Join N.A.W. members Lois Innes & Ewa Effiom as they discuss the ways in which to stand up to institutional bullsh*t

Have you ever said no to an opportunity that felt a bit...off? 


At times, conversations around inequality within the architecture and design industries can manifest in acts of tokenism, unfair pay and the general relentless asking of BAME individuals to report on diversity and little else (yawn). 

So when is the right time to say no? We would like to hear from our guests as well as our audience; how did you overcome that moral 'hotspot'? How did you say no? Did this influence the way you approached or accepted work after?

Join N.A.W. members Lois Innes & Ewa Effiom as they discuss with guests Hannah Black, Alice Grandoit & Joseph Zeal-Henry, the ways in which to stand up to institutional bullshit. Warning: there will be memes...


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Settling for less than your worth at some stage in your architectural career has become an unfortunate prerequisite, a dutiful rite of passage one must undertake to get ahead. Part of the issue is structural; many consider architecture to be a vocation predicated on the inviolable relationship between sage masters and loyal disciples. This well-worn tradition has resulted in a current business model which relies on the cultish, blind devotion of its practitioners. Notoriously overworked and underpaid, we resolve our exorbitant student debts and cost of living with the feeble hope that new doors will, at some point, open. 

We are also told that architecture is a labor of love, within which there is a presumption that young architects, designers and critics should be happy enough to contribute or be grateful for the opportunity. Success is measured in your passion, not your bank balance. Why is it that previous generations expect this trade-off from their successors? The truth is that such a life precludes those without benefactors, from which there are perhaps more uncomfortable conversations to be had around architecture’s implicit elitism. 

The idea that we should work or write for pittance for the sake of artistic virtue is bullshit. Unfortunately, I cannot pay rent with experience tokens. How good is the opportunity if it means I have to use my exe’s Netflix account? And what good is exposure if it means that I am relegated to eating beans on toast? Nah.


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In the aftermath of George Floyd, industry leaders and professional networks within the architecture and design industries were quick to respond in solidarity. For a short period, social media was awash with solemn black squares and carefully constructed statements. It was ostensibly a turning point; the black explosion had finally provided a necessary reflecting glass in which every profession, including architecture, acknowledged it had work to do.

The balls were set in motion following the Architecture Foundation and BFA’s event in May on Decolonising Architecture. Industry leaders proclaimed that they were taking the time to listen, and that systemic change would naturally take some time. Great, how long? 15 years, according to the recently elected RIBA President, in a statement which reminds me why I cannot personally justify paying over £200 for a journal subscription.

On the subject of democratising architectural discourse, it is no longer enough to consult BAME individuals on the issues of diversity, inclusion and little else. We can also write about cities and buildings, architraves and moulded door handles, or any other details that architects congratulate themselves for. Whilst we are flattered that you consider us experts, as non-whites and seemingly able to embody a whole collection of ‘races’, it is also an exhausting exercise which serves to silo our experience as writers. Having to call out these types of commissions really begs the question: were you listening before? Nah. 


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Image: Google translate tool parodying typical ‘Architecture Speak’, decoded into coherent English (Credit: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2018)

We all know architecture can be particularly scathing in the face of nonconformity, i.e. the desire for any semblance of a healthy work / life balance. So what if you decide on a relief project and venture into writing? Well, design journalism seems to mainly operate in two poles: at one end are the manicured, expensive publications that exclude the majority through indulgent wordsmithing and archi-jargon; or there’s the PR company / bulldog watch team that fronts as a news publication at the other. The result is either very few read copies, or a string of regurgitated press releases which increasingly promote buildings as if they were the latest iPhone. The former obsesses over whatever Dead or Nearly Dead White guy bankrupted his last client. The latter glorifies whoever they can get a soundbite from, whilst conveniently turning a blind eye to the working conditions or contribution of their “staff”.

Architecture culture must do better; its contributors’ have a responsibility to hold them to account. We have learnt in the last few months that to be complacent is to perpetuate these trends, and we should either exercise our privilege in saying No, or create the right environments in which for others to do so; this is our pledge to you. 


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The next time you feel like you should get someone in from an underrepresented background to fulfil your diversity quotas but say something as tone-deaf as “We don’t have a budget for this” or “Architecture shouldn’t be about money”, just know that our response will probably be (Altogether now): Nah.

“F*ck you, pay me”

Henry Sill 


HANNAH BLACK is an artist and writer. She lives in New York. She has written for many publications including Artforum, Bookforum, the Guardian and The New Inquiry.

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ALICE GRANDOIT is a social engagement designer and cultural researcher building awareness through strategic community partnerships, programming, and experiences. Her practice is rooted in empowerment, cultural collaborations, and the creation of experiential platforms molded around emergent creatives. These ideas are united by her work as the co-founder and editorial director of Deem Journal.

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JOSEPH ZEAL HENRY is an urbanist and designer. He works as a Senior Project Officer in the Greater London Authority Regeneration team and is the area lead for projects in Newham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and the City of London. Joseph also co-leads the Mayor’s Small Sites and Small Builders Programme and leads on the Ecological Urbanism research inquiry where he has worked on policy and guidance embedding circular economy principles into London’s planning system. Joseph studied architecture at the University of Brighton and at London Metropolitan University where he also completed an MA in Spatial Planning and Urban Design.

Joseph is the co-host of the platform Sound Advice, with Pooja Agrawal, through which we explore spatial inequalities through social commentary and music. He is an Associate Lecturer on the Spatial Practices course at Central Saint Martins. Joseph is a trustee of the Russell Maliphant Contemporary Dance Centre and an advisor to Theatrum Mundi.

About New Architecture Writers (N.A.W.)

New Architecture Writers is a free programme for emerging design writers, developing the journalistic skill, editorial connections and critical voice of its participants. N.A.W. focuses on black and minority ethnic emerging writers who are under-represented across design journalism and curation. The core of the N.A.W. programme consists of a series of evening workshops, talks, and writing briefs with one-to-one mentoring from experienced design critics and editors throughout.

The second cohort (2019-20) of the New Architecture Writers consists of Nasra Abdullahi, Shawn Adams, Imani Jacqueline Brown, Nana Biamah-Ofosu, Lois Innes, Ewa Effiom, Ting Jui and Jasper van der Kort.

Founded in 2017, N.A.W. is run by Thomas Aquilina and Tom Wilkinson with support from the Architecture Foundation. The open call for the third cohort will be announced imminently, and details of how to apply will be posted on our website.