Why architecture needs more ‘diverse led’ practices

Promoting 'diverse led' practices should never be a box ticking exercise. Lànré Gboladé (Gboladé Design Studio) explains why it is important that emerging practices led by architects from minority groups are more visible.

05 November 2021

“There are a number of Black and Asian-led practices out there,” states Lànré Gboladé. “If you want to diversify your consultant pool, here is a good list to start with.”

He is referring to the list of practices showcased on the Paradigm Network’s website.

“Those who come across the list can see that these practices are carrying out interesting and high quality work. They might contact Paradigm to ask how they would go about procuring their services. We can help facilitate those introductions.”

Gboladé is Production Innovation Lead at the housing association L&Q Group and a co-founder of Gboladé Design Studio. Paradigm Network was founded by Chris Nasah, Lànré Gboladé, Roberston Lindsay, Tara Gboladé and Yẹmí Aládérun. The network is run by a committee that includes Diana Yu, Ushma Samani and a number of the co-founding members.

“A gap needed filling. We felt there was a need for a body that better represented young emerging architects from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds to support them in their career progression, and at student level too.”

Paradigm Network was, he explains, set up for marginalised architects, those with a great deal to contribute but who are rarely recognised. It is giving visibility to Black and Asian architects but also shows the quality of their work.

The clients who contact Paradigm might be large practices looking for an SME partner, to support them in areas they are unfamiliar with: a sector or context they need a better understanding of. They might be local authorities or private clients. Paradigm has been contacted by residential developers, and by museums in London and around the southeast.

“It is quite a mix of clients. They are recognising that, following Black Lives Matter, something of significance has happened that they need to respond to.”

Paradigm would then notify the group about the interest and is willing to help an appropriate practice with the potential collaboration by managing and coordinating expressions of interest

Such clients might have previously used the same pool of consultants, delivering similar work, and be looking to expand beyond its normal remit.

“The only way you will receive something different is from a diverse pool of actors,” Gboladé suggests.

“This should never be a box ticking exercise. We hope large practices will realise that forming good relationships with emerging practices can strengthen their work, bringing in new ideas and a nimble, agile approach.”

The Paradigm Network organise CPD-style sessions as well as social gatherings to facilitate networking among emerging black and Asian-led practices; (c) Paradigm Network/Tame Designs.

On the subject of box ticking, Pedro Gil, Director of Studio Gil reveals that his practice has over time received some invitations to tender that are largely “performative” (though not via the Paradigm Network).

“Sometimes large public bodies want to be seen to be doing something and, as a result, we receive emails for prospects that are inappropriate,” Gil states. “Alternatively, we might simply feel that the practice or organisation approaching us does not fit with our core values. We will try to connect them with a more suitable practice, even if the fees would be useful.”

Happily, Studio Gil have engaged in many fruitful collaborations with practices and community groups who do share their values; the large practice Karakusevic Carson being one notable example.

The Paradigm Network also provides professional development help to its informal membership.

“Our core membership lies in a very active Whatsapp group of around 246 members,” Gboladé explains. “But the group has a much wider reach in terms of those participating in our webinars and CPD style sessions.”

These address common practice challenges such as sustainability, innovation, stakeholder engagement, fees and cash flow management; helping emerging practices to develop and enhance their practice management capabilities. One session with LHC advised upon ways small practices might go about successfully putting themselves forward for framework opportunities.

“Smaller practices typically do not have the in-house resources to read hundreds of pages of procurement documentation before submitting a tender. We want to help emerging practices be better placed to win work on frameworks.”

Collaboration among Paradigm’s members and participants has happened organically. The online chats and in-person networking lead naturally to a sharing of ideas; which leads to teaming up on projects.

“This is not something we are formally facilitating, but through the Paradigm Network the opportunity for practices to join hands and add more mutual value to their pitches is happening by default.”

Thanks to Lànré Gboladé (Co Founder, Gboladé Design Studio) and Pedro Gil (Director, Studio Gil).

Text by Matt Milton. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas.

RIBA Core Curriculum topic: Inclusive Environments.

As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, professional features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD core curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as a RIBA Chartered Member.

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