I had no idea architecture had such a diversity problem when I first realized I wanted to be an architect. At the time in 1994, 10% of AIA members were women, and only 7% of AIA members were people of color. While percentages today have improved, it is an issue that deserves our attention for two reasons—a diverse society needs a diverse range of architects to best respond to the challenges of today’s built environment, and diversity within the profession makes for better design quality. Embracing our differences and encouraging dialogue is a priority at Arrowstreet, and we get to share in this every day.
The issue of diversity in the profession overall has been gaining momentum recently through a number of recent grassroots efforts advocating for a wider range of candidates for high-profile awards, keynote presentations, the need for increased data on the current state of the profession, and inclusion within online archives such as Wikipedia. Building upon this, I have been appointed to the Commission on Equity: a blue-ribbon panel of architects, educators, and diversity experts charged with looking at the issues of equity and diversity within architecture. We are charged with assessing recent demographic data and setting a plan of action for future efforts to increase diversity in the profession. While this work will be high-level and wide in its scope, I would like to share some personal observations about why diversity is essential, especially in the context of design.
- Diversity makes us smarter. When designers have a range of potential ideas, it enhances the way in which we approach a problem. This keeps us thinking dynamically and allows us to use the best of the best. Often this comes from the collaboration of many smaller ideas.
- Diversity enhances creativity. Bringing new experiences and perspectives allows us to play off of each other’s ideas to co-create innovative approaches to our client’s problems. We have to think about what we design from all angles and perspectives; this allows us to move past our own limitations as individuals.
- Diversity provokes thought. Holding conversations and being reflective about our work is integral to studio culture at Arrowstreet. We talk about what we are doing internally, and about what we are doing in the community at large. Sharing our processes and challenges allows our community to think more deeply about potential solutions.
- Diversity challenges us to work together. We know that bringing diverse voices to the table forces us to listen and communicate respectfully. Collaboration and learning to trust each other is a process that expands both individual and group understanding of design. If we all designed the same thing over and over again, what’s the fun in that?
I look forward to exploring these issues over the next year, both at Arrowstreet and with the overall profession in mind. A more diverse range of architects will ultimately better serve our communities and bring a greater range of design solutions to the problems of today and tomorrow.