20 Inspiring Minority Architects, Designers and Advocates for a More Diverse Profession

The “Say it Loud” exhibition shone a spotlight on the contributions of Black, Hispanic and Asian professionals across the United States.

Kweku Addo-Atuah Kweku Addo-Atuah

The “Say It Loud”exhibition celebrated the creative work of distinguished members of NOMA (the National Organization of Minority Architects). Curated by architect Pascale Sablan and displayed at the Center for Architecture in New York City, the exhibition shone a spotlight on the contributions of Black, Hispanic and Asian professionals across the United States. The exhibition came at a critical juncture, given the increasing push for equality and full acknowledgement of the achievements of people of color in all sectors of society.

Despite the paucity in numbers and opportunities available for high-profile projects, these 20 designers have and continue to make significant inroads in the architecture, engineering and construction industry. “Say It Loud” reminded us that it takes the collective populace to imagine and shape the built environment, and for it to be truly reflective and responsive to society, inclusiveness must be at the forefront of collaboration. Read on to learn more about the architects, designers and advocates highlighted in the exhibition:

Right: The Cecil Harlem; images via Splice Design

Tonja Adair, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP

Co-founder and principal of Splice Design, Tonja Adair has over 12 years’ experience in an array of project types, from residential and public buildings to small- and large-scale retail and commercial. Adair’s design philosophy begins with a rigorous understanding of users’ perspectives and perceptions of their surroundings, aware that the form and nature of spaces have an undeniable influence on human action. Whether working on projects as far ranging as commercial structures in Dubai and Santiago to a convention center in New Orleans, Adair embraces research, analysis and multiple influences in crafting dynamic design strategies that enhance users’ lives and the community at large.

Left: Carman Hall Lounge Renovation; images via NYCOBA

Mark G. Barksdale, AIA, NOMA

Holding both architectural and law degrees from Columbia and Yale, Barksdale works at the confluence of architecture, mergers & acquisitions and healthcare administration, with particular expertise in urban redevelopment. Over the course of his career, he has managed a plethora of architectural, urban planning and construction projects. A career highlight is his Executive Analyst role managing Newark, New Jersey’s master plan update and coordinating over $4 billion worth of redevelopment projects, either planned or constructed.

Right: Josai School of Management, Japan; images via Tulane and studio SUMO

Yolande Daniels, NOMA

Yolande Daniels is a founding partner of studio SUMO, a Long Island architecture and academic practice focused on innovative design solutions that draw upon extensive research, formal exploration and material invention. Studio SUMO works include an array of project types, including residential and institutional to exhibitions and installations. Critically acclaimed, Daniels has received a bevy of prizes, including the Rome Prize in Architecture and the Young Architects Award from the Architectural League of New York. Her research interests include architecture and the politics of space, with regard to such issues as social systems, race and gender to pattern-making logic and rule-sets.

Left: Coney Island Brewery; images via Architizer and LinkedIn

Clarissa Francois, LEED AP BD+C

Clarissa Francois is a former winner of the Jumaane Omar Stewart Award, a scholarship program for high-school seniors of black/African descent who intend to pursue a professional degree in architecture. As a registered N.Y. State architect, Francois now works as a project manager and designer at Jack L. Gordon Architects, primarily handling projects in healthcare design and urban design, in addition to small- and medium-scale commercial projects.

Right: National September 11 Memorial; images via NOMA Counsel Online and Architizer

Richard Franklin, AIA, NOMA

The first African-American graduate of Washington University’s School of Architecture, Franklin is Principal of the architecture and engineering firm Sabir Richardson & Weisberg Engineering and Architecture. In a four-decade career that includes tenures at SOM, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to Davis Brody Bond, Franklin’s portfolio includes a host of transportation, urban design and cultural projects valued at over $1 billion. Notable projects include the restoration of the Apollo Theater in Harlem and construction management of the September 11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center site.

Left: African Burial Ground National Monument; images via NYDailyNews and LinkedIn

Mel Garber, C.Eng, NOMA

London-born Melbourne (Mel) Garber is a structural engineer with over 30 years’ experience and past chair of the ASCE’s Management Practices in Construction committee. His career has taken him from lengthy stays at Arup (London and New York) to Silman and, finally, as Director of Building at Gedeon GRC Consulting. Shifting between design engineering and preservation work, some of his notable projects include the African Burial Ground National Monument, the British Library and Terminal 4 at the John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Right: Marc Jacobs Tokyo Flagship Building; images via Architizer and Jaklitsch/Gardner

Mark Gardner, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP

Mark Gardner is principal at New York–based Jaklitsch/Gardner Architects, a firm noted for its expertise in high-end product design, interiors and buildings. With an interest in the nexus of architecture, social issues and art, Gardner combines architectural practice and academia, with a current faculty role at The New School and formerly at PennDesign. Gardner also sits on the board of several organizations, including SUPERFRONT, the New York Coalition of Black Architects (NYCOBA), Van Alen Institute’s Board of Trustees and PennDesign’s Board of Overseers.

Left: Idalia’s Hair Salon; images via BOLT Architecture and Archinect

Ibrahim Greenidge, NOMA

Another winner of the Jumaane Omar Stewart Award, Greenidge is co-principal and partner of Brooklyn-based Bolt Architecture, a boutique firm that works across residential, education, religious and commercial projects. The firm thrives on client collaboration in driving an innovative design process in creating livable, sustainable spaces in response to changing socioeconomic, cultural and technological conditions. Alongside professional practice, Bolt partners also run a series of workshops, from youth mentorship and career-day talks to property management and renovation for homeowners.

Right: Columbia University’s Schapiro Lounge; images via Aarris Architects and Associates

Nicole Hollant-Denis, AIA, NOMA

Award-winning Nicole Hollant-Denis is principal of Aarris Architects and Associates and has coordinated a variety of developments and building types over more than 20 years that bridge her education in architecture and real estate financing. She has received particular recognition for her museum design and educational projects, with noteworthy work including the MetLife Fifth Avenue and 16th Street offices in New York. Additionally, she served as Associate Architect for Columbia University’s Business School in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro (Design Architects) and FXFowle (Architect of Record).

Left: The Ark of Return (UN Memorial to Transatlantic Slave Trade); images via Architizer and Editor at Large

Rodney Leon, AIA, NOMA

Rodney Leon is founder and principal of Rodney Leon Architects, a practice that has expertise in cultural, religious, residential and urban planning projects, both in the U.S. and abroad. Characterizing RLA’s work philosophy is a keen focus on crafting culturally and contextually specific designs for clients, which range from faith-based entities to international development organizations. Leon also partners with manufacturers to design and implement “green” housing development models for emerging global economies, an example of which is the 24-acre, mixed-use “Belle Rive” residential development in Jacmel, Haiti.

Right: North East Brooklyn Housing Development Office; images via LinkedIn, Mark Moran Solutions and Terrence O’Neal

Heather O’Neal, AIA, NOMA, and Terrence O’Neal, FAIA, NOMA, LEED AP

This wife and husband team serve as design principal and managing principal respectively at their firm Terrence O’Neal Architect. The firm has expertise in single- and multi-family housing, healthcare, public schools and corporate interior offices. The duo is noted for their cross-disciplinary engagement with public officials, seeing it as necessary to ensure informed, high-quality architectural design in the public realm. Both Heather and Terrence have held leadership roles in several key organizations, with Heather a past president of NYCOBA and Terrence a past AIANYS president.

Left: High Bridge Rehabilitation; images via TranSystems and Columbia University

Feniosky Peña-Mora, ScD, NOMA

Dominican-born Feniosky Peña-Mora is a civil engineer, educator and current commissioner of the New York City Department of Design and Construction (NYCDDC). A past dean of Columbia’s Engineering School, Peña-Mora has authored or co-authored over 180 publications on issues such as sustainable construction and is a holder of five patents and two provisional patents. In his role at NYCDDC, where he’s essentially the city project manager, some of the projects under Peña-Mora include the High Bridge rehabilitation and the Ocean Breeze Athletic Center.

Right: Proposed 5-star Resort, Punta Patilla, Dominican Republic; images courtesy Carlos Zapata Studio/Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn

LeAnn Shelton, Esq., AIA, NOMA

A licensed architect and attorney, LeAnn Shelton is General Counsel and Director of Business Affairs at Rockwell Group. Shelton’s 25 years’ experience has seen her work as Associate Partner at Perkins Eastman/EEK and Davis Brody Bond, where her projects focused on large-scale master planning and cultural development (Yonkers Downtown Waterfront). At Rockwell, Shelton advises the firm on multiple fronts, from intellectual property to marketing and strategic development on such projects as the Illuminated Bridge Design Competition in London, England.

Left: Portfolio Sample; images via ArchitectOWL and ArchitectOWL

Jared Smith, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP

Jared Smith is owner of Architect Owl, offering services in architectural design and photography. As a registered architect with more than eight years’ experience, Smith cut his teeth in architecture working on institutional, civic, commercial, residential and restoration projects. Drawing upon his educational and professional background, his photography hones in on architectural and commercial properties, portraiture, social events and urban streetscape environments.

Right: 1968 Architects’ Renewal Committee in Harlem (ARCH) rendering of 125th Street from the East Harlem Triangle plan; images via YouTube (cunytv75) and Historical Images

Arthur Symes, NOMA

A graduate of Howard University, Arthur (Art) Symes has dedicated much of his career to the mentorship of students through his involvement with the Architects’ Renewal Committee in Harlem (ARCH). The Committee provided a vehicle for black students interested in architecture, helping them with school placements and paths to licensure. Symes also studied and worked alongside such names as Donald Van Pernell, Donald P. Ryder, Nathan Smith, Harry Quintana and James Doman.

Left: Jamaica LIRR Station; images via Curbed New York and AIANY

Andrew Thompson, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP BD+C

Andrew Thompson has over 20 years’ experience, serving nearly 10 years at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as architectural designer and facilities planner. Working on a range of transportation and healthcare projects, as well, some notables include the World Trade Center Twin Towers site and the Jamaica LIRR station that connected JFK airport to the NYC transit system. Before moving on as County Architect for Passaic County, New Jersey, he spent nearly 10 years as chief architect at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Right: Solar roof pod table; images via The City College of New York and LinkedIn

Shereese Trumpet, CCNY Architecture Student

St. Vincent–born Shereese Trumpet is enrolled in the City College of New York’s Honors Program and works as an intern at DRPILLA Associates. For her academic excellence in architecture and leadership initiatives, Trumpet received both the NYCOBA NOMA Diversity Award and the Center for Architecture Heritage Ball Scholarship in 2014. Trumpet was also part of the six architecture students chosen to design and construct a collapsible table for the CCNY Architecture School’s Solar Roof Pod.

Left: Godrej Headquarters Landscape; images via AWA Lighting Designers and PLDC Countdown blog

Abhay Wadhwa, NOMA

Mumbai-born Abhay Wadhwa studied architecture and lighting design, using these understandings in his Brooklyn-based firm, AWA Lighting Designers. Wadhwa’s work focuses on lighting design and technology that create visceral experiences for users, highlighting significant points of focus and revealing subtle architectural details and rhythms. His 27 years of work show expertise across varying project types, from buildings to interior spaces to infrastructure, including the Singapore Chancery and Ark of Return in New York.

Right: Barnard Environmental Magnet School; images via Roberta Washington Architects

Roberta Washington, FAIA, NOMA

Established in 1983, Washington’s firm is driven by an architectural approach guided by choice in how we live, learn, heal and connect the past to the future. Working on projects that range from affordable housing, educational, cultural and healthcare, Roberta Washington Architects is one of the few African-American, women-owned architectural firms in the country. Washington has had a multifaceted career, working internationally as a designer in Maputo, Mozambique, and serving as past president of the National Organization of Minority Architects, and is currently a Center for Architecture Foundation board member. She was made a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 2006 in recognition for her wide-ranging, impactful career.

The “Say It Loud” exhibition was curated by Pascale Sablan, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP (associate at FXFowle). Exhibit design was by Manuel Miranda Practice, and FXFowle provided support/sponsorship.

Read more articles by Kweku
A+Product Awards

How to Win an A+Product Award: Be Essential, Be Pioneering, or Be Both

Your complete guide to the newly minted 2019 A+Product Award categories.

These Designers Are Transforming the Portfolio Into a Client Magnet Secret Weapon

Blurb offers the chance for architects and students to showcase their work in a stunning new format.