How to transform architecture through mentorship and the pursuit of equity
Now more than ever, there’s an opportunity to design with purpose.
The goal: equitable spaces that are built by communities, for communities.
But in order to do that, we need to do two things: support and engage a new generation of designers, and involve our clients and communities each step of the way.
Farida Abu-Bakare, co-founder of Black Architects + Interior Designers Association, and Director of Advocacy Ian Rolston explain what it takes to transform the architecture industry for the better.
Keep the younger generation in design
Young designers aren’t willing to suffer through long hours and low pay like previous generations and pushing them to do so will only hurt the industry.
To those who are already a few years in, it might seem like that’s just what you do at the beginning of your career. But Farida said we should ask why.
“This generation is that whole new generation where they have no interest in suffering and this market it's not as sought out as before,” Farida said. “People aren’t jumping over each other to enter the design market.”
People don’t go into design to make money and it’s hard to afford many of the cities young people want to live and work in.
Design isn’t the first choice for people unless they have a passion for it.
Even when young designers are passionate, they are more thoughtful about what firms they consider. They want to know how they’ll fit in.
“What's important to the firm?” Farida said. “Do they care about DEI efforts? Are there a lot of women leaders?”
People want to know if it’s a space where they can grow and be mentored or if it’s a competitive environment where they’ll feel doomed to fail.
“I get messages all the time from people that just want to chat,” she said. “It's a 15 minute, but they just want to make sure that the place that they've been contacted by, is this is a place for them?”
If it isn’t, they’d rather be unemployed than try to force that fit.
“Because of that, mentorship is incredibly important. Because we want this next generation to feel that they have a platform, and they have a network they can tap into so they continue to pursue design,” she said.
Young designers are putting culture and lifestyle fit first when looking for jobs. Employers should welcome this new approach as a way to grow.
Practice two-way mentorship
Traditional mentorships typically have one person who is more advanced giving information to someone less experienced.
Ian has been a mentor to several people and thinks it should be a shared experience, not advice flowing exclusively one way.
“I never want to come into a mentorship relationship presenting myself as above,” Ian said. “It is that we are going to learn from each other.”
That’s what he calls flattening the approach to mentorship. It involves being humble and developing a relationship that can benefit both of you.
“I'm going to share some information. There's things that you're going to share with me. And out of that interaction, we're going to find out of our skill sets things that we can enrich ourselves with.”
The best mentorship relationship comes down to two human beings, learning from one another.
Even if the mentor is vastly more experienced than the mentee, there shouldn’t be an obvious power dynamic in the day-to-day relationship.
Bring the client into the process
Employees aren’t the only ones who appreciate strong communication and a healthy rapport.
Sharing the story behind the rendering and letting clients share their stories too is what gets them excited and makes them feel heard.
Showing the process and making sure they understand the various elements from the sketch to the final product is a way to empower the client.
“I think that that in itself, educating them, and making them feel like they too are a part of the process,” Farida said.
“Not only that, they’re knowledgeable and they can speak to it on their own. I think building that confidence is something we don't do often.”
Designers often want to be the one in the room with something to share. But having the client involved can give the project more depth.
“When they feel that confidence that they can go share that excitement, I think that makes them feel heard and seen,” she said.
Spend time in communities
Spending time in the community you’re designing for and making connections is central to carrying out the responsibility of designing for people’s lives.
“It's not until we eliminate those barriers to say, let's go spend time in this community with these people and share knowledge and understand what is meaningful to them that you can then step back and start making the appropriate connections with how you view the world,” Ian said.
When you engage as both an individual and a professional, you can start understanding how to serve the community.
“It's an awesome responsibility,” he said. “Life happens in everything that we create in terms of space.”
You can imagine the people who will fall in love in a space you design or care for a sick loved one.
“We have a responsibility to understand what is meaningful to those individuals and to that loved one that we can then come alongside and support. And that is the fabric that we need to weave as professionals,” said Ian.
Achieve community impact
Ian said that designers should slow down and think through the community impact potential of any given project.
Designers and developers should think about what they’re trying to accomplish beyond just a space or a building. There’s almost always an opportunity to do more.
“Can this space eradicate hunger?” Ian said. “Can it eliminate inequity within this particular community? What are the other conversations that we can have to do that?”
These inclusive design intersection conversations should be happening with developers and practitioners and everyone involved and bringing a design to life.
“It's important that we bring that lens as emerging professionals and professionals to shift the conversation because it starts there,” he said. “Then you can align all the other processes and the resources around achieving them.”
Enable equity in design
As more people have started to understand the importance of equity in design, Farida said it’s now down to firms and the client to keep making it a priority.
Firms should think about how they can keep it in mind during the hiring process, mentorship recruitment, procurement, and outreach.
“What is it that we need to do to curate a space where design is for everyone like we keep saying over and over?” Farida said.
“It's really simply how do we make it feel as though the client has all the power in their hands to be that change for the industry?”
Designers can only do so much with pen and paper and having diverse platforms. The client needs to be asking for it, too.
“If the client isn't seeking it out and asking for it, we have no one to guide that process or even meet to guide that process,” she said.
The end-user is the one saying this is what the future looks like.
If designers, developers, and clients put more time into sharing stories, looking for ways to serve communities, and keeping equity in mind, the industry will be transformed.
Design can be for all who want to create it, and all who will ultimately use it.
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We’re chatting with Farida Abu-Bakare of Adjaye Associates and Ian Rolston of Decanthropy, Interior Designers of Canada and BAIDA (Black Architects and Interior Designers Association) about how to build communities as an architect.
Farida is a Project Director at the award-winning architectural and design firm; Adjaye Associates. Prior to, she lived and worked throughout Canada and the United States with architecture, engineering, and planning firm HOK to build an extensive portfolio. Farida uses architecture and design as tools to support and empower the communities she lives within. She is the emeritus Community Affairs Director of Atlanta’s NOMA Chapter, a National Organization of Minority Architects, whose mission is to champion diversity within the design profession. Her work with NOMA led her to co-found and chair BAIDA, Black Architects and Interior Designers Association, a Canadian non-profit organization which promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion in the profession of architecture and interior design in 2019.
Farida is also passionate about contributing to the future of the profession in Canada and serves on the provincial self-governing body, the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) as an elected OAA Council member on a three-year term (2021-2023). She is an OAA Trustee, the Chair of the OAA Interns Committee and serves on the OAA Communications Committee, and OAA Comprehensive Education Committee.
Ian Rolston is a creative soul, inspired by connecting humanity to what matters most. As a design director, principal, thought leader and speaker, Rolston has worked with transformative firms in Canada and in the US across multiple sectors such as Hospitality, Education, Transportation, Retail, Corporate and Residential. Rolston has collaborated with leaders of industry across 3 continents. Firms include; Yabu Pushelberg, Hirsch Bedner Associates and HOK. Renowned companies include; Marriott, Hyatt, Mandarin Oriental, Starbucks, Rogers, TD, RBC and Wynn Developments, to name a few.
Now collaborating with Decanthropy, a platform for new thinking in the inclusive design space, Rolston develops content that transforms the creative process for people, organizations and businesses. As “Lead Decanthropist”, Rolston helps leadership teams innovate with clarity, passion and consideration to distinguish collaborators’ spaces in the marketplace.
A native of Toronto, Canada, of Bajan heritage and an Ontario College of Art and Design Alum, Rolston is most at home where various perspectives intersect. His international travel, love of learning and people inform his affinity for intuitive leadership. Rolston is passionate about compelling stories, architectural discipline, and innovation. His personal mandate is to inspire and support collaborators to create solutions that make a difference.