The Future of the Architecture and Design Industry Is Bright

02/03/2020 By Robert Nieminen

Welcome to the year 2020! (Can you believe it?) Growing up as a child, this milestone in history seemed so distant, so full of possibility that it was difficult to imagine myself living to see this day.

Influenced by pop culture of the ‘70s and ‘80s, I envisioned 2020 full of flying cars and talking robots like those I saw in The Jetsons or Star Wars of my childhood. In some ways, we’re far more advanced than what I dreamed; in others, we’re still far behind the times.

I’m referring to the glaring question: WHAT diversity in design? Because for all the progress we’ve seen in technology and design, the industry seems stuck in the past when it comes to racial and gender parity. Of the 87,000 practitioners in the interior design industry, 69% are women, yet female design firm leadership is only 25%, according to IIDA. Additionally, just 36% of newly licensed architects are women and only 2% are black.

In other words, the architecture and interior design professions are still predominantly led by white males – and we wanted to know why.

I urge you read about the lack of diversity in the industry. It looks at how we can move into a new era in which people of all backgrounds have a voice and a seat at the leadership table.

I spoke with academics from The Boston Architectural College and Pratt Institute, as well as IIDA’s Cheryl Durst, JSR Associates’ Jane Rohde and others, to get their perspectives on how design education and practice can embrace inclusiveness and enrich and strengthen the industry as a whole. I think you’ll find their observations insightful and inspiring.

Because as we focus on the broader themes of social consciousness and design for the greater good, we thought a discussion on diversity was a good place to start. But we obviously didn’t stop there.

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This IIDA column, for example, explores the notion that designers are able to do far more than simply creating healthy and functional spaces; they can also serve as activists through their work, making an effort to preserve the history, heritage and legacy of the communities and neighborhoods they are designing for and within. “It has become understood that design is no longer apolitical and that designers are frequently able to play a key role in strengthening communities and engaging their members in more meaningful and dignified ways,” the article notes.

But it’s not just designers that need to step up; manufacturers have a responsibility to their customers and community as well, a topic that’s discussed in this month’s ASID column. The Association interviewed a handful of industry partners and ASID Design Impact Award recipients on how to design sustainable, socially-conscious products that positively impact lives, communities and the environment. From placing an emphasis on well-being and safety, working with local craftspeople to support small businesses, to reusing furniture and reclaiming lumber, several prominent manufacturers share their views on how they—and the design community at large—can make a greater impact for the greater good.

Likewise, in an Op-Ed piece, Interface’s chief sustainability officer Erin Meezan tackles the issue of carbon emission reduction in the building and construction industry. As the single largest emitter of carbon emissions when accounting for both operational and embodied carbon, Meezan says both manufacturers and specifiers have tremendous opportunity to reduce carbon emissions in our built spaces and, in turn, address climate change – a step that would help everyone breathe a bit easier.

“This won’t be an easy change,” Meezan notes, “but policy mechanisms, new tools and increasing awareness are leading the building and construction industry to embrace this challenge. With a stronger focus on creation of new recycling programs for building materials and strengthening existing programs, like the State of California’s carpet recycling law, we can contribute to decarbonizing the building and construction supply chain.”

As we embark on a new year and decade, we have much to celebrate in design, as so many articles in this issue can attest. While there’s still plenty of work to be done to ensure a more inclusive and level playing field for all, we are fortunate in that the people who make up the design community are some of the most creative, passionate and critical thinkers out there. And if anyone can help make our future brighter, it’s you.

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