Meet the 36-year-old president of the National Organization of Minority Architects

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By heart, Kimberly Dowdell knows she is the 295th black woman to become a Certified Architect in the United States. In fact, many of his female comrades have their own numbers memorized. If Dowdell’s place on the list seems weak for a 36-year-old, it is. Black architects make up just 2% of all licensed architects in the United States, and of those, she explains, most are men. “There are still less than 500 black women who are licensed to practice architecture” in the country, says the architect who is also NCARB and LEED AP BD + C certified. “It’s such a small number that we all know each other in some way.” Last year, with that data and that sense of community in mind, she became the 2019-2020 President of the National Organization of Minority Architects, the second youngest in her nearly 50-year history.

When Dowdell began his presidency, his new platform for the organization, “ALL In for NOMA,” where the acronym “ALL” stands for Access, Leadership and Legacy, represented forward-thinking goals for advancing fellow architects. (and booming architects) of color. . She revamped the NOMA Pipeline Project, a mentorship program and camp that introduces middle school and high school children to the architectural profession; launched a Foundation grant that places 25 students on internships in 25 companies and for the first time launched the President’s Circle program to enable company membership, which is accompanied by training on diversity, corporate equity and inclusion.

But when George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police on May 25, she knew more had to be done. In the days following the tragedy, many companies pledged their commitment to racial justice. The world of architecture was no exception. On May 30, the American Institute of Architects released a paragraph declaration from 2020 President Jane Frederick, who received a mixed reception on social media. On June 4, its board of directors followed suit with the one who took a stronger position, writing: “To be clear, the American Institute of Architects is supporting protests to end state-sanctioned systemic violence against people of color. Period. We support and commit to making efforts to ensure that our profession is part of the solution that finally dismantles systemic racial injustice and violence. “

In between, on May 31, Dowdell and members of the NOMA National Board accelerated a new mission statement which was already in preparation. With the acronym BRAVE, it’s a call to action for all people to stand up against racism, stand up for disenfranchised and vote for change. “I ask everyone to dig deep and help us tackle the circumstances that not only lead to racially-motivated violence against people of color, but also prevent people of color from entering and thriving in the profession. architect, ”she wrote in the statement. , tackling the systemic racism that not only causes inequalities in the industry, but also prevents some from considering careers.

The leaky pipeline problem in architecture is one that has been reported for a long time, although usually in the context of women who cannot break the glass ceiling to achieve partner status in a business, or who give up before they can. . Dowdell says, as a woman of color, the disadvantage is doubled. “There is this added responsibility that women and people of color, and especially women of color, must try to fight for justice and fairness,” she explains. “A level playing field has yet to be made available to many blacks.” This year, she began working directly with AIA to make this change. In partnership with the Large Firm Roundtable, a task force of CEOs from the 60 largest architectures in North America, she developed the Diversity 2030 Challenge, an effort to more than double the number of licensed black architects (from 2,300 to 5,000) over the next ten years. She also hopes to continue to grow NOMA membership through outreach to locals and Since beginning her tenure as President, the organization has grown from 900 to 1,200 members (peaked at 1,400 members just before its annual conference last October in Brooklyn), an increase of 36%.

When not working on equity for her fellow color architects through NOMA, Dowdell is the director of business development in the Chicago office of architecture firm HOK. Originally from Detroit, she joined the firm’s New York studio in 2008 after graduating from Cornell University in the recession, left in 2011 to pursue studies in real estate project management, from graduate to Harvard University, municipal governments and universities, then returned in 2019 to her current position. role. While there, she co-founded HOK IMPACT, a corporate social responsibility program and now co-chairs the Diversity Advisory Board at its 24 global offices.

Due to its undergraduate study schedule, Dowdell has seen many of its peers fall victim to the leaky pipeline and abandon the practice of architecture for lack of work or employment opportunities. With the current economic crisis caused by the coronavirus, retention of talent is of the utmost importance. But when hiring resumes, she insists that diverse architects at all levels can only benefit studios. As she enters the final stint of her two-year term, Dowdell hopes the industry is on the path to change; she is certainly doing everything in her power to make an impact. “As makers of the future of the built environment, architects must reflect the society they serve,” she sums up. “That’s what we’re working towards here.”

-June 30, 2020: One version of this story previously stated that Kimberly Dowdell was 37. She has 36.-


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