13th Apr 2023 — Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at SWA

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at SWA

Four years ago, SWA appointed a Diversity Champion to ensure that the practice’s long-standing passion for people-focused architecture was embed within all aspects of our daily practice. A few months later, this grew to a small EDI Committee, who have been reviewing, updating and overseeing the development and delivery of an Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Vision for the practice ever since.

The development and delivery of our EDI Vison is driven by being a socially and environmentally conscious practice, but also informed by the wider architectural profession and construction industry, London, and relevant legislation. We work hard to not only create a more inclusive and diverse design process, but also more inclusive and diverse architectural education and architectural practice through practice process and a variety of outreach programmes. We feel that these three things are interdependent and must be thought about holistically to ensure EDI is successful embedded within our industry.

Our EDI Vision consists of three EDI lenses through which we interrogate our practice and implement our Vision. These correspond with SWA’s roles within the architectural profession as an employer, consultant and knowledge sharer. We seek to embed EDI into (1) operations of the practice and experience of our staff (2) the running of our projects and experience of clients/end users and (3) the wider industry & architectural education.

Building on those three lenses, this journal article includes a selection of our proudest achievements to date.

A visual summary of these achievements can be found in the format of a 2-pager pdf, downloadable here.

SWA is committed to building an equitable, diverse and truly inclusive practice. Our original mission statement focused on ‘getting our own house in order’, with an aim go over and above the legal baseline and set an example for the architectural profession with a diverse set of staff/collaborators that are representative of London.

Collecting Data:

SWA staff bi-annually complete an anonymous Equal Opportunities Monitoring Form (EOMF) which helps us identify where we lack diversity within our workforce. We also collect the same data from job applicants which helps us benchmark our outreach against the wider industry. This data directly influences our Recruitment Strategy Document and which organisations we partner with as knowledge sharers.


Recruitment Strategy:

We believe that by accessing, recruiting, and developing talent from the widest possible pool we can help to create people centred places that are representative of all sections of society, gain insight into different markets and communities and more effectively meet the needs of our clients. SWA have developed a detailed Recruitment Strategy Document to help us access talent from the widest possible pool. One aspect of this is redacting diverse characteristics from all applications to help remove bias from the process, another is targeting the diverse characteristics we lack (identified through staff data collection). All new staff members receive a thorough EDI induction as part of onboarding.



As default, SWA offer staff flexi-hour either end of the day and working from home 2 days a week. Of our small team of 11, we also have three part-time, senior Architects who are all mothers.


Health & Well-being:

SWA believe that by putting our EDI Vision into action, we benefit from an informed, collaborative, and productive team culture. Our monthly soup club not only brings all staff together for lunch but also fundraises for a voted-for charity.

SWA have a track record in sensitively designing spaces for ethnically diverse communitiesneurodiverse childrensocial housing and later life. Whilst we celebrate the wealth of knowledge within the practice, we constantly strive to continue to learn how architecture can better serve people with diverse characteristics. We have been expanding our understanding of the issues facing a diverse array of people through several self- and project-driven initiatives:

EDI Coffee Breaks and Workshops:

Regular, dedicated time to share and discuss resources, including precedents, inspiring people/organisations and lived experiences and apply this to current projects in the office. Each month focuses on one of 12 diverse characteristics that we feel should be highlighted and celebrated and build on the 9 protected characteristics in The Equality Act 2010. SWA’s 12 diverse characteristics are (in no particular order): Neurodiversity, LGBTTQQIAAP+, Intersectionality, Race & Ethnicity, Disability & Impairment, Socio-Economic Background (SEB), Age, Marriage and Civil Partnerships, Caring for Dependants, Religious, Spiritual & Philosophical Belief, Health & Wellbeing, Gender


Meaningful Public Engagement Events:

SWA regularly design engagement events for clients to ensure that all stakeholder groups are fairly represented within the design process. Examples include a ‘Fresh-tival’ in Ebbsfleet Garden City, collaboration with Resolve for a community centre in central London and whole-school design workshops in a North London Primary school.


SWA Research Grant:

A paid grant is offered to employees annually to undertake a research project to better our practice knowledge. A recent project, in collaboration with Habinteg Housing Association, explored methods of engagement to understand the relationship that impaired people have with the built environment. It consisted of four interviews and experimented with different methods of communicating engagement to designers and other stakeholders, celebrating variety and diversity within both processes and people.


Activist Approach:

Members of SWA have been/continue to be part of the Social Value Portal Task Force, Part W and Architecture Foundation Young Trustees, to name a few. We aim to speak up on behalf of small, minority-led practices and those who aren’t heard.

It is our aim to advocate for inclusivity, diversity and accessibility within our profession. We are always looking for ways to share our knowledge and cultural capital with people from under-represented groups, particularly young, aspiring architects. To do this, we are involved in several initiatives. We want to share our cultural capital/knowledge and contribute to the same aim for our wider profession and architectural education.

Access to Architecture:

Led by Kingston School of Art, the programme provides architecture students who may not typically have access to practice with an immersive, paid, month long placement to enhance their learning and provide valuable office-based experience. SWA have facilitated a 4-week placement annually since 2019 and will soon be hosting our fourth.

Arts Emergency Work Experience:

Working with Arts Emergency, SWA offer an annual work experience placement to one of their young members. Students develop their own project in response to a brief set by the SWA team, on the site of our office. 2022 will be our fourth placement.


Grimshaw Foundation Education Programme:

Led by Urban Learners, SWA have hosted three workshops for a total of 65 pupils aged 13 from three local high schools, to develop their design, creativity and sustainability knowledge. The workshops have been located at our office, giving pupils exposure to an exemplar sustainable building as well as access to a working architectural studio.


Home Grown+

SWA hosted a ‘Reinventing London’s Rooftops’ design workshop for school students from non-traditional backgrounds. The programme was established to divide the bridge between the profession and the community it serves.

Celebrating Architecture:

SWA led design exercises with primary school pupils from ethnically diverse and working-class backgrounds as part of a day workshop to develop tools to shape the world!


Open City Architecture in Schools Programme:

2022 was our first year taking part in this programme for primary school pupils in London which aims to increase diversity and access to architecture. With the support of SWA, pupils will go on building visits and consider how to respond to a design brief and present their ideas.


CV and Portfolio Reviews (London Festival of Architecture):

Over the last four years SWA staff have provided a total of 69, one-on-one CV and portfolio reviews to a broad range of both aspiring and qualified architects from a diverse range of backgrounds.



Eight mentees supported by SWA staff for 12 months through Arts Emergency, Blueprint for All and the Architecture Foundation Peer Review.


Contributions to public events & talks:

Including coordinating a panel talk hosted by young activists for change Future Architects Front (FAF), knowledge shares with Paradigm Network, an organisation who are passionate about increasing Black and Asian representation in architecture, online workshops for Built by Us who provided career support to students and professionals, and lectures for several schools of architecture around the UK.

It’s important to state that our commitment to EDI is an ongoing, learning process. Each year we reflect on the successes and failures of our EDI Vision and use this to create new benchmarks for ourselves. This journal article is part of that review and accountability process, whilst celebrating the continued, hard work of our practice members.


We are always on the lookout for like-minded individuals and organisations who we can support and/or collaborate with. Please feel free to contact our Diversity Champion, Clare (clare@swarch.co.uk) for more information!