This New Initiative Wants To Make Working In Architecture Suck Less

Just Design is on the hunt for firms that have fair, equitable, and just labor practices.

This New Initiative Wants To Make Working In Architecture Suck Less
[Photo: Kelvin Murray/Getty Images]

As industries go, architecture is one of the most brutal to its employees. That’s why Just Design, a new activist organization, is on a mission to affect change by recognizing firms with outstanding, ethical, and equitable labor practices.


Long hours. Low pay. Misogyny. Egos. Hostile work environments. It’s all par for the course in some architecture firms, so perhaps it’s no wonder that one-fifth of the women in last year’s Women in Architecture survey wouldn’t recommend an architectural career. Entry-level architects, also known as intern architects, are expected to work overtime–but since their salaries are typically over the Fair Labor Standards’ threshold that would mandate time-and-a-half for any hours beyond the standard 40-hour workweek (which is $47,476), they’re often deeply under-compensated. In the construction sector, unfair labor practices abound, and on some projects migrant workers actually pay to build structures.

[Photo: mbi/iStock]
Just Design plans to spotlight firms that empower their employees. The initiative is a collaboration between the Architecture Lobby, Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Women in Design initiative, and the Yale School of Architecture’s Equality in Design student organization. The goal is to certify firms that meet its standards–giving job seekers a tool to find companies that treat their workers fairly, offer equal pay and benefits, believe in upward mobility, and structure their culture to be inclusive and respectful.

Just Design, which is a year in the making, is currently accepting nominations for firms that should be considered. Its questionnaire asks the people nominating each firm (they must be employees) about flexibility, agency, fair pay, salary transparency, employee diversity, and family-friendly policies. If the company seems like a promising listing, Just Design then contacts management to learn more about their policies. If everything checks out, the company will be listed in a public database. Just Design plans to check back in periodically to ensure firms on the list deserve to be there.

“We hope that firms will see the advantage of attracting top talent with the JustDesign certificate and do what is required to get it,” Peggy Deamer, a Yale professor who cofounded Just Design, told Dezeen. “And we hope that those job seekers looking at firms will know that the conditions necessary for a firm to get the certificate are not exceptional; rather, they are basic rights that any other discipline has accepted long ago.”

The architecture industry is currently wrestling with its identity, and if it’s to stay relevant and attract the best and brightest minds, it needs a serious overhaul when it comes to work culture. In the tech industry, it’s routine for employees to shop around for the best perks, something that’s virtually unheard of in architecture. Hopefully Just Design will become a tool that lets architects find employers who hold their employees in high esteem and treat them with dignity.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.