Colorado Architecture Conference Aims to Shed Light on Equity

By Marisa Pooley, APR, AIA Colorado

An annual favorite event among local architects, The 2019 AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference will gather more than 600 design professionals for a weekend of learning, networking and inspiration October 31 through November 2. Centered around the theme “Future Forward,” nationally and internationally-renowned speakers will share their insights into the future of this profession.

And while the future of this profession will surely bring changes in materials, processes and technology, it’s impossible to discuss the future of architecture without discussing equity.

While architecture remains a predominantly homogeneous workforce, the world is increasingly diverse. Every community has a unique and complex set of needs, and we need a diverse workforce to effectively design for them. Studies show that diverse teams understand and process facts more clearly and come up with more creative solutions than teams made up of people of similar backgrounds and identities.

Statistics in 2016 indicated that approximately half of architecture school graduates were women, a number that has steadily improved over the years, yet only 18 percent of licensed architects were women. Numbers were even more discouraging for people of color.

These are important statistics that must be discussed within the design and construction industry. That’s why the 2019 AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference Committee put together a slate of future-focused sessions, several of which will discuss equity.

In fact, a pioneer in this field, Rosa Sheng, FAIA, principal and director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at SmithGroup will headline the conference on Saturday, November 2. In 2019, Sheng was celebrated as a Metropolis Game Changer for her pivotal works as founder of Equity by Design (EQxD).The group’s work is dedicated to minimizing barriers to provide fair and just access to the resources and opportunities design professionals need to thrive – regardless of gender, socioeconomic, racial, or ethnic identity. Sheng and the advocacy work of EQxD has received critical acclaim in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Architecture Magazine. She has presented at TEDxPhiladelphia, SxSW and Cannes Lions Festival on Creativity.

“Having Rosa Sheng speak at the conference this year is exciting for a number of reasons,” said Meg Schubert Allen, AIA and Chair of AIA Colorado’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusiveness Committee. “She’s been doing incredible work in the realm of EDI in architecture for years and I think we can learn so much from her as a keynote speaker.”

During her keynote, Sheng will discuss the root causes of a broken professional culture, and how firms can create and champion a more just system for all. She’ll also discuss the business case for equity and diversity, and how focusing on this issue can actually lead to more profitable firms.

“What I hope we can gain from Rosa’s session is connecting the lines between EDI in the workplace and in our design work,” said Schubert Allen. “An equitable, diverse, inclusive workplace cultivates the opportunity for the design of equitable, diverse and inclusive spaces. Tackling this topic and pushing for change can involve difficult conversations, and I hope that Rosa’s presentation helps everybody understand the importance of this work and gives them the boost they need to take it on.”

In addition to Sheng’s keynote, there will be a panel presentation on inclusively leading the next generation of talent, as well as a variety of meetups and activities hosted by the AIA Colorado Equity, Diversity and Inclusiveness Committee.

To register or see the schedule, click here.

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