40 years: why NOMA and being a black architect still matters


Woman at party says “I have seen your work.”
I think jokingly “am I famous? are the paparazzi hunting me down?”

At that party [tonight 9/24/2010] a few years ago, I was reminded of how small the circle of black women architects is. I was standing in a room of affordable housing/community development folks and it didn’t even really phase me that I was one of the few black women and one of only two black women architects/designers in the room. I forgot that I stand out.

Community design is so important to me because a lot of the people that need quality, affordable housing look just like me. I’ve worked hard to get where I am but I had a lot of help along the way. So many times, I looked out onto the street at women walking by my office and wondered how did they get to this place. To the young mothers, to the the young girls just looking for attention, I want to say whatever setback you think you have had, you can overcome it.

This week, I will get to discuss my work with other architects and folks in the profession at the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) conference in Detroit. The organization is celebrating it’s 40th anniversary. It is one of the few places that I will be surrounded by architects and designers who look like me. While looks are not the most important part of my existence, my work in poor and underserved neighborhoods exists because there are still many places where people feel the affects of being marginalized because of the prejudices people hold based on physical appearance. Since architects of color barely account for twenty percent of licensed architects, according to a firm survey, in communities of color, residents will many times interact with architects outside their ethnic group when it comes to community planning and development.

I cherish the NOMA gathering because it is like a family reunion. Not only do we get tell our “war” stories, we talk about how to get more people of color into our profession and celebrate good work in communities around the world. So this week, I toast NOMA and the architects of color who continue to create a place for dialogue and professional and personal development.

Photos: Enterprise Rose Fellow 10th Anniversary party. By Harry Connolly.

13 Responses to “40 years: why NOMA and being a black architect still matters”

  1. 1 Helena

    Thanks for sharing this. I have been increasingly curious about architecture. One day, I’d love for you to share more about it with me and the kids. Hugs Sweet Friend!

  2. Well said Katherine!

  3. Well said Katherine!

  4. Detroit welcomes you, Katherine. Thank you for sharing the personal side of your profession. We look forward to hearing more at your panel discussion “Riding the Vortex XI: African American Women Architects in Practice.”

  5. if you build it, we will come.

  6. if you build it, we will come.

  7. 7 Walter D. Street III

    Metrics are important.
    I am an architect in the USA and I’m Black. I was brought to NOMA by my late employer, mentor, first NOMA President and one of the founders, Wendell J. Campbell in 1976.
    For Black architects, the glass is half full. NOMA continues relevancy. So do the women architectural associations.
    The numbers are, and I request other verification:
    US architects = 106,000
    Black architects = 1,885
    Black female architects = 285
    Black females of Black architects = 15.12%
    Black females of the Total = 0.2%
    These numbers are approximate and are dated August 2012.

    They World is Changed. The recession has suggested that business in the US is changed. Therefore, the practice and business of architecture is Changed. This has severe and important impact for those of us who are Black and architects. This is our window of opportunity and Challenge. Architects love the challenge.

    The joy of the Conference is reunion and renewal. The energizer is the student competition and firm awards for excellence. Architecture: Think, Design, Explore, Build.

    Thank you for your participation and commitment.

    Walter Street
    INOMA Past-President 2009-10
    AIA IL Region Director

  1. 1 noma conference: my marathon day « Katherine's Toolbox
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