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Architecture needs to acknowledge it has an issue with race

Emily Booth
  • 3 Comments

The AJ’s diversity survey shows that while many BAME architects experience racism in their work, most white respondents are unaware of it, writes Emily Booth

Each fortnight, deciding on the image and design approach for the AJ cover is a pleasure and a privilege. For this edition, to mark the findings of our first race diversity in architecture survey, we are proud to publish a powerful comment from Doreen Lawrence.

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Cvr webbo 180510

Her words ring clear and true: ‘Architecture … that surrounds us in our communities, should reflect the rich cultural diversity of the people living in those communities.’ If architecture is about shaping space and making better places, it is crucial that its architects are drawn from the full range and richness of our whole society. Without this, everyone loses: our communities, our built environment, and the profession.

Our survey, run in partnership with the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust (SLCT), was completed by nearly 900 UK-based architects, technologists and students – of whom more than a third identified themselves as coming from a Black and Minority Ethnic background. Thank you to everyone who took part in our research.

The industry cannot really support BAME individuals because there is not even a conscious acknowledgement of a problem in the first place

There are some tough findings to digest. For example, nearly a quarter of BAME respondents say that racism in architecture is ‘widespread’, compared with 9 per cent of white respondents. This highlights a notable difference between how BAME and white respondents perceive the industry, a difference that runs throughout the survey findings. Many BAME architects are experiencing racism and hearing racist language in their place of work. Many white respondents are unaware of this.

As one respondent puts it: ‘While the (white) architecture industry is not necessarily “racist” it cannot really support BAME individuals because there is not even a conscious acknowledgement that there is a problem in the first place.’ This survey shines a light on important lived experiences. It points to a profession that needs to acknowledge it has an issue with race – as much of UK society does.

There are many positive steps to take forward. Continued measurement will help to provide further clarity: we call on the ARB to help provide more precise data on the percentage of UK-based architects identifying as BAME. 

The SLCT will soon launch a diversity charter, which the AJ will encourage and promote. Studying architecture is a financial challenge for many, so programmes offering support and mentoring make a difference – as noted by Ike Obanye, an alumnus of the SLCT.

It is important that BAME architects are highlighted, BAME voices heard, BAME work recognised. The historical architectural canon is notoriously male and pale. Stephen Lawrence aspired to be an architect. Working to change the industry he loved for the better is a positive way to celebrate and honour his life.

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • A timely and highly relevant report we have over the last few years employed several able and talented female collaborators from the BAME community and would happily do so again our criteria for working with us being founded on ability not background

    Now the subject is in the open perhaps the AJ can also tackle entrenched inequalities in architectural procurement for those not blessed with the private incomes needed to work for nothing or the benefits of patronage this might allow a broader range of talent to be recognised a lot of recent competition winners have looked somewhat 'vanilla' and possibly unrepresentative of the changing makeup of the profession

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  • anonymous

    This is identity politics of the worst kind.

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  • This article is more suited for a magazine catering to the interests of the serially offended.
    I wholeheartedly agree with Anonymous's comment above.
    The design profession should be attempting to improve its image and skills and leave the politics to students and others of the permanently aggrieved classes.

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