Mark Lamster | Essays

The Changing Face of American Architecture

A few weeks ago I was assigned a magazine story about the architecture program of Woodbury University, a little-known business and design school with a large Hispanic population drawn from its Los Angeles environs. I figured, and I think my editors did as well, that it would be interesting to shine a little light on this small and neglected corner of the profession. I started calling around, and couldn't immediately find anyone who knew much about the school or who had much of a sense about Hispanic architects, beyond the assumption that there are not too many of them. Though there plenty of well-known American architects of Latin descent, they are typically foreign-born and raised, children of the professional classes in their native countries. The students at Woodbury are, by contrast, not from privileged backgrounds: well more than half are the first in their families to attend college. 

My preconceived ideas about Hispanic architects — specifically, that they not much of a force within the profession — proved to be very wrong indeed. The story, which now appears on the cover of Architect, is in fact about the explosive rise of the minority architect, and the Hispanic architect in particular:

Hispanics now make up 14 percent of all architecture students, according to a 2009 report by the National Architectural Accrediting Board. In coming years, that number is likely to rise significantly, as the percentage of minorities in the general collegiate population expands. Projections indicate that by 2015 the number of high school students of Hispanic descent will have risen by about 50 percent in just 10 years, and Asian students, by 24 percent.

This represents a welcome broadening of representation within the architectural profession, which has always had its problems promoting minorities and female practitioners. (The paucity of African-Americans remains especially troubling, though I learned of a few useful initiatives in my reporting.) The Woodbury students, certainly, are an inspiring group. It's nice to see them, and the demographic shift of which they are a part, receive a bit of visibility. 

Above: Portrait of Woodbury Student Fidelina Ramirez by Mark Mahaney

Comments [4]

It is very reasuring to find that our noble profession is attracting more young people in the Hispanic community. What a sharp contrast to my years at UC Berkeley during the '60s and '70s when you could count us with one hand.
carlos chavez-andonegui, architect

You must be kidding, only now is our profession attracting the Hispanic community to architecture?
Need you be reminded of major architectural practices in the US of HISPANIC origin?

Just curious Mark: What are the few useful initiatives your learned re African-Americans in architecture?

peter: i DEFINITELY need to be reminded of major architectural practices in the us of hispanic origin. i think we all do.

nina: i wish there were more of them. you might contact the national organization of minority architects to find out about specifics. (http://www.noma.net) i was pretty disappointed there was not a more concerted effort at development, frankly. if there were a local initiative here in ny, i'd gladly participate. or maybe it's time to start one. any takers?
mark lamster

Jobs | May 22