Diversifying Architecture's Demographics

John Hill
13. August 2020
A chart from 2020 NCARB by the Numbers shows the trend of increasing diversity of individuals completing the Architectural Experience Program (AXP), a step toward licensure. (Image courtesy of NCARB)

The announcement of a $100,000 gift to the department of architecture at Alabama's Tuskegee University signals the strides being taken to diversify the profession in the United States, but data indicates there is a lot more that needs to be done.

The $100,000 gift comes from the Cooper Carry Charitable Foundation, the charitable arm of Cooper Carry, a large architecture firm with offices in Atlanta, New York, and Washington, DC. Eighty percent of the gift will go toward "new need-based scholarships for undergraduate students," per an announcement from Tuskegee University, while the balance will be used to provide technology assistance for students as the school begins its fall semester online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Science at the historically black Tuskegee University, established in 1881, accounts for approximately half of all African American graduates in architecture, as stated in the announcement. But the school also contends that "of the approximately 100,000 licensed architects in the United States, only two percent are African American – a statistic that has not changed significantly since the 1960s." The flatlining of the diversity of licensed architects can be seen in the chart below, which comes from 2020 NCARB by the Numbers, a report recently released by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

Another chart from 2020 NCARB by the Numbers reveals that any gains in diversity in AXP slow at ARE completion. (Image courtesy of NCARB)

The demographics section of the NCARB report tracks diversity (both gender and race) at three key points in the careers of architects: the Architectural Experience Program (AXP), which graduates and some students participate in before licensure; the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) taken upon completion of the AXP; and holding an NCARB Certificate, which allows for reciprocal licensure across states. The first two points are necessary for becoming a licensed architect in the United States and are therefore key in tracking the career progress of architects. The certificate, on the other hand, is voluntary but is nevertheless helpful in gauging the progress of architects after licensure.

The top chart, which focuses on the AXP stage, expresses the most promise in terms of racial diversity. Every year since 2013, the percentage of non-white individuals participating in the AXP has increased, reaching 37% in 2019. But that percentage drops considerably with the percentage of individuals completing the ARE, as seen in the second chart: 21% were non-white, the same as the year before and just 3% higher than ten years ago. The last chart, below, compiles these three stages alongside other interim stages to show a steady decline in diversity as architects advance in their careers. The percentage of non-white NCARB Certificate holders just slightly tops the 10% mark. 

This chart from 2020 NCARB by the Numbers shows the decreasing diversity of the architecture profession over time, from starting AXP on the left to working as a licensed architect on the right. (Image courtesy of NCARB)

Presenting the charitable gift of $100,000 from an architecture firm to an HBCU in the context of the NCARB data means considering the various aspects of the architecture profession in which diversity drops from graduation to licensure and practice. The gift is commendable and will hopefully lead to similar ones at other universities, but steps need to be taken to ensure the increasing diversity of architectural students and graduates continues across the whole spectrum of the profession, in turn reflecting the diversity of the country. One step is being taken by Cooper Carry and other members of the 60-strong AIA Large Firm Roundtable, which is committed to hiring more African Americans, in particular recruiting from programs at Tuskegee University and other HBCUs.

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