Racism in the Architectural Profession, by Olivera Neskovic

October 2, 2020

[Reading List]

Architectural History 101: BIPOC Architects in North America

The stories and struggles of BIPOC architects are an understudied and intrinsic part of the architectural profession history in North America. Craig L. Wilkins confirms this when he writes that, “the experience of architects of color is not only that of African Americans themselves. It is that of the American experience in general.”Wilkins maps out the complications that African Americans are faced with while pursuing careers in architecture. He confirms that historically, African Americans have been met with discrimination at every step: through applying to schools while attending inflexible programs focusing on white, western design and finally when seeking employment in the white-male dominated the field of architecture.

In “Designing for Diversity,” Kathryn H. Anthony reveals that the struggle further perpetuates inequality within our field. Feelings of discouragement due to racism and discrimination decrease the chances of pursuing a career in professional architecture practice or academia, such as the case with Marcy Wong. Marcy was an Asian female architecture professor who was denied tenure due to the discomfort of her white male colleagues with her gender and background. Anthony references the American Institute of Architects (AIA) membership statistics from 2002 which reveal that only 8.4% of all tenured architectural faculty at the time were BIPOC.2 Consolidated data on BIPOC individuals practicing within the field was not available at the time, showing how little attention was placed on demographics within the profession.

The process of rebuilding after turbulent histories of oppression can also have ripple effects on BIPOC groups. Many groups are still in the process of healing and repair from years of slavery, residential schools, and segregation, and this greatly affects their visibility within the architectural profession. Until recently, many minority groups have not been able to prioritize receiving architectural education in North America. In an interview conducted by Wahpasiw with Patrick Stewart for the Canadian Architect, and upon asking an Elder within his community, why there is a lack of indigenous architects and students today, Stewart received he following response:  “Lawyers were the first thing we needed, and then when residential schools closed, we needed teachers…. He said, “architecture will come”- it just wasn’t the first priority.”It is evident why BIPOC architects and academics are sparse within the field: the odds of completing an architectural education have historically been against BIPOC due to systemic racism and structural inequalities.

The Making of Today’s Special: Ham Sandwich Architecture

Anthony describes the current lack of diversity within the field entirely when she writes, “in striking contrast to the other arts, architecture remains all too homogeneous: too male, too pale… the architectural world-for the most part-is just a plain old ham sandwich.”4 We know that in diversifying whom we are taught by, work and study with, we can significantly enrich our architectural knowledge. Today, the profession remains stuck within a rigid framework built primarily by white men in the 20th century.

A large part of why architecture has been so slow to change, as opposed to other fields, is the lack of long-term diversity management implementation and the sole dependence on affirmative action. Anthony’s text bristles with examples of accountability, but perhaps the most enlightening example is the R. Roosevelt Thomas method of managing diversity within organizations.In studying the table excerpted from Thomas’ book, we can begin to see just how problematic an organization’s dependence on affirmative action can be. It is only in addressing diversity in a holistic way and with long-term consistency that a change can be observed.

One of the most prominent and effective solutions for increasing diversity remains an increase in the hiring of BIPOC architects. By diversifying the people within a practice or organization, we also diversify the architecture and knowledge that is produced.  Anthony writes that “women can play special roles in transforming both the educational mission and practice of architectural education through the ideals of a liberal education, interdisciplinary connections, the integration of different modes of thought, connections to other disciplines through beginning studios, the reformation of pedagogical practices, collaboration, and caring for and counselling students.”6 Although Anthony’s focus lies primarily on women in architecture, her observations on the lack of gender diversity within the field can be applied directly to racial diversity in contemporary practice.

Architecture Now: How to Learn and Grow from Past Mistakes  

Until now, architecture has been too slow in making significant changes both in education and in the profession. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is an awakening to the lack of change in society and also within the field of architecture. The civil movements addressing the unequal treatment of Black people in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s,  “left the country both shaken and chastened with respect to its treatment of people of color.”

This cycle of North Americans suddenly awakening to the horrors of inequality within their society is an all too familiar story that dates back to the abolishment of slavery and brings us to the BLM movement, which has regained speed since George Floyd’s death in May 2020. The general response of architecture within North America following these movements has been great at producing pithy statements and anti-racist manifestos, but this has continuously failed to tackle diversity in a tangible way.

In “Designing for Diversity,” Anthony suggests many methods, some more successful than others, which can be implemented by universities and architectural practices for improving diversity. How can we, as students in architecture, influence the diversity of the profession we are entering? Some of the examples that Anthony provides us with include the introduction of mentorship programs, increased flexibility of working hours, more part-time positions within universities and increased community dialogue through public outreach programs.These are all effective methods for the better inclusion of BIPOC individuals, but Anthony’s and Wilkins’ pieces have been around for twenty and ten years, respectively, with little to no change in the field. It appears that is up to us, students who have yet to enter the profession, to implement and accelerate the changes we want to see in the future.


1 Craig L. Wilkins, “Race and Diversity,” in Architecture School: Three Centuries of Educating Architects in North American, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2012), 374-79.

2 Kathryn H. Anthony, “Designing for Diversity: Implications for Architectural Education in the Twenty-First Century.” Journal of Architectural Education 55, no. 4 (2002): 257-67. https://doi.org/10.1162/104648802753657969

Omeasoo Wahpasiw, “Learning from Indigenous Consultants,Canadian Architect, September 1, 2020, https://www.canadianarchitect.com/september-2020/, 37.

4 Anthony, “Designing for Diversity,” 266.

5 Ibid, 260-61.

6 Ibid, 258.

7 Wilkins, “Race and Diversity,” 377.

8 Anthony, “Designing for Diversity,” 264-266.

Racism in the Architectural Profession, by Zoe Goodman

October 2, 2020

[Reading List]

The State of the Architectural Profession and Race: The Profession Will Not Change until the Education System Changes

The architectural education system and profession in North America are based on white culture and fail to provide a supportive environment for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) students and professionals. This perpetuates a long history of struggles for BIPOC students and professionals to thrive in a white man’s world.  As stated by late Ernest Boyer and Lee Mitgang quoted by Kathryn H. Anthony and Craig L. Wilkins: “After the dawn of the civil rights era, architecture remains among the less successful professions in diversifying its ranks—trailing, for example, such formerly male‑dominated fields as business, computer science, accounting, law, pharmacology and medicine.”1

In his essay “Race and Diversity,” Wilkins explains the lack of opportunity for African Americans in the architectural education system in the United States as being “based upon a kind of universality of cultural expression representing mainly that of the predominant white American culture.”2 He explains a long history of inequity in architectural education that has yet to be solved today. In fact, despite being written ten years later, Wilkins’ essay reiterates many of the same issues highlighted by Anthony in her 2002 article “Designing for Diversity”. This demonstrates the slow pace of change when it comes to eliminating racism from the architectural education system and profession.

Anthony spends less time reviewing the history of inequality and instead uses real-life examples to take a closer look at the lack of diversity in American architecture schools.3 While Wilkins ends his essay hopelessly, stating that African American architecture faculty will continue to “make a way out of no way.”4 Anthony provides some concrete methods to address the issue. According to Anthony, the architectural profession will not change until architecture education changes. She argues that strategies need to be adopted in school and practice to promote lasting change, focusing on both condemning “incidents of discrimination, harassment and unfair treatment” and implementing strategies to support underrepresented educators and students. Anthony calls for hiring a diverse faculty to promote and reward underrepresented students and faculty with support systems, networking opportunities and showcases of the work of BIPOC faculty.5

Wilkins praises Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) for training African American architects who went on to effectively disprove the widely held notion that African Americans did not have the intellectual capacity to become professionals.6 He also praises many notable practitioner-educators who set the standard for future black educators. However, it would have been beneficial to dig deeper by giving specific examples of how HBCUs or practitioner-educators have paved the way for today’s African American architects.7 Anthony provides statistics and shares experiences of the individual, a perspective that would have given greater depth to Wilkin’s arguments. However, Anthony arguably focuses too much on the struggles she faces as a white woman rather than those of the minority groups who are even less privileged than she is.

Current Events

The cyclical nature of the problem is evident in both texts, and it is apparent that the issues still resonate today. While there has been some improvement, many of the issues described in Anthony’s essay (written in 2002) remain to be fully addressed. Research into Black, Asian and minority ethnic architects reveals that racism in the profession is getting worse and not better, as published in The Architect’s Journal when 43 percent of Black respondents said racism was “widely prevalent” compared with 30 percent in 2018.8

Wilkins notes how the civil disturbances in the 1950s and 1960s brought to light issues that faced African Americans resulting in a nationwide effort to address systemic inequalities under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Top architecture schools in America recognized the problem and began to admit more African American students.This was an improvement; however, African Americans are still underrepresented in architecture schools and practice 60 years later.

The death of George Floyd and subsequent outpouring of grief, anger, and determination to bring real change could prove to be another pivotal moment in race relations in our society and within the architectural profession. According to the New York Times, the movement may have been the largest in United States history.10 However, we already see a deceleration in momentum. There are fewer front-page headlines and fewer conversations with friends, family, and acquaintances. Are we already going back to our pre-George Floyd ways? How can we break this never-ending cycle of inequity in the architectural profession?  The movement has inspired architecture students and professionals to look at the systemic racism that still exists today. For example, in universities across Canada including the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto, Ryerson and Dalhousie, open letters written by students addressed schools of architecture demanding change. Additionally, we can now find articles in architectural magazines and groups at architecture schools such as the Race | Space reading group at McGill or the Racial Equity and Environmental Justice Task Force at the University of Waterloo, which address the lack of diversity in architecture.11 Only time will tell if this momentum will endure.

There is a lack of information on race and diversity in the architectural profession within the United States. There is an even more significant lack of information coming from Canada, signaling that Canada also has a long way to go. In the September 2020 issue of Canadian Architect, nehiyaw architect Wanda Della Costa describes her struggles as a Canadian Indigenous architect. She expresses her frustration with “colonial processes,” stating that “indigenous ideas do not have a place in the current system.”12 Wilkins also expresses concerns with the entire American architecture school system being dominated by white culture.13

Next Steps

To make lasting improvements within the architectural profession, systemic changes need to be made. Wilkins reflects: “The small number of African Americans on architecture faculties today is indicative not of the pool of talent available but rather of the market and those who control it.”14 Timothy Onyenobi, a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)  Architects for Change Advisory Group, argues architecture schools need to change their entrance policies, learning from professions that are more successful in selecting a diverse range of students.15

Anthony’s ideas of diversity plans and her call for a restructuring of architecture schools seem promising. However, we are not seeing any significant change by the time Wilkins wrote “Race and Diversity,” and we are still hearing from countless BIPOC individuals who feel underrepresented and bullied in the architectural world.  The climate is shifting following the events of this year, and it is critical that this momentum is sustained to finally break the cycle of inequality in the architectural profession.


1 Kathryn H Anthony, “Designing for Diversity: Implications for Architectural Education in the Twenty-First Century,” Journal of Architectural Education 55, no. 4 (2002): 257-67.

Craig L Wilkins, “Race and Diversity,” in Architecture School: Three Centuries of Educating Architects in North America, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2012), 374-79.

Anthony, “Designing for Diversity,” 257-67.

Wilkins, “Race and Diversity,” 378.

Anthony, “Designing for Diversity,” 262.

Wilkins, “Race and Diversity,” 376.

Ibid, 374-79.

Richard Waite, “Architecture Is Systemically Racist. So What Is the Profession Going to Do about It?” The Architects’ Journal, August 14, 2020,

Wilkins, “Race and Diversity,” 377.

10 Larry Buchanan, Quoctrung Bui, and Jugal K. Patel, “Black Lives Matter May Be the Largest Movement in U.S. History,” New York Times, July 3, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/07/03/us/george-floyd-protests-crowd-size.html.

11 “Racial Equity and Environmental Justice Task Force,” Racial Equity and Environmental Justice Task Force | Waterloo Architecture, accessed September 28, 2020, https://www.waconnect.ca/groups/racial-equity-and-environmental-justice-task-force.

12 Omeasoo Wahpasiw, “Learning from Indigenous Consultants,Canadian Architect, September 1, 2020, https://www.canadianarchitect.com/september-2020/, 37.

13 Wilkins, “Race and Diversity,” 374.

14 Ibid, 378.

15 Waite, “Architecture Is Systemically Racist. So What Is the Profession Going to Do about It?”




Architectural Profession

Week 12 Architectural Profession

Curated by Olivera Neskovic and Zoe Goodman

October 2, 2020

Required readings

Anthony, Kathryn H. “Designing for Diversity: Implications for Architectural Education in the Twenty-First Century.” Journal of Architectural Education 55, no. 4 (2002): 257-67. https://doi.org/10.1162/104648802753657969

Wilkins, Craig L. “Race and Diversity.” In Architecture School: Three Centuries of Educating Architects in North America, 374-379. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2012.

Further readings

Wahpasiw, Omeasoo. “Learning from Indigenous Consultants.” Canadian Architect, September 1, 2020. https://www.canadianarchitect.com/september-2020/

Waite, Richard. “Architecture Is Systemically Racist. So What Is the Profession Going to Do about It?” The Architects’ Journal, July 23, 2020.

Asad Syrkett, Tanay Warerkar. “16 Architects of Color Speak out about the Industry’s Race Problem.” Curbed. February 22, 2017.

Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.