Leadership, Diversity, Equality, Discrimination, BIPOC, Education, HBCU, Women
A new endowment, the end of tokenism, and licensure for as many BIPOC practitioners as possible are among the National Organization of Minority Architects leadership's long-term goals.
After the death last month of architect Jeh V. Johnson, the last of 12 black architects who founded the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), the group has reached a pivotal point for reflecting on past struggles and assessing the way forward. Itâ€™s a critical moment to ask its leaders what the historic organization will preserve from its past; in which areas it has experienced setbacks to its goals; and what new generations will likely prioritize over the next 50 years? Metropolis received answers from the groupâ€™s past president, ZGF principal R. Steven Lewis; new executive director Tiffany Brown, and 2021â€“2022 NOMA president, Gensler senior associate Jason Pugh.
Your membership and the profession are changing. Is there anything NOMA should preserve from its past?
R. Steven Lewis: The values established by the founders at the outset of NOMAâ€™s formation, along with the sacrifices they made, form the foundation of all that we enjoy today. As NOMA enters a new era of growth, relevance, and success, we must never forget from whence we came.
Jason Pugh: And with the passing of Jeh V. Johnson, itâ€™s important for us to carry forward the legacy of all 12 founders, celebrating their trailblazing careers and contributions. A NOMA Founders Memorial Endowment will be created to fund both archival records of their legacy and work and an annual scholarship for a student in need. The endowment will ensure their memory lives on and continues to positively impact the architectural community.
Tiffany Brown: NOMAâ€™s guiding principles and objectives celebrate the preservation of cultural and social values in minority communities. By showcasing the contributions of design professionals of color to the built environment and acknowledging their significance as inspirational teaching toolsâ€”despite what is typically taught in architecture schools today, we carry on the traditions of our founders. As we approach our 50th anniversary, telling the stories of Black architects, designers, and plannersâ€”particularly those of our foundersâ€”is more important than ever. To suffer the loss of our last living founder, for many of us, was like losing the head of our family. Belonging to an organization where the culture feels like home is something I value in NOMA. Itâ€™s a trait that makes us unique.
Whatâ€™s the biggest setback the group has had to overcome in recent years?
JP: I think it would be best to characterize them as challenges instead of setbacks, because the organization has been able to continuously charge forward. The year 2020 presented NOMA with a long list of unexpected and unprecedented challenges, but along with them came some great opportunities for growth and strategic partnerships. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn had a negative impact on the industry, with minorities once again taking a disproportionately huge hit in the form of job losses and limited funding for projects.
With the civil unrest across the country following the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, there was also relentless physical and mental exhaustion that felt overwhelming at times. But despite these hurdles, the organization saw its largest-ever membership growth, and pivoted to host its first virtual conference, which became the best attended and most profitable to date.
TB: I echo Jasonâ€™s sentiments on challenges in lieu of setbacks. In my role, I have observed the ongoing conversation on how the industry can move beyond tokenism and toward true equity. For us, itâ€™s a simple answer. There are many of us who did not come from a solid foundation. We are building from scratch, on a very shaky one. We donâ€™t come from inheritances, connections, or parents who are college graduates. The removal of monuments is slight progress, but the actual work will come when we are removing systems of exclusion. When that happens, our profession can take the necessary steps toward equity.
There are particular reasons why our founders saw the need to establish an organization like NOMA: It wasnâ€™t common practice to provide opportunities for minorities to lead, individually or in joint ventures. These problems still exist. Society should revisit systemic barriers in promotion policies and companies should diversify their boards of directors. Universities shou