Pittsburgh Black architects on the rise—celebrating NOMA Pittsburgh

ALICIA VOLCY, left, Pittsburgh chapter president of the National Organization of Minority Architects, with Kimberly Dowdell, the national president, at a gala event, Jan. 25, in Downtown Pittsburgh. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

The Pittsburgh chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects has only been around since 2014, but in that short time it has earned a reputation for its outreach to students of all ages and minority professionals in the field.
That reputation earned the chapter the National President’s Award for 2018 which was presented by both the most recent past national president, Bryan Hudson, and the new national president, Kimberly Dowdell, at the local chapter’s Jan. 25 party celebrating the New Year at 11 Stanwix Street, Downtown.
Pittsburgh Chapter Vice President Victoria Acevedo said it was a huge honor to have them here. But it was earned.
LOCAL BLACK ARCHITECTS—Marvin Miller, Najeeb Hameen, David Cleaves (Photo by J.L. Martello)

“We saw a 200 percent increase in membership in 2018, and we raised $12,000 for our Project Pipeline initiative. That allowed us to have 40 students at our two-day summer camp this year—for our first one, I think that’s phenomenal,” she said. “It’s our members who make it work.”
She also noted the NOMA student chapter at CMU for its very active participation at meetings and presented two of its members with a check to help pay for going to this year’s annual conference.
Project Pipeline is a national NOMA initiative to promote the field and increase the number of minorities in the field though targeted instruction and mentoring in grades K-12, in college, and even through the licensure phase.
“For the last 50 years, the number of African Americans in architecture has remained at about 2 percent,” said Dowdell. “Considering African Americans make up about 14 percent of the population, we clearly have to work more on equity.”
NOMA’s mission is to champion diversity within the design professions by promoting the excellence, community engagement and professional development of its members. The organization’s roots trace back to 12 African American architects from different parts of the country who came together at The American Institute of Architects National Convention in 1971. The Black architects formed an organization dedicated to the development and advancement of minority architects, now known as NOMA. Currently, NOMA consists of 26 chapters and 500 members internationally.
NOMA Pittsburgh currently has about 20 members.
NOMA Pittsburgh Chapter President Alicia Volcy said going forward for her two-year term, the organization will focus on “Design”—calling out companies and pushing the work of minority designers; “Build”—create not just a pipeline for students, but also a pipeline to leadership for working professionals; and “Develop”—provide the professional development resources to help the members and their communities thrive.
“I looked at Black communities, communities my family was living in and I saw a lot of disinvestment, but I could draw. Luckily I had people who encouraged me and I was able to see how I can use architecture to make a difference,” Volcy told the Courier. “One of the things NOMA is doing is making sure we are more visible. So, to the young girls who might be able to draw or are creative we want them to know they can do this—if they are relentless, they can do this.”
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