The Black Spectacles Team
Celebrating Black Voices in Architecture
Throughout Black History Month and every month, Black Spectacles is committed to celebrating Black voices in architecture. The architecture industry has room to grow in creating an equitable environment for all members of the community, so we’re also highlighting organizations you can support to help architecture better represent the world around us. We’ve compiled a working resource list highlighting architects and firms making history, those who paved the way, and opportunities for budding architects to change the future of the industry.
April Drake, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP ID+C
A graduate of Hampton University, April is well-known for her dedication to both collaboration and communication. A Senior Project Architect at HDR, April’s portfolio of work includes higher education, commercial and government facilities, leading multidisciplinary teams through all stages of design. April is especially passionate about her mentorship role in promoting the growth of women and minorities in architecture and allied fields. As one of the first 400 African American licensed women in the country, April is aware of the leadership and encouragement that is necessary to guide women from graduation to licensure. She currently serves as the 2022 1st Vice-President / President-Elect for the AIA Northern Virginia (NOVA) Chapter and is Past Chair of the AIA NOVA Women in Architecture Committee. In addition, April volunteers with the National Council of Architecture Registration Board on several task forces where she is influencing the path of licensure for future generations.
April started her volunteer journey after joining the AIA NOVA Women in Architecture (WIA) Committee. She served on the committee in various roles prior to becoming Chair in 2016. From there she was appointed to the Board of Directors for the local AIA NOVA Chapter for two years prior to joining the Executive Committee in 2020, which started her leadership track to President. As the 2022 President-Elect for AIA NOVA, April will officially start her term next year. For over nine years, April has been honored to work with amazing men and women within the Chapter on various committees and events promoting our profession.
"I am passionate about promoting the growth of women and minorities in architecture and allied fields. Being apart of these groups have allowed me the opportunity to mentor, teach, learn from and inspire the next generation of architects."
Roderic Walton AIA, NCARB, NOMA
Roderic is a principal at Moody Nolan architects, and he leads Moody Nolan’s Diversity, equity, and inclusion committee. He is a licensed architect with 25 years of experience, having practiced in both Ohio and Illinois. Roderic practices healthcare architecture exclusively, and his approach to professional practice aligns architecture with health equity and advocacy.
Roderic has authored and contributed to a large body of written work regarding equity and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on healthcare, with specific focus on communities of color. His publications, presentations, and community engagement strategies are focused on enhancing the experience of patients in under-served and disadvantaged areas across the nation.
He is a former co-chair of the AIA Chicago Healthcare Knowledge community, and a current member of the AIA Chicago Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. He is a member of the 2021 Healthcare Design Editorial Advisory Board and also serves on the Academy of Architecture for Health Codes and Standards Committee. Roderic holds a Master’s Degree in Architecture and a Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Design from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
"I’m part of the AIA Chicago EDI committee because despite all of the advancements I’ve seen over the past thirty years, we still have a lot of work to do. As a healthcare architect, I’m still the only person of color and the only openly gay person of color in most of my discussions about healthcare and equity. I still feel that I have to prove my competence in the field due to cultural and racial bias. My hope is that by having open and candid conversations about the intersections of race, culture and identity both in this group and beyond, I can continue to do the work necessary for greater acceptance and awareness."
Norma Merrick Sklarek FAIA
April 15, 1926 – February 6, 2012
Born in Harlem, New York, Norma Sklarek has a lot of “firsts” attributed to her name. The first African American female to join the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the first to become a Fellow of the AIA, the first to co-own an architecture practice at Siegel Sklarek Diamond, the list goes on. Ever a trailblazer, her works are equally as impressive, having contributed to Terminal One at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), San Bernadino City Hall, and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, to name a few. Norma served on the architecture faculty of the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California, lecturing at Howard University, Columbia University, and elsewhere. Serving on countless boards, the AIA honored her with the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award, recognizing an architect or organization embodying the profession’s responsibility to address social issues. Howard University offers the Norma Merrick Sklarek Architectural Scholarship Award in her honor.
“In architecture, I had absolutely no role model. I’m happy today to be a role model for others that follow.”
As stated on their website, “NOMA’s mission, rooted in a rich legacy of activism, is to empower our local chapters and membership to foster justice and equity in communities of color through outreach, community advocacy, professional development and design excellence.” NOMA’s support has a broad reach; they have regional chapters, as well as student divisions at campuses across the country.
To help lessen the cost barrier of licensure, NOMA and Black Spectacles partnered to provide access to ARE Test Prep and to serve in their mission to foster equity in the field of architecture.
“Founded in 2018, the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee (EDI Committee) promotes, advocates, and creates opportunities for greater equity, diversity, and inclusivity in the practice of architecture.” As is common with many AIA Chapters, there can be a plethora of other committees with similar missions in your neck of the woods; check out the resources available at your local chapter, or start one yourself!
"WIA strives to expand the diversity of the design professions and encourage women to consider a career in architecture and allied fields."
“Black Females in Architecture (BFA) is a network and enterprise founded to increase the visibility of black and black mixed heritage women within architectural industry and other built environment fields. In so doing, BFA actively addresses issues of inequality and diversity within the industry.” If you’re looking for events to attend, check out their calendar, and if you’d like to support, they have space for that on their website as well.
“The Black in Design Conference, organized by the Harvard University Graduate School of Design African American Student Union, recognizes the contributions of the African diaspora to the design fields and promotes discourse around the agency of the design profession to address and dismantle the institutional barriers faced by our communities.” Stay tuned for upcoming events, such as announcements for a BiD 2022 event, and the events put on by the Harvard GSD AASU.
“400 FORWARD’s Mission is to uplift girls by giving them the tools they need to address social issues created by the unjust built environments of our inner-city communities.” Providing mentorship, community outreach, and scholarships, 400 Forward is changing the future of architecture.
Black Architects in the Making (BAM) is an initiative out of the Miami Center for Architecture and Design (MCAD) and, “was established to enhance students’ awareness about architecture and help encourage young Black students to consider architecture as a career,” per their website. BAM has been providing resources to the South Florida area but is looking to expand their reach to the entire state.
Awards & Scholarships
The Norma Merrick Sklarek ’50 B.Arch Scholars Fund will be used over the next three academic years [as stated in 2020] to support a cohort of full tuition financial aid awards and will be aimed at positively addressing inequity and barriers for students who have historically been underrepresented at GSAPP. Intended to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity by breaking down barriers to access for graduate study, the first Sklarek scholarships will be funded with $1 million from GSAPP.
AIA Chicago Foundation Diversity Scholarship Initiative, managed by the AIA Chicago Foundation, is an opportunity to attract and retain diverse, talented young professionals in Chicago and recognizes the value of new and unique voices in the profession. One $10,000 graduate scholarship and one $10,000 undergraduate scholarship is awarded each year.
This scholarship was established in 2006 to provide financial assistance to African American or Black students pursuing a degree in the visual arts. Visual arts include architecture, ceramics, drawing, fashion, graphic design, illustration, interior design, painting, photography, sketching, video production, etc.
We believe diversity creates innovation, and different perspectives make for a stronger profession and a better world. Yet, industry data show that minorities are still underrepresented in the architecture profession. We created the Diversity Advancement Scholarship to help address this gap and give more students the chance to pursue a successful architecture career.
Over the last 20 years, our scholarships programs have supported the education of emerging design talent, with nearly $200,000 being awarded in the last year alone. Gensler offers several different programs in the U.S. annually for architecture and interior design students, and one U.K. Bursary.
The Mildred Colodny Diversity Scholarship program provides financial assistance and experiential learning opportunities to individuals preparing for careers in historic preservation. The purpose of the Colodny Scholarship is to increase the diversity of people pursuing degrees and careers in historic preservation in the United States.
We have created the SmithGroup Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Scholarship Program to support and mentor students from historically underrepresented demographics in architecture, interior design, planning, landscape architecture and engineering. The program’s mission is to provide these students with the opportunity to attain their professional goals while advancing the architecture/engineering/construction (AEC) industry and improving the built environment.