Compile a list of the most influential ethnic minority Architects at the top of their game in the UK and making a difference and you might find a very ‘short’ list as opposed to a ‘shortlist’. With the exception of Sir David Adjaye, who has built a design studio that appeals to purists as well as the avant garde, concerned with core principles of space, light, materiality and constantly with a compelling narrative, whilst pushing the envelope in terms of conceptual rigour and technology. He is admired by his contemporaries and his work continues to pick up accolades around the world with his profile growing globally not just as an Architect but as a cultural icon, such is the extent of his ascension. But ask Adjaye what makes his architecture and he will say creating narratives with different influences with motives and agendas (WAF 2018 lecture). He often refers to his observations in Africa and how this has helped him reframe his understanding of culture and therein lies some of the value in a differing interpretations of narratives.
Aside from his exceptional talent and highly marketable charisma, what makes him standout is that he is of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background! It is a shame to draw your attention to this, but can you name another in the UK? Of recent years there has obviously been the late Dame Zaha Hadid who arguably single-handedly created a new paradigm and changed the course of Architecture forever, but beyond that it becomes difficult. We have respected name stay and established design studios in Patel Taylor and Penoyre & Prasad, but shouldn’t there be more notable figures that give rise to the talent from the rest rest of the world, when London prides itself as being the most cosmopolitan city in the world?
Admittedly the profession has come a long way since being unchecked for generations, reserved as an exclusive profession for white, upper middle class men, and with more accessible education and awareness of the systemic problems in society these boundaries have been considerably loosened, but there continues to be an alarming disparity.
Diversity in any scenario is an obvious way to evolve and improve, to limit the source of ideas is to stagnate and eventually become irrelevant particularly in a global market. Diversity is strength and the creative community thrives on it. That’s why given our current times and with the impending and yet perpetual BREXIT looming on the horizon, diversity seems more relevant than ever. Not only in terms of gender but in terms of ethnicity, which is the next systemic problem that requires our focus.
Indeed even if we were not talking about leaving the European Union there is an alarming lack of ethnic diversity in the architectural profession, particularly at senior level. An AJ survey taken on 2016 revealed that the profession was occupied by Architects who were a startling 89% caucasian. And a more recent piece of research undertaken again by the AJ revealed that seven out of ten Architects from ethnic backgrounds felt huge obstacles in their career progression with 80% feeling that there was some form of racism in the workplace which was supported by 66% of white employees who agreed.
Clearly this is indicative of a far broader systemic issue within society, but the Architectural profession is we like to think an enlightened profession, in a position to be accountable and take responsibility to lead the way. We can learn from the Women in Architecture movement and ultimately broaden our capacity for innovation and creativity and respond to a rich variety of culture that has always made the UK such a vibrant nation.
Then of course we have BREXIT which will potentially make it more difficult to retain overseas talent making the prospect of remaining in the UK less appealing in the longer term. We in the UK boast some of the most revered educational institutions in the world which attracts the very best student from across the globe including many form diverse ethnic backgrounds. Should we not encourage the best talented to remain and give them an equal shot at progressing their careers and in turn our economies and competitive advantage? And furthermore, are we not missing a trick? Having a more diverse leadership gives a far broader reach with international connectivity potentially expanding business opportunities in a time when it would be of real benefit.
In a new series of blogs we at Adrem are seeking to utilise our position within the market to raise awareness of this critical issue and to offer up possible solutions looking to the future. We will be interviewing Architects from ethnic backgrounds who have reached the upper echelons of the profession to give case studies on how they were able to succeed and what obstacles, if any, they came up against in their careers.
So this watch space!