AA Architects: the numbers 2020

By Ramatoulie S. Muhammed, Katherine Williams

I met up with Katherine Williams this year after working together on the Riding the Vortex session for Architecture Exchange East. My section of the talk focused on understanding the numbers in terms of representation and experiences of African American (AA) architects, with a focus on the experiences of women, and those working within the state of Virginia. 

After giving my presentation, Katherine asked if I would be interested in helping her put together the data on AA architects for 2020. I was excited to be asked, due to Katherine’s prestige in the field in general and her work specifically with the Black Women in Architecture Brunch, Riding the Vortex, her published works, and (many) blogs. 

As I write this at the beginning of February 2021, we have to reflect on what a landmark year 2020 was for African-Americans across the country, and how we’ve seen race brought up in a deliberate way that many saw as taboo before. The protests against racial justice (which continue to this day) opened up conversations and narratives that were previously unheard of within the profession, with multiple firms and organizations expressing their condemnation for racism and support for the AA community. 

While these conversations and statements are relevant and essential partnerships, it is important now as architecture professionals that we hold these companies and organizations accountable. I believe in SMART goals, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely, with an emphasis on Measurable. In my experience, a lot of the knowledge that architects have regarding the state of diversity and representation in the field is purely anecdotal, and not reflective of the actual numbers and data. Everyone’s lived experience is valid, but we can only move forward if we face the sobering reality of our situation. 

Another critical element is the rapid and destructive spread of COVID-19 in the United States. The effects of this virus have been felt in architecture in the form of lost loved ones, shuttered offices, massive layoffs, furloughs, closed universities, canceled licensure exams, and the list goes on. The financial effect on many firms has been severe, with the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) remaining below 50 from March 2020 through December 2020. And these factors exist on top of the AA workers being hit especially hard by higher unemployment rates, wage gaps, and health risks.

Image: Employment-to-population ratio by race and gender, February-April 2020, Economic Policy Institute (EPI), https://www.epi.org/publication/black-workers-covid/#:~:text=Employment%20has%20dropped%20sharply%20in,and%20gender%2C%20February%E2%80%93April%202020&text=Survey%20public%20data.%20%22-,Note%3A%20White%20refers%20to%20non%2DHispanic%20whites%2C,Black%20refers%20to%20Blacks%20alone.

Registered Architects

But what has the result been for AA as a group? According to the data from the Directory of African American Architects (DAA), there are currently 2378 registered blacks architects in the U.S. This is compared to a total of 116,242 architects in the country, which means only 2% of registered architects are African American. This number is consistent with previous years, with no change from 2019. This is hardly surprising, given the addition of only 73 AA Architects this past year, compared to the nearly 4,000 people that completed their licensure exams in 2020  in the country. 

Architecture Experience Program (AXP)

Next, we’ll look at how architecture firms are helping AA gain professional experience in preparation for becoming licensed architects. NCARB and NOMA have just released their Baseline on Belonging Report, Phase 2, which highlights the experiences of the different racial demographics through the AXP in America. Some of their findings highlight several pain points for those specifically trying to gain a variety of experience opportunities within their firm.

In terms of the timelines of the AXP program, the report found that white candidates both started and completed the program before other demographics, however, they do take longer to finish the program than other demographics in between that time. Additionally, AA respondents within the report were 7% less likely to agree that finding a firm that was supportive of their AXP process at the entry-level and 4% less likely at the mid-level of their careers.

Image: AXP Start and Completion, Baseline on Belonging: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Architecture Licensing, NCARB, https://www.ncarb.org/blog/understanding-how-race-age-and-gender-impact-the-axp

Architecture Registration Exam

There have been numerous challenges for ARE candidates this year, including changes to the exam format itself, which led many to postpone their exams, especially towards the end of the year. Also, with the early stages of COVID, there were test center closures across the country with little or no warning, sometimes due to overall test center closures, but also due to last-minute cancellations to ensure social distancing. 

ARE Completion rates for African-Americans have remained at 2% every year since 2011. This is compared to an increase in the same period for Asian candidates from 11% to 12% and a decrease for White candidates from 82% to 79%. 

Image: Percent of ARE Completion by Race, NCARB, https://public.tableau.com/views/2020RaceEthnicityAREComplete_Web/Dashboard1?:embed=y&:display_count=y&publish=yes&:origin=viz_share_link&:showTabs=y&:toolbar=n

It is clear that this milestone in the retention of African-American Architects is critical, as we see from the number of ARE Starts is at 4% and ARE Completions is at 2%, a statistic which is consistent with those who go on to become licensed. This shows that we are losing at least half of our potential AA architects during the ARE Examination phase, and more than half of those who start the AXP process (5%).

Looking Forward

Seventy-three architects being added to the DAA is a big achievement compared to the previous year. It brings the number back to the trend of 2015-2018. This is despite all of the roadblocks 2020 put in front of people as it pertains to having access to resources and being able to take exams. 

Chart by Katherine Williams

However, we should not rest on this. Increasing the percentage of African American architects by just 1% would require another 1,100 licensed AA architects. We can’t wait 15 years (1,100/70 per year) for that. Targeted efforts to get students into accredited architecture degree programs, ensure they matriculate and have viable internships, provide jobs for them to graduate into, mentor along the career path, and support through the licensure process are all needed. 

The effort needed will require the buy-in of all of the entities that have an imprint on the careers of US architects. This includes the high schools, universities, NAAB, NCARB, AIA, NOMA, and architecture firms large and small. Some ongoing efforts to help increase representation include:

  • The NOMA Foundation Fellowship – A fellowship created in partnership with the AIA Large Firm Roundtable, providing up to 20 fellowships with stipends. The Summer 2021 Summer Cohort is now open for applications for interested students. 
  • The NOMA 50×50 Challenge, which aims to create 50 newly licensed architects by the NOMA conference in October 2021. This challenge is a partnership with Black Spectacles, an NCARB accredited ARE test-prep provider to provide 50 seats per month of their ARE 5.0 Prep Expert package.
  • Project Pipeline National Camp – National Virtual Summer Camps hosted by NOMA National and NOMA Chapters providing opportunities for 6th to 12th graders to gain an introduction to the fields of architecture & design. 
  • In its fourth year, the Desiree Cooper ARE scholarship, provided financial support to four exam takers.

After tracking the data for over ten years, we are finally seeing efforts to address multiple prongs of the issue to increase the population of African American architects. Now is the time to quickly evaluate their progress and scale what works so we can move forward with the momentum that 2020 and 2012 has presented to us.

References

Frimpong, Kwadwo. “Black People Are Still Seeking Racial Justice – Why and What to Do About It.” Brookings, Brookings, 12 Nov. 2020, http://www.brookings.edu/blog/how-we-rise/2020/11/12/black-people-are-still-seeking-racial-justice-why-and-what-to-do-about-it/. 

“SMART Goal – Definition, Guide, and Importance of Goal Setting.” Corporate Finance Institute, 16 Sept. 2020, corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/other/smart-goal/#:~:text=A%20SMART%20goal%20is%20used,chances%20of%20achieving%20your%20goal. 

“Examining the State of Diversity.” The American Institute of Architects, 2016, http://www.aia.org/resources/12416-examining-the-state-of-diversity. 

“ABI December 2020: Architecture Firm Billings End the Year on a Sour Note.” The American Institute of Architects, http://www.aia.org/pages/6366635-abi-december-2020-architecture-firm-billin. 

Report • By Elise Gould and Valerie Wilson • June 1. “Black Workers Face Two of the Most Lethal Preexisting Conditions for Coronavirus-Racism and Economic Inequality.” Economic Policy Institute, 1 June 2020, http://www.epi.org/publication/black-workers-covid/#:~:text=Employment%20has%20dropped%20sharply%20in,and%20gender%2C%20February%E2%80%93April%202020&text=Survey%20public%20data.%20%22-,Note%3A%20White%20refers%20to%20non%2DHispanic%20whites%2C,Black%20refers%20to%20Blacks%20alone. 

“2020 NBTN State of Licensure.” NCARB, 23 June 2020, http://www.ncarb.org/nbtn2020/licensure. 

Richards, William. “Reading between the Trend Lines.” The American Institute of Architects, 2020, http://www.aia.org/articles/6345080-reading-between-the-trend-lines. 

“The NOMA Foundation Fellowship – a New Program Aimed at Increasing Minority Licensure.” NOMA, 3 Feb. 2021, http://www.noma.net/noma-foundation-fellowship/. 

Architect Staff. “NOMA Leadership Aims to ‘Educate, Elevate, and Empower Minority Architects’ in 2021.” Architect, 19 Jan. 2021, http://www.architectmagazine.com/practice/noma-leadership-aims-to-educate-elevate-and-empower-minority-architects-in-2021_o. 

“Project Pipeline: National Organization of Minority Architects.” NOMA, NOMA, 5 Nov. 2020, http://www.noma.net/project-pipeline/. 

“Understanding How Race, Age, and Gender Impact the AXP.” NCARB, NCARB, NOMA, 17 Feb. 2021, http://www.ncarb.org/blog/understanding-how-race-age-and-gender-impact-the-axp. 

My Studytime Rules

Rules that I use to keep focused as I study for the ARE 5.0

I spend a lot of time studying for my exams, so you might be wondering how I stay focused and study effectively. Together with my accountability partner, I was able to come up with some concrete rules on ways to study effectively without wearing myself out. You don’t have to follow these rules yourself, but feel free to use them as a template if you think they’ll help your study process.

1. Phone in a Different Room

This was a major one, as my phone is a major distraction for me. It’s the easiest way for me to get derailed in my study sessions. So the method that I use is to leave it to charge in a completely different room on silent. It’s a simple method, but it really works.

Another method that I’ve started using recently for productivity tracking and distraction free testing is using the Flora app. This app has a variety of great uses including time tracking and locked in study time frames, that stop you from seeing your phone notifications and checking your feeds, as you will lose all your studying progress. It also allows you to set time goals for yourself, and track your total hours over time. Flora also has a very fun function that allows you collect plants, trees and flowers for each successful study session, so you can create a new garden every week.

2. Laptop: Only Music & Clockify

Even though I avoid using my phone, I still need to use my laptop for activities like Young Architect or Pluralsight videos, Hyperfine assignments, or looking up concepts I’m studying, so I still keep it with me when I’m studying.

However, when I’m not studying with it directly, how do I make sure I don’t get distracted? I make sure that I’m only using my laptop for my studytime playlist on Youtube, and for the Clockify app for my time tracking. I’ve talked about how I use Clockify for both my PcM and PjM passes.

3. One Architecture & Design Event Per Week

In one of my posts, I’ve described in detail why I’m trying to avoid architecture events. They are a big temptation for me because I love to learn, but they also take up time that I could be studying. So I’m only allowing myself to attend one architecture event per week, and that includes events hosted in-house at my company. It doesn’t matter whether it virtual (they’re all virtual at this point, lol) or in person.

Since I’m still wrapping up the last few hours of my AXP, I definitely value being able to use architecture events to earn AIA LUs (Learning Units) and CEUs. However, I feel like the AXP Hours will come eventually, but passing these exams may not happen without my deliberate effort.

4. One Personal Event Per Week

With a similar reasoning as for the architecture events, I’m trying to limit my interpersonal events and meetings. My state is currently in Phase III of reopening, so things are more relaxed and there are way more opportunities to interact than just a few months ago.

However, I realize that these social events take several hours out of my day, between the transport and the actual meeting. So until I pass these exams, I’m limiting myself to just one social/personal event or gathering a week.

5. Only 1 hour MAX of studying on site visit days or traveling days

We all know that work can get intense, which is why a lot of people recommend that you only start studying for the AREs if you have the time available. As I’m about to mention below, if you don’t have 3 hours a day free to study, you’re really going to struggle with this exam.

But sometimes we have those workdays that drain you and leave you completely able to function once you get home. That’s ok! Give yourself permission to take it easy, if you need a break. Your body and mind will thank you. Build this into your schedule, so if necessary, you can study for additional hours on the days you know you don’t have site visits or late nights. On days like that, I give myself permission to study for one hour or zero hours.

6. Study for 3 hours a day

So this is my goal for each studying day. I don’t always reach it, but it’s what I aim towards. One thing about my studying method is that I plan what I’m going to study weeks in advance, and sometimes it takes less than 3 hours. That’s still fine! I get that time back in my day if I’ve thoroughly studied everything on my plate for that day.

Normally I track my daily hourly totals through Clockify or through the Flora app on my phone. Clockify also allows you to see your overall study totals, and seeing that number go up is a big motivator for me. I have a goal to study 100 hours per exam, which I tried to capture in the #ARE100Challenge, which encourages people to study 100 hours for the ARE Exam. I also use the Study Material Tracker I created to help me figure out my overall hourly goal for each study resource.

7. One detail or document a day

This one is straightforward and is very helpful if you are taking any technical exams or CE, which I recently passed! It basically means that you are checking out or drawing or sketching a new detail or document every day.

You guys have gotten this far, so I’m pretty sure you know how to sketch. For the documents portion, it just involves going one step beyond your study materials. Cross train with real-world examples of your study content.

For example, if you were studying concrete and slump tests, watch a video of a slump test being conducted, or check out an actual test report. It really helps you with filling in the gaps of your experience, and help you better visualize the concepts.

8. No studying after midnight

This is as simple as it is effective. I know in architectural studio we prided ourselves on our long hours and thought that showed a level of dedication in our craft.

However, there are a lot of negative effects of studying late into the night, the most important of which for me is that I’m completely burned out by the next day, and I use my late night to justify studying less the next day.

Don’t fall for this cycle, it is a trap! Get the study hours you need in enough time to get to bed at a reasonable time (now I sound like someone’s mom), and your body and mind will thank you. I want my mind to be in top form for both my work and for studying again the next day.

9. All Notes need Title & Date

Do you take notes when you study? A lot of people do. I was against it at first, because it just felt like repetition to me, but I’ve been convinced of its usefulness over time.

But if you have a binder full of notes, on different subjects without labels, you’ll have no idea what you’ve studied, the relevant objectives, and whether or not you’ve covered this material before. So I try to make sure that every page is labeled with the title of the study material, the subject matter, and the date. This keeps my notes organized and let’s me see my level of understanding of the content over time, since I write my notes in my own words.

Another useful note taking tip for me is that I don’t write what I already know. Really basic information that I already know and will be able to remember for the exam, I don’t bother to write down. For example, what is the B101? I don’t need to write that down, I know that easily. As you start to absorb information, you’ll have to write less and less in your notes, making it easier to review materials.


If you made it to the end of this lengthy post, congrats! Thank you for taking the time to read it all, and I hope this explanation of my study time rules gave you some inspiration on things to add to your own routine. You can download the study time rules graphic as a PDF at my Downloads page or my Store for free.

If you’d like to support my page and get updates on all of my new content, follow me on Facebook and Instagram.

4 Ways To Gain AXP Hours Outside Of A Firm

As you go through your licensure process, you’ll discover that time is everything. Hours spent studying for the AREs, experience hours for AXP, how long it takes you to earn your degree, all of these contribute to the time it takes for you to get your professional registration.

I also know that for many people, there is always at least one experience area for AXP that you really had to struggle to get. For many people in medium to large scale firms, that can be the practice management area, since they aren’t at a level where they could make decisions, or charge billable hours on that work. It’s the traditional catch-22 of, “I need to work to get the experience, I need the experience to get the work”. I am currently going through a similar struggle to get my hours in for Construction & Evaluation.

This has inspired me to create a list of some of the alternative ways you can gain experience, based off of both my personal experience and the NCARB AXP Guidelines.

AEC Daily

Free.

Free. Free. Free.

This is one of the best things about AEC Daily which is amazing because their library of courses is so huge. They offer online courses in a variety of formats for those in the design and construction industry. The reason that they can offer their courses for free is because most of the courses are created by product manufacturers or suppliers.

However, this is not a negative, because in order for them to apply for AIA CE (Continuing Education) credits (which they do) they have to be genuinely educational. Another great benefit of the courses being made by the actual product suppliers is that you get to see how each of these items and systems would be used in the field, their installation processes, and best practices for using them in your own projects. Since they are an approved AIA course provider, they report all of the courses you’ve completed directly to the AIA for you, all you have to do is check your transcript.

AIAU

The online learning platform hosted by the AIA, they have several online, self-paced courses that can help you gain experience, up to 20 hours per experience area for HSW credit (Health Safty and Welfare) courses. The website interface allows you to filter the courses to search for HSW credits specifically. The subjects for these courses can vary widely, allowing you to find something for each experience area, and many of these courses are free for AIA members.

Architecture Design Competitions

This one is a biggie, as it allows you to earn up to 320 hours in experience, which is huge. My favorite thing about this experience opportunity is that you don’t even have to win the competition, you just have to complete your entry. You can also participate in a competition as part of your firm, but it’s pretty great that you can enter as an individual as well. In order for your hours to count, see below:

The design competition must be completed under the supervision of a mentor and meet the following criteria:
• Align to at least one of the AXP tasks
• Be for a “building” or “planning” project
• Be a formally structured competition with specified
submission requirements
• Sponsored by a recognized business entity, governmental agency,
or professional association
• You must be appropriately credited on the competition entry

NCARB AXP Guidelines, May 2020

Some great websites to find architecture design competitions are ArchDaily, Bustler, and Competitions.Archi.

Site Visit with a Mentor

As I mentioned in the beginning, I am currently struggling to get Construction and Evaluation experience with my company. And with the current recession and COVID combined, companies don’t want additional people on site who aren’t there to work on the specific project.

I’ve decided to overcome this obstacle by scheduling virtual site visits with my mentor. No, this didn’t involve checking the site out via Google maps or live-stream. What he did was take me through one of his completed projects from start to finish, including all the client and community review processes that he had to conduct along the way. We went through:

  • site photos at different stages
  • site considerations and challenges the project faced
  • procurement process for bidding the project
  • value engineering
  • engineers and consultants required
  • reasons for specific design decisions
  • zoning and approvals

And throughout this presentation, I was asking questions based on what I’ve learned from studying for the ARE’s and architectural practice. It felt really great to apply my knowledge and feel like I had a real understanding of the concepts and processes he was describing.


These were just a few of the many methods available to you to obtain your AXP experience hours. If you have tried any of these, or have tried other methods, please share in the comments. For those still studying for the AREs, I’ll soon be sharing my PjM study guide, which is being released for free on August 31st 2020. You can pre-order it for free today!