12 Black Architects Making History Today

From established award-winners to up-and-coming talents, these architects are both innovative designers and powerful advocates for a more equitable AEC industry.

Hannah Feniak Hannah Feniak

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Black History Month is a time to reflect upon the past and reckon with the long history of racism and inequality that has disenfranchised Black Americans to this day. It is also a time to acknowledge the contributions and celebrate the achievements of generations of Black communities across all areas of society. A history that should not be limited to a single month, we recognize the urgency of listening to and amplifying Black voices all year round.

The under-representation of Black architects and designers continues to mar the architectural profession. Today, Black people make up 14% of the United States’ population; yet, less than 2% of the approximately 113,000 architects licensed in our country are Black. In addition to increasing diversity within the profession, the industry must confront the need to design more equitable spaces and cities and incorporate communities of color into these design processes. As Kweku Addo-Atuah beautifully states, “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.” 

Previously, we have sought to posthumously recognize the work of 10 Black Architects Whose Work has Shaped America. By acknowledging these figures from the past whose legacies continue to impact our present, we hoped to contribute to a joint roadmap for building a more equitable future. This year, we highlight contemporary Black architects whose impactful work is forging history in the field today. Including A+Awards jury members, established practitioners and up-and-coming talents, the following architects have not only been singled out for their distinguished designs, but also for their leadership roles in advocating for a more diverse architecture industry and equitable built environment.

Germane Barnes

One of the newest members of prestigious A+Awards Jury, Germane Barnes’ research and design practice investigates the connection between architecture and identity. Mining architecture’s social and political agency, he examines how the built environment influences black domesticity. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Community Housing Identity Lab (CHIL) at the University Of Miami School Of Architecture.

He is the 2021 Harvard GSD Wheelwright Prize winner, Rome Prize Fellow and winner of the Architectural League Prize. His design and research contributions have been published and exhibited in several international institutions. Most notably, The Museum of Modern Art, Pin-Up Magazine, The Graham Foundation, The New York Times, Architect Magazine, DesignMIAMI/ Art Basel, The Swiss Institute, Metropolis Magazine, Curbed, and The National Museum of African American History where he was identified as one of the future designers on the rise.

Left: 888 Boylston Street, Boston, MA; Right: Pascale Sablan via Forbes 

Pascale Sablan

Returning to the A+Awards jury for a second consecutive season, Pascale Sablan is an associate at renowned firm Adjaye Associates. Sablan is also the Founder & Executive Director of Beyond the Built Environment (BBE), an organization focused on engaging community through architecture to advocate equitable, reflectively diverse environments. The BBE organization was named Architectural League 2021 Emerging Voices award winner. Sablan has won multiple awards for her work, including being named 2021 AIA Whitney M. Young Jr. Award recipient for her advocacy efforts and ascended to the AIA College of Fellows the youngest African American to receive that honor.

In 2020, Pascale was voted President-Elect, National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) where she previously was named member of the year in 2015. AIA Young Architects award Winner 2018. Indeed, Sablan is a leading voice for architects of color, curating a series of SAY IT LOUD exhibitions originated at the AIANY Center for Architecture focused on elevating the contributions of women and BIPOC designers. SAY IT LOUD has been exhibited at multiple venues including the United Nations Visitors Centre, A’18, NOMA Unbounded and SXSW.

Left: Jason Pugh via Architect Magazine; Right:Community Master Plans & Affordable Housing via Beyond the Built Environment

Jason Pugh

Another member of the A+Awards jury, Jason Pugh is a Chicago-based architect and certified urban designer at Gensler. His dual training allows him to take a micro-macro approach to design, reflected in his portfolio. Ranging in scale from affordable housing to large master-planning urban sites, his approach promotes cultural connectivity and participatory design. Across domestic and foreign projects, he has worked on public transit, mix-use development, commercial retail.

His advocacy for elevating underserved communities extends beyond physical interventions in the built environment to mentoring the next generation of designers. This passion for education, diversity, and inclusion is reflected by his position on the Chicago ACE Mentor Program associate board. Pugh began his two-year term as president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) on January 1, 2021.

Wandile Mthiyane

As detailed in Mthiyane’s insightful op-ed “The Architects of Systemic Racism“, The Ubuntu Architecture Summer Abroad Program has created a cross-cultural design-build experience for architecture students from around the world. This program is an intercollegiate educational experience in which students learn a community-centered approach to architecture. Students will design and build dignified and culturally-influenced homes for marginalized families in Durban, South Africa, who were affected by apartheid architecture.

Left: Kimberly Dowdell via Metropolis; Right: Hamad International Airport Passenger Terminal Complex, DOHA, Quatar, First project by Kimberly Dowdell at Kob via HOK

Kimberly Dowdell

Kimberly Dowdell is an award-winning Principal at HOK, where she implements strategic business development and marketing initiatives. She has designed and managed over $100 million in assets throughout her career and played a notable role in Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department. Dowdell is a teacher, a mentor, and is a frequent speaker and eloquent voice at industry events.

As task force leader for the AIA’s Large Firm Roundtable (LFRT), she developed the 2030 Diversity Challenge for Architecture, which seeks to double the number of licensed Black architects from 2% to 4% in the next decade. Dowdell also held the position of National President of NOMA from 2019-2020, membership of which nearly doubled during her tenure.

Left: The Connor Group Headquarters, Springboro, Ohio. Photo by Brad Feinknopf. Right: Curtis Moody via Moody Nolan

Curtis Moody

Moody Nolan is the largest Black-owned and operated design firm in the United States and winner of the AIA’s 2021 Architecture Firm of the Year Award. The eponymous co-founder, Curtis Moody, has been a practicing architect and exceptional designer for nearly four decades. Established in Columbus, Ohio in 1982, the firm grew fourfold in its first year alone and has continued to steadily expand in scale and scope ever since, diversifying its formidable portfolio and opening offices in eleven different regions that span from coast to coast.

From major stadiums, facilities, and institutions to neighborhood revitalization projects, Moody’s award-winning designs are recognized and celebrated across the country; he has been involved in several billion dollars worth of construction throughout his career.

Left: Sean Canty via Harvard GSD; Right: Heavybit Industries, San Francisco, California, 2014 A+Awards Popular Winner, Office – Interiors, 2014 A+Awards Finalist, Concepts – Architecture + Workspace

Sean Canty

Sean Canty is the founder of Studio SC and Assistant Professor of Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He also collaborates with the experimental architecture collective Office III (OIII), responsible for the Welcome Center for Governors Island, whose work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In 2020, Sean was awarded the Richard Rogers Fellowship for his project, “Before Images, After Pictures, and Somewhere In-between,” which revisits and explores the 18th-century English Picturesque tradition. In his previous role as designer for IwamotoScott Architecture, he contributed to the A+Award winning design of Heavybit Industries.  

Left: Mizengo Pinda Asali & Nyuki Sanctuary – Beekeeping & Education Center, Dodoma, Tanzania, 2016 A+Awards Jury Winner, Institutional – Unbuilt Institutional; 2016 A+Awards Finalist, Cultural – Unbuilt Cultural; Right: Mark I. Gardner via Van Alen

Mark I. Gardner

Principal at the eminent design practice and studio Jaklitsch / Gardner Architects, Mark Gardner is also an Assistant Professor of Architectural Practice and Society at Parsons. A leader in many of his firm’s initiatives, he conceives of design as a social practice, regardless of scale—from products to interiors to buildings. This approach is reflected in his A+Award Winning design for the Mizengo Pinda Asali & Nyuki Sanctuary – Beekeeping & Education Center, in Tanzania.

Gardner is also on the Advisory Board of MathMinds, an after-school program created to inspire high school students of color by introducing them to college coursework in engineering, computer science, and tech entrepreneurship. 

Left: Tiffany Brown via Madame Architect; Tiffany Brown with mentees from 400 Forward

Tiffany D. Brown

Tiffany Brown is an award-winning and sought-after voice for diversity and inclusion in the profession of architecture. She is the founder of 400 Forward, a nonprofit aimed at introducing young girls to architecture and guiding them to pursue careers in the field. She is also a co-founder of the nonprofit Urban Arts Collective (UAC) and is currently Executive Director at NOMA National — all while pursuing licensure as an architect.

Brown frequently speaks at national events, including South by Southwest and the AIA Conference on Architecture. Her resounding advocacy for diversity is exemplary, and in the words of the AIA 2020 Associates Awards jury, “her efforts have positioned the profession for growth in a way that better reflects the communities it serves.”

Left:  California Science Center, Los Angeles, CA, Collaboration between RAW International and ZGF Architects Right: Steven Lewis via ZGF Architects

Steven Lewis

From New York to L.A., D.C. to Detroit, and back to L.A., Steven Lewis has had a storied career working in both the public and private sectors. After two decades of design under his own firm, RAW International, Lewis is now Principal within the urban design practice at ZGF Architects. Advocacy for equality in architecture has been an integral part of his work, which the AIA recognized in 2016.

Lewis previously served as the Design Director for the Central Region of Detroit’s Department of Planning and Development while holding a Professorship in Practice at the University of Michigan, where his studio classes focused on community issues. He has also been active in NOMA for nearly 40 years, where he has served once as president and twice as the editor for their journal.

Left: Sekou Cooke via  Sekou Cooke; Right: Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture, New York, NY

Sekou Cooke

Sekou Cooke’s research focuses on the impact of hip-hop culture on the built environment—and vice-versa. Through lectures, writings and symposia, he demonstrates that misrepresenting the agency of Black people in shaping the built environment disadvantages the discipline as a whole. His 2018 exhibition, Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture, at the Center for Architecture in New York, aimed to present some of these ideas; it is also the subject of his upcoming monograph Hip-Hop Architecture.

Cooke is the founder and Principal Architect of Sekou Cooke Studio and Assistant Professor at Syracuse University’s School of Architecture. In 2021, his work featured in the MoMA exhibition Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America.

Left: Howard Theatre, Washington, DC Right: Michael Marshall via Michael Marshall Design

Michael Marshall

DC-based Michael Marshall is the Design Director and Principal of Michael Marshall Design. Originally founded in 1989 under the name Michael Marshall Architects, over the years the firm has considerably expanded the its scope and reach, which now ranges from architecture to interiors and branding. Marshall has participated in a range of notable projects, from the redesign of the historic Howard Theatre (one of the country’s oldest African American performance halls) to the Student Center at the University of the District of Columbia—the technical school where he studied in the 1970s.

His creative approach and standout designs have been widely recognized, with awards from AIA, ULI, and NOMA, and his body of work has already been accepted into the architectural archives of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Have your say in the world’s best architecture: the 10th Annual A+Awards Public Vote is now open! Cast your ballots in the largest awards program for architects and designers before May 27th, 2022!
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