Let’s all imagine for a moment that Detroit was built and designed for Black people, by Black people. According to Kimberly Dowdell, immediate past-President of the National Organization of Minority Architects, that was the guiding principle held by the 12 Black architects that founded NOMA 50 years ago.
“They all looked around, realized they were comparatively alone in the field, and decided to band together to create a community of support and professional fellowship. The NOMA conference in 2021 is like a big family reunion for minorities in the field. It’s a legacy those founders would be proud of,” Dowdell says.
This year’s conference will be the first time NOMA has returned home to Detroit in half a century. Regardless of what city they’ve taken place in, the NOMA conferences have always placed an emphasis on increasing interest and access in the field of architecture for underserved communities. Budding young architects in higher education come from across the nation to compete, while their licensed counterparts receive assistance in keeping their credentials.
“One of the most fun highlights of NOMA is the design competition for college kids to test and judge their designs against their peers, but we also offer training modules and recertification courses for practicing architects,” Dowdell says. “The service project we take on for the city is usually pretty fun too–last year we made toys with a local organization a day before the conference.”
Like too many professional fields in 2021, the number of Black and minority architects nationwide is criminally low. Of the 116,000 who have licenses, just 2% are Black. And only 500 in total are Black women.
“When I was little, I looked up at the old Hudson’s building that closed before I was born, and I knew I wanted to fix it. That urge hasn’t gone away and it needs to be strengthened in the youth today. NOMA aims to fortify that pipeline, so our cities can be made for us,” Dowdell says.