Diversity in Architecture: A Promise for the Future

It is 2018 and only 36 percent of newly licensed architects in the U.S. are women and only two percent are Black. But those numbers are changing. With the benefits and necessities of diversity in the workplace undeniable, firms big and small are setting new goals for themselves and having active, sometimes uncomfortable, conversations about diversifying the field.

But what does “workplace diversity” really mean when the leaders of these discussions are often not the ones who directly face discrimination? The 46th Annual NOMA Conference attempted to pose, answer, and challenge the questions around diversity from the personal perspectives of people of color. Through a series of events, lectures, and panels, “NOMA UNBOUNDED – The Convergence of a Legacy” was a weekend devoted to celebrating and defining diversity within the architecture and design fields.

IIDA hosted NOMA participants and members at IIDA Headquarters on Saturday, October 20, for the panel discussion “Because…Design,” sponsored by Mohawk and moderated by IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO, Cheryl S. Durst, FIIDA and IIDA International Board President Gabrielle Bullock, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA. The panelists present were George Bandy, vice president of sustainability and commercial marketing at Mohawk Group; and Dina Griffin, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA, owner of Interactive Design Architects (IDEA).

The event positioned itself as less a formal discussion and more an intimate exchange among four people on racism, equity, culture, and loving their jobs. “We’re not going to have images, you’re not going to look at a PowerPoint,” Durst announced to the audience members. “We’re just going to have a conversation. The power of conversation is underrated and we need it now more than ever.”

Bandy began the discussion with how he perceived a growing importance of sustainability and well-being going hand-in-hand with a push for diversity within design, architecture, and manufacturing. Communities of color often bare the brunt of unsustainable, cost-cutting development practices, and now the conversations around helping those communities are being led by a diverse crowd. “There has been an influx of people being able to express themselves more freely as it relates to the importance of design,” Bandy said.

Bullock echoed the notion that diversifying the workplace is critical for bettering the lives of diverse communities. “I wanted to become an architect because I wanted to improve how people live,” she said.

Architects are thinking about the environment on a personal, micro level, and in turn, discovering how important a diverse workplace is for generating and maintaining sustainable practices. It seems that the A&D industry is actively rediscovering the workplace as a microcosm for society, and as Durst noted, “You can’t design for the world if you are not of the world.”

“I’ve had clients that have given us work because we are diverse,” expressed Bullock, “and that’s been happening more and more.” Many Perkins+Will projects focus on communities; this necessitates diversifying those working on community projects and helping improve the quality of life for a broad range of people. Diversity is a “spoken strategy” in the Perkins+Will offices.

The panelists also described the ways in which their firms are taking the initiative to ensure diverse hires, which range from overhauling the hiring process to having ongoing dialogues about racism and inclusion. 

“Because…Design” concluded with the question “Does architecture still excite you?” (an unequivocal ‘yes’), along with advice from the panelists: “Bring the voice of your culture and your ancestors to work with you every day, ” Bandy stressed. “Don’t leave your street sense at home; bring it to work with you. Bring your true self to the table.”


Visit NOMA Unbounded for more information about the conference.

*An earlier version of this post cited that only 36 percent of licensed architects in the U.S. are women and only two percent are Black. It should be only 36 percent of newly licensed architects in the U.S. are women and only two percent are Black (as of 2016). 

Social Design Dialogues: Beyond the Bathroom Sign

This post was contributed by Raquel Raney, Student IIDA, and Brennan Broome, Student IIDA, co-presidents of the IIDA Florida International University Campus Center.

At Bespeak’s inaugural talk, “Non-Compliant Bodies and Social Equity in Public and Private Space,” participants looked to open up a dialogue about inclusive restroom design for all-gender public facilities. The topic, as of recently, has gained widespread media coverage, sparking discussion and debate within the field of politics, and is a subject often overlooked within the design of the built environment. What we learned at Bespeak was that the issue of inclusive design has a much further reach than gender alone and can solve a whole spectrum of demographic design problems. Designing all gender facilities doesn’t only benefit transgender populations, but also people of all ages, abilities, and religions who require special needs and assistance.

The tendency with bathroom design and space planning is to give it the least thought ­­­– tucked away in far off corners of buildings – with the only goal being to comply with code. This not only creates safety concerns, it establishes restrooms as places of disgust and possible shame. By creating thoughtful, functional spaces, designers and architects can play a vital role in moving forward towards a more open and inclusive design of restrooms, potentially changing the way people think of and use these spaces.

For us as young designers, the discussion opened up a new approach to our design practice – one that is lacking in the traditional design education. It opened our eyes to the diversity of the people this profession reaches and the potential effects one’s decisions can have on whole populations of people. It became clear to us that the design process cannot be done alone. It requires a cross-disciplinary approach to tackle the issue of inclusivity in the built environment. From conception to creation, bringing together a diverse group of practitioners and individuals — from architects, interior designers, and graphic designers, to psychologists, business owners, and of course, end-users — is vital in fostering a productive discourse that leads to practical, real-life solutions.

With our backgrounds in graphic design, symbols and iconography have become a point of interest in creating a much needed, universal vocabulary around the subject of diversity design. The current system promotes the requirement of marginalized identification that needs to be rethought to include those that exist outside of the gender binary. Although it is not a simple task, important issues like these raised at Bespeak have inspired us to broaden our scope to create meaningful work that promotes health and well-being and improves safety and security in public spaces –ultimately, creating a better designed environment for everyone.


Raquel Raney, Student IIDA, and Brennan Broome, Student IIDA, are both master’s degree candidates of interior architecture at Florida International University. The pair run Raneytown, a full-service branding and creative studio based in Miami, Florida. Merging backgrounds in art and design, Raneytown delivers distinctively creative and collaborative design solutions across a range of disciplines and mediums.