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. 

Event Wish List Roundup: August 2020

The events I would be going to if I wasn’t busy studying for the ARE 5.0.

If you don’t want to read the whole post and skip to the events, go here.

I’m a big fan of Dave Ramsey, and one of his favorite quotes is,

“If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”

Dave Ramsey

He has his own explanation for what that means, but for myself, it means that to achieve results that no one else is seeing, you have to do what no one else is doing.

Michael Riscica of Young Architect mentioned in his “How to Pass the ARE 5.0” presentation in Washington, D.C. (which he is hosting again virtually, you should check it out) that passing these exams requires sacrifices. One of the biggest challenges for me in terms of making time to study is social engagements and architecture events.

For social engagements, I feel like it’s definitely normal to want to spend time with your family and friends, even virtually, especially in these lonely times with COVID. I also use my time with friends to unwind and vent about my week and be less in my own mind. But I’ve found that even when I go, at the end of the day, I’m wracked with guilt when I think about all the time that I’ve lost from studying for what is supposed to be my main focus.

In terms of architecture events, I have a variety of reasons for why they’ve taken up a huge part of my free time:

  • Networking and connecting with like-minded professional
  • Being able to support other architects in their journey
  • Getting additional experience hours to complete my AXP
  • Learning new skills that will make me more competitive in the marketplace
  • A lot of events are being hosted virtually now, giving me greater access to events, such as building tours and local forums, that I never would have been able to attend in person, pre-COVID
  • I want to remain connected in the industry when so many people are becoming disengaged due to distance and canceled events
  • I want to be supportive of social and racial justice events within the industry
  • I want to learn more about the history of architecture and preservation from regional experts who I would not have had the chance to see in person
  • Since events are virtual, I can easily attend during lunch hours without having to worry about the commute time back and forth

Whew, that list was longer than I thought it would be. Clearly I have a lot of solid reasons. However, as good as many of these reasons are, it still misses the point. Not matter how many events I attend, or forums I’m on, or tours I go to, none of these will make me a fully-fledged, licensed, registered, legal architect. But passing the ARE 5.0 definitely will. Even if I took a 100 construction tours for AXP CE experience, NCARB only accepts 20 hours obtained that way, so the impact would be very limited.

So let’s talk about strategy. My new aim is to not attend any more architecture industry events (unless I’m presenting) until I pass my AREs. My main challenge with this is that my social media feeds are curated to specifically send me information about news and interesting events on a regular basis. So what can I do with this information?

I turn it into an event roundup that the readers of my blog can use, obviously!

So I’ll be trying to create lists of architecture, design, historic preservation, racial justice and equity events I wish I could be attending, but I can’t because I’m studying for my ARE’s. They’re not in chronological order, just listed as I find them. I’ll be updating these lists throughout the month, so make sure to check back for any updates.

Event Wish List Roundup: August 2020

Architecture in Turbulent Times: Equity, Environment, Health, & Economy

Date: August 12, 2020

Time: 12:00 pm -5:00 pm EST

Price: $49

The last few months have catapulted the world into uncharted territory. The simultaneous crises of climate change, COVID-19, a looming economic depression, and systemic racial injustice have exposed structural failings that architecture, and society, must address. It’s a perfect storm that has created an unprecedented call for change. Where do we go from here?

This one-day virtual learning event is centered around change. It’s designed to help you confront these challenges and change your practice and the architecture profession for the better. Twenty sessions dive into the important, intersecting issues of equity, the economy, the environment, and public health. You’ll learn from a diverse range of experts in architecture and beyond—architects, climate champions, civic leaders, leading academics, and more. Don’t miss this event, packed with the brave ideas and honest dialogue that architecture needs now.

Your $49 ticket includes all day-of live programming, access to on-demand sessions for 60 days, and access to recordings of the live sessions for 60 days.

Earns up to 14.5 AIA LUs / RIBA and 6.25 AIA LUs / HSW.

You can find a link to the schedule here, and the link to register is here.

*There is also a scholarship for this event, available to NOMA members. Visit this link for further details.

THE MEMORIAL TO THE ENSLAVED LABORERS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA

Date: August 12, 2020

Time: 4:00pm EST

Price: Free

The design of a new Memorial to Enslaved Laborers (MEL) on the grounds of the University of Virginia marks a critical moment to address the complex history of the University – and of the country. It directly responds to a deep need to address an untold and uncomfortable history – one that is still very much a difficult, though necessary, national conversation on race. The goal of the Memorial is to create a physical place of remembrance and a symbolic acknowledgement of a difficult past and offers a place of learning and a place of healing.

The Memorial was designed as part of a collaboration between Howeler + Yoon Architects, Studio&, Gregg Bleam Landscape Architect, Eto Otitigbe, and had thoughtful input from many more. During this program, Alice Raucher and Mary Hughes (UVA Office of the Architect), Mabel Wilson (Studio&), and J. Meejin Yoon (Höweler + Yoon Architects) will discuss the unique process that made this project possible.

The session will describe the momentum of the project, beginning with student-led initiatives as early as 2010, the ideas competition, final design resolution, and the guiding work of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University (PCSU). Participants will also learn of the robust community engagement process, including descendants of the enslaved and how the shared vision informed each element of the Memorial’s design.

Earn 1 AIA LU | HSW

You can register for the Zoom webinar here.

PROFS & PINTS ONLINE: THE WICKEDNESS OF THE THREE-FIFTHS CLAUSE

Date: August 4, 2020

Time: 7:00pm to 9:00pm EST

Price: $12

Profs and Pints Online presents: “The Wickedness of the Three-Fifths Clause,” a deep dive into the troubling hidden history of the 1787 federal Constitution, with Rick Bell, professor of history at the University of Maryland.

The original United States Constitution looked both ways. Its preamble announces its purpose to secure “the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” an important acknowledgement that liberty is the goal and right of all citizens. Yet, most constitutional scholars regard the 1787 Constitution as being vigorously pro-slavery, something that becomes apparent when we take a long hard look at its infamous Three-Fifths Clause.

Be on hand as Rick Bell, a history professor who has given thrilling Profs and Pints talks on the Hamilton musical and on Benjamin Franklin, returns to the virtual stage to explore how the Three-Fifths Clause came into being. He’ll look at how the Constitutional delegates did their work, reconstruct all of the contemporary opposition that their work generated, and consider the legacy of clauses like Three-Fifths in our post-slavery world.

Far more insidious than is commonly understood, the Three-Fifths Clause wove slaveholder power into the fabric of each of all three branches of government—executive, legislative, and judicial—shaping every aspect of federal policy regarding slavery for decades to come. And it turns out that Three-Fifths clause was just one of almost a dozen clauses in the original Constitution that affected the relationships of the government of the United States to slavery and the slave trade. Through the chemistry of those other clauses, the many delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention who were slaveholders themselves, or who were slavery-dependent or slavery-adjacent, worked to prop up and protect that institution.

“Considering all circumstances,” one slave-owning delegate later boasted, “we have made the best terms for the security of this species of property it was in our power to make.”

The Bill of Rights, a list of ten amendments added to the Constitution in 1791, recognized freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, and of petition. Those freedoms would come to serve as major channels for antislavery action and expression in the decades before the Civil War, helping give rise to the forces that eventually would bring an end to slavery and the Three-Fifths Clause. Yet the damage done by that clause haunts us today. (Ticket: $12. A recorded version of this talk will remain available online at the link given here.)

This talk will be held online via Crowdcast. You can purchase your tickets here.

FAIRFAX COUNTY NAACP: TOWNHALL ON SYSTEMIC RACISM WITH DR. SCOTT BRABAND

Date: August 5, 2020

Time: 6:30pm to 7:30pm EST

Price: Free

Join us for our rescheduled townhall on systemic racism with Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Brabrand. We’re excited to have Dr. Brabrand engage in this crucial discussion on systemic racism and equity issues within our public schools.

From academic achievement, enrollment at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, to the School Resource Officer program and the school-to-prison pipeline, systemic racism effects our children’s lives every day. This will be a civil discourse where we can openly talk about our and our kids’ experiences, ask questions, and talk about what change looks like.

Please RSVP at: fairfaxnaacp.org/upcoming-events or watch on FB Live: facebook.com/fairfaxnaacp/live

AIA NY: VOICES OF EQUITY, DIVERSITY, AND INCLUSION: CHAMPIONING CHANGE

Date: August 20, 2020

Time: 6:30pm to 8:00pm

Price:

AIANY Member: Free
AIA Long Island Member: Free
AIA Member (not AIANY or AIA LI): $5
Student with Valid .edu Email Address: Free
General Public: $10

In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, and in support of the ongoing effort to improve our profession to achieve Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) in our workplace and our industry, WIA is hosting a panel with four extraordinary women who are leading and championing change through their various meaningful and impactful organizations.

Please join the AIA New York and the AIA Long Island Women in Architecture Committees in this important panel discussion with three prominent voices of EDI: Bolanle Williams-Olley, Danei Cesario AIA, RIBA, NCARB, NOMA, and Pascale Sablan AIA, NOMA, LEED AP. They will share their initiatives in promoting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and offer suggestions, ideas, and actions on how each one of us can contribute to building an equitable profession. Julia Gamolina will be moderating the discussion, and will also highlight her work and dedication in making women in our industry more visible through her online platform Madame Architect.

Register here: https://calendar.aiany.org/2020/07/22/voices-of-equity-diversity-and-inclusion-championing-change/

Panelists:
Bolanle Williams-Olley, Chief Financial Officer, Mancini Duffy; Founder, SheBuildsWaves, SheBuildLives & REACH Nigeria
Danei Cesario AIA, RIBA, NCARB, NOMA, Project Manager, SOM; Founder, WALLEN + daub
Pascale Sablan AIA, NOMA, LEED AP, Senior Associate, S9ARCHITECTURE

Moderator:
Julia Gamolina, Associate AIA, Director of Strategy, Trahan Architects; Founder & Editorial Director, Madame Architect

1,5 LU Credits.

TEXAS FREEDOM COLONIES PROJECT COFFEE TALK: HONORING OUR ANCESTORS – BURIAL GROUNDS, CEMETERIES AND FINAL RESTING PLACES

Date: August 21, 2020

Time: 11:00am EST

Price: Free

For this month’s Coffee Talk, our guests will be discussing the status of African American burial grounds, cemeteries and final resting places of our ancestors. Preservation work is often fueled by the veneration of our ancestors work.

Guests will include:
Dr. Antoinette Harrell
Genealogist/Local Historian/Peonage Researcher

Dr. Tara Dudley
Architectural Historian & Lecturer (University of Texas – Austin)

Diana Hernandez
University of Texas Master’s Candidate

Jennifer Blanks, MS
TAMU Doctoral Student & Founder of The Cemetery Sista.

Real Life. Real Issues. Real People.

You can participate in this talk via Live Video by The Texas Freedom Colonies Project.

STRONG TOWNS: INNOVATIONS IN NATURALLY AFFORDABLE HOUSING VIRTUAL SUMMIT

Date: August 11 – 12, 2020

Time: 8:00am – 11:00PM

Price: Free

Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn will deliver his lecture Breaking out of the Housing Trap at the Innovations in Naturally Affordable Housing, Virtual Summit.

Talk of a “housing crisis” pervades American cities—whether off-the-charts rents in coastal cities or hyper-vacancy in the Rust Belt. These problems are symptoms of a deeper dysfunction. Over nearly a century, through often well-intended top-down policy interventions, we’ve turned a complex system that should be adaptive and self-correcting into one prone to a never-ending cycle of boom and bust, crises and overcorrections.

To address the dysfunction at the root of our housing problems, we need to shift our approach. We must move away from a model in which large developers and centralized financial institutions have unprecedented sway over what is built and where, to a more antifragile housing ecosystem in which the bar to entry is low, and every neighborhood can undergo incremental change over time.

The Breaking Out of the Housing Trap presentation will help you understand the root causes of America’s interrelated housing crises, and identify some rational responses that your city (and every city) can take.

ABOUT THE INNOVATIONS IN NATURALLY AFFORDABLE HOUSING, VIRTUAL SUMMIT

This two day, online experience allows you learn from the nation’s leading innovators and experts about many different parts of a comprehensive strategy to tackle the housing crisis. This virtual summit is not targeting the traditional affordable housing developers who live in a world of complex tax credits, regulations, and housing finance—although they are welcome to attend. This is the summit for everyone else who cares about rapidly addressing your community’s affordable housing crisis.

Free Access and All-Access registration subscriptions available.

This conference is organized and hosted by the Population Health Learning Collaborative: https://improvepophealth.org/


I hope you liked this roundup, feel free to post any events I’ve forgotten in the comments. As I mentioned before, I’ll be updating this roundup regularly as I discover new events throughout the month. Make sure to follow the blog on Facebook and Instagram to get more content like this. Happy studying!

NOMA BRAVE Breakdown

NOMA BRAVE Action Steps

For those that don’t know, the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) has released some action steps for architects of all backgrounds to support their colleagues in the fight for racial justice and equity.

This initiative is called BRAVE, and NOMA challenges all large architecture firms to become dues paying members of the organization, as well adopting NOMA’s steps for an inclusive atmosphere, which include:

NOMA BRAVE Breakdown

I think this initiative is a great opportunity for those who may just be joining the fight for social injustice, but I believe that it needs a bit more detail to help with implementation. To help those who want to make a difference in the profession, but aren’t sure where to start, I’ve create the NOMA BRAVE Breakdown. This breakdown takes the action steps provided by NOMA and provides tangible next steps and goals for architecture & design professionals. Here is an image of the breakdown.

Keep in mind that the links will only work if you download the actual PDF, which is available here.

NOMA BRAVE Breakdown Image. Don’t forget that the links will only work if you download the PDF.

Disclaimer: This guide is a recommendation made by me based on the framework provided by NOMA. This breakdown was not created by or sponsored by NOMA. All thoughts and opinions contained within it are my own.

Anti-Racism Design Resources

I would also highly recommend that you check out this comprehensive list of Anti-Racism Design Resources, which cover:

Black architects, designers, planners, activists’ recent responses, reflections, statements

Firms/practices currently offering pro bono services

Firms/practices currently taking actions (e.g. matching donations)

Resources about offering pro bono services

Examples of pro bono services you and/or your firm/practice/collective can offer

Examples of fellowships/internships your firm can offer to Black students

Support Black designers, especially our colleagues, with opportunities like these!

For non-Black and white folks organizing within our firms/practices/collectives

Additional resources to share both internally and in a public statement

List of Black organizers/leadership

List of Black-led firms/practices/collectives

List of architecture/design organizations doing anti-racism work in academic institutions

List of architecture/design organizations doing anti-racism work in the field at large

List of organizations to follow on social media

Past Events

If you have any additional resources or events on this topic, feel free to share them in the comments!