Over 400 architects and design professionals ran a stark full-page advertisement in the October 25 edition of the New York Times in “complete commitment to and support for the protection of Black lives and the advancement of Black livelihood.”
Organized by a number of fellows from the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and the Architects Foundation (the philanthropic arm of the AIA) in solidarity with the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), the ad goes on to express the signees’ concern that, of the 116,000-plus licensed architects in the United States, less than two percent are Black and less than a quarter of Black architects are women—a statistic that has held steady for at least the last 50 years.
The ad requests donations for the Architects Foundation’s diversity scholarship, which supports minority students with a multi-year award toward their architectural education.
“This issue (the lack of Black architects) comes to surface every 10 years, gets two years of attention, then fades away,” says R. Steven Lewis, a principal at ZGF and a Foundation board member. “We’re looking at this moment as finally the possibility of a tipping point. That we don’t return to distraction, that we keep Black Lives Matter central to our lives, inside and outside the profession.”
The idea for the ad was conceived by architect Jan Wampler and other AIA fellows after the police killing of George Floyd in May, says Lewis, who at first was resistant to putting money toward an advertisement—it cost $55,000—rather than a scholarship itself. But advocates for the statement, including Wampler and Carole Wedge, ultimately convinced Lewis and others that the exposure through the Times could potentially cover the cost of the ad three times over. “We could gain exposure beyond our own cohort,” says Lewis. Fifty-thousand dollars of the ad was paid for by the signees. Wampler raised an additional $5,000 to run the ad on a Sunday, after he learned that it would receive increased exposure.
With a deal brokered by Marci Reed, the executive director of the Foundation, it was ultimately decided that the Foundation would be the vehicle for the scholarship. The Foundation already has a diversity advancement scholarship, which was founded after civil rights leader Whitney Young criticized architects in 1968 for the lack of diversity in the field’s ranks and its contributions to the disenfranchisement and marginalization of poor people and minorities.
That scholarship received a $1 million investment from the AIA in 2016, says Reed. Twenty awards were given out to students in 2018; 10 in 2019. Because of market volatility and COVID-19, five awards were given in 2020. Reed says she hopes the money raised through the ad and the new fundraising effort will allow the Foundation to increase awards to students attending historically Black colleges and universities that are NAAB-accredited, as well as some minority students at majority institutes. Reed says that Wampler’s initiative “is a perfect complement to the direction [the Foundation] was already looking to go.”
Racism is of course embedded in the architecture profession, but the “dual pandemics”—COVID-19 and the number of Black people dying at the hands of police—are a “cultural awakening,” says Lewis. “All the people stuck at home saw the violence against Black people that we’ve been seeing for 400 years. A wall between universes crumbled.”