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Black History Month Spotlight: African American Women Architects

Written by Silvia Hoffman, AIA, LEED AP, Partner at MKSD architects

Many people, even our clients, are surprised to learn MKSD architects is a certified Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE), meaning at least 51% of our company is woman owned. We are proud that our architectural staff is equally split between male and female. Every person on our team is talented, passionate, and highly committed to our clients and their projects. Speaking personally, even through our success, I have experienced the challenges of being a woman in a historically male dominated profession and a female business owner.

I know the statistics well; today, 20% of architects are women and less than 17% of firm owners are women. As February is Black History Month, my curiosity was sparked and I wondered how many female architects are Black. It is difficult to imagine layering the challenge of being African American over the challenge of being a woman in a male dominated field. According to the directory of African American Architects, there are 2,325 black architects, and of those only 478 are women. Now, I’ve become used to the statistics on female architects, but the number on black women was unexpected, particularly when according the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards there were over 115,000 registered architects in 2018.

Knowing this, I was compelled to dig a little deeper and bring some focus to female African American architects a little more beyond just the numbers. I know I can only scratch the surface. According to, the first African America architect was Beverly Lorraine Green (1915-1957). She not only faced racism that accompanied being an architect as an African American in the early 1900’s, but also faced challenges due to her gender.

Born in Chicago, she attended the University of Illinois, graduating as the first African American woman, in 1936. She went on to earn a Masters degree from Columbia University. In 1942, she became the first Black woman to become a licensed architect in the United States. She started her own practice in Chicago and struggled to acquire work. She went on to work for notable firms, including Marcel Breuer, assisting in the design for the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Beverly died at the young age of 41 and never saw the execution of many of the buildings she helped to design.

———-Beverly Lorraine Green ———————– UNESCO Building Headquarters, Paris, France

Even as recently as the 1980’s and 1990’s, very little information is readily available on African American women graduating from Architecture School or becoming architects, much less buildings they have designed. There are only a handful of them, literally. As recently as the mid 90’s, I personally had only one African American woman classmate in my Master’s Degree class at North Carolina State. Today, only 1.9% of architecture students are Black and 1 in 3 of those are women. (Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture) Reflecting on this, I wonder how many more we would have if they had been supported and encouraged in this career path. How many young girls, Black or White, have been deterred to enter the field of architecture, or any other profession for that matter, for one reason or another? My own experience was one of being discouraged by my High School guidance counselor from going into this profession because he “didn’t know any women architects” and this was as recently as the late 80’s. To this day I have not forgotten his name (and I’m very bad with names!) Fortunately, I had a drafting teacher and parents who thought differently.

I don’t believe I have the answer or formula on how to continue to improve the gender or racial makeup of our profession. What I do know, because at MKSD we have done it successfully, is that it is possible to balance the gender in firms by not just talking about it but by actually doing it. If we can accomplish this with gender, then why not race? I believe it is just as important.  The first steps to any change are knowledge and willingness, so now that we have knowledge, what are we willing to do?

MKSD Diversity Statement, Mission & Philosophy

Design, for Everyone. Equally.

We have built a creative culture where everyone is valued, included and empowered. We believe in Design for Everyone. This results in the creation of places that reflect and enhance the communities we serve.  As a testament to diversity and equality, MKSD is a Women’s Business Enterprise. We are committed to empowering women to grow and lead in a profession that has been historically male dominated. Together with our clients and consultants, we will continue to contribute to a world fueled by these important values. (fairness and respect)


Perseverance  .  Fearlessness   .   Passion  .  Honesty  .  Selflessness .  Progressive Thinking

Successful building projects are a physical expression of collaboration between the owner and design team, driven by passion, experience and the creativity of everyone involved.

Our Partners believe in the shared purpose of elevating our clients’ missions with a personal commitment to each project. As a team, we have built a creative culture where everyone is valued, included and empowered. As a testament to our belief in equality, we are a Women’s Business Enterprise. Our values are translated to each client and imbedded in our projects with the purpose of enhancing life.

We believe in design for everyone.

Our client/architect partnerships are founded on mutual respect and honesty. Our practice creates meaningful projects, from transformative renovations to highly complex buildings. Each project’s solution is tailored to the individual needs of our clients and encompasses all phases of planning, design and construction.

Together with our clients, we will continue to design inspiring places, thoughtfully woven into the fabric of our built environment.

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