Architect’s anonymous donation inspires

Giving Tuesday campaign

Despite some gains, ethnically diverse individuals are still significantly underrepresented in architecture. Expanding the profession’s outreach and support to the next generation is one of the most urgent and important steps we can take to provide underrepresented students and communities the opportunities they deserve to develop their talents.

Architects are stepping up to make a difference – including a generous donor who wishes to remain anonymous. A FAIA Emeritus, this benefactor worked with the Architects Foundation earlier this year to identify the best way to make an impact. Based on that research, he is now donating $15,000 to each of five university programs.

And his story is just as inspiring as his financial contribution.

Here is his message to AIA members, in his own words:

Early this year, when I was 91 years old, one of my best friends, also 91, died and left me a young fortune. Really! For the first time in my life I was in a position to do something that might make the world a better place.  Maybe not the world, but at least make the profession of architecture a notch more accessible for high school architectural aspirants and freshman African American architectural students.  

Architectural college graduates know that with their degree also comes a key to a better quality of life for their families and for themselves.  And yet in the last 70 years, the percentage of African Americans entering architectural colleges has risen from less than 1% to only 5%. Because BLACK LIVES DO MATTER, I decided to find the individuals who are in the best position to reverse these percentages and take appropriate actions.

My first step was to request help from the national AIA office in locating an individual who was well-informed regarding current architectural colleges. AIA fortunately pointed me to the Architects Foundation. Together, we decided no one would be better informed on the needs of these incoming students than the deans of the architectural colleges. After some basic research, we arbitrarily selected five notable colleges from across the country.  After speaking by phone to each dean individually they were asked these same three questions:

1. In the recent past, what has your college done to promote diversity for African Americans on campus?

2. Currently, what are you doing to advance African American diversity on campus?

3. If the college gave you, personally, a financial grant to advance diversity for high school architectural aspirants and freshman African American architectural students, how would you utilize the grant?

The deans’ answers to these questions provided a wealth of information on ways to assist African American students as they join the architectural profession.

Our greatest hope is that other professions will see the opportunities made available by our profession and follow our lead!

The Architects Foundation was grateful to facilitate this emeritus member’s kind contribution.

It’s exactly the kind of informed, targeted support AIA is working to expand as we enhance our efforts to help students overcome barriers to education and advancement.

“This emeritus member demonstrates the true meaning of the term ‘citizen architect,’ and I’d like to express AIA’s gratitude on behalf our members,” said AIA 2020 President Jane Frederick, FAIA. “His thoughtful involvement and generosity as a retired member show that, no matter where architects are in our careers, we can make a difference.”

“The Architects Foundation has been awarding the Diversity Advancement Scholarship since 1970, but there is still much work to do,” said Architects Foundation President James Walbridge, AIA. “We were happy to help this emeritus member put his personal plan into action. Our approach is just one of many tools needed to make a difference.”

Efforts this year include surveying deans at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to identify needs; distributing $12,000 each to seven NAAB-accredited programs housed at HBCUs; and launching a campaign through the Architects Foundation to support the Diversity Advancement Scholarship. A multiyear award that supports ethnically diverse undergraduates studying architecture with up to $20,000, the Diversity Advancement Scholarship is a critical tool.

AIA members have contributed $156,283 so far this year, and through our Giving Tuesday campaign, the Architects Foundation is inviting 20,000 AIA members to donate $20 or more in 2020.

Not all of us have the ability to match the anonymous supporter’s $75,000 donation. But by giving what we can, we can make a difference – for the next generation of deserving students, and for the future of the architecture profession.

Build a brighter future for architects by donating here.