Architecture = (Wealth x Class x Race)^2 (Part I)

During my time studying my bachelors in Architecture, I have always wondered who Architecture is ultimately for. Through lectures, peer reviews, and tutorials, the ‘Architecture for all’ ideal was constantly imposed, but I have always questioned if this is just a tick-box statement.

Often, there is a widely adopted narrative in Architecture, where the aesthetics and design of a building can change, and positively influence the socio-economic landscape of where the architecture will reside. 

However, I have found that in reality, this has been the other way around. In fact, those belonging to a particular social class have continuously dictated the economic value of art and design, which also influences land and property ownership. 

The rules governing land and property ownership have been key drivers of economic and social structures. Like everything else in the world, there is a common denominator where the perception of worth equates to economic value. Architecture is no different; after all, it is a business.

Race, class and gender, amongst other criteria, divide our society. Each of these factors is co-dependent; they tend to determine our future and even the type of Architecture we occupy. Indeed, there is a level of individualism that contributes to our position in society, but there is no denying the potent influence of social factors that are just not within our grasp.

Before diving deep, I would like to address those who are reading this, disregarding how these societal factors are major contributors to how futures are shaped, and believe this is solely down to the individual; this is simply not true. At some point, we must do our due diligence in recognising the privileges we possess as individuals, not by our earnings but by societal standards. These privileges have provided us with advantages to progress where others cannot. It is our responsibility to question why this is.

I will be discussing some of these societal factors in the context of Architecture, looking at how race plays a part in students’ performance within Architectural education. Part 2 of this article will look at Grenfell, the tragedy that occurred as a result of the perceived class of the residents that sadly influenced the dangerous piece of Architecture they unknowingly occupied. I will address the responsibility of education within this, in particular, the RIBA syllabus that does not currently provide the knowledge and empathy needed to design safe spaces for ‘all’ within our society.

Education and Race

The divide of race and class permeates the professional services and education of Architecture. It seeps down to the relationship between students, lecturers, and tutors alike, ultimately affecting students’ performance within Architecture.

The charts above show the dramatic decrease in the percentage of students from ethnic minority backgrounds progressing and passing through Architectural education, in contrast with the increase in ‘White students’. Similar trends are shown through the same data between 2015-2017. The data in the charts show the following:

  1. White students consist of 60% of the applications into part 1, this then slightly increases to 61% for those who are accepted. The percentage of White students entering part 2 jumps significantly to 70%. Meanwhile, the percentage of students who are not ‘White’ decreases when entering part 2, compared to the percentage of those who had originally applied and entered into part 1.
  1. White students make up 67% of the passing rate for part 1, and the percentage increases to 75% for part 2, this then further rises to 88% for part 3. This shows a continuous increase in the pass rate of  White students. However, it is the opposite for ethnic minority students, where there is a continuous decline in pass rates.
  1. 61% of White students make up the number of students entering part 1 and yet 67% of those students pass part 1. This illustrates that a majority of these students who have entered part 1 have also passed part 1.
  1. A similar trend is also shown for White students entering and passing part 2; where 70% of white students who enter part 2 have a 75% chance of also passing Part 2. However, this is not the same for students who are not White, in fact it is the opposite. The percentage of students who pass both part 1 and part 2 continuously decreases compared to the percentage of those students who entered into Part 1 and part 2.

There are varying conclusions that can be drawn from the statistics above. However, it is apparent within this data that ‘White students’ are much more likely to pass Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 when compared to students from ethnic minority backgrounds, meaning ‘White students’ are much more likely to proceed and succeed within the marathon of Architectural education. This then eventually translates to the professional world of Architecture, where ‘White people’ are largely represented.

There are various social factors that contribute to the statistics above and leave students from ethnic minority backgrounds less advantaged when compared to their ‘White’ peers.

Firstly, a contributing factor that may affect the performance of students from ethnic minority backgrounds is the likelihood of encountering racial discrimination.

The result of facing discrimination can impact one’s mental wellbeing, which will in turn affect the ability to perform well and sometimes lead to some students leaving their studies. According to an inquiry into racial harassment of university students, 1 in 20 students had said they left their studies due to racial harassment. The study also showed that 70% of students who experience racial harassment experience mental trauma including depression and even feeling suicidal.

Another research found that repeated exposure to discrimination negatively affects cortisol levels within the body. The dysfunctional cortisol levels are linked to fatigue, impaired memory and cardiovascular disease.

Racial discrimination can also influence Tutors’ individual biases, where they develop unconscious bias towards students work.

“In my final year at university, my dissertation supervisor wrote in the comments of my dissertation that I should have gotten my work proofread by a ‘native English speaker’,” one student reported, “I only speak one language fluently, which is English. I am black but 100% British, born and bred. How much more British must I be before I am considered ‘native’?” (The Guardian, 2019)

Students that receive unconscious prejudice from tutors will often obtain a grade that is not reflective of their true abilities and work produced. An investigative research on the Accuracy of Predicted A Level Grades found that the highest percentage of accurate predictions was seen amongst ‘White’ and ‘Mixed’ applicants. The least accurate were Black applicants where they received the highest percentage of under-predicted grades.

Due to the racial discrimination that many students from ethnic minority backgrounds have to face. They often have to overcome a series of social barriers alongside their studies. Overcoming these barriers is often exhausting and impacts negatively on both physical and mental wellbeing. Their  ‘White’ peers are unlikely to face this level of discrimination, giving them the advantage of progressing through their course with much more ease.

Lastly, the financial burden of studying Architecture is an issue that affects all students but in particular students of ethnic minority backgrounds. According to the National Union of Students, the average annual cost for full-time Part 1 and Part 2 Architectural students in England and Wales is roughly £24k. This includes tuition fee, models, accommodation, printing, computer, study trips, books, and living costs.

In order to afford this, 81% of Architectural students receive financial support from parents according to a survey carried out by AJ Student. Meaning the basis of success within Architectural education is heavily reliant on students’ household affordability. Looking at research done by GOV.UK, 42% of the highest income group within the UK are White British Households. Meanwhile, over half of ethnic minority households fell in the lowest income groups, a result of institutionalised racism putting many families from ethnic minority backgrounds at a financial disadvantage.

Due to the greater chance of financial support ‘White students’ are more likely to have, there is reduced pressure in funding themselves through education. Those students who receive much less financial support, however, often have to be self-sufficient, impacting on time spent on their university work. This causes tremendous stress, affecting both students’ mental and physical wellbeing and in some cases leading to poorer performance.

What can be done?

There are various solutions that can be provided to resolve some of the issues addressed within this article. One of this is by providing individual student support; looking at how each students’ circumstances vary and tailoring those support systems to suit their needs. 

The RIBA should also conduct further research and inquiries into Tutor biases, as the issue could lie within staff diversity. So far, the RIBA have yet to publish any further research into this, which leaves room for questioning the organisation itself. 

Major work and analysis is needed to dismantle and solve these complex issues. 

For education and professional environments to be truly equal, it is essential for both regulatory and institutional bodies to put in collective work to resolve it.


  1. Rethinking The Economics Of Land And Housing, By Josh Ryan-Collins, Toby Lloyd and Laurie Macfarlene.
  1. RIBA Education Statistics Report 2017/2018 prepared for the RIBA by Mirza & Nacey Research
  1. Research Report No.129 Racial harassment inquiry: survey of university students October 2019, Equality and Human Rights Commission
  1. Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Investigating the Accuracy of Predicted A Level Grades as part of the UCAS Admissions Process