How To ‘Get Involved’, A Resource For Black Students

(Advice that Google doesn’t give you)

This article is addressed to Black students because there is a lack of diversity in the education and practice of Architecture. We do not aim to exclude anyone, as some of the resources provided would be useful to all students, but some points have been written specifically for Black students. The BLM_Arch@MSA is a student collective from the Manchester School of Architecture (MSA) acting on behalf of Black and minority students. We formed in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. One of our initiatives is an outreach program to schools, helping to increase visibility for students before university. The goal is to increase awareness of the architecture profession in schools, helping them to understand the application process/curating a portfolio and what A-Level options can support architectural education.

Although we are still working on the outreach programme, we have some resources to share with those who are wanting to join the profession, are in the early stages of their education or just want to learn more. These steps outline some useful tips that are helpful to those who do not know much about architecture, like myself before I started my undergraduate course at university. As a Black British individual of Nigerian heritage, I did not have any older family or friends who were architects and I would have benefitted from initiatives such as outreach or from the resources listed below, to encourage my advancement in my architectural education. 

Build a Network and Engage Online  

With the rise in social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and even LinkedIn have created greater accessibility to people you do not know. Networking with people in the industry, creating an online presence or even just following different pages to understand the current conversations that are taking place is beneficial. There are a vast number of pages to follow that range from architecture practices and architecture schools to student collectives and more. The great thing about platforms such as Instagram is that once you find one page you like, Instagram suggests many more. Here are some pages that we would suggest:

@BLM_Archmsa is where we discuss ideas relating to systematic racism within the profession.

@to. scale  is where Sana Tabassum, a Part I Graduate offers tutorials, advice and resources 

@sound_x_advice – a platform exploring spatial inequality through music 

@migrantsbureaua multidisciplinary social design and urbanism practice surrounding disenfranchised and migrant communities 

Read, Listen and Watch 

Now this point is really important because it gives a voice to the people in the architecture industry and makes them relatable. We would suggest the 1to100 podcast, @1to100podcast on Instagram where a group of female ethnic minority students from Oxford Brookes university come together to discuss the highs and lows of architecture, whilst also offering advice. They are all personable and engaging and make you feel part of the conversation. They discuss important topics such as mental health and studio culture. Online magazines that we would suggest, besides INVOLVED, are the Afterparti, the Architects Journal, the RIBA Journal and Dezeen to name a few. @afterpartizine is an online magazine that creates and champions platforms for underrepresented voices in architecture and design.

So I’ve realised that most of the resources provided can be accessed through your phone, which is great. However, for those of you who like to read physical books, here are some suggestions. They highlight how race relates to the architecture profession. 

  1. Race, Space and Architecture by Huda Tayob and Suzanne Hall
  2. Little White Houses by Dianne Harris
  3. The Skyscraper: Architecture and the Perception of Race by Adrienne Brown 

Join communities

How do you talk about the difficulties with employment due to your race or gender? How do you talk with a man about the struggle of being a woman in the workplace? It is essential, especially as a Black student, to join communities where you can be transparent about some of the difficulties faced within your education, because to be frank, they will come. Below are some communities that we would recommend.  

Black Females in Architecture (@blackfemarc on Instagram) are a community and network for Black females in Architecture, the natural and built environment.

Paradigm (@paradigmnetwork) is a professional network that exists to champion ethnic minority representation within Architecture and the Built Environment

And lastly, the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust (@s_lawrencetrust) who not only support ethnic minority architecture students with monetary funds, but also provide a mentorship programme, giving you direct contact to the people with experience in the industry and a chance to build your network. 

There are a lot of resources that offer advice on what topics to pick, what schools to apply for and how to curate a portfolio. I’m sure there are platforms that also recommend what books to read, what videos to watch and how to network. However, this article aims to highlight other platforms that are just as important and integral, some that are specifically aimed at the advancement of Black and other ethnic minority students. It is important to engage with these platforms, to engage with the conversations that are taking place and to build a network. These are key to progressing in this profession and not feeling alone as you work your way through it. 

We hope that the outreach initiative will bring more diversity to architecture schools and eventually architecture practices. If you want to know more, stay informed on our progress and support this movement, please follow us on Instagram: @blm_archmsa.

Written by Tobi Sobowale as part of the BLM_Arch@MSA Team