|01/2006||Diversity and the Profession: Take II
Theodore Landsmark, Assoc. AIA, Boston Architectural Center president and chief executive officer, and AIA Diversity Committee Chair will receive The Whitney M. Young Jr. Award on June 9 at the AIA 2006 national convention in Los Angeles. The award is given in memory of the civil rights leader who at the 1968 AIA convention challenged architects to actively increase attention to the inequities suffered by minorities. Here, Landsmark, the 35th recipient of the award, speaks with AIArchitect about diversity in the profession, the role of AIA and collateral organizations in fostering diversity, and where we can go from here.
As we close in on four decades
since Whitney Young addressed the AIA convention, what about
todays society shows that we are making progress toward a
more inclusive profession?
What discourages you?
In the absence of clear data, it becomes difficult to know what specific programs are likely to work effectively toward increasing diversity. The analysis recommends steps that would improve our demographic data collection and analysis. In the absence of that, we found many well-intentioned programs that were not self-analytical enough to determine their long-term effectiveness; and that is only now beginning to change.
The other key issue is that firm principals too often are in denial about how internal personnel policies and practices and outmoded traditions of design practice have worked to impede increasing diversity within the profession. For example, all-night charrettes are not family-friendly and therefore work against women who may be caregivers. People have outmoded beliefs that women may not be capable of managing tough construction workers on a site, which works against advancement possibilities within firms. Assigning women or people of color to projects that are perceived to serve primarily women and people of color reduces the possibilities for these groups in particular to assume leadership roles on the kinds of major projects that receive professional recognition.
Where do design schools fit into
the issue of diversity?
Does the length of time it takes
to become an architect play a role in limiting
Another consideration is alternative career paths to licensure. One of the things we found is that about half of all of the African American architecture students are at the seven historically black colleges and universities. Most of those are located in the south, where employment and internship opportunities for African American architects have been limited. Someone coming out of Southern University or Hampton is presented with the option of going to work for a private firm, which is most likely going to be white, and spending three years in what might be an abusive internship before they can take the licensing exam, or going to work for HUD [Department of Housing and Urban Development] or the Army Corps of Engineers, where they can start for $10,000-$15,000 more and never have to get a license, but still use the same training. Its an easy choice not to pursue the path to private practice, but instead to become a government architect.
To the extent that we change how quickly one could become licensed that would almost certainly have the effect of encouraging more African Americans and women interns to then become licensed architects. There are other things like that. The quicker you get to licensure, the greater the likelihood you would stay in the profession.
What is the role of the AIA in
increasing diversity in the profession?
We have distinguished between and supported both diversity as it relates to demographics, and inclusiveness as it relates to different career paths. The AIAs Diversity Committee believes strongly that both are necessary. We need to be a more diverse profession as we look into the future of who our clients will be. We also need to be a more inclusive profession as we reach out to work more closely with other people whose work affects the built environment. That includes lawyers, engineers, real estate developers, educators, students, clients, banks, and a range of other partners whose support we need if we are going to improve the quality of work we do to enhance the built environment.
In New England, for example, the Boston Society of Architects has been very inclusive in bringing lawyers, educators, public officials, and others into discussion about how we can work together to enhance what architects have traditionally viewed as their work alone. Such inclusiveness goes hand-in-hand with efforts to improve our internal diversity as a profession. I am not a licensed architect, but I have worked within the architecture profession for nearly four decades as a lawyer for architects, as a client building power plants and housing with architects, as an educator overseeing the largest architecture program in New England. The BSA has recognized that by including me in policy discussions that support practicing architectsand thats a role Im happy to play.
If we had limited ourselves from drawing our talent only from the ranks of licensed architects, we would be limiting ourselves to working with a group which has had difficulty in the past effectively addressing issues of diversity. Its also a two-way street that diversity can be helped by being a more inclusive profession. Students see more opportunities when they have more avenues to pursue.
What are the best avenues to
tackling some of these broad-based issues?
The opportunities for collaborative initiatives are great because they leverage resources and do not place the burden of improving diversity on any one group. Local components, schools, the AIAs national component, and our collateral organizations at NAAB, NCARB, AIAS, and ACSA can draw from the demographic data analysis that will help shape specific local programs that can effectively improve diversity. What our colleges and universities need to do to diversify faculties and student bodies will not be the same as what local components can do to support interns as they enter the profession, but schools and the local components will need to work together to support the transition from school into practice.
Whitney Young spoke of a certain
degree of cynicism among the students he met touring high schools
and colleges. What is your view of that observation then and
Some say finding ways to
diversity make plain economic sense.
If we look around the world at the places like New Orleans, Pakistan, and elsewhere, where architecture is most needed, today and into the future, we are looking at a world where our clients will be more diverse than most of the clients we served through the 20th century. By understanding different cultures and being more diverse as a profession, we will open a world to us that will help sustain this profession into the future. The alternative is to act as though diversity is somehow a secondary concern for this profession. The consequence of that will be that the impact that American architects have on the rest of the world will continue to diminish.
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