For Black History Month, we’re taking a look at diversity in architecture and the networks that are changing the game for BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) representation in the design and construction of our built environment.
We’ve spoken before on this blog about ethnic diversity in construction. We’ve even showcased some of the best and brightest BAME contributions to architecture. However, although we’re seeing positive shifts in the construction and engineering industries’ approach to improving diversity and inclusion, there is still some way to go at the drawing board of all construction: architecture.
Building for everyone
When we talk about our built environment, we’re describing the human-made space in which people live, work, and recreate on a day-to-day basis. That means buildings, parks and transportation services – the public spaces we all use every day.
Because we all use these spaces, it makes sense that everyone across society should have the opportunity to shape how they’re designed, created and maintained. And yet, while black and ethnic minorities make up 14% of the UK, they account for only 6% of architects.
That’s why industry groups and networks like Paradigm have been created.
What is Paradigm?
Noun - a typical example or pattern of something; a pattern or model.
It takes several years and thousands of pounds from beginning undergraduate studies to becoming an architect. So to succeed you have to be focused and determined to get through the door into your first job as a practicing architect.
It’s very much about visibility; when you start your studies in architecture you don’t see very many people who look like you. Many Paradigm members highlight the challenges they face when they don’t have the support system within the profession – which is why having a network that champions BAME representation is incredibly powerful.
Now, with some ten years of experience and her own practice under her belt, Tara sits on a committee of BAME architects charged with changing the face of architecture for the next generation.
Changing the face of architecture
From running events to connecting members with mentors and recruiters, to speaking at industry events about the importance of representation and diversity, Paradigm’s focus is on opening the eyes of major players to the unrecognised talent that they could be hiring and nurturing.
There are a huge amount of talented BAME would-be architects out there… Paradigm allows us to create that connection between BAME architects and larger practices that very much support the vision.
For its 300 members, there is the opportunity for BAME architects at the very beginning of their professional journeys to see a face just like their own, modelling a successful and fulfilling career. The impact of that experience can’t be underestimated.
Attracting top talent
When it comes to the work at hand, competition for big design contracts get tougher each year. Responding to tighter budgets and increasing regulation, architecture firms are taking EDI (Equality, Inclusion and Diversity) more seriously than ever in the hopes of attracting and retaining top talent.
"There are more, larger practices engaging and specifically contacting Paradigm for job opportunities or to be engaged during our events… a lot of them reach out to us if a job is going. We’ll get an email saying that they’d love for people from Paradigm to apply for this role. It is important to note that the relationship tends to work both ways as well; because our members may have ties and connections with non-EU countries, they often bring larger and quite interesting projects to a firm they feel comfortable in and with.”
Paradigm have already created positive links with large and/or well-established London practices such as Stiff + Trevillion, Sarah Wigglesworth Architects and Jestico & Whiles, who have been incredibly supportive of the network and its development. Paradigm are also looking forward to branching out into other areas of the UK, where there is a wealth of undiscovered BAME talent looking for the right opportunity.
Reshaping our landscape
Committee members of the Paradigm Network are aware of their responsibility to model the architecture practices they want to see in the future; not just as members of the BAME community, but as socially and environmentally conscious individuals.
Far from the traditional days of the profession, when an architect’s simple duty was to design a building within a certain red boundary line, tomorrow’s professionals will have a greater call to respond to:
Our climate is in a crisis and it’s our responsibility and our role as architects to be holistic in how we approach architecture… we need to be far more engaged with the health and wellbeing of the users of our buildings and creating places that people thrive in, not just survive in.
It’s a huge task, and not one to be left to one section of society. The architect practice of the future will have learnt from the mistakes of the past to build projects that are safe, secure and sustainable for everyone who uses them. To do that, they must embrace diversity or risk falling behind.
As for Tara, she’s optimistic about the future of her little corner of the world: “I’m so inspired by the younger generation, their energy, passion and engagement… I feel like we are in a changing landscape, and I think that change is coming - by hook or by crook!”