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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 today’s society shows that we are making progress toward a more inclusive profession?
Many local components have initiated programs in the last few years designed to enhance diversity. There are more mentoring programs today—from middle schools through design schools and into the profession—than there were two or three decades ago. Some components, particularly those in Boston, Chicago, Seattle, New York, and other parts of the country have initiated exemplary models for nurturing diversity, both within firms, and in conjunction with design schools. The fact that the AIA membership voted overwhelmingly to provide financial support for the recently completed first stages of a demographic analysis of the profession is a very good sign that the profession as a whole is more prepared to address issues of diversity than it was a couple of decades ago.

What discourages you?
Our data collection and analysis across the collateral organizations that oversee education, entry into, and licensing within the profession remains disconnected and incomplete, so that it is now very difficult to track what happens to individuals who enter design programs to see whether they ultimately become licensed, and, if they don’t become licensed, to determine whether they are continuing in design-related-fields. That kind of tracking has been in place within the medical and legal professions for many years.

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?
Recommendations from the AIAS Task Force, which were recently adopted by NAAB to improve the quality of studio culture in schools by supporting more nurturing critiques and by reducing the amount of gratuitous abuse that many students have historically suffered in the learning process, will, in the long run, have the effect of making the architecture school process less Darwinian. It will be more likely to educate architects capable of working in a diverse culture and pursuing alternative paths within the profession that are not limited to the often narrowly defined models of what successful architecture practice is.

Does the length of time it takes to become an architect play a role in limiting inclusiveness?
Architecture education as currently structured is perhaps the longest and most arduous path into a profession—of any providing so little financial return. Steps to accelerate the path to licensure as recently recommended by the AIA and ACSA must be supported nationally to encourage potential licensed practitioners to be able to practice sooner.

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. It’s 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?
The AIA is now successfully raising the visibility of the issue through its substantial support of the demographic data analysis. The AIA’s national component has been helpful in disseminating information among local components so we have a clearer understanding of what programs work—or do not work. Most of the most successful activity will emerge from local components that need to know what is effective in increasing diversity and what may prove to be a good effort that fails to produce the desired outcomes.

We have distinguished between and supported both diversity as it relates to demographics, and inclusiveness as it relates to different career paths. The AIA’s 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 architects—and that’s a role I’m 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. It’s 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?
We are entering a very creative period as we develop new approaches to increasing diversity. Scholarships alone, or mentoring alone, is insufficient. We can now begin to develop a unified, longitudinal approach to attracting more diverse populations into our schools, supporting them in school, helping them as interns, and supporting their development as new professionals.

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 AIA’s 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 now?
I was one of those students. After meeting him at Yale, I visited his home on a number of occasions and spoke with him about my interest in going into architecture and about my frustration. Cynicism sometimes evolves into an activist’s irony. I have always believed in the work the architects do, even if I found early in my career that architects didn’t always believe in the work I was capable of doing. I will always believe in the ability of architecture to improve the quality of the built environment for all kinds of people. I believe architecture has a duty to serve a wider population than architects sometimes serve. So working on diversity on behalf of the profession has been an opportunity for me to realize the dreams that I had nearly 40 years ago for involving more people like myself in positively shaping the world.

Some say finding ways to diversity make plain economic sense.
The thing is that diversity carries an implicit moral imperative, but imperatives do not always motivate entrepreneurs to do the right thing. So within our diversity discussions, we’ve stressed both the moral imperative and the more positive business model that is associated with firms of all types that have embraced diversity to their long-term economic benefit.

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.

—Tracy Ostroff

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 A New Home for the AIA in 1973; A Greener Home in 2007
 Diversity and the Profession: Take II
 'The Vietnam Situation Is Hell': The AIA's Internal Struggle over the War in Southeast Asia
 1977-1986: Activism and Capital-A Architecture Are Alive at the AIA
 1987-1996 Technology, Diversity, and Expansion

Ted Landsmark, PhD, Esq., Assoc. AIA, is president of the Boston Architectural Center and president-elect of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. He also heads the AIA’s Diversity Committee. In 2004, the AIA Diversity Committee sponsored a day-long conference that resulted in the publication of a series of essays entitled “20 on 20/20 Vision: Perspectives on Diversity and Design” that called for, “substantive actions that can change architecture. In his introduction to “20/20,” Landmark wrote, “We can do better. With the 35-year-old words of the late Whitney Young still echoing, I thank my peers who are committed to increasing diversity. I implore this profession to become more relevant. He wanted you to begin to speak out as a profession. I want this profession, as it looks forward to 2020, to meet the real needs of the society we serve.”

Landsmark graduated from Yale University in 1973 with degrees in both architecture and law. He chose to pursue law because he doubted he would be given the mentorship necessary through an architectural internship. He was thrust into Boston’s racial turmoil in 1976 when he was trying to walk across City Hall Plaza and was speared by a man wielding an American flag during a demonstration. The attack was captured by a photographer and the image broadcast nationally. But Landsmark says he refuses to let that image define him. “My life has been a lot more interesting than the 20-second moment captured in that picture,” he told the Boston Globe.

Landsmark will be honored at the 2006 national convention in Los Angeles.

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