A war of words has broken out between the RIBA's equal opportunities lobby and a London-based casting agent. Both Architects for Change (AfC) and the Society of Black Architects (SOBA) are 'furious'with Heather March Casting after it specified a 'Caucasian' to pose as an architect in a new campaign.
The row was triggered after a series of practices received emails asking for 'real-life people' to pose in an architecture office as part of a 'photographic campaign for a well-known telephone company'.
Both SOBA and AfC have 'taken exception' to the brief, which asked for a 'Caucasian male in his mid-30s' to pose in the role of architect, a 'draughtsman of any ethnic background for the role of office male' and a 'well-groomed Caucasian female in her late-20s for the role of office female'.
However, March has attacked the criticism, claiming none of the lobby groups 'understand the casting process'. She insisted that her firm is progressive about diversity and would never stereotype. 'When we specify ethnicity we see it as positive discrimination, ' she said. 'We are making a real effort to encourage a positive outlook.'
SOBA member Shahed Saleem remained 'furious'. 'You should start by saying that you want real people, and then determine what firealfl means;
white, male, young, trendy, ' he wrote in an email to March. 'You can't ask for real people and then define what real means - firealfl is whatever you trawl in, ' his email continued. 'Ultimately, you just become a vehicle for reinforcing the dominant (white male colonial) culture, and contribute to subjugation.'
AfC chair Sumita Sinha agreed. 'This seems completely outrageous from our perspective, ' she told the AJ. 'I've been waiting for a reply from Heather March explaining her position, but I haven't got one. This is certainly not the sort of thing we want to be seen, ' she added. 'This is not the way we want architecture portrayed to the public.'
March responded to the lobby groups' complaints by dismissing the criticism as 'completely over the top'. 'The architecture office shoot is part of a much bigger campaign, ' she said, 'which will feature all sorts of people - fat and thin, black and white, old and young. There is an issue of stereotyping in advertising, but this is not an example of it and we are never guilty of encouraging it, ' she added.