looks like when they have many diverse candidates completing the program in their office.

The Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) has recently been more active in putting out resources for architecture schools and potential students. Their 2018 report, “Moving Towards an Equitable Future,” highlighted data taken from current students to understand the makeup of the student body and their individual paths to architecture school. From there, the common theme that emerged was how schools can provide outreach to potential students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Suggestions included bringing students to the schools for immersive programs or having current students and faculty lead community outreach programs.

As licensed architects and AIA members, we have a duty to maintain the integrity of our profession. That includes ensuring equity for anyone pursuing this profession. By doing so, we will begin to reflect our communities and be better equipped to serve them.