No Blueprint? Blacks Still Missing From The Architecture Field

August 12, 2013  |  

African Americans have made strides in many fields, but architecture remains overwhelmingly dominated by White males, reports Diverse Education.

The numbers are dismal. According to National Association of Minority Architects (NOMA) data, less than two percent of the 105,000 licensed architects in the United States are African American. It is rare to find minority architects at blue chip architectural firms and the executive ranks lack diversity as well.

That isn’t to say there haven’t been some important black architects over the years. In fact, an African-American architect is credited with creating much of Los Angeles’ skyline. Paul Williams, who began his career around 1925, not only helped design the Theme Building at LAX as well as several historic buildings in the city, he also designed homes for Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra. In all he designed more than 2,000 private homes.

But Williams is one of the rare cases.

“People don’t realize it’s a career option,” Kathy Dixon, president of the NOMA and proprietor of KDixon Architecture, LLC, told Diverse Education. “Maybe they haven’t met a Black architect or met an architect at all. They are not aware of what architects do. It’s also a very expensive major, and it is expensive to take the exam to get licensed.”

Also since “most architecture programs are five-year degrees, which means an extra year in college,” said Bradford Grant, a professor and director of the Howard University School of Architecture and co-founder of the Directory of African-American Architects, many African Americans shy away from the field.

There has been a push to get more Blacks in the industry, with groups like the American Institute of Architects (AIA) working with NOMA and others to raise visibility about the career option. The organization also recently teamed up with the Girl Scouts to expand the visibility of the profession and to pull in more people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Sherry Snipes, director of diversity and inclusion at the AIA, added that AIA’s efforts to diversify the profession have been paying off. “In the six-year period from 2006 to 2012, the number of AIA women architects rose from 12.1 percent to 16 percent while the number of minority architects climbed from 7.9 percent to 10 percent, according to data supplied by the AIA,” reports Diverse Eduation. According to AIA data,  23.8 percent of graduates of the country’s architecture programs in 2011 were minorities.

Minorities are also being encouraged to study STEM areas, as this too could lead to more black architects.

“Architecture insists on both math and science,” says Grant. “A sound STEM early education in middle and high school is very important to architecture.”

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