As of 2019, The Directory of African American Architects, which draws its listings from the licensing boards of all 50 states, contained 2,300 names. Of these, 467 were women. This means that of the 113,000 licensed architects in this country, about 2 percent are African-American, and 0.4 percent are African American women. Meanwhile, African Americans make up roughly 13 percent of the United States’ total population, according to 2016 Census Bureau estimates.
The underrepresentation among architects of peoples of color, in general, and black people, in particular, is widely acknowledged. Its causes are complicated and historical. A 2016 report by the AIA, titled “Diversity in the Profession of Architecture,” cited a number of perceived factors impacting the representation of minorities, including the high cost of obtaining a degree, architecture’s relatively poor earning potential compared to other professions, and the scarcity of diverse role models. The report also stated that “minority students have little knowledge of architecture as a career option.”
What are we missing out on by this underrepresentation? What do minorities have to contribute to architecture? To begin to answer these questions, and in order to understand what barriers to entry might still exist, Texas Architect spoke with four black architects practicing today in the state and elsewhere:
A landscape architect who has documented and preserved early African American building sites.
Nkiru Mokwe Gelles
A British/Nigerian immigrant working at one of Austin’s most cutting-edge practices.
Jonathan Moody, AIA
The CEO of the largest minority-owned firm in the country.
An academic practitioner whose research and design work explores the frontiers of design equity as well as the very future of the profession.