National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA): 40 years AND counting
Driven with a passion for the craft they so loved, twelve African-American architects met, in 1971, at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) National Convention in Detroit where they discussed the issues of being black architects in the United States; they discussed the lack of project opportunities, and; the need to positively affect change in the communities from which they come. The outcome of these discussions was a recognized and desperate need for an affiliation dedicated to the development and advancement of multi-cultural architects.
That initial meeting, where the framework, mission and aims were formed, was attended by architects, William Brown, AIA, NOMAC; Leroy Campbell, FAIA, NOMAC; Wendell Campbell, FAIA, NOMAC; John S. Chase, FAIA, NOMAC; James C. Dodd, FAIA, NOMAC; Kenneth B. Groggs, FAIA; Nelson Harris, AIA, NOMAC; Jeh Johnson, FAIA; E.H. McDowell, FAIA; Robert J. Nash, FAIA, NOMAC; Harold Williams, FAIA, NOMAC; and Robert Wilson, AIA, NOMAC all of whom made the giant step to establish the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) 40 years ago. They wanted underrepresented design professionals to fight against the discriminatory policies that limited architects of diverse backgrounds from participating in robust design opportunities that where usually afforded to a class of privileged architects whose racial, ethnic and financial pedigree merited special invitation to participate.
These men recognized that, although the perception was that here was yet, another "black" version of a mainstream organization--which was so prevalent in the post-Civil Rights Era--NOMA had become a necessity. There may have been many justifications for the creation of yet another organization but, at or near the top of this list were that the mainstream organizations were perceived as either not being responsive to the needs of its Black members or, in some cases, not being readily accepting of membership for blacks.
This Civil Rights Era was one in which an Act of Congress, forever known as the Civil Rights Bill of 1965, just six years prior, was deemed necessary to reconfirm and enforce the laws already afforded under the 15th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It was just 17 years earlier that the United States Supreme Court upheld in the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education, that "separate was not equal."
This was the sociopolitical climate in which many of these men came of age, obtained their college educations, and launched their professional practices. Despite any majority culture claims of separation, or threats of being labeled 'radicals,' these men were equally proud of their heritage, race, nation, and their profession--which tended to disregard the opinions, needs and voice of an entire segment of its professional colleagues and their communities. Those founders of NOMA rightfully surmised that the formation of a new organization simply for the sake of its formation would serve as a miscarriage of justice to the ideas, aims, and vision which were the true motivators and impetus behind NOMA's historic formation. NOMA was the logical and unified response to discrimination towards architects of color.
Ironically, NOMA, founded as the voice of architects of color--particularly, African-American architects--disappointed with the status quo of the architectural profession, was recognized by the AIA, in 2007, as the recipient of the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award. The Whitney Young Award is given to "an architect or organization that exemplifies the profession’s responsibility to society." In her recommendation of NOMA, Jane Weinzapfel, FAIA, declared that "NOMA was selected for its unfailing dedication to promoting the architecture profession with the goal of increasing diversity among practitioners."
In 1971, Detroit was just the beginning of the NOMA movement. Forty-one years later, Detroit was the location of the 40th Annual NOMA Conference and Exposition and the historic, Westin Book Cadillac Hotel was the chosen venue. The theme of this year's conference was "A Legacy Driven by Design." The Westin Book Cadillac Hotel, a historic legend in its own right, has hosted presidents Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, along with other notable individuals like Martin Luther King Jr., first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and many more. From October 18-20th, the Italian Renaissance inspired architectural design was a fitting host for the auspicious birthday commemoration of NOMA.
Exploring the trends and use of technological advances in the challenging economic market were strong themes of the conference seminar discussions. Firm management, understanding contracts, African-inspired interiors, sustainability, and using mergers and acquisitions as methods for firm growth were just a few of the topics presented by a myriad of experts. Other topics included the redevelopment of Southwest Detroit, rebuilding communities through design, managing complex projects, collaborating for the future, engaging youth in design, intern development, and an insightful presentation on Asian-American Architects by the newly elected NOMA West Region Vice President, Rod Hemni, FAIA, NOMA.
NOMA always remembers to celebrates its members who have obtained their architecture license. Attending this conference were three new registered architects. The organization strongly encourages its members to become licensed and offers conference goers the opportunity to obtain continuing educational credits for seminars attended which is required by both, state architectural boards and the AIA to maintain licensure and membership, respectively.
The annual conference is designed to be heavily scheduled with information from keynote speakers, sponsors, exhibitors, and panelists to encourage dialogue among students and professionals. In addition to design competitions for students and professionals, historical bus and walking tours were part of the three-day agenda. The Mayor of Detroit, Hon. Dave Bing, and Michigan State Governor, Hon. Richard Snyder were also invited participants.
NOMA Detroit chapter president, Rainy Hamilton Jr., FAIA, NOMA, and his fellow chapter officers, Tiffany Brown, Assoc. AIA, NOMA, and Saundra Little, AIA, NOMA, did an awesome job in hosting the historic occasion in The Motor City. Local tours included Frank Lloyd Wright Homes, Motown Museum, a tour of Detroit, the Lafayette Park Cultural walking tour, and the historic tour of the Book Cadillac Hotel itself.
Highlights of the conference included luncheon keynote speaker Monica Ponce de Leon, Dean and Professor of Architecture at the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan who spoke about organic forms in architecture. The conference attendees also enjoyed a presentation by Karen E. Hudson, the granddaughter of the legendary, African-American architect, Paul R. Williams, FAIA. The presentation was entitled, “Classical Hollywood Style" and Mrs. Hudson recounted her experience and recollections of her grandfather and described the experience of living in his designs. Ms. Ponce de Leon and Mrs. Hudson were among the many influential women who are making a difference in the industry. Over 400 NOMA members, affiliates and students attended the 40th anniversary Conference celebration.
One of the highlights of the presentation panels was the discussion with the two of the Founders, Harold Williams and Jeh Johnson, their wives and other supporters which gave them an opportunity to express their memories of the birth of the organization as well as their opinions on its growth over forty years. The audience was engrossed as the Founders and their spouses articulated the challenges and experiences of the veteran members. Moreover, the audience was encouraged by the stories of how far NOMA has come as an organization over the past four decades.
Sanford Garner, AIA, NOMAC, has served as the 2011-2012 NOMA President and the Garner Administration comes to its completion as of December 31. The Annual Conference serves as the passing of the mantle of leadership to its President-Elect, Kathy Dixon, AIA, NOMA, who will serve as the National President during the years 2013-2014.
Although architecture is still heavily a male-dominated field, it does not mean that there have not been women contributors to the organization. After all, no village can thrive without the nurturing hands of mothers molding and prepping. Dixon is following two other women who held this position in the past, Roberta Washington, FAIA, NOMAC, and Cheryl McAfee, FAIA, NOMAC. Many women have served at various levels and have held influential positions giving truthful meaning to the word “diverse”.
Blacklines wishes to congratulate Mr. Garner, the NOMA Board of Directors and the DetroitNOMA chapter on a job well done! The theme of reflecting on the past and planning toward the future was very clear throughout the event which was deemed to be a great success. Overall the attendees were inspired by the past events and motivated to achieve even further in the future to continue the NOMA Legacy. If the past forty years are any indication, then the next forty years, beginning with the 41st Annual NOMA Conference and Exposition in Indianapolis, are guaranteed to be fruitful and fulfilling for NOMA and its members.