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Q&A: Miles Reay Palmer

Miles Reay-Palmer, 28, a mixed-race English Jamaican, is one of 10 recipients of this year’s Stephen Lawrence bursary, supporting young black and ethnic minority students through their architectural education. In Black History Month, we ask him what difference the SLCT award makes

Where are you in your education?

I did my degree at Manchester and then three years’ work experience. I decided to go to London Metropolitan University for my Diploma. It felt right; London’s one of the design hotbeds of the world and I liked Met’s course. I was in Assemble’s unit there last year, which was great. We were asked to look at the Area Action Plan for the Old Kent Road and deliver our own critique and proposition for it. Their push is very much for community engagement.

How did you hear about the bursary?

Through my involvement with Building Futures, the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust mentoring programme, where they place you with an architect who offers guidance through your education. I never knew any architects when I was growing up, so it was great. Harjinder Singh, my mentor, is an SLCT alumni and senior architect at RSHP. We meet up every month or so and next time we’ll probably discuss what unit I should enter. The bursary really makes a difference. The amount varies; it’s means tested.

Do you feel you have ever experienced discrimination in your education or work?
 
No, but the fact is that a very small percentage of Part III qualifying architects are non-white, so that speaks for itself. That said, the education is a long one, and maybe we are experiencing a lag in those minorities making it through the system. But you can’t just blame the lack of cultural diversity squarely at the profession. There are a lot of socio-economic factors that might explain the Part I/II dropout rate for ethnic minoritie
 
And how do you think we can promote greater inclusivity then?

That’s a hard one! Obviously more black or ethnic role models visibly promoted by the profession would help. A building obviously communicates a lot. It’s lovely, but the neoclassical grandeur of the RIBA HQ, with its gold leaf and odd colonial references still gives the notion of a white gentleman’s club. Perhaps there needs to be more outreach programmes promoting minority agendas inside; brush the cobwebs away…

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I don’t know; the dream is obviously to have your own practice. But it might take a few years as an associate or director in a bigger firm to get the necessary experience to do that. Designing housing would be great. I’ve always admired Aalto’s humanism and you’d like to think that the people who design it know first-hand who they are designing it for.


See this year's Stephen Lawrence Prize shortlist 

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