Promoting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Design Education

April 16, 2021 | Center News, Explore + Learn

I have had the privilege of being the Chair of the Center for Architecture and Design since 2017. During my first year, it was a priority for the organization to complete a strategic plan, and to make reigniting its languishing Architecture in Education program (now the “Architecture + Design Education Program”) a significant element of that plan.  It was clear to me that we needed a strategic plan that clarified our values and streamlined our existing programs so that our small, yet mighty, staff could find the time, energy and messaging needed to get our Architecture + Design Education Program back up-and-running.  I am proud to say that we have accomplished that, and more.

The strategic planning process provided the basis and motivation for re-establishing the program with the simple and powerful value statement: “We believe all students should have access to design education.”

Yet not all students have equal access to such an education.  2020 taught us all many lessons, but perhaps most important is that the inequality of access to the education, tools and opportunities for personal growth in our society is institutional and pervasive We must be intentional and persistent about dismantling that inequality and it seemed to me that the Center and AIA Philadelphia were the institutions to tackle that inequality in design education and the design professions.

According to the 2019 National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB) annual report, non-white licensure candidates are 25% more likely to fall-off-the-path to licensure.  Only 2% of licensed architects are Black and only .3% of licensed architects are Black women.  Although representation is only part of the story, it is clear signal of institutional inequity and injustice we must address.

In Philadelphia, the population of Black/African Americans is 18% greater than all other races.  However, our students, professors and professionals in architecture do not reflect this demographic in a city with the highest number of architecture schools per capita in the United States.  We can do better.

My fellow board members, Robert Fleming, AIA, Tya Winn, NOMA, and Michael Spain, Assoc AIA have led the charge on behalf of the Center and AIA Philadelphia to convene and form the Justice Alliance for Design Education in Philadelphia (JADE-PHL) to build equity for Black, Indigenous and Other People of Color (BIPOC) within architectural schools and ultimately the architectural profession. And our reignited Architecture + Design Education Program is an important part of achieving the overall goals of the JADE-PHL group. 

That is because increasing equity and opportunity in design must begin by introducing school-aged Black, Brown and Indigenous children to a design education. And the Center’s Architecture + Design in Education Program introduces elementary and middle school children in the District to a design-focused curriculum in classes co-led by teachers and professional designers who donate their time and knowledge teaching a professionally developed and age-appropriate, curriculum in design.  

This will be my last year as Chair of the Center, and while I will leave that role with some sense of sadness, that sadness will be outweighed by the joy of knowing that we were able to hire Michael Spain, NOMA as our first, full-time Director of Design Education to lead and expand our efforts as an organization. This is a tremendous accomplishment for the organization, and I congratulate our staff and my fellow Board members on realizing this goal. Please consider supporting the Center in its efforts by donating to them or volunteering your time and talents to the effort.

Richard Davies, Esq., Hon. AIA has served on the Center for Architecture and Design Board of Directors for 10 years and is the board's current Chairman. He is a principal of the law firm of Milber Makris Plousadis & Seiden, LLP, and serves as counsel to AIA Philadelphia.

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