Architecture student works to diversify the profession and built environment

Students from Buffalo Public Schools and participants in the Arch + Ed program.

Aleiya Als, a senior in the BS Arch program, had the opportunity to participate in the Arch + Ed program, which brings design into Buffalo Public Schools classrooms.  

Published February 18, 2020

Aleiya Als, a senior in UB's BS Arch program, reflects on building diversity in the profession and practice of architecture.

In celebration of Black History month, the School of Architecture and Planning is lifting up voices of Black students across our programs. Follow the campaign on social: #BlackExcellence #BlackHistoryMonth #InclusiveExcellence

How do you aspire to make a difference in the profession of architecture/urban planning/real estate development?

When I first started pursuing architecture at UB, it was hard to find people who look like me, or come from the same background. I took an architectural history course taught by Charles Davis II. One of his projects made me realize that I was the only female African American student in my year, and one of only a few African American students overall. The biggest question I asked myself was how can we diversify this major.

Last semester, I had the opportunity to participate in an Arch + Ed class - a program led by the Buffalo Architecture Foundation that pairs UB architecture students and local professionals with the Buffalo Public Schools to introduce architecture into the classroom. I worked with three- to five-year-olds. I realized that the best way to diversify this major is by introducing design into schools as early as possible - particularly for minority school districts. By doing this, students see architecture as a possible career path at an early age. I would like to introduce more programs like these in other cities and incorporate other STEM programs. 

What role do architects play in building more inclusive communities? How are you advancinig this work?

A model of my senior studio competition project titled "The Forgotten" which i worked on with my partner Althea Seno. We focused on creating a residency in Queens, New York, that created a tenure blind neighborhood. This included units with market rent and subsidized rents living together with equal access to space, material, and amenities.

A model of Als' senior studio competition project titled "The Forgotten," a residency in Queens, New York, that creates a tenure-blind neighborhood. It featues units with market rate and subsidized rents with equal access to space, material, and amenities. 

Architects, urban planners, and real estate developers play a big role in creating more inclusive communities. As a result, we have to look at each aspect as a whole and not as individuals. Urban planners help to look at a city from a wider lens, for example. By doing this, one can get a sense of where groups are settling, and why. Architects have to design for the needs of potential inhabitants, users, and in relation to their environment. Real estate developers have to think how a project benefits the community on an inclusive level and if it's a fit for its environment.

Without the approach and mindset of inclusive design, we get places and communities that are gentrified. My goal is to create tenure-blind residencies where subsidized housing is combined with mixed-market rental units. All units should be equal in space, material, accessibility and amenities. We should not wait on the popularity of an area to fix what's wrong in its existing condition. We shouldn't allow for developments to drive out one race to make room for another.