Kimberly Dowdell, Principal at HOK’s Chicago studio, discusses the launch of HOK Tapestry as a means to support diversity in architecture through collaboration with firms of all and sizes.
It has always been my belief that we need a diverse and inclusive industry in order to create more diverse and inclusive places.
However, despite some progress in recent years, architecture remains a predominantly white and male-dominated profession. When I was President of the National Organisation of Minority Architects (NOMA) from 2019 to 2020, I was struck by the statistic that of 116,000 architects in the US, just 2,300 – less than 2% – are African American. According to an AIA survey conducted in 2020, just 17% of practicing architects are women. In the UK, it is a similar story with the 2019 Architects Registration Board annual report showing almost three quarters (71%) of architects are male, and just 1% are black.
This not only creates inequity in the profession, but it puts our industry at a disadvantage; as countless studies have shown a lack of diversity can stifle collaboration, creativity, productivity and problem-solving. Supporting female architects and those from minority groups is not only the right thing to do, it is good for business.
Many practices – including HOK – have taken positive steps to address this and are committed to supporting diversity in architecture through their recruitment and training programmes. However, it will take time for the positive impacts of these initiatives to become clear, particularly as practices expand at a slower rate as the economy recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the meantime, there is an opportunity to make a real difference by supporting the ecology of smaller and independent practices that are more likely to be led or owned by women and/or minority architects.
This was one of the key motivations behind the launch of HOK Tapestry. This online portal allows firms seeking to collaborate with HOK to upload their profile and qualifications into a database we use to help us assemble project teams.
Information entered into HOK Tapestry will enable HOK project managers to curate the best partnering firms based on the client’s specific project goals, expanding our list of potential partners around the world and bring greater equity to our project teams.
This is not exclusively targeted at groups that are under-represented in our industry, but it will help level the playing field between larger practices with long-established networks and relationships, and smaller, independent practices, that we know are more likely to be female and/or minority-led.
We launched the platform in February and already have more than 100 practices registered. The initial feedback we have received suggests that smaller practices want to be fully embedded in project teams and treated as equal partners rather than contracted to deliver a very limited component of the work. This more collaborative approach will help smaller practices grow, broaden their experience and ultimately bring new ideas and thinking to the places we are designing.
HOK Tapestry continues our firm’s legacy of being an innovative and supportive partner and we look forward to driving positive change in the industry.
You can register your practice on HOK Tapestry here.
About Kimberly Dowdell
Kimberly collaborates with other members of the leadership team in HOK’s Chicago Studio on strategic business development and marketing initiatives. She is also a frequent speaker at industry events and a mentor to HOK’s emerging leaders. In 2021 Kimberly joined the board of directors of the Architects Foundation and the board of the Chicago Area Central Committee, which works to shape the city’s growth, equity and quality of place. Kimberly was recognised for her activism efforts by Architectural Record’s 2020 Women in Architecture Awards program.