In conversation with Aaliyah Lawal, Black Females in Architecture (BFA)
At OSA we think is important to use our platform as a place to discuss relevant issues facing the Architectural profession; we want to promote organisations and events that help to combat diversity issues within the construction industry. Architecture has long been considered a white male dominated profession; the recent Equality and Diversity survey (August 2020) by the ARB shows that the 83% (of the 66.4% of the register surveyed) are white and 71% male. Whilst the profession is becoming more aware of issues around diversity and inclusion, it is slow to react. There are, however, organisations such as Black Females in Architecture, who are providing a space for underrepresented voices to be heard and in doing so helping to empower their members.
This month we have had the privilege of speaking to Aaliyah Lawal, who is Head of Graphics and a committee member of Black Females in Architecture (BFA). Aaliyah is currently studying her Part 2 at Tu Delft, having previously studied at the University of Sheffield. After graduating from Sheffield in 2018, Aaliyah worked for two years at Make architects in London. The interview discusses the formation of BFA, why the organisation is important and the type of events the company runs.
Q. Black Females in Architecture is a growing organisation with over 300 members, what led to its formation?
A. I think for all our members, it is always significant to see other black women at architectural events as it so rarely happens. A few of the Co-founders had met before, but when all four them found themselves at the same event I can only imagine their surprise and excitement. I know it sounds sad but when you are used to being the odd-one out in every space, company seems quite thrilling. From that point, the co-founders formed a WhatsApp group between themselves and gradually began adding other black women in the field from all over the world. A few months, meet-ups and almost 80 members later, the Co-founders decided to establish BFA as a company.
Q. When and why did you decide to get involved with BFA?
A. BFA was something that I didn’t fully realise I was craving, but when a friend from my undergraduate added me to the group, I suddenly had a platform to freely ask questions and discuss experiences without the fear of making people uncomfortable or out casting myself further from the group. Really, it was just like a sisterhood of women keen to help, encourage and inspire each other, all with such similar experiences within the industry who met me with an understanding I was not used to. At the beginning of 2019, the Co-founders formed a Committee team which I joined as a graphics assistant. I felt that the group was exceeding a safe space to talk and was becoming something powerful and inspiring that I was very keen to be involved in any way that I could.
Q. What is your role on the committee?
A. Within BFA, I am now the Head of Graphics. This involves designing and developing BFA’s visual identity and coordinating the output of physical and digital graphics for BFA events and social media platforms.
Q. The AJ100 2020 survey reported that only 11% of Architects come from BAME backgrounds. Do you think that organisations like BFA will be able encourage more BAME females into the construction sector?
A. From what I have learnt being involved in BFA, there are obstacles at all levels for the BAME community within the construction sector, not just at entry level. Whilst I think BFA’s visibility within the industry is encouraging to others within the BAME community and we strive to support our members throughout their careers, ultimately, we will need support from outside our own community. The drop-off rate of BAME students from first year undergraduate to fully qualified architect is shocking and extremely telling when compared to their counterparts. At BFA we attempt to dissect these barriers in order to discuss them with the wider architectural community and find ways to break them down. I think our existence is a positive sign that the industry is becoming more inclusive, but I think it’s still important to remember that inclusivity will drive diversity, and not the other way around.
Q. What type of events do you run?
A. We hold both exclusive events that focus on upskilling and engaging BFA members and inclusive events are for the public as supporters of BFA and black women of the industry, and all can be rendered into 3 different types: Networking, Learning and Social. Our networking events are usually brunches and lunches for people to come an build relationships with other industry professionals and celebrate related industry events such as Clerkenwell design week or International Woman’s day. Our learning events focus on skill-building, sharing knowledge and inspiring confidence in our attendees in the form of CV workshops or ‘Living room sessions’, where we create informal spaces to candidly discuss our experiences in the architectural field in relation to race and gender. Finally, our social events such as our meet-ups or BFA book club are more informal opportunities for our member to meet and hang out with each other. Between pavilion design and recycled plastic workshops to student portfolio reviews, we try to prioritise and accommodate our members and invite our supports to engage as well.
Q. If someone reading this wants to get involved, what can they do?
A. Our events are always advertised on our website https://www.blackfemarc.com/ or on our social media platforms @blackfemarc! If you want to become a partner email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you are a black female in architecture and want to become a member email us at email@example.com
OSA would like to thank Aaliyah Lawal for her time and encourage any black female architecture students at Oxford Brookes to get involved.
By Alice Latham, OSA Magazine
Equality and Diversity Survey (August 2020) https://arb.org.uk/about-arb/equality-diversity/data/