Sumita Sinha, © James Jordan



*  In 1999 this was 8%.

**  We do not have any figures for disabled architects or those from different sexual orientations. Nevertheless, the former exist, but not in great numbers.

*** A survey carried out on 1994 by RIBA Journal reported that 74% of the UK population could not identify any architects or buildings designed by them.

This introduction is extracted from: Diversity in Architectural Education: Teaching and Learning in the Context of Diversity by Sumita Sinha.

For full details of this paper please download the PDF: Diversity in Architectural Education


Sumita Sinha is the founder of Architects For Change, the Equality Forum for British Architects, and past Chair of Women In Architecture. Her published works include those in the fields of design, work practices and community planning. Sumita's awards include the UIA:UNESCO International award, Marley Environmental Initiatives award, and National Training award.


A brief overview of the diversity of the profession

While creative professionals, including architects, account for about 7% of UK workforce, it may surprise the reader to learn that diversity and equality are considered 'taboo' words in architectural education. That may be because most architects consider themselves to be liberal and creative and, therefore, above what is considered as 'political correctness'. However, statistics tell a different story.  At present there are only 17% women architects* while the percentage for Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) is too small to be a part of the statistics.  Less than 8% of women own their practices and the number of female professors or heads of schools can be counted in one hand. However, these figures do not bear any relationship to the student numbers from both female and BAME backgrounds.** Diversity in the UK's student body is well represented in architecture. However, the expression of architectural diversity - both in the end products of graduates and buildings - is not.

The first woman was admitted to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1898 after a hotly debated council meeting at which Ethel Charles won a vote of 51 for and 16 against. This was not a question of merit but pure prejudice - Charles was holder of the RIBA Silver Medal (1905) and winner of international awards. A year later her sister, Bessie Ada Charles, became the second female architect member of the RIBA. An attempt was made to reverse the decision a few months later - the sisters triumphed again, this time winning by one vote. Nearly ninety years later in 1985, a group of male and female architects established the Women Architects Forum - at this point, less than 5% of chartered architects were female. An exhibition about the work of women architects brought public attention for the first time to the issue of gender and architecture. In 1993 the Women Architects Group was established as a special-interest group within the RIBA. In 1999 it became independent of the RIBA and renamed itself Women In Architecture. Architects For Change was set up in 2000 as the RIBA's first equality forum. From then on, Women In Architecture, the Society of Black Architects, Archaos - the students' forum - and other such groups have operated under the umbrella of Architects For Change.

It was only in 2000 that RIBA adopted an equal-opportunities policy for its own staff. It is not yet mandatory for RIBA members to have equal-opportunity policies. The statistics of female and BAME architects may seem perverse for a profession that is so dependent on public patronage - 51% of the UK population is female (the London figure is 52%) while 7% of the population comes from a BAME background. So while there is approximately one architect per 2000 people in the UK, they do not reflect the society in which they work. As a result, it is not hard to understand why architects are often  seen as isolated figures, removed from the lives of the general public - described as a middle-class profession with mainly white and middle-aged men.*** This picture is very different from other public professions such as medicine, accountancy and the law, which support a vibrant and diverse body of practitioners from all backgrounds.