Riding the Vortex XV, NOMA Los Angeles


Since 2007, Riding the Vortex has been presented as panel of women in architecture, usually Black women, talking about their experience in the industry and offering a place for other people to share their stories. We presented twice in the Fall of 2016. The following is a summary of Riding the Vortex XV at the NOMA national conference in LA.

creativeness_event_20161013_538830The NOMA conference is usually a highlight of my year. I have the chance to connect with fellow architects and designers from around the country in, what many feel is, a family reunion environment. We work really hard at what we do and this is our opportunity to celebrate, show our work, encourage the next generation, and hopefully relax and explore a great host location.

creativeness_event_20161013_538730This year marked the fifteenth time that a cohort of women presented Riding the Vortex, a session about African-American women in architecture. Kathy Dixon and I led the organizing for this years session. In the past, the session has been strictly about sharing our stories, with a short time for audience participation through Q&A. This year we shortened the presentation portion and added a small group discussion segment to the session. To a standing-room-only crowd, Kathy started with a short overview of the history and statistics of African-American women in architecture.

Then, Ashley Mack, joined the panel as a first-time presenter. She is an Architectural Associate at Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. This is her perspective on the session:

As a first time presenter for the Vortex seminar at the 2016 NOMA Conference, it was an amazing experience to share my journey with a room filled with such a diverse group. While sharing my experience, I could see the smile and relief in the eyes of other women in the design profession that may be going through similar challenges as I. I was glad to let them know that they are not alone in their struggle and in fact many minority women in most professions go through similar biased struggles, such as compensation, authority, and respect of male peers. Even thought we face these challenges, I discussed ways I remain positive and professional to break some of the barriers between my counterparts and I.

After Ashley shared her career story, I led attendees through a series of questions given in five-minute intervals to allow for discussion in their small group. The goal was to get people in the room to know each other and their path in this profession.

From Ashley:
After discussing my story with the audience we then broke into round table discussions. I sat to mediate a group, mostly filled with students and early career professionals. It was interesting to hear the different views of each individual as they answered the questions given by the moderator. Each persons view was very different but we could relate to their response. I was glad to be apart of the 2016 Vortex seminar, not because I could share my story but because I was able to connect with others to give and also gain encouragement.

creativeness_event_20161013_538865_dcarterWe collected over 70 responses from the attendees. Here is a brief snapshot of the responses:

1. What is one aspect of your career that you wish you could change?

More pay, have a better learning structure, eliminate tokenism, start own practice earlier, find a mentor earlier

2. What are your most thankful for in your career?

Opportunity to see all types of design, helping clients achieve their dreams, having excellent role models.

3. What would tell your 20 year old self?

Enjoy life, trust your gut, work hard, study hard, network more with non-architects, start your retirement fund, know your worth.

creativeness_event_20161013_538770_studentsThe questions gave everyone a chance to look back from their current point but also to share advice they could share or wish they had had. It also allowed us to see that we may be in different locations but our paths are similar in many ways. Situations that one person experiences may also be happening to another person miles away. This has been the thread of Vortex: letting people know that hey are not the only one experiences difficulties as well as celebrations.

We look forward to compiling and sharing all of the responses with the NOMA family. And of course, we hope to continue to foster a dialogue as we push to increase the number of African-American women in architecture.

Photos courtesy of Joel Avery, CREATIVENESS.