Wilkins Interviewed In Next City About History and Efficacy Of Establishing Diversity Initiatives In Architecture

Wilkins Interviewed In Next City About History and Efficacy Of Establishing Diversity Initiatives In Architecture

Senior Lecturer in Architecture, Craig L. Wilkins, was Interviewed and quoted in a recent story on Next City, a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities through journalism and events around the world. The April 17th story by Nina Feldman “Confronting Urban Design’s Diversity Crisis With a Return to Black Places” talks about an initiative taking shape at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture which wants to disrupt conventional notions of planning. Wilkins was interviewed and quoted on the history and efficacy of establishing diversity and inclusion initiatives at architectural schools.

Wilkins, the author of “The Aesthetics of Equity,” which looks at how and why African-Americans have been excluded from the practice and study of architecture, says that while he’s hopeful the initiative at Texas and other recent efforts will blossom and influence other departments across the country, he’s skeptical. This is not the first push for inclusion he’s seen in the last three decades while he’s been practicing and thinking about diversity within the architectural field.

“Every now and then we look around and say, ‘we don’t have a lot of people of color — what can we do about this?” Wilkins says. “But the numbers stay the same. The opportunities stay the same.”

The numbers support Wilkins’ concern. In 1968, Whitney M. Young, civil rights leader and director of the Urban League, addressed the National Convention of the American Institute of Architects in Portland, Oregon. He spoke to a crowd of almost 4,000 architects, less than 10 of whom were black. Young was not hesitant to point this out to everyone there.

The AIA responded to Young’s call. In 1971, the National Organization of Minority Architects was created. Over the next five years, scholarships and support programs were developed to encourage enrollment and integration of minority students in prestigious institutions. Government contracts began requiring minority participation. But by the mid-70s, things started to taper off. In 1974, Robert Traynham Coles was named deputy vice president for minority affairs for the AIA. His task was not to bring more blacks into the profession, but to develop new programs to keep those who already were in practice. The position was not renewed after Coles’ term came to a close in 1976.

In 1970, in the United States, there were approximately 50,000 architects and approximately 1,000 architects were black (two percent). Fifteen years later, despite the efforts at inclusion during the early ’70s, the number of architects had doubled, but the percentage of black architects had stayed just about the same. Almost 20 years after that, the landscape hasn’t changed much for African-American architects. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2016, just over 5 percent of those practicing in architecture and engineering occupations were African-American.

Wilkins says it’s hard for minorities to break into the field, and once they’re there, it’s harder for them to succeed than their white counterparts. Wilkins attributes that, to a degree, to the nature of the work. Like engineering and other high-skilled, service-based professions, architecture is a patron-based system. Clients of economic means seek out a licensed professional to work for them. But unlike engineering, the majority of clients seeking services in architecture are private companies, not public entities. Someone at one of those companies has to tap you as worthy of their time and money. “More often than not, those folks are looking for folks who look like them,” says Wilkins.

Before worrying about success in the field, African-Americans have to get licensed in the first place. The J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City and the School of Architecture at the City College of New York released a 2015 report on the state of inclusion in architecture. According to the report, including professional schooling and additional requirements, it typically takes a minimum of 11 years to become a fully licensed architect. At the time of the report, a degree could cost students anywhere from $38,000 to $230,000. Plus, adds Wilkins, when there are only 2,000 licensed black architects in the country, there aren’t a lot of role models for young black students.

Wilkins adds that society stands to lose a lot as a result of excluding the research, creativity and professional expertise of minorities. He points to music, fashion and other creative expressions.

“It is hard to argue that the contributions of people of color have not substantively transformed that artistic practice,” Wilkins says. “You can’t listen to music today and say that the African-American contribution has not substantively changed the way that music is consumed and perceived.” Wilkins says this begs the question of what we’ve been missing without an African-American presence in the design and planning fields.

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Faculty: Craig Wilkins ,