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African-American Women Building a Presence in Architecture

The number of African-American women practicing as licensed architects has quadrupled in the last 15 years.

Date: 12/13/2006 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Lisa Ventre

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The number of African-American women practicing as architects has quadrupled in the last 15 years, according to Dennis Mann, University of Cincinnati professor of architecture.

Mann noted the trend when updating materials for his Directory of African-American Architects. That effort – the nation’s first-ever directory of African-American architects and a project by Mann and by Bradford Grant of Hampton University – was first published in 1991 and has since been updated in 1996 (hard copy) and then continuously updated online ever since.

Michelle Greene-Stratford
Michelle Greene-Stratford with colleagues at Lockwood Greene Engineers, Inc.

As best as can be tallied, there were 44 African-American women licensed as architects in the United States in 1991. Now, 15 years later, African-American women have more than quadrupled their numbers as licensed professional architects – to 189. (That’s out of  an approximate total of 91,000 licensed architects in the United States, according to American Institute of Architects figures.)

Even though these findings seem to highlight the loneliness of the black, female architect, the numbers represent gradually increasing diversity in a male-dominated field, according to Mann of UC’s top-ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.

And many of the women represented in the directory are history makers, according to Mann. That’s because a good number represent the first African-American woman licensed in their respective states. For instance, as recently as 1994, Patricia Harris became the first African-American woman licensed to practice in North Carolina.

The most recent African-American woman to become licensed in the U.S. is Florida’s Daya Irene Bates, 32, who earned licensure in October 2006 after eight years of practicing in the field. According to the directory, she is now one of 11 African-American women licensed as architects in Florida.

Bates recalled that she was the only African-American student in her graduate architecture program and is now the only African-American currently in a professional position in the Orlando firm where she works. She said, "Absolutely, as a black woman, I'm an anomaly in the profession. Currently in the firm's Orlando offices where I work, there are mainly white, male professionals."

Bates added that in her role as a residential architect, she has little difficulty with clients. They  respect her professional credentials and experience. That's not always the case with fellow architects or with workers on job sites. She recounted, "Workers always second guess me on job sites. Sometimes, I'm forced to point out: 'I'm the one who created the drawings that you're following."

But she's not about to change professions, stating, "This is what I wanted to do since I discovered drafting in high school. I was the only female in my high school drafting class. I was a pioneer then. I'm a pioneer now."

African-American licensed architects – both male and female – represent about 1.5 percent of all U.S. licensed architects – 1,571 in all.

Said Mann, “Overall, maybe 40 African-Americans become licensed in any given year. The numbers of African-American women in the field are bound to continue the most dramatic growth because women now represent about half the student body in architecture schools. That quite different from 25 years ago when women, perhaps, represented five students in a class of 80. Now, they number 40 in a class of 80. Here at UC, the architecture class is evenly divided between males and females.” He added that, nationally, women represent about 11 percent of all licensed architects in the U.S.

In researching the numbers of African-Americans licensed as architects, Mann has also found anecdotal information that points to increasing numbers of Asians and Hispanics becoming licensed architects.  “Architects are licensed by the states, and as I review the state listings for newly licensed architects – especially in states like California and New York – I’m seeing more and more Asian names all the time. I’m also seeing more Hispanic names,” he reported.

Currently, three percent of U.S. licensed architects are Asian-Americans, and two percent are Hispanic. The largest concentrations of African-American licensed architects were to be found in New York City, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Los Angeles. A number of states have no resident African-American architects:  Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire and South Dakota. 

By the numbers:

Numbers of African-American women licensed as architects

44 in 1991

98 in 1998

145 in 2003

189 in 2006

Numbers of African-Americans (men and women) licensed as architects

880 in 1991 

1,011 in 1994

1,233 in 1998 

1,408 in 2003

1,571 in 2006

Mann’s figures reflect the number of licensed architects, which does not include all working architects-in-training.  To be licensed, a would-be architect must serve a three-year internship after graduation before passing a comprehensive licensing exam. 

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