Several of America's largest architecture studios have taken steps such as mandatory unconscious bias training and partnership schemes with Black-owned firms in the two years since George Floyd's murder, Dezeen research has found.
The National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) told Dezeen it "remains hopeful" in the push for greater racial equality across the architecture profession despite "stagnant" progress in wider US society.
Two years after the murder of Floyd at the hands of police shook the world, NOMA praised work by some studios to improve racial inclusion and help historically sidelined communities.
"A step towards realised change"
"I'm hopeful by what I've witnessed within the building and design industry, and the new support and resources dedicated to the planning and development of underserved and marginalised communities," said Jason Pugh, NOMA president and principal at Gensler.
"The purposeful tracking of metrics by global firms to increase the low number of minority design professionals beyond administrative roles, and the transparency, by some, in sharing those numbers publicly to track our progress is a step toward realised change," he told Dezeen.
Worldwide protests against systemic racism erupted after Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was suffocated when white police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly 10 minutes in Minneapolis on 25 May 2020.
Several major US architecture firms shared with Dezeen the action they have taken in the past two years to address racial inequality and racism, detailed below.
Pugh warned that notwithstanding advancements within the design industry, US politicians are failing to grapple with institutional racism while Black people are still being killed by police and racially motivated assaults are on the rise.
"Seven hundred thirty days [have passed] since the 'racial awakening' and recognition of this country's deeply rooted sins," he said.
"Yet we seem to be stagnant, making questionable progress towards change, as we take one step forward and two steps back."
In the architecture profession, NOMA hailed "inspiring" efforts by studios to work with Black and women-led firms on projects.
And Pugh cited NOMA's growing list of partner organisations as a cause for optimism.
Measures to improve inclusivity of workplaces and designs
Research conducted by Dezeen identified several large US architecture firms that have taken action to improve racial equality in the last two years.
To coincide with the second anniversary of Floyd's death, we contacted the 15 largest US architecture firms, as determined by Building Design's WA100 list, to ask them about changes they have made or accelerated that were prompted by Floyd's murder.
Six of the nine firms that responded mentioned setting up councils, committees or groups aimed at improving diversity and inclusion in their workplaces and designs through things like awareness training for staff and publishing data about employee characteristics.
Multiple firms said they had launched scholarship and mentorship programmes or are working with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) on recruitment and education initiatives.
Three said they have set up processes to partner with companies owned by ethnic minorities and other marginalised groups, while others said they are working on projects that aim to address historic injustices.
Here is what the studios said:
Gensler said it has increased its level of investment in racial equality over the past two years. It is now reporting diversity metrics annually and has created a Global Race and Diversity Committee. It has also established the Rising Black Designers Scholarship & Design Challenge, the Center for Research on Equity & the Built Environment, and a Diverse Consultant and Supplier Program.
"When we witnessed what happened to George Floyd, and the racial awakening that ensued, we knew we had to take the next step," the studio told Dezeen. "We understood the size and scale of our firm could positively shift the industry. We recognised that we were in a unique position to lead the way in transforming how we build the future."
HDR said it appointed a global inclusion, diversity and equity director in early 2020 who has since accelerated several initiatives aimed at making the firm more inclusive. That includes the formation of Employee Network Groups, which allow staff to join based on shared characteristics, experiences and interests to get support and career development.
"One of the things [we] communicated after the death of George Floyd was a continued commitment to use our voices to ensure Black employees are heard, understood and supported," the studio told Dezeen.
HKS said it appointed a director of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) in 2019, who since then has built a network of champions, programmes and events across the architecture profession.
In 2020, the firm joined the UN Global Compact, which encourages businesses to adopt more socially responsible policies, and publishes an assessment of its progress. It also adopted an environmental, social and governance (ESG) structure in 2021 as part of what it calls its "mission to create more just and resilient communities".
"We believe inclusion spurs creativity, and that innovation is born from an engaged culture of diverse people with diverse ideas," said HKS president and CEO Dan Noble.
CannonDesign said it released a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) framework in June 2020, setting out five commitments and its strategy for improving equality within the organisation. It has since hired a DEI director, held 18 "internal listening sessions" for employees to share their expectations for the framework and launched its first DEI annual survey to measure the effectiveness of its initiatives, as well as launching a DEI Report Card to assess its leaders' performance on these issues.
In addition, it has launched mandatory unconscious bias training for all staff and set up Employee Resource Groups for underrepresented groups of people. It has also hosted fellows through NOMA's fellowship programme, which seeks to increase minority architect licensure.
For its project work, CannonDesign said it created the "first-of-its-kind Inclusive Partner Program to build deep-rooted relationships with XBE firms" and has had 19 participate to date. XBE refers to business that are owned by ethnic minority people, women, veterans or disabled people.
"We believe we are doing a strong job laying the foundation for improvement, but recognise we are at the beginning of our DEI journey and there’s much more work to be done," the studio said.
SmithGroup said it established a Justice, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) committee in 2020, which reviews its policies and processes with a view to dismantling injustices in the firm and its work. This committee is supported by committees in each of its local offices.
It has also created an index to track the diversity of its workforce, conducted pay analysis to find and resolve any inequities and reviewed its promotion processes. In addition, the firm is changing its hiring practices to better reflect the local communities it works in, which it said is diversifying the staff in its leadership roles.
A third-party consultant was appointed to carry out a diversity and inclusion assessment of the organisation with the findings currently being analysed, while an internal website containing educational resources about equality and diversity was launched.
Last year, SmithGroup began partnerships with architecture programmes at three HBCUs that intend to increase the number of Black students with architecture degrees.
It has also issued a statement to say it does not work on mass incarceration facilities and taken on more projects that involve restorative justice, such as the Richmond National Slavery Museum in Virgina and Michigan State University Multicultural Center.
"SmithGroup has been actively engaged in addressing the equity issues in our profession for many years, but the events of 2020 made it clear that we needed to escalate and accelerate our efforts," the studio said.
ZGF Architects said it set up a Diversity and Inclusion Advocacy Group, a forum for discussions about race issues with monthly meetings featuring guest experts, in 2013 and holds regular unconscious bias and anti-discrimination training for all staff.
In the immediate aftermath of George Floyd's murder, the group established a Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) taskforce to implement a racial justice action plan focused on recruiting talent that reflects the communities ZGF works within and scrutinising office policies.
The taskforce established an Emerging Black Architects Scholarship, funded by $160,000 in direct donations from staff. Under the scheme, two students who are in an accredited architecture or design programme are selected each year to receive $5,000 each toward university tuition and fees and offered a paid internship with ZGF.
HOK said that since Floyd's murder it has put more resources into its Diversity Advisory Council established in 2013, which is made up of volunteers from across its offices and devises actions to make the firm's work environment and designs more inclusive.
Recent initiatives by the council include scholarship programmes for minority design students, mandatory unconscious bias training for all staff and a new online portal aimed at helping to assemble more diverse project teams and partner with minority- and women-owned businesses.
The firm also set more ambitious diversity goals for its leadership positions in 2020, which it said have since mostly been realised or surpassed and consequently raised.
A "Designing for Equity" initiative, which will roll out this year, will reshape HOK's "design culture, design principles and design approach" to make sure people that live in its projects have equal access to shelter, health and nature, the studio said.
HOK released a report summarising its efforts to advance diversity, equality and inclusion in June 2021.
NBBJ said it has formed a formed a Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Advisory and Ambassador Group. It also holds regular diversity training sessions and company-wide town halls about unconscious bias and inequity with Kwame Christian, director of the American Negotiation Institute.
The firm has established partnerships with the Hip Hop Architecture Camp, which introduces architecture to underrepresented young people, as well as NOMA, and worked on projects aimed at addressing historic racial inequalities, such as the Seattle Children’s Hospital Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic.
Leo A Daly said it has established an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council composed of diverse employees to make policy recommendations to its leadership. The council has set up partnerships with HBCUs and NOMA, recruiting interns and graduates and hosting fellows from underrepresented backgrounds.
The firm is also providing staff training on social justice issues and unconscious bias and working on setting up a youth mentoring program.
In addition, it has a supplier diversity programme that sees it proactively partner with minority- and women-led enterprises on its projects.
The top image of tributes at the site of Floyd's murder is by Vasanth Rajkumar.