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Architecture & Design

Designing Diversity in Architecture

Dallas' Latinos in Architecture group is stepping up to be a mentor in its community.

When Eduardo Castañeda was a student at Moises E. Molina High School in Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood, he was unsure what he would study after graduation. It wasn’t until he enrolled in a drafting class during his senior year that the picture of his future began to take shape. The class started out drawing house plans, but soon the students were tasked with taking on more challenging projects, like monuments. By this time, Castañeda was more than interested in pursuing architecture as a possible career. Fast-forward to today, and he’s a designer in the Dallas office of CallisonRTKL, a global architecture and design firm. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture from the University of Texas at Arlington, Castañeda is now chair of Latinos in Architecture, a group formed under AIA Dallas.

A Numbers Problem

In the grand scheme of things, Castañeda could be considered an anomaly in the architectural world. He’s a Latino minority in a profession where Latinos represent only a small percentage. The 2016 annual report of the National Architectural Accrediting Board, the entity that awards accreditation to educational institutions, shows that of 24,456 students enrolled in accredited architectural programs, just 4,138 (17 percent) of them were Hispanic/Latino. According to the 2016 National Council of Architectural Registration Board’s “NCARB by the Numbers” report, 44 percent of those starting the path to licensure are minorities. However, that number drops to 9 percent across existing NCARB certificate holders.

Back in 2015, the American Institute of Architects held its AIA national convention in Atlanta. It was then that members voted to support the proposed “Resolution 15-1,” which called on architects and the organization to address the lack of diversity in the profession. The result—specifically called for in the resolution—was establishment of a Commission on Equity in Architecture. The committee comprised 17 professionals who were given 14 months to work on a report providing insight into improving the profession’s equity, diversity, and inclusion. That report was released early this year.

The report details five main points and 11 action points to be implemented over the next three years. One of the action points calls for an academic study to address the “why” behind the demographic trends that are seen in architecture. A concluding statement in the report’s executive summary says: “Minorities reported that their barriers to entering the profession included fewer education financing opportunities; a perceived low ‘return’ on the expense of schooling; a lack of role models; and low awareness of the career path.”

Filling the Gap

The Dallas chapter of Latinos in Architecture is working to solve such problems. The group is active in visiting local schools, serving as mentors, and shedding light on a career in architecture. Castañeda joined the group while he was still a student at UT Arlington. Now, in his role as chair, he says that being a mentor is one of his main focuses. “I didn’t have a mentor. I didn’t really know what I was doing,” Castañeda says. “I would assume that if I had a little bit more support, or someone to go to, I think I could have done a little bit more, or it would have been less of a struggle.”

Zaida Basora is vice president at design firm Huitt-Zollars, the 2016 president of Dallas AIA, and a member of LiA. Over the years Basora has actively participated in the group’s outings to local schools. Born in Puerto Rico, she has spent the majority of the last 35 years in Dallas and believes that, because most students in the Dallas Independent School District are Hispanic, the need for mentors is important, especially in cases where parents aren’t fluent in English. Enrollment statistics for DISD as of May 2017 show 70.2 percent of the district’s students are Hispanic. “They can have access to scholarships, they can have access to books,” she says. “But if you don’t show them how to do that, their parents can’t either.”

The group is active in … serving as mentors and shedding light on a career in architecture.

LiA also puts together a book drive to benefit a local high school, collecting design books from people in the industry to be donated to the school. The group partners with high schools that have architecture or ACE-related (architecture, construction, and engineering) programs. Members and volunteers travel to the school and give short presentations on LiA, highlight work from current college students, and discuss the transition from college to a career.

This year, LiA is giving out its first scholarships after raising the funds throughout the past year. “One of the most difficult things that I personally went through was coming up with the money to go to college right out of high school,” Castañeda says. Now, LiA will be able to award two $1,000 scholarships to high school students in the Dallas area.

Since Dallas’ LiA chapter began in 2010, the group has continued to gain traction, with new chapters popping up in San Antonio, Austin, Houston, San Francisco, and, most recently, Fort Worth. Castañeda estimates the Dallas group to have about 300 members, making it the largest among all LiA groups. Last year, the Dallas chapter won the Texas Society of Architects Mentorship Award for its work in the community. This month, the group will host its marquee event: Enlaces—a Latino design awards program that is held at the Latino Culture Center.

And, for the first time since the group’s inception, members from all the chapters will gather in November at the Texas Society of Architects convention in Austin with a greater goal in mind. The meet-up will give members a chance to collaborate in a larger way. Says Castañeda: “Lately, it’s just been everyone doing their own thing in their local chapters. Now they really want to move it national, get it started in Chicago, get it started in Miami, those bigger market areas.”

Basora, who has spent most of her professional career in Dallas, has heard people question the need for groups of ethnic minorities. But she believes affinity groups, such as LiA, are necessary. “You’re not trying to create division. You’re really trying to create an attraction for people to say there’s a place for me there too,” she says. “Everybody is invited. It’s just that you’re going to find that if you’re in a group with Latinos, a lot of them are going to be speaking Spanish, because they’re going to naturally go to their native language.”

Last year, Castañeda had the chance to go back to his high school and talk to an architecture class that his friend was teaching. “It was interesting to go back to my old high school and actually motivate them and give them any advice that they needed,” he says. He’s no longer that high school student in a drafting class, trying to figure out the next move. Now he’s lending his story to a new generation. A move that doesn’t require much, but could turn out to be the ripple that effects change in his profession.   

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