Local NOMA chapter sees a welcome resurgence of young, minority architects

Do you remember the first time you made your way through the city and saw a magnificent building? It might be the private home-turned-museum, Taft Museum of Art. Or you adore Cincinnati’s first residential settlement, the Private Ladies. Maybe the Châteauesque sandstone of the Clifton library branch tickles your fancy. Many groups of people, from design professionals like engineers, landscape architects, and interior designers to people in manufacturing and construction are responsible for building our city and countless others.

As of 2022, The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards reported 121,603 licensed architects working in America yet only 2% of them are black. The National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) aims to change that by strengthening relationships between minority architects, building communities of design professionals across the country whose interests include promoting urban communities, and providing opportunities to introduce the profession to youth.

David Kirk, President/CEO of DNK Architects, Inc. (DNK) and a licensed architect in five states had been involved with NOMA since 1992. He discovered around that time that there was no organization in Cincinnati that brought together the minority architecture community in a way that celebrated their work and allowed them to get to know each other. Along with a group of others, he began a Cincinnati chapter of NOMA.

There’s been ebbs and flows over the years, but one of David’s priorities is making sure that the community is always involved. David says, “Members of NOMA come from various backgrounds with a common passion for architecture. Some members are designing affordable housing in Cincinnati and other areas across the country. We always want the broader community to include us in opportunities to do work in design.”

NOMA, overall, has grown as an organization since the 90’s. While it’s always been a nationally known entity, it’s begun to get the attention of major corporations. Bryant Phares II was a member of the startup committee for the Columbus NOMA chapter before moving to Cincinnati. He wanted to create the same sense of community with NOMA that he’d had in his former city. Bryant said, “NOMA is here to bring us all together! With this restart, we’re looking to focus heavily on fostering young leaders to carry the chapter with the guidance of seasoned professionals. Hearing the needs on both ends and how the connection can be made so that when I and other board members look to move on from our positions, we can rely on young energetic people to take our place and lead the next generation. We should be ready to hand off what we do to members that are qualified and ready.”

As for future leaders in this field, Cincinnati also boasts many of those. Michael Burson, a founding member of the Cincinnati NOMA chapter, began the Cincinnati Architectural Mentoring Program (CAMP), a summer camp to introduce the career of architecture to minority students. During this week-long experience, 8th and 9th graders are guided through all the steps in joining the architect profession from matriculation from university to starting firm to design and client meetings. Students come from the Greater Cincinnati area and across the country including New York, California, and Detroit.

To learn more about Ohio Valley NOMA, you can join them for their Happy Hour on August 17, follow them on Instagram or email them at [email protected].
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Read more articles by Miyah Byrd.

Miyah Byrd is a storyteller and advocate based in Ohio. Her work has been featured in KIIONA Magazine, Forge, Human Parts, and ThriveGlobal. She is a former educator whose interests include food insecurity, green energy, and the self-sufficiency of the black community.