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RIBA London People of the month June 2024: POC in Architecture

RIBA People of the Month highlights Savannah Williams; an architect and founder of the community interest company POC in Architecture (POCinA). At present, the architectural industry has approximately 1% of black architects in its sector and POCinA’s initiatives aim to provide a safe space, whilst promote inclusivity for this demographic.

31 May 2024

POCinA was founded in the summer of 2020 by architect Savannah Williams while she was studying her masters degree during lockdown.

Initially beginning as a blog to showcase the work of black and mixed heritage architecture students, it seemed apparent at the time that there was a lack of representation on existing design websites for this particular demographic within the industry. In response, POCinA began a platform for young talented minority students to have their work displayed on the website.

This month, RIBA London talks to Savannah about the core values of their architecture and of POCinA.

Where do you look for inspiration?

Inspiration can be found in many things and is a personal process that is different for each individual. For me I find my inspiration comes from an array of experiences, my most common forms of inspiration come from challenges I may face within the industry, young aspiring architecture students that I engage with and seeing the outcome of a social impact project which then inspires me to do more.

Working to drive social change has happened naturally for me as it has come from personal and professional reflection. Through POCinA I have also been able to reflect with others on their own experiences and stories which continue to inspire and motivate me. To be inspired whether in architectural practice or social projects, is something we need as forward thinking designers to produce meaningful design and societal transformation.

2023 Student Exhibition. Credit: Shane Duncan

What resources do you think would be beneficial for practices that are in the process of becoming more socially sustainable?

For practices to be more socially sustainable they have to come out of the architectural bubble that has been taught or shown to us all for decades, which is an architecture that is white male dominated and has the foundations of an elitist profession; which it doesn’t have to be and should not present its facade as so.

There has been improvements in the industry over the last couple of years and we should celebrate this. There are many ways practices can improve their social outlook and principles to better the social aspects of their studio, which will improve their diversity and inclusion. One way is to have proactive practice management that seeks to engage with grassroots organisations which can implement change through support such as sponsorship programs and workshops.

A sponsorship can change a young aspiring architects life and a workshop can create bridges and connections that seemed once unobtainable. This aids the process of allowing architecture to be more accessible to those who it otherwise may not be, be it due to class, race, or gender.

By doing these sorts of support actions, it allows practices to engage with the next generation of aspiring designers, which makes for a better, more inclusive architectural industry.

Aside from being proactive in connecting with community organisation and universities, there are resources that company’s can tap into to gain training for their senior staff. Senior staff are typically ones who engage in interviews and the hiring process, and it should be a consideration to undergo in-house training to ensure that interview processes are fair and open to all. These inclusive hiring strategies should be used for both long term employees and student internships.

2023 Student Exhibition. Credit: Shane Duncan

How do you incorporate social sustainability into your work?

Incorporating social sustainability into work with architecture students from marginalised backgrounds involves creating an inclusive and supportive environment that addresses their unique challenges and promotes their success. POC in Architecture mentors students based in the UK of African and Caribbean heritage, this allows the organisation to be direct and concentrated with its resources, support systems, and actions as this demographic is at the heart of the companies manifesto.

To be socially sustainable, however, also means to be collaborative with other organisations who also have their own positive agenda to drive for change in the industry. Which is why in 2024 POCinA implemented an aim to have an annual collaboration each year with another organisation to support others in their journey too.

This years collaboration is with Architecture LGBT+ where we will host an exhibition of work from artists who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and also identify as either black, South Asian, or mixed heritage. By implementing a collaborative working style allows for growth and connecting with others who have similar aspirations, making for better social sustainability.

Student workshop. Credit: POCinA

How do you think the pandemic changed the architectural industry?

The COVID-19 pandemic, while challenging, brought about several improvements and innovations in the architecture industry. It gave everyone across the globe time to sit, breath, and reflect.

I reflected and analysed my journey into architecture which had me end up at POC in Architecture. It was a catalyst for change, providing time to understand my social class, race, and gender, and also POCinA's position in the industry.

For practices, I’d image they didn’t know what to think at the beginning; possibly 'how are we going to continue our work and a new sense of panic'. Once we all overcame the shock, I think the pandemic has had a somewhat positive affect.

Practices are more flexible with their employees, with majority allowing for work from home and online collaborative working from abroad. Moreover, as a result of the pandemic, many organisations like POCinA surfaced which is why we see practices engaging more and more with community based companies, which inevitably improves our profession.

Foster + Partners gives students tour of the F+P London office. Credit: POCinA

What’s the most exciting project you’ve got coming up and why?

Many things are happening this year but I am most excited about this years POC in Architecture student exhibition, as we have gained support from RIBA thanks to their Local Initiatives funding (LIF), as well as support from Morris and Company who have gifted their space located in East London for the exhibition.

Having the support of RIBA has meant we can go bigger and better. With this years mentoring program having 52 students on board there is more work to display which is why the support is most valued. The support of Morris and Company is greatly admired as they came forward in wanting to support this years exhibition before I could ask, which is the sort of proactive attitude towards social change and support that I have been talking about.

With the support of both entities the students can have an impactful launch to their exhibition and - instead of it only running for one evening - can run for just over a week. This for me is the most exciting upcoming project, as I can see the growth since the first exhibition three years ago.

Credit: POCinA

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