Letter to the editor: Addressing race

A planned mural for the University of Toronto Daniels Building’s north facade, by Daniels alumni Ashita Parekh and Tolu Alabi, will say, in giant letters, “Support Black Designers.”

I am an architect in Toronto, and one of the founding partners at studioDOM Architects. I am also a woman of colour who understands the courage it takes to be a minority in the architecture profession. As a woman, I have felt the inequalities on site, in pay scales, and have felt the effects of race in the workplace.

I have mostly worked in small- to mid-sized architectural firms in Ontario, and have almost always been the only person of colour in these offices. One of the main reasons for opening my own practice was because it was difficult, as a woman of colour, to move ahead in other practices—even with the same talents and experiences as my White colleagues.

In June, the OAA conducted a framework analysis based on OAA member feedback. The findings around race, pay, equity and discrimination were not surprising to me as, as I have lived through it. However, the findings were shocking to my business partner, who is White and in a position of privilege. I am sure that various architectural associations within Canada have also summarized or acknowledged the inequalities in representation. Furthermore, I understand that various associations are doing their best to start a conversation and bring awareness around diversity, equality and race.

As a country, we are a diverse nation, and unfortunately, the architectural profession is not diverse at all.  For the past several months, I have watched many businesses and publications identify their support of Black Lives and people of colour. Some have even begun self-reflection on how they can promote diversity and equality. I applaud anyone for starting and continuing this conversation.

Every month, I read Canadian Architect and am profoundly disappointed with the lack of effort in addressing this topic. Canadian Architect is a terrific tool, in my view, to bring the entire country together through architecture. As a valued publication, you have the ability to collaborate with every architectural association across Canada to bring awareness to this topic.

I recently received the Canadian Architect August 2020 issue. I appreciate the thought put into “Reforming Justice Architecture.” However, the short essay glossed over the reasons on why we are rethinking police stations, and how those discriminations also live within our profession. In addition, I appreciate your efforts in dedicating several pages to highlighting Blanche Lemco van Ginkel’s career in architecture. This is of great importance for our time. The August issue continues with a review of the “Pandemic Effect.” I applaud that appropriate architects were chosen to write about topics that are relevant to their experience, as I agree that it is important to learn from those that have lived experiences. I was disappointed that none of the architects chosen to participate were Black or people of colour; there is a lack of diversity in an article made up of numerous professionals across Canada.

The magazine’s content regarding Indigenous architecture and architects is helpful in highlighting one race of Canada’s multiracial background. Unfortunately, at this time in our world, there is an urgency for businesses and people to take action towards acceptance of Black Lives and people of colour as well. That action only sticks in our society if there is reflection on diversity as a whole.

There are many ways to approach a sensitive topic, however, as a person of colour, I feel that your approach is not sufficiently appreciative of the minority groups within our profession who live with inequalities. The Black community and minorities have not felt supported or represented through Canadian Architect for the entire 2020 year. As a proud Canadian who is an architect of colour, I feel that your magazine has a great role in educating, promoting and highlighting people and firms who are diverse in our country. You have the ability to start a conversation and invite your audience to reflect. I am saddened that you have chosen, as of late, not to do so.