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.
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%).
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.
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.
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.