To design an inclusive building, every little detail matters, from the placement of door handles to the color of the walls. But how do architects know which of these details to include in the building’s design? These firms rely on the expertise of their architects to guide them.
However, even skilled and well-educated architects may have hidden biases that prevent them from seeing some of these important details. This is especially true when architects all come from the same background–they may not be aware of the design flaws that alienate people from backgrounds and cultures different from their own. By erasing bias in architecture through more inclusive hiring practices, architecture firms can better serve the diverse needs of large communities.
The Importance of Erasing Bias in Architecture
In recent years, architectural firms like HMC Architects have realized that there is enormous value in having an incredibly diverse staff with varying perspectives and opinions. Some of these benefits include:
- Adaptive spaces that feel more welcoming: Hearing multiple perspectives from architects helps firms design spaces that are much more inviting and serve a greater number of peoples’ needs. For example, architects with physical disabilities can pull from their experience to design sleek, modern spaces that think beyond ADA code requirements and accommodate occupants who also have mobility issues. Architects give a voice to perspectives that aren’t often given a platform. More importantly, these opinions are given equal weight in the design conversation – they’re never afterthoughts in the design process.
- Creative solutions to complex problems: Diverse backgrounds lead to more design innovation. If all architects are raised in similar neighborhoods and go to the same architectural schools, then the designs they come up with will also likely be quite similar. By hiring a more diverse staff, architecture firms can use a much wider range of design layouts, tools, and cultural inspiration to create dynamic and functional buildings.
- Reflecting our clients and communities: The clients and communities we service are a diverse group, and they want to see within our architecture team similar diversity reflecting back. This reflection helps both the architectural, client, and community better connect with other, and better understand — reaching between the lines identifying the design problem to be able to test and develop design ideas and solutions.
- Inspiration for future architects: Students are more likely to study architecture when they see others like them working in the industry. Decades ago, most architects in the United States were white men. Now, there are a greater number of nonwhite and female architects in the industry who are inspiring a more diverse group of young people to pursue this career. This in turn will transform the architectural industry of the future, as architects from all backgrounds will be given a space at the table.
When firms hire a more diverse staff, every architect on the team brings a valuable new perspective into the design conversation. While hiring a more diverse staff doesn’t single-handedly erase bias in architecture on a global scale, it’s an important step in the right direction.
How to Erase Bias in Architecture
To begin erasing bias in architecture, firms first have to commit to hiring staff from all backgrounds, particularly architects from minority groups that aren’t currently well-represented in the industry.
Historically, women and people of color in the United States struggled to break into the architectural field, as it was an industry dominated primarily by white men. Now, things are changing for the better.
According to a 2018 report by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), 45 percent of new NCARB members are nonwhite–this is a 3 percent increase from the previous year. Additionally, 43 percent of new NCARB members are women and fewer women overall are choosing to leave the architectural profession once they are licensed.
However, there’s still considerable room for improvement. The report also found that aspiring nonwhite architects are 25 percent more likely to leave the profession before obtaining a license. The number of women applying for NCARB membership is also the same as it was in 2017–these numbers haven’t increased at the rate we’d hoped they would.
To address this issue, HMC Architects has prioritized hiring inclusivity and equity in the industry. In fact, we were named one of the top equity hiring firms of 2018 by Architect Magazine. In our offices and studios, we are creating an environment that is safe, nurturing and inviting. Where team members feel supported and encouraged to share their thoughts, ideas and be creative. This is because we value the opinions and backgrounds of our staff and leverage these experiences to design the best buildings for every community. We also want each person on our team to feel fulfilled and excited to come to work and design for the human experience.
However, even with a diverse staff, completely erasing bias in architecture is still difficult. For example, if a diverse architectural team still lacks experience or expertise in a particular area of design, then they may miss important details that will make the space feel truly inclusive for all occupants. This is why HMC Architects goes above and beyond baseline equitable hiring practices. We also train our staff to be more aware of inclusivity issues and find innovative solutions to them.
How HMC Architects Promotes Inclusivity
In addition to hiring a group of talented architects who come from a wide range of backgrounds, HMC Architects also helps erase bias in architecture by promoting a culture of learning and growth at work.
For example, we host frequent diversity and inclusion training sessions with all of our staff to encourage them to think about how people from other backgrounds feel when they enter one of the buildings we’ve designed. HMC Architects also encourages older staff members to mentor new hires so that they can learn from previous inclusivity design projects.
Another way that HMC Architects works on erasing bias in architecture is to acknowledge that it is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to become a licensed architect. Not all people are given the same opportunities in life, which makes this process even harder. This is why we introduced a student loan paydown program to help recent architecture graduates hired by our firm. Without this debt looming over their heads, young architects can focus on building their careers and designing the most creative buildings possible. All of our architects begin their careers on equal footing.
Furthermore, at our Firm-wide Event this past May, we invited Mike Robbins, the author of “Bring Your Whole Self to Work, How Vulnerability Unlocks Creativity, Connection, and Performance”, to help us understand and leverage the value of promoting and celebrating our diversity.
Will we ever entirely erase bias in architecture? It’s very possible. HMC Architects is already making significant progress toward inclusivity in every aspect of the industry, from the people we hire to the buildings we conceptualize. There’s still work to be done, but we’re confident that these first steps will lead to a much more welcoming and egalitarian industry in the future.
To design a more inclusive building that meets all of the needs of your diverse community, contact HMC Architects today. Due to our thoughtful hiring practices, our team of skilled architects are among the most diverse in the industry. They are committed to making every building as welcoming as possible to people from all backgrounds. Or, if you’d like to learn more about what we’re doing to combat bias in the architectural industry, you can also email Principal in Charge, Virginia Marquardt directly.