Posts tagged with "NOMA":

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NOMA Conference 2019 prepared architects to engage with a more diverse future

It was the first time Malaz Elgemiabby had attended the annual conference of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). But it turned out to be like going back to her childhood in Sudan, being surrounded by architects, designers, and builders who looked like her, and who cared as deeply as she does about community participation in design. “In Sudan, architects are women,” Elgemiabby told AN. “So I used to build buildings when I was a kid. As women [in Sudan] your responsibility is to build the houses, to design, to assess the needs of the community.” Elgemiabby went to architecture school at London Metropolitan University, seeking out its program for its emphasis on community participation in design. She first went to work in the Middle East, where she also earned a master's degree in interdisciplinary design from the Qatar campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. She moved to Cleveland three years ago to work as an architect. After doing some projects that she’s quite proud of in the city, Elgemiabby launched her own firm, ELMALAZ, earlier this year in Cleveland. But it’s also been a bit lonely at times, being an architect on a mission to bring communities into the design process. “[In Cleveland] I’m one of the few who are advocating for this type of approach to architecture,” Elgemiabby said. “I come [to this year’s NOMA conference] and I find not only a lot of black and brown architects, but I also find people who are excited about the same mission. This was really great. It’s always nice to grow your tribe.” Growing that tribe, of course, has been NOMA’s goal all along, ever since twelve African American architects founded the organization during the 1971 AIA National Convention in Detroit. This year’s annual conference, in Brooklyn, attracted a record attendance of over a thousand participants for five days of programming, including service outings, seminars, keynote lectures, student design contests, and the usual networking and socializing. Overall, NOMA membership has grown 30 percent in 2019, under the leadership of NOMA president and HOK principal Kimberly Dowdell. The organization now has more than 1,400 members, organized under 30 professional chapters and 75 student chapters across the country. Under Dowdell, this year NOMA established a new tiered corporate membership program for large and small firms that wish to support the organization—and also gain access to discounted consulting from NOMA’s curated pool of experts in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Dubbed the “President’s Circle,” founding members include AIA, NCARB, Enterprise Community Partners, Cuningham Group, Shepley Bulfinch, Gensler, HOK, and Perkins & Will. But growth and progress for NOMA still come in the context of the Sisyphean task of making architecture more representative of the communities it serves. Out of 115,000 or so architects licensed in the U.S., only an estimated 2,299 are black. That context was made even more somber this year with the loss of one of NOMA’s giants, Phil Freelon, who passed away in July. NOMA renamed its annual professional design awards in his honor. Zena Howard worked with Phil Freelon for well over a decade. So it was fitting that this year’s NOMA conference programming included her delivery of the J. Max Bond Lecture, organized annually by the New York Chapter of NOMA and the AIANY Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Howard’s talk focused on the notion of “Remembrance Design,” which emerged over the past few years through her work with Freelon and others. Now principal and managing director of the North Carolina office at Perkins+Will, Howard used some of her firm's recent projects to illustrate remembrance design in action. The examples varied in scale and scope from the 1.1-acre Sycamore Hill Gateway Plaza in Greenville, North Carolina, to a 30-acre design process covering Miami’s Overtown neighborhood, to a 1.3-mile “linear museum” along the Crenshaw Boulevard transit corridor in Los Angeles. All were historically black neighborhoods, typically scarred by racially-discriminatory redlining and later the era of urban renewal and the construction of the interstate highway system. In short, remembrance design is a way of using architectural discovery as a healing process to unearth, unpack and honor painful histories in neighborhoods that have traditionally been disinvested and neglected—or worse yet, bulldozed and paved over—by the worlds of architecture, urban planning, and real estate. “It’s about engaging people who have historically not been engaged,” Howard said. “First engaging with these communities, there’s a lot of hurt. I once thought to myself you have to go get a psychology degree or something. It’s difficult sometimes to hear. But over time, you realize that the pain a lot of people have, they have to release that, you sort of have to provide an outlet for it. A lot of it at first is just listening.” Howard spoke about how that deep listening process turns architecture into more than just a design process; it elevates architecture into a healing process. It can even make the architect’s job a little easier in the end. Once you move past the pain, Howard said, some participants from the community will actually feel inspired enough to start sketching themselves. “Even if you can’t get people really to talk about something, they can sketch something, they can draw,” Howard said. “It becomes therapeutic in a lot of ways. Once you get passed that threshold you really start moving fast towards design solutions that they’re a part of.” That depth of community engagement resonated with many NOMA members, from Elgemiabby to NOMA National Board Member and SOM senior urban designer Tiara Hughes, whose childhood neighborhood in St. Louis is now a baseball field. “I understand what [Howard] was referring to that there’s trauma and feelings and emotions that we have to deal with collectively as a group,” Hughes told AN. And it certainly resonated with Dowdell, who was partly inspired to become an architect by growing up among vacant homes and boarded-up commercial corridors in Detroit. “The kind of engagement that Zena [Howard] and her team has done or is doing, I think that’s probably standard practice for a lot of architects here [at the conference],” Dowdell said. Dowdell is hopeful that more and more of those kinds of projects will come up as the U.S. and especially its cities become more and more diverse. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts people of color will become a majority in the U.S. by 2043. Dowdell views NOMA’s work as preparing architecture for that future. “We all have to be more conscious of the fact that more and more clients will be people of color, more and more government officials—people with more power,” she said. Of course, in bringing good design to more diverse places that have historically been neglected or harmed by earlier periods of development, the conversation naturally turns to how good design can risk putting new pressure on market conditions, pushing up property taxes or rents and pushing out the very residents who participate in these design processes. Howard brought up the example of Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver, British Columbia, as one where the residents and elected officials are looking to a community land trust as a policy intervention to protect those residents the project had in mind as end-users. “The thing [Howard] also mentioned, rightly so, was the thing that design can’t solve: the political and economic conditions that need to be grappled with to effectively prevent gentrification and the negative effects of gentrification,” Dowdell said. “I think reinvestment is fine, but I think when it starts to displace people who have had a stake in that community for years, decades, generations, that’s going to be problematic.”
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NOMA President Kim Dowdell on the politics of Detroit and the architecture profession

Detroit is an entrepreneurial city. In its heyday, it was full of forward-thinkers who were breaking boundaries by building big business dedicated to innovation and manufacturing. That same spirit still exists in the Motor City today, though some have written off the gritty, Michigan enclave as a place of the past. Many dedicated Detroit natives are working hard to rebuild its legacy as a capital of American economic and cultural development. Kimberly Dowdell, in particular, is using her experience as an architect and a real estate developer, as well as her innate entrepreneurial drive, to change the face of urban housing in Detroit. Along with her team at Century Partners, an emerging firm in the city, she’s tackling long-standing social injustices through the lens of home ownership. She’s doing the same in her new role as president of the National Organization for Minority Architects (NOMA) by advancing representation in the architecture industry and fighting for professional equity. AN spoke with Dowdell about her unique career path, what drives her to rebuild Detroit, and why addressing architecture’s internal issues can help build stronger cities. The Architect's Newspaper: You spent time on the East Coast working as an architect and developer, and then studied public administration as a graduate student at Harvard University. What drew you back to Detroit? Kimberly Dowdell: I grew up in Detroit in the early '90s when the city was in pretty bad shape. The buildings were ghosts of their former selves, which fascinated me, but economically, Detroit was devastated. Instead of moving back after graduating from Cornell with my bachelor’s in architecture, I decided to sample cities on the East Coast (Washington, D.C., and New York), rounding it all off in Cambridge for the Harvard program. Many people ask me why I studied government since I came from a design background, but I firmly believe buildings are intrinsically part of the public realm, so it’s our responsibility to learn everything we can about how policies can work to better the built environment. In 2015, I was recruited by the City of Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department, where I worked closely with the Planning and Development Department, collaborating with a long-time mentor, Maurice Cox, Detroit’s Planning Director. That unique opportunity to contribute to Detroit’s resurgence ended my 14-year East Coast tour. AN: Since you’ve been in Detroit, you’ve transitioned into a more entrepreneurial role as a professional and within your current firm, Century Partners. How does your background in public service and design serve you in thinking about housing in Detroit? When I was younger, I didn’t like that Detroit looked bad, so I decided I was going to become an architect. I didn’t really see many people trying to solve the city’s big problems growing up, so I aimed to do it myself. A lot of what I’ve chosen to do in my career has been in response to things that I think are not ideal. As a kid, I actually wanted to be a doctor, which is funny now because I consider myself kind of like a doctor at the macro level. I get to help heal neighborhoods. Architects have to be knowledgeable of all the issues at hand in order to get a project done successfully. To be a developer, you also have to understand the bigger politics at play. With Century Partners, I’m able to use my design eye as I try to maintain the historic fabric of Detroit as much as possible through our projects. AN: What’s the biggest thing you’re working on at Century Partners? Detroit is well-known for its expanse of single-family homes. We’re currently looking at building out neighborhoods that are positioned to contribute to the multi-family housing fabric of the city. We’re currently fundraising to purchase commercial and multi-family buildings in Detroit’s core that will spur economic development, increase density, and create a 24/7 neighborhood. The other major project that we're working on right now is called the Fitz Forward Neighborhood Revitalization project, a city-backed, public-private partnership that will eventually revitalize over 300 parcels of land, including existing homes, open lots, and parkland, across the Fitzgerald neighborhood in central Detroit. AN: You spend a lot of time thinking about Detroit’s future and how to solve these big-picture problems. How is this mindset helpful as you start your new position leading NOMA? I’m three months into my presidency and the biggest thing I want to be really mindful of is fundraising for the organization. As a woman, I think there’s a general consensus that we don’t directly ask for money—as if fundraising is a taboo thing to do. But as president, I want to commit to doing that, which coincidently ties into my fundraising efforts with Century Partners for the commercial property and multi-family housing fund I mentioned. Money is always part of the bigger picture in architecture, but it’s a new challenge for me to think about it so directly.   AN: How could more money for your organization have an impact on architecture? I was recently possessed to say out loud in a podcast interview that if someone gave NOMA a million dollars, it could change the face of the profession. We’d have money to fuel our access-related programs like exposing K-5 students to architecture through classes and products, while middle and high school students could more deeply engage with our NOMA Project Pipeline summer camps. College students, especially aspiring architects of color, need help with studio supplies, technology, housing, transportation, and scholarships. As the first millennial president of NOMA, I’ve also begun considering how the architecture profession can alleviate the student debt crisis. Many of my colleagues have really high levels of student debt coupled with comparatively low professional salaries (consider lawyers and doctors) and limited flexibility and financial freedom. How can we as an organization motivate or incentivize people to pursue architecture knowing that compensation is a challenge and the student loan debt is higher than ever? We will miss out on some really talented people if things don’t change. This is also a diversity issue. Minorities in particular struggle with this given the wealth gap. NOMA is about getting people to believe in the power of diversity and the success of companies and organizations who support that vision. I want to make the case that investing in NOMA is investing in the future of a more diverse and equitable profession, which can help build more diverse and equitable cities. AN: So you think addressing the architecture’s internal inequalities would have a trickle-down effect on not only the way firms are set up, but how projects and cities get built? I absolutely think that there is a correlation between who is empowered to author the built environment and how that environment shapes the well-being of the community that it serves. In the words of Winston Churchill, "we shape our buildings and thereafter our buildings shape us." I believe that this statement holds true and I would add that the heightened diversity of our built environment stewards (developers, architects, builders, real estate brokers, etc.) will contribute to a more thoughtful and responsive set of buildings, spaces, and places that will equate to more sustainable cities. I believe in quadruple bottom line sustainability—incorporating financial, ecological, social and cultural priorities. While everyone in the development process has a particular purpose and role, I think that the more we see greater cohesion between those quadruple bottom line priorities, the better off our cities will be moving forward.
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What do architects want from a Green New Deal?

As the scale of climate change has accelerated and grown direr in recent months, upstart politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York have made addressing the issue a central part of their political platforms. Talk of a Green New Deal (GND) has picked up since November's elections, reflecting a major shift in how Americans discuss climate change. But what is the Green New Deal and how might it impact architects?

The impetus behind the GND is simple: Because the threat of anthropogenic climate change is so fundamental, only a government-led, war-like industrial and economic mass mobilization effort can potentially transform American society quickly and thoroughly enough to avoid global catastrophe.

There are plans to unveil the first round of draft legislation at the federal level this week, but as of yet, no official set of policies has been agreed upon by legislators and activists. But various elements of a supposed GND have been touted for years (see here and here for thorough explainers).

Generally speaking, GND proponents have three specific and wide-ranging goals:

First, activists are calling for the wholesale decarbonization of the U.S. economy. That means eliminating all carbon emissions across every industry in the country, including in vital sectors like energy production, building design, construction, and transportation.

Second, this transition would include a federal jobs guarantee backed by the large-scale deployment of new public works projects. A job guarantee, which, generally speaking, would provide anyone who wanted work with some form of federal employment, would allow people currently working in carbon-intensive industries to leave their jobs for publicly-funded green-collar work. The guarantee, supporters argue, would create a vast, fairly-paid workforce that could get to work transforming American society right away.

Third, activists pushing the GND generally agree that the transition to a carbon-free economy must incorporate socially-just practices that rectify past practices that have exploited certain communities. Such reforms include finding ways to house people displaced by climate change, countering the long-term effects of redlining and the racial wealth gap, and making sure that unlike the original New Deal, the benefits and jobs created by any GND are enjoyed by people of color and other historically marginalized groups.

The initiative would go beyond simply greening the country's energy grid or incentivizing a shift to public transit and electric vehicles; the GND envisions a top-to-bottom reworking of the U.S. economy. Likely, the effort will involve densifying existing cities, building new ones from scratch, and perhaps most importantly, retrofitting and upgrading nearly all of the country’s existing building stock. Architects will be vital to the effort and are likely to benefit from a potential GND through new commissions and opportunities to provide input and expertise across a range of projects and scales.

In an effort to help spur discussion among architects on a potential plan, The Architect’s Newspaper asked designers from around the country to share their wish lists for what a potential GND might include. The responses span a range of issues that touch on the built environment, project financing, building codes, and environmental regulation, among other topics.

For some, creating incentives to reuse and retrofit existing buildings could be a key component of the deal. Karin Liljegren, principal at Omgivning in Los Angeles said, “I’d like to see how legislators can reassert the importance of the federal government’s Historic Tax Credit Program (HTC). The HTC incentivizes developers to rehabilitate iconic and viable old buildings, but it has recently been under threat after decades of stability. Enshrining these incentives in the legislation would send a massive signal to clients like ours.”

But, of course, focusing only on the most iconic historic structures would likely send many buildings to the trash heap. To address “less iconic structures or ones that require an approach that is more adaptive than restorative,” Liljegren suggested “a program of economic incentives that helps developers prioritize the broader reuse of existing buildings. Reusing a structure can certainly be more challenging than building new, but the payoffs are enormous—less embodied energy and waste is only the beginning. In terms of texture, form, and spirit, existing buildings enrich our identities and communities.”

For other architects, increasing the scope of public transportation options in parallel with boosting density is the way forward. Vishaan Chakrabarti, founder of PAU in New York City, said, “A Green New Deal should include what I called the 'American Smart Infrastructure Act' in my 2013 book A Country of Cities. In that proposal, I call for the elimination of existing subsidies that encourage sprawl like highway funding, the mortgage interest deduction, and low gas taxes.” Chakrabarti argued for applying this new revenue toward building a national high-speed rail and urban mass transit network that can serve new investments in affordable transit-oriented multi-family housing and low-cost office space. The funding, however, “should only go to municipalities that discourage single-family housing density, like Minneapolis recently did,” Chakrabarti added.

Of course, the overarching network of regulatory policies, like environmental, structural, energy, and seismic codes, that shape the built environment could be improved, as well.

Anica Landreneau, director of sustainable design for HOK in Washington, D.C., pointed to the recently-adopted Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act, which she helped craft, as a potential guide for creating a “self-improving threshold” that requires building owners to retrofit existing structures above a certain size according to rigorous energy performance standards. The plan, set to take effect in 2020, seeks to align the energy performance of existing buildings with the steadily-increasing performance metrics crafted for new structures, like LEED certification and Energy Star ratings. The plan will peg the performance standards for existing buildings to the median Energy Star score for all buildings of the same type in the District of Columbia. As the overall energy efficiency of buildings in the District improves over time, the thinking goes, periodic post-occupancy reviews will help create a self-improving target that will compel building owners to upgrade their structures to avoid fines.

In addition to improving incentive programs like the HTC, changes to the way projects are financed more broadly could also help bring to life many of the GND's transformative new projects.

Claire Weisz, principal at WXY in New York City suggested the government “require banks to invest a required minimum 40 percent of their loans in building construction and projects that have sustainable longer-term benefits and proven investments in training and hiring for green jobs.”

David Baker, principal of David Baker Architects in San Francisco, advocated for increased funding for affordable and urban housing projects overall. Baker said, “A major limiting factor on beginning to solve our affordable housing crisis—and the associated climate impacts—is simply money. We have many affordable projects ready to go but currently delayed by a lack of funding.”

Peggy Deamer of The Architecture Lobby wants to make sure that the rights of workers—and the right to work, in general—are not left out of the conversation amid talk of green infrastructure and shiny, new projects. Deamer said, “It is too monothematic to go after environmental solutions without the larger economic structure into which both the effort unfolds or the new carbon-free world functions. If the tech industry’s effort at automation leaves most of us without work or income, who wants to live in that green world?”

In conversations with architects, the issue of affordable urban housing came up often, especially in relation to the stated aims of the GND’s main backers, which include increasing social equity through the program. Because America’s urban areas contain 85 percent of the country’s population and are responsible for 80 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, it is likely that the GND’s effects will be most profoundly felt in cities.

That’s important for architects concerned with racial and social equity in the field. With a rising cohort of diverse young designers—as well as many established firms helmed by women and people of color— it’s possible a potential GND could engender a surge of important projects helmed by diverse practitioners. That possibility, when coupled with the existing diversity of urban residents and potential clients, could transform how architecture is practiced across the country.

It’s a realm where Kimberly Dowdell, president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), thinks her organization can have an impact. “Black architects have a unique opportunity to take the lead in shaping the future,” Dowdell said. “In under-resourced urban communities, which are often majority Black, there is a great need for a new approach to design and development that fully embraces the quadruple bottom line: social, cultural, environmental, and financial.” Dowdell added, “NOMA members have been doing this kind of work for generations. Now, with the Green New Deal, this experience is especially relevant.”

With a “quadruple bottom line” approach at the center of a potential GND, professional architecture organizations pushing for increased equity among their ranks, and demographic trends leading to greater diversity, the architectural profession is poised for significant change that could be accelerated by a GND.

As the potential changes begin to take form, inclusion will likely remain a top priority for designers. Dowdell explains: “In general, everyone needs to have a seat at the decision-making table as it relates to shaping our collective future on this planet. With such a high concentration of minorities in cities, it is absolutely critical that a truly diverse set of minds and voices are empowered to implement the best of the Green New Deal.”

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AN talks to Gabrielle Bullock, director of global diversity at Perkins+Will

The National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), started in 1971 by a group of African American architects at that year’s American Institute of Architects conference in Detroit, Michigan, is holding its 44th Annual Conference in Los Angeles this week. The conference aims to bring together a diverse group of professionals with the aim of advancing the standing of minority architects throughout the field. It will run from Wednesday, October 12 to Saturday, October 15, 2016. In preparing for the conference, The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) interviewed Gabrielle Bullock, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, NOMA member, and director of global diversity for Perkins+Will, to discuss diversity issues within the architectural profession. The Architect’s Newspaper: What does the term “diversity” mean to a large, globally-based firm like Perkins+Will? Gabrielle Bullock: I’ll go straight to our Mission Statement, which I think succinctly captures the value we place on diversity: “We believe that inclusion spurs creativity and that innovation is born from an engaged culture of diverse people and ideas. In this global environment, we are committed to building an organization that reflects the diversity of the communities and clients we serve. Diversity: Different thoughts, ideas, and approaches that result from an individual’s cultural background, experience, physical capabilities, skills, ethnicity, education, race, religion, age, gender, lifestyle, and all other characteristics that make each person unique.” You are the Director of Global Diversity at Perkins+Will, can you please describe your position and how it came to be? In 2013, I proposed and designed an approach to creating a more diverse, inclusive, and engaged organization. As one of .2 percent female African-American licensed architects in the US (and usually the “only one in the room”) I was personally committed to championing the advancement of diversity and inclusion in Perkins+Will and the profession. As an architect working with a global firm working all over the world, it became clear that we should mirror the societies and clients we serve. We believe that a more diverse team (in all senses of the word) would provide more innovative, relevant and rich solutions to our work and culture, and ultimately make us more successful. I developed an outline of what my role and the program would focus on along with preliminary expected outcomes and goals. After my appointment as Director of Global Diversity, I took a deep dive into the firm, visiting each office and having honest and at times uncomfortable discussions we call “listening tours.” I asked the staff what they thought about diversity and inclusion, and got unique perspectives. In some offices, the consensus was that we needed to improve racial diversity, in others, concerns surrounded issues of gender and the inter-generational workforce. The yearlong process gave me an idea of the challenges Perkins + Will faces and how to address them uniquely. It was clear that we needed training. I engaged a Diversity and Inclusion (D+I) specialist, Global Diversity Collaborative, to deliver a half-day workshop to the leadership in each office. Through that process, each office determined what their specific challenges were and created their own strategic plan. We made this an accountable program and now continually assess progress according to our stated goals. The initiative is part of our culture and part of our evaluation process: We try to look at everything through a diversity lens. The board, CEO, and office leaders get a progress report from me every year. We now have something called a Diversity+Inclusion+Engagement Strategic Plan with qualitative and quantitative metrics focused on all aspects of our organization like office culture, cultural advocacy, talent retention and recruitment, leadership and commitment, and educational outreach. Fascinating. What are some of your specific responsibilities as Director of Global Diversity? As Director of Global Diversity, I am the strategic and organizational champion tasked with conceptualizing and driving the Diversity+Inclusion+Engagement Strategic Plan throughout the firm. My primary responsibilities include: leading the Diversity Council; communicating Perkins + Will’s strategy, mission and vision internally and externally; leading the development of diversity education and awareness strategies impacting workplace culture, recruitment, and retention, as well as marketing, pipeline outreach, and leadership; and developing metrics to monitor progress toward the fulfillment of the Diversity+Inclusion+Engagement Strategic Plan. For Perkins + Will, engagement is the key action point—the step that makes diversity and inclusion matter, because it points to an individual’s level of influence on a team or a project, not just their presence in the room. My work is not “just an initiative” or lip service from a large firm. For us, this is a call to action, not an exercise. We are loud, driven, and clear: We promote our mission, call for commitment and accountability, and see this work as being about advancing the culture at Perkins + Will, not about simply numbers—we are integrating the plan in all business practices across the firm. Diversity is purposeful and deliberate. What would you say are some of the bigger diversity-related challenges the architectural profession is facing in the long term? The most significant challenge is the lack of racial and ethnic diversity of the profession, specifically with African-American and Hispanic representation. The profession should mirror the communities and society it serves. With an increasingly diverse population in the US and globally, racial demographics are woefully underrepresented in the architecture profession, overall. Another challenge is gender equity and representation in the profession. Issues around work-life integration, pay equity, and career advancement are common issues in the profession at large. Increasing generational differences in the workforce are also a challenge. As architects, we will have to examine, adapt, and advance the way we work intergenerationally if we want to retain emerging professionals and attract future generations to the profession. How can a large, global firm like Perkins+Will become a diversity leader in architecture and beyond? Be bold and be brave! Be loud, clear, and driven! Also, commit to diversity as a core value and not just the right thing to do. With any corporate value or goal, there are strategies and accountability. As an example: The architecture industry embraced sustainability as an imperative to survival. Now sustainability is in the DNA of our profession, and if you aren’t doing it, you are irrelevant. Making diversity a core value should be the same. At Perkins+Will, because our advocacy goes beyond our own firm to the profession as a whole, we are involved with leading and participating in national initiatives that aim to address equity and diversity in the profession. As an appointed member of the the AIA Equity in Architecture Commission and Implementation Team, I am helping to develop a framework for a well-conceived and thoughtful action plan, and making recommendations for advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion in the profession. The intent is to create greater urgency within the profession and the Architecture Engineering and Construction community about the tremendous need to have a better representation of in the architecture field. Leadership starts at the top of the organization: Our CEO, Board of Directors, office leaders are all committed to advancing the firm’s Diversity+Inclusion+Engagement goals. By getting involved, taking a leadership role and actively advocating for change, any large firm can become a leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion in the architecture profession and beyond. I am frequently asked to speak on the issue of the value of diversity for groups and organizations like Greenbuild, IIDA, ASID, National Organization of Minority Architects, and AE Advisors as well as for publications like Metropolis, Architectural Record, and Boutique Design. I also get invited to share insight with local architectural and engineering firms: All of this is part of being a leader. The Directory of African American Architects recently surpassed the 2,000 member mark. African Americans make up about 12 percent of the population in the U.S. but only about two percent of registered architects are African-American, with African American women consisting of .02 percent of the overall total, as well. What do you see as some of the ways to change that underrepresentation? Here are a Few Strategies:
  • Strengthen the talent pipeline by increasing outreach, awareness, and exposure to young African-American children. Often, architecture is not presented as a viable career path to the underrepresented youth. We can do this by mentoring and K-12 outreach.
  • Reshape recruitment teams to represent a cross-section of genders, ages, and races in order to attract the more diverse candidates we want.
  • Partner with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to proactively recruit and mentor students. We are in the planning stages of creating such a program.
  • Examine community college and university transfer requirements to attract community college students to accredited programs.
  • Engage in the purposeful and deliberate recruitment by firms and colleges for diverse students. If schools and firms don’t demonstrate their interest and value in a diverse community on their website and recruitment collateral, many candidates will not apply because they “don’t see themselves represented.”
  • Publically highlight the merits and importance of a more diverse profession to create more relevant architecture to improve the “image” problem the profession has of being a “rich person's profession."
Can you provide some general diversity statistics for Perkins+Will? How does the firm stack up against other firms and the profession overall? I do not have demographic statistics on other firms. However, below are statistics compared to the AIA. Perkins+Will Demographic Statistics:
  • Gender Diversity 2015: 45 percent Female, 55 percent Male (Female: up 1 percent from 2014)
  • Racial Diversity 2015: 26 percent Non-White, 74 percent White (Non-White: up 3 percent from 2014)
Perkins+Will Leadership Demographics:
  • Principals 2015: 25 percent female
  • Associate Principals 2015: 32 percent female
  • Associates/Senior Associates: 38 percent and 44 percent female respectively
Since implementing our Diversity+Inclusion+Engagement Strategic Plan, we have increased gender and racial diversity, though modestly so. We recognize this is a journey and not a sprint, so it’s the long view that’s important for us. The diversity of our leadership ranks has steadily improved over the last three years as we deliberately focus on gender, racial, and generational makeup of our Leadership Institute and emerging professionals programs. At the individual office level, have changes increases in diversity among the staff broadened the firm's client pool correspondingly? Is there a relationship between the what the office looks like and what sorts of projects get taken on? As we’ve increased [the] diversity of our staff there has not necessarily been a direct correlation to the types of clients we have. However, with a more diverse and engaged talent pool that embodies varied cultural and community connections, there is a cultural awareness and insight brought to the design and team, and in some cases, a stronger cultural connection to the client. This connection between our work, our people, and the communities we serve absolutely makes for a strong and culturally relevant design solution. In addition, I would say the more broad our talent pool, the more broad our client and project opportunities. There have been cases where a more diverse team that reflects the diversity of the client has been a competitive advantage. Conversely, there have been situations in the past where our team was not diverse enough, did not reflect the diversity of the client, and was at a disadvantage. Can you please speak to some of the work you have done with HBCUs in an effort to increase African-American interest in architecture at the grade school and college levels? In its final planning stage, the Perkins+Will/HBCU Partnership Program’s goal is to strengthen the academic pipeline of underrepresented groups. With that in mind, Perkins+Will and the deans of the HBCU architecture schools collaborated to create a program that would provide mentoring, counseling and support to HBCU students in a comprehensive manner. Exposure and Awareness is the first step in broadening access and opportunities for the students by providing hands-on information and insight into what Perkins+Will and other large design firms are looking for in candidates: The three components of the program include:
  • Career Fairs: A local team of Perkins+Will staff participates in an annual regional career fair of the HBCU’s by geographic location, pairing the HBCU and P+W office closest to the school.
  • Annual Office Visit: Perkins+Will will host HBCU students for a half day office visit including office tour, project presentations, and resume/portfolio review.
  • Lecture Series: Working with HBCU leadership, Perkins+Will will develop a lecture series to be curated around relevant architectural practice and design. The lectures will be delivered on each HBCU campus on a rotating basis and virtually across the others. Through a lecture series we can harness the vast wealth of knowledge and expertise within Perkins+Will and other firms.
Our Atlanta office piloted the Career Fair and Office Visit with Tuskegee University this past spring with tremendous success. We have seen the positive impact we have on students’ career development simply by investing our time and knowledge. We were fortunate enough to have hired a Tuskegee graduate as a result of these activities.