Can you name 28 architects? The average young to intermediate architecture professional probably could not. Though 28 is an arbitrary number, I am using it as a unit of measure as there are 28 days in the month of February, also known as African-American History Month. I have created a series, #28BlackArchitectsIn28Days, with the intent to identify 28 African-American architects, one for each day. The series covers historic firsts, such as Dr. Robert Robinson Taylor, the first registered African-American Architect, and present-day game changers, such as Saundra Little, AIA, founding principal of Centric Design Studio in Detroit, Michigan and AIA Detroit’s Chapter Director, also known as an “Eco-Architect.” (It should be noted that both of the terms “Black” and “African-American” are used in this writing to delineate Americans of African descent – the term “Black” simply flows better in a hashtag compared to the term “African-American,” but in conversation and in writing, I prefer the term “African-American.”)
As much of a challenge as it may be for some to name 28 architects, I submit that it is even more of a challenge to identify 28 African-American architects. Once I embarked on this journey, a lot of my colleagues wished me “good luck,” as they too would have a difficult time identifying 28. Here lies the relevancy of #28BlackArchitectsIn28Days. I do not need to recount the race and gender statistics of the profession of architecture or of the membership of the AIA – they are self-evident when one attends an AIA event and looks around the room to find it predominantly filled with Caucasian males. If a person of a minority racial background wants to enter into the profession of architecture, who can they look up to that looks like them? Though #28BlackArchitectsIn28Days does not cover the gambit of minorities in this country, it is a start towards shedding light on what minorities have accomplished and contributed and are accomplishing and contributing to the profession of architecture.
My journey to identify 28 African-American architects is only a part of what I have been called to do – to assist in increasing female and minority interest and participation in the profession of architecture through exposure. Through my work, I may reach a young African-American male or female who could be similar to how I was as a child – gifted with the ability to draw and conceptualize that which is not seen, coupled with the wonder of building design and construction, but too young to know that the intersection of their interests is “architecture.” Minorities typically have been exposed to the “back-side” of things: construction; there are plenty of minority construction workers. The design process is not known to or understood by even some of the most educated of minority persons, if he or she has never been exposed to the design-bid-build or design-build/fast-track delivery methods. These persons can go through life blamelessly ignorant of how their built environment is conceptualized then constructed, but are well versed in algebra, physics, astronomy, etc.
The African-American architects that I have chosen to highlight in the #28BlackArchitectsIn28Days series either have some personal connection to me, are professionals that I have met at NOMA (National Organization of Minority Architects) conferences, or have been discovered in my research. At the outset, I was able to recall 12 from memory. The Directory of African American Architects (http://blackarch.uc.edu/) has been helpful in identifying additional professionals to select. But my interest goes back years; I began my research on African-American architects in my sophomore year of college at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia (2010-2011). Every year, African-American History Month is inundated with what I call “the usual suspects” such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X., and Garrett Morrison, the inventor of the gas mask and a version of the traffic signal. Every year, African-American contributions are highlighted in almost every profession except architecture. Through the #28BlackArchitectsIn28Days series, I am seeking to change that. I am seeking to educate not only the masses, but myself as well.
No one likes traveling a road that they have never been down before, or one that appears to not be travelled at all. That “unbeaten path” is the profession of architecture for African-Americans and other minorities. #28BlackArchitectsIn28Days is a part of a quest to identify: those who have “cut the path”; those who have “paved the way”; where the “bumps” in the road are; and where there are “potholes” in the road that I can, through my research and career, fill in for those coming behind me to have a smoother ride on this journey called “architecture.” You can view the #28BlackArchitectsIn28Days series by adding me as a friend on Facebook – Christian J. Hughes – or by following my Instagram page (thearchitectscale). I also post print-outs daily at work. It is truly motivating for me to look up from my desk at work in the middle of the madness of a project and see the architect that I have posted for the day. It is as if he or she is smiling at me, telling me that I can do this, because they did and did it well!