Representation of cultural diversity is lacking within architectural imagery and is an issue that has been long standing, with little done to improve it. A CGI for a new project in a heavily diverse area could be put out, yet does not represent its context. Equally, a new luxury residential scheme could be promoted with a lack of diversity, only showing white families and business men in these images. This is an unjust representation of luxury living, where it should be represented for all demographic and projects should be promoted with a true representation of its culture and local residents.
I had the opportunity to speak with Russel Royer, a young aspiring creative who has set up a company that has the drive to combat this issue. Russel is the founder of OnetoOneThousand, an online space that shares cut outs of people from diverse backgrounds to be used in architectural drawings. We spoke about Russell's journey, the company and the topic of underrepresentation in architecture.
| Can you tell us a bit about your personal architecture journey?
I started at the AA (Architectural Association) back in 2014, I was looking for multiple places and then got a scholarship to go there. I didn’t know much about the school at first so I did some research and then found out how well known it was. I did my BA there, did my year out which was an interesting experience. It was useful in solidifying what I wanted to do as an architect, it made me realise I wanted to do something more community based as a practice. I then went back to the AA to do my masters, I had really amazing tutors that were really supportive. Allowing everyone to really do what they wanted but also, encouraged us that whatever it was that we did in their unit, we should try and push it into the real world somehow. That definitely changed the way that I looked at what I wanted to do after graduating. I felt like I was leaving University and carrying something with me.
| Have you always thought you would be a creator outside of the immediate architecture industry?
Yes, I would say so. Before I started architecture I was dancing professionally. It was nice to have a special thing outside of academic stuff, naturally it made me feel I didn’t have to do just one thing. Dance was that thing, I would finish school and then go to East London to train. That’s where the secondary passion really came from, so now that’s OnetoOneThousand.
| Well congratulations for starting your own community interest company! How did it feel when you took the step to make OnetoOneThousand official?
It’s a really difficult one because on the one hand social media has made things more difficult, because I had no real interest in being in peoples face. For instance, now, if I don’t shout in someone’s face that OnetoOneThousand exists, it’s almost like it doesn’t. And that’s made it difficult…so I’m trying to find ways where I don’t have to be so loud and I have a few ideas that I’m trying to cook up at the moment. It’s kind of bittersweet. I know its needed and I know it needs to be there, so this year I set it up as community interest company, but I also want people to know this wasn’t something that appeared over the course of 2020. I feel like a lot of people think that the action of uplifting people of colour are only happening since the past year because of George Floyd. But these are years long projects that are being cultivated and have a history.
OnetoOneThousand was about two to three years ago, a conversation with a friend in my unit…saying we cant find people… we are changing the colour of peoples skin in Photoshop, and it looks bad. You can’t just change a white person into a black person. That was kind of where it started.
I did feel like I could be someone who could make resources for this world that we want to live in, that is equal and where we do have a place…or a more significant place.
| Why do you think there isn’t the correct representation in a lot of architectural drawings?
One of the articles I came across originally when I was doing some research was in Dezeen by Margaret Ravenscroft and she was talking about this issue. Dezeen always has quite a comments section, and there were loads of different responses.
One of them was that interns or Part one’s don’t have time to search for specific images that relate to a community…There was another one that said there’s no time to do a demographic study. Even this year we had a seminar and someone said that sometimes, the people that are funders or the investors don’t want to see certain types of people in the images. I think that’s down to the company to be responsible in educating the people that they’re being paid by. Those were kind of the general excuses. To me after looking at those excuses, I feel like no, they’re not really valid. It takes 0 effort to do but the impact it has when it’s done, makes a big change.
It’s the difference between looking at that residential tower and seeing purely Asian business men and white families, versus seeing a young black family in that residential tower in Chelsea or in Kensington. The fact that we have say footballers that are black and entrepreneurs that are black, they can afford to live in those places so why are they not shown? So for me its almost as if we don’t belong there or its not for us. That’s kind of the message it sends to me.
| Do you take all the photography for the cut outs yourself?
Yes I do. I take the photos. The last shoot was funded by Jim Stephenson, he also came and took photos on the Saturday and I did the photos on the Sunday. We also made sure that everyone was paid, because a lot of the time on stock imagery people are getting cut out of photographs without their permission. It’s not just taking the photos, it’s making sure the money is going into peoples pockets. With the first shoot I did I had two single parents come a long, I had a trans activist who was trying to fund her stay in the UK, so that’s also what it's about. People can’t just do things for free, not everyone can be a volunteer. Starting things as I want them to go on, even if its not me leading it in the future, that people know people are paid. It’s ethical and fair.
| How do you source the people you need, and is there a way people can volunteer or get involved?
So far its been through word of mouth and social media. However, the plan is rather than setting them up myself, I’m going through the process of contacting architectural companies and saying to them look, as part of your community engagement don’t do something at like 11am where only elderly people can turn up. Lets set up a time, set up a shoot, and tell people they can get paid for this and get the kind of people you need for the specific project you’re doing. So ideally it will be something that can go through the architecture firms and I can help them do the outreach.
Along side that I am starting to go onto tik tok, so that I can get younger architects to know about it. The third approach is directly going to councils and saying you should request these things from architects that want to do projects in your borough. It’s not just targeting the firm its letting councils know that this is something that’s happening and needs to stop. As well as educating younger people, saying look make representative imagery, so that when they get to practice, they’re doing it and it’s natural. Its not “oh I need to look for a black person” it’s just natural.
Cutting around an afro is hard. Cutting around different hair types can be difficult. I want people to know and feel that someone has taken the time to go around and cut out these people to make sure they look good. It’s been cared about.
| What would you say your main goal is with OnetoOneThousand?
My main goal is from the outside, I would make this resource so extensive that you could find everything that you need there and you wouldn’t have to go anywhere else. But also to get the architecture world to a point where it doesn’t necessarily need the resource anymore. I guess that’s just my general belief, that I think if people are provided with a resource, they should provide it to a point that it's no longer needed. For example, pushing people to go and take the photos themselves or pushing practices to just do this anyway, without having to look to me to do it. I think that’s it. For now its just about building it into this big resource where you can find everything that you want, rather than roughly cutting out someone from a found photo.
| What has been your best experience so far since setting up the company?
I think working with Jim Stephenson, because that really was out of nowhere. That happened through Twitter. Someone who was working for Tower Hamlets said "I’m looking at these images and its for a pre-application and I live in Tower Hamlets but this image doesn’t look like Tower Hamlets". So then my response was, I am trying to make a resource to ensure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen…please have a look at the website. All of a sudden Jim responded to it, sending me a private message and said he would fund the photoshoot and take some of the photos. Its was then having someone on that side from the council who knows about OnetoOneThousand and knows that this is happening. That was the best thing.
| Is there anything you’d like to let our readers know about the company or what’s next?
If there's anyone who is a photographer and is interested in working with us, then do get in contact because I am looking to work with practices on a project by project basis. My idea is that I want to be making sure I ideally hire someone young, from the borough of the project as well. Just so they can also raise their profile among people and practices. It's also finding a way to kind of highlight other POC who are artist or photographers. So yes if you are interested please get into contact.