The Face of Architecture

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Similiar to the gender issue in the field of architecture, race is also an issue in the field. In school and in the professional world, there are large emphasis on white architects and their success, few on asian architects, and almost none of the black.

In an article titled “Do Schools Ignore Non-White Architects?”, Sunand Prasad, the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) said that the British curriculum was a barrier to ethnic minority participation in the profession. He follows by saying “In schools of architecture you get very, very little teaching about architecture and design from other parts of the world,” Prasad said. “Mostly you study white architects and white architecture.” Chris Nasah, a member of the Society of Black Architects agreed but added that the school curriculum was only one dimension of addressing diversity and that “there are few staff in schools who have an ethnic minority background either.” The problem may not only be in the curriculum but also the make-up of the profession. “Teaching today… would be greatly enriched by a wider focus — but it’s not a barrier to participation,” said Yasmin Shariff, partner at Dennis Sharp Architects and lecturer at the University of Westminster. “What needs to happen is a recognition of the diverse influences that have contributed to British culture and architecture.”

In another study titled “arhchitecture and race: a study of minority ethnic students in the profession, it was clear and identified that there are indeed fewer black and minority ethnics (BME) in school and the profession. As a result, this study attempts to explain why this is. The study shows that white students are four times more likely to obtain first class architecture degrees than BME students. White stuends in architecture are more likely to come from social class 1 (‘professional’). Also data shows that there are fewer BME students at the advanced levels of  part II and III of architectural study, compared to part I. This suggests that BME students are more likely to drop out from Part I than white students.

BME students appear to have a higher chance of dropping out when studying architecture and there are numerous possible reasons:

– Unclear about what was expected of them during their training
– Unfamiliar with the system
– Longer period of education (5-7 years) raise restrictive cost implications
– Difficult to get financial aid in architecture school
– Feelings of isolation due to lack of students from the same ethnic background

Like Sunand Prasad said, a “little change” can benefit the profession greatly and perhaps the place to start would be the educational system.

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