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Why Diversity in Design Matters: A Conversation with the Architects Foundation

By Ted Ryan

Why Diversity in Design Matters: A Conversation with the Architects Foundation

The 560 Black women architects working in America today represent just 0.4% of all licensed architects in the US— We’re taking action to change that.

Diversity in Design Statistics


Since 2021 Fireclay Tile has partnered with The Architects Foundation, the philanthropic partner of The American Institute of Architects (AIA), to fund a Diversity Advancement Scholarship to support the progress of aspiring Black women architects and help narrow the racial disparities in the design industry.

Why does diversity in design matter? We sat down with the Architects Foundation to learn more about what this scholarship means to the students it supports and our society at large.

“We are honored to be working with Fireclay Tile and the greater design community to help award more scholarships to deserving students,” said Architects Foundation Executive Director, Marci Reed, "Our community of scholars is full of bright, creative, driven students who will create inclusive spaces, places, and communities. Being able to put more Black women in the pipeline of future architects goes a long way in our mission as the philanthropic partner of the AIA to create a more just, equitable, and diverse profession.”

Continue on for our full interview with the Architects Foundation!

Why Diversity in Design Matters


Your website says the Diversity Advancement Scholarship began in 1970. Can you tell us more about the history of the scholarship program?

The Diversity Advancement Scholarship was created in 1970 with an initial grant from the Ford Foundation and The American Institute of Architects (AIA) after civil rights leader Whitney Young Jr. challenged architects in 1968 to create a more responsible and equitable field. You can read the program report on the Architects Foundation's Website.

The award was granted to more than 2,000 students since its inception. Several years ago, the Architects Foundation changed the scholarship model to support students over multiple years. AIA invested $1 million in 2013 and 2016 to set up and grow a scholarship endowment.

    What has been the Diversity Advancement Scholarship’s cumulative impact over the years?

    The Architects Foundation has served more than 2,000 students under the original program model. We’ve increased our impact by expanding our support to provide multiyear tuition awards to about ten new students a year, supporting students throughout their collegiate experience.

    The Architects Foundation Impact

      We’re honored to partner with Architects Foundation on the Diversity Advancement Scholarship for Black Women. Can you describe how the funds we raise together are used?

      Taylor Pinkney received the scholarship award; she is attending the University of Houston.

      Taylor Pinkney, Diversity Advancement Scholarship Recipient

      You can read Taylor's essay here.

      Letter from Taylor Pinkney

        The inaugural recipient of our Fireclay Diversity Advancement Scholarship, Oni Thornell, is pursuing architecture at Syracuse University.

        Fireclay's Diversity Advancement Scholarship recipient Oni Thornell

        Read Oni's essay and see her portfolio here.

        Why was it important to create a scholarship specifically for Black women architecture students?

        Black women are highly underrepresented in architecture. Today there are just 560 Black women licensed as architects while overall there are over 121,000 licensed architects in the United States.

        Diversity in Design Statistics

          What challenges or barriers do minority architecture students face attempting to enter the industry?

          We think they're threefold. First, a lack of awareness of the profession at the K-12 level prevents many children from dreaming and planning for a career in architecture. Second, a lack of belonging due to the current demographics of this industry. Third, when you add gender to ethnicity, disparities emerge regarding firm support for licensure, income gaps, and tuition debt. (NCARB/NOMA Report ‘Baseline on Belonging’)

            How does diversity in architecture benefit society at large?

            Architecture should reflect the diverse society it serves. All lived experiences should be able to contribute to design solutions for spaces, places, and communities, ultimately creating better societies.

            Diversity in Design

              Besides donating to the Diversity Advancement Scholarship, how can people help build equity and inclusion in architecture and design?

              Become a mentor through local AIA, NOMA, ACE, or firm programs, become involved in member organizations (NOMA), and get involved with K-12 initiatives!

              Ready to get involved? Join us in making a contribution to this important cause to help change the lives of as many students as we can and help spread the word in your network!

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