Report Card: How Are Firms Grappling with Racial Justice?

Architectural Record

After a year of reckoning, Architectural Record published a report on the efforts of some of the nation’s largest architecture firms to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Full article at Architectural Record or as a pdf download below.

“To really achieve justice—equity, diversity and inclusion must be a larger part of our education. We have to change the way we understand architecture and the design profession overall—we have to create just cities and just spaces.” 

Camila Gutierrez, Designer
DEI Committee / High-School Internship Coordinator and Mentor.

Mentioned as a grassroots effort led by the firm's younger employees, in the summer of 2020, Safdie Architects established a DEI Committee, the firm’s first formalized initiative focused on the creation of a more diverse and inclusive field of architecture. "After the killing of George Floyd and the protests that ensued, a group of us came together to find ways to promote change. We were encouraged by the office to think about how we could join the conversation and take action—not just to express emotions of anger or frustration—but to turn those emotions into something concrete.” Wen Wen, AIA, DEI Committee / Founder of On the Same Page (BSA, Virtual Discussion Series).

The committee’s first priority was to understand the realities of inequality and injustice and to articulate tangible ideas to move the industry forward. These discussions evolved from research and in-depth conversations with BIPOC architects and designers from across the profession and highlighted access to education and job opportunities as major barriers to more diversity within the field. To help address this issue, the firm developed a range of programs to engage and support BIPOC students and job candidates – from early education to graduate level internships to early career mentorship. Collectively, these initiatives seek to create a culture that fosters a more diverse future generation of architects and design professionals. 

“Helping address the pipeline is where we felt we could have the most impact. Through our discussions with the Architects Foundation, we learned that the pool of potential architectural candidates – regardless of race – diminishes as young children grow older and go into high school, college, graduation and into the workforce. This drop is dramatically sharper when we look at people of color. Our initiatives engage students along the entire pathway, including programs that cultivate interest in architecture for young kids, internship opportunities for high school students, scholarships for those going into college, and for hiring right out of college, as well as advancing young architects on their path to licensure.” Adam Dunn, AIA, DEI Committee / Architects Foundation Diversity Scholarship Liaison.

Leveraging resources already in place through the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) and the Architects Foundation (a philanthropic branch of the AIA), the office has been able to engage quickly and meaningfully, with early childhood education programs, high-school internships, diversity advancement scholarships and higher-education internships already actively in place. In addition, the committee has broadened its initial internal conversations around equity and diversity in architecture to include additional topics, voices, and change-makers. The new initiative, On the Same Page, a monthly virtual discussion series for industry professionals, is part of the BSA’s DEI community events and is aimed at sparking dialogue and inclusivity through discussion of a series of materials – ranging from books to films.

Looking holistically at the larger impact of architecture within communities, Safdie Architects is committed to advancing human-centric design, already an integral part of our mission. Recognizing that design has had a large impact in the racial segregation of cities and that the profession has been part of a racially motivated system, the committee continues to focus on learning and unlearning within the profession. “Change is about thinking differently about design. It’s about the importance of community as part of design, especially in larger urban-scale projects. By diversifying, we include more voices, which will translate into projects that are by and for more diverse communities. But to really achieve justice—equity, diversity and inclusion must be a larger part of our education. We have to change the way we understand architecture and the design profession overall—we have to create just cities and just spaces.” Camila Gutierrez, Designer, EDI Committee / High-School Internship Coordinator and Mentor.

Published in Media on May 26, 2021