August 6, 2021

How Diverse are Firms Highlighted by Trade Journals?


And What are the Implications for Architecture Libraries?

AASL Column, August 2021
Lucy Campbell and Barbara Opar, Column editors
Column by Emilee Mathews, Head of Ricker Library of Architecture and Art, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Architecture programs need library materials to support and expand students’ knowledge as they train for the profession. Indeed, per the most recent NAAB accreditation, architecture programs “must demonstrate that all students, faculty, and staff have convenient and equitable access to architecture literature and information, as well as appropriate visual and digital resources that support professional education in architecture.” 

But how diverse is the representation of the profession within architecture library collections? I.e., as students prepare themselves to contribute to the profession through coursework and research, what kind of role models are celebrated and memorialized through publications? And how closely do the demographics of those architects align with the student body or even entry-level professionals? 

This is a significant question within architecture, as a field that struggles with diversity. The Pritzker Prize awardees are only the tip of the iceberg, documenting the starchitect realm of recognition; many other surveys document data from more prevalent career trajectories, such as those published by Architects’ Journal. Additionally, the Missing 32% project led by AIA-San Francisco highlighted the marked retention gap for women; more recently the Equity by Design: Voices! Values! Vision! survey’s early findings demonstrated several areas in which the field could strengthen the retention of women and people of color. Further, Dr. Kendall Nicholson’s “Where are my People?” series in ACSA’s Data Resources pulls together data to document women, Black, Latinx, AAPI, Native American, and MENA demographic data in the profession to highlight their specific challenges, in architectural school and beyond. These data sources show over and over again that students and entry-level employees are significantly more diverse than firm leadership.

Based on this data and inspired by the 2019 Women in Architecture Reunion and Symposium held at the Illinois School of Architecture, the author was spurred to develop a measure of how architecture library collections compared to occupational data such as that compiled by Nicholson and others. She elected to focus on trade periodicals, a type of publication that explicitly purports to represent current and emerging trends in the field, which are highly used by students as they research precedents for their design studios.

The author analyzed the article output of four trade periodicals in 2019 to measure the demographics of the leadership of highlighted firms: Architectural Record, Architectural Review, l’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, and Detail. Journals were chosen from AASL’s Core Periodicals List to sample a spectrum of countries of publication and editorial premises. The research sought to compare averaged proportions of women and women of color in leadership firms across the four publications. Additional information was gathered along the way, such as the size of the firm (small, medium, large) and the types of services it offers (construction, lighting, interior design, etc.). The research was taking place in summer 2020 amidst renewed attention to racial equity after the murder of George Floyd, and so the research additionally looked for any indication of a commitment to equity. 

Across the four journals represented in the dataset, Record and ‘A’A’ had greater proportions of women and women of color in leadership positions than those highlighted in Review and Detail. However, compared to national occupational data for licensed architects in the countries in which the journals were produced, Record and Review were more closely aligned whereas ‘A’A’ and Detail ranked far below. Small firms ranked better, particularly those highlighted in Record, yet medium firms were generally worse than large. The information gathered about types of firms was inconclusive, but generally reinforced commonly held assumptions about engineering and construction having fewer women leaders, although did not reflect other anecdotal information such as interior design having more women – at least, not at the leadership level. Finally, the explicit espousal of equity was low across the firms investigated, with 68% of firms in the dataset making no public acknowledgment detectable by researchers in summer 2020. 

There are many takeaways for architecture libraries to consider. Having a better sense of what architectural collections implicitly represent as who is successful in the field is key, but only the start. Collecting and highlighting materials on architects from marginalized backgrounds is beneficial for everyone – to help instructors incorporate these materials more readily into their courses, and for students to be exposed to a diverse array of role models. 

For more information about the study, its methodology, a deeper analysis of findings, and next steps, please read the full article published this month in Library Resources and Technical Services and is also accessible through the author’s institutional repository. The full citation is: Emilee Mathews, “Representational Belonging in Collections: A Comparative Study of Leading Trade Publications in Architecture,” Library Resources & Technical Services 65, no. 3 (July 2021): 96–112.

For more information on AASL, visit their website:


Madlyn Creef
Membership and Marketing Coordinator