Newsletter | Jul/Aug 2002

Book Review: Designing for Diversity
by Wendy Bertrand

Designing for Diversity: Gender, Race and Ethnicity in the Architectural Profession

Kathryn H. Anthony

Talking about the impact of sexism, racism or any form of discrimination is not easy and done rarely. This book will provoke dialogue and increase understanding among architects, as they are the focus. It offers an opportunity for all of us to increase our ability to deal with differences gracefully and fairly.

Ms. Anthony spotlights the complex and frustrating consequences of discrimination in our profession. She tells of how individuals cope with a hostile climate in schools, workplaces and in the AIA. Her goal is to trigger significant accumulative actions to diversify, humanize and expand the field of architecture.

It would seem that we, as Architects, who often call ourselves problem solvers and designers, would have taken the lead on addressing these problems. She demonstrates with perspective from various angles that architects are not trying hard enough and this leaves damaging and illegal results. Her research shows that the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association have reforms well in place, invest in research and generally leave AIA in the dust when it comes to welcoming females and non-whites. She describes how the consequences of discrimination plays out systematically in what she terms the structure of the education and practice of Architecture.

The 216 pages are divided up into eight informative indexed chapters. For starters, the section on history covers names and topics such as Plautilla Brizio, the first known woman professional architect in Rome during the 1760's, Paul Revere Williams, the first AIA African American architect who designed over 3000 residences and commercial buildings, and ADOBE LA, a Latino-based group of architects and designers that have been documenting the Latino presence in Los Angeles urban landscape. She cites relevant magazine articles, offers names of books and organizations. The Facts chapter states such things as the definition of the "Glass Ceiling", by the department of Labor: as artificial barriers, based on attitudinal or organizational bias, that prevents qualified individuals from advancing with the organization or reaching their potential." (Page 147)

The chapter on Awareness is most useful. It points out how to be a better observer which will lead one into being more comfortable about diversity. The suggestion is that by sharpening our awareness, we can change what it means to "fit in". From "fitting in" because he or she looks just like me to "fitting in" because I feel more comfortable and therefore regard those different from me with respect and fairness.

I feel that this is an excellent resource for everyone in the field of Architecture, for schools, the work setting, and a handbook for organizations like AIA, Assoc. of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and regional affinity groups like our own OWA.

OWA, over the last thirty years, has addressed almost every issue discussed in this book. Indeed, OWA has made a positive difference to many individual women and men in SF Bay area and beyond. We mitigated some very valuable methods to do so, the Mock Exam, the OWA Health Plan and the Mid Year Retreat to name three. Yet, as an organization, OWA has not been an active watchdog or reformer of what Professor Anthony calls the structure or the way architects are educated and the way architects organize themselves in practice.

Lets say, Designing for Diversity becomes required reading for students and registered architects, it would at least provoke the awareness of these issues for the better future. We can make a start by having a discussion about it among our members.