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Black architects, long underrepresented, are celebrated in a new exhibit

The Center for Architecture hosts an exhibit highlighting the work of designers of color

A rendering of a Yolande Daniels-designed student housing project in Japan.
Courtesy of StudioSUMO & AIANY

Black designers account for only two percent of the total population of licensed architects working in the United States. To celebrate this often overlooked group, the American Institute of Architects’ New York Chapter is hosting the exhibit “Say It Loud: Distinguished Black Designers of NYCOBA | NOMA,” which will shine a light on the many achievements of black architects not just in the five boroughs, but around the world.

The exhibit, which runs through April 1 at the Center for Architecture, was put together by NYCOBA | NOMA, a fusion between the New York Coalition of Black Architects and The New York Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects. The show highlights the work of 20 black designers (who are also members of the organization) through quotes, video interviews, and by recognizing some of their specific projects.

Just some of the architects featured in the exhibit include Roberta Washington, a principal at her namesake Harlem-based firm; Yolande Daniels, one of the co-founding design principals at studio SUMO; and Mark Gardner, a principal at Jaklitsch/Gardner Architects.

In addition, the exhibit also highlights the work of high school students in New York City and students in architecture school who were winners of the Jumaane Omar Stewart Award and Diversity in the School of Architecture Award, respectively.

A project by Rodney Leon Architects.
The Jamaica LIRR station designed by Andrew Thompson.
The work of Tonja Adair, a founding principal at Splice Design.

To understand the genesis of the exhibit, Curbed spoke with its curator, Pascale Sablan, an associate at FXFOWLE.

How long has the exhibit been in the works?

The collaboration between Center for Architecture AIANY and NYCOBA | NOMA began shortly after I pitched the idea five months ago. As local chapter president, I implemented an initiative to feature the professional accomplishments of one selected member as “Distinguished Member” each month.

As time progressed I had the idea to present their work to a larger audience. It features unearthed jewels of contributions to the built environment made by licensed, professional black and minority architects, designers, planners, landscape architects, and city officials. These contributions are to civic life—not just black lives—thus they should be known and celebrated within our collective community.

Did you feel any urgency to stage this exhibit this year in particular?

Black and minority architects have a prolific imprint on the built environment. One of my earliest realizations of this occurred while attending the J. Max Bond Jr. memorial in 2009 held here at the Center for Architecture. I hope to help others realize this as well. This exhibit highlights and celebrates a few among many such contributions and can serve as a solid stride toward answering the urgent call for inclusive representation and diversity within our profession.

Could you talk a little bit about the award for college students?

The NYCOBA | NOMA Diversity in the School of Architecture Recognition award seeks to address the substantial decline of minority enrollment in architecture schools. The $500 stipend is intended to encourage and support emerging minority architects.

Any minority student enrolled in an accredited BArch or MArch program in the U.S. is eligible. The application requires an essay explaining why they chose to become an architect and what inspired that choice.

Why do you think black architects constitute such a small percentage of the total number of licensed architects in the country?

Rather than speculating as to what may be, and indulging in sparsity there is, I have chosen to focus on the black and minority architects that are out there doing great work. I am committed to continued advocacy to provide a louder voice and inspire a new generation to pursue architecture.

What do you hope to achieve with this exhibit?

This first and primary outcome I am seeking is to have the 20 exhibited professionals feel recognized for their contributions amongst their peers at large. The secondary outcome I am hoping for is to see that this exhibit be the first of many. My goal is to collaborate nationally on similar exhibits over the next two years in an effort to recognize many more prolific architects of color.

What advice would you give to a student of color or a young architect getting a start in the profession?

Network, network, and network—not just professionally, but with your classmates as well. Your colleagues are going to grow with you and do amazing things, and some day you will be surrounded by people who inspire you to push yourself to do more.

Lastly, you always have something to offer to the design conversation and process, no matter what that little voice in your head says. Your perspective on a topic or solution to a design problem is something only you can offer. Always be expressive, don’t be shy, and share, share, share.

Say It Loud: Distinguished Black Designers of NYCOBA | NOMA runs through April 1 at the Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia Place, open MonFri: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sat: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be an accompanying panel discussion about diversity in architecture on Monday, February 27, moderated by Curbed editor Asad Syrkett.

This story has been updated. It was originally published on January 27, 2017.

Center for Architecture

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