Whilst formerly established in June 2018, BFA was not planned, it emerged organically through the chance meetings of four women, Akua Danso, Selasi Setufe, Neba Sere, and Alisha Morenike Fisher at a number of architecture industry events over 2017 and 2018, drawn to each other through the shared experience of being black women within a white male dominated industry.
With no other black women network within the built environment it was, for Akua, a vital way to connect with others from across the profession who share similar experiences and to develop this into a formal platform for such conversations to be had and actions to be taken.
As well as this BFA provides its members with opportunities for work placements, to both run and attend creative workshops, mentoring sessions and entrepreneur training, all carried out through their expanding partner outreach programme. Events have been hosted by members and held at both the Design Museum and Royal Academy of Arts to inspire access into the profession, as well as address global issues; a recent workshop for children run by members was held at the RA on recycling plastic, tying in with the RA’s current exhibition ‘Eco-Visionaries’.
Close affiliations with the RIBA have led to mentoring workshops, run by successful professionals within the industry including ex RIBA Vice President Annette Fisher. Volunteer architects from the RIBA East have given their time to review CV’s from members, while East London Schools of Architecture - University of East London, Queen Mary University and London Metropolitan University - have held CV surgeries and 1-to-1 sessions.
The network has rapidly grown over the last two years and now has over 250 members globally, as far afield as North and South America and Africa. And their intention is to keep on growing as a platform, to increase their visibility within the built environment; membership not only includes qualified architects but students, other designers, planners, landscape architects, curators and those working in regeneration.
This growth can only be achieved by the ongoing support of a volunteer committee team of 12, who assist with the key functions of the BFA.
For Akua her journey into practice started through The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust’s Building Future Programme, initially joining Scott Brownrigg as an intern following the completion of her Part 2 at Liverpool University. Following the end of her internship Akua was taken on full time, working on business space and residential projects, before moving to our sister business – Design Delivery Unit. In October she passed her Part 3 and is back at Scott Brownrigg working on the major refurbishment of Adelaide House, in the City of London.
As the BFA continues to grow in profile its Founders are regularly invited to speak at major International events focussed at the BAME community. Akua herself was invited by PARLOUR an Australian based advocacy organisation which works to improve gender equity in Australian architecture to speak at their conference, and the team were also invited to speak at The National Organisation of Minority Architects (NOMA) conference in New York last October. Such opportunities provide an important experience and perspective sharing platform for BFA as they continue to raise awareness for their purpose.
In talking about BFA’s plans for the future Akua said:
“I am really proud of what we are achieving with BFA and we have big plans for the future. We’re aiming to continue to grow the network and have better representation across the UK, as such we are planning on creating new regional branches of the network. These will build their own partnerships and work with the schools of architecture in their regions. We’re even thinking of establishing a US chapter, as there’s a large number of New York based Black Female Architects who want to develop the network over there.
"In addition we want to encourage our members to develop their entrepreneurial skills to set up their own businesses or consultancies, so each branch will offer training and speakers in this area, providing practical advice as well as inspiration."
We also see the BFA becoming an introductory service, we have many practices who come to us looking to diversify their teams. That’s where we can help, by connecting them to members with our network.”
As well as encouraging black women into the profession and supporting and promoting those already within it, this organisation has the potential to question the design of what Akua terms ‘gender biased’ buildings, influence the creation of environments that really are inclusive for all and readdress race and gender diversity not just across the built environment, but wider.
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