12-08-16

Advocating for Diversity: A Conversation with Michelle Barrett of NOMAS

michele crawford cropMichele Crawford presents her architectural research at the 2014 Design Diversity Powered by PechaKucha event in Cleveland, Ohio

Michele Crawford from Architecture firm Robert P. Madison International speaks with Michelle Barrett, the new president of the National Organization of Minority Architects Student Chapter (NOMAS) at Kent State University’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design

by Michele Crawford

My inspiration to become an architect emerged from my educational journey. I did not have many architectural influences prior to my start on the path to architecture. My career goal was to become a car designer. I translated this ambition to the creation of interior environments and ultimately completed both a Bachelor of Science degree in Interior Architecture and Master of Architecture from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The study of architecture in Chicago proved to be an amazing experience. My studio space was on the top floor of The Sullivan Center, formerly the Carson Pirie Scott Building, and I could easily visit historical examples of designs from Frank Lloyd Wright, Renzo Piano, Mies Van Der Rohe, Stanley Tigerman, and others. Using the city as my classroom provided enduring inspiration.

I noticed, however, the lack of admiration of both women and architects of color in the Chicago scene and worldwide. When my professors suggested architects to use as inspiration, they were rarely African American, and never African American women. It was through my own investigations that I found images of architects similar to myself and my culture. Gradually, Paul Revere Williams became my Mies. Norma Merrick Sklarek became my F.L. Wright. Dina Griffith became my Renzo. Sharon Sutton could eloquently express my angst—preparing me for the suppression of the African American voice and visibility in the profession.

In my current position as Project Designer at Robert P. Madison International, I am surrounded by a rich history of architectural contributions from an African American owned firm, currently led by Sandra Madison. I make special attempts to show my face to those who are considering pursuing a design career, and try to persuade those with interest.

Currently, the United States has under 400 licensed African American women architects, making up just under .4% of the greater architect population. We have a desperate need for more representation. The diversity rates nationally in architecture are not keeping up with the changing communities that the profession is called upon to serve. African Americans comprise 13.9% of Ohio’s population. Strikingly, Ohio has 2,650 licensed architects, but only 63 are African American—that’s only 2% of the profession. This disparity has been evident since the inception of the profession. In 2015, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) initiated a deeper conversation about this matter. The AIA surveyed its members and supporters about the perception of diversity and also examined the relationship of diversity to success in the field. Its closing analysis suggested changes in hopes of creating greater equality and more balanced numbers. Communities and demographics are steadily changing, yet, the demographics of the designers of these same spaces are not keeping pace.

As the new president of the National Organization of Minority Architects Student Chapter (NOMAS) at Kent State University, Michelle Barrett is working towards creating and sustaining a space of support for students of color in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED). We recently discussed her ambitions to move past potential and into action in the architecture world’s quickly approaching future. Though the Kent State diversity numbers in the architecture and design programs seem to align with the national averages, the opportunity for a NOMAS chapter to spark a change is hopeful. The current minority students, and specifically Michelle, seem to recognize the importance of support for students of color at Kent State and are working towards change.

Michelle and I had the following conversation about her experience leading the NOMAS Chapter and her plans for the future.

Design Awards Michele and MichelleLeft to Right: Terrance Pitts (Turner Construction), Michelle Barrett, Michele Crawford, Teresa Giralt (Turner Construction), Amir Allenbey at the AIA Cleveland Design Awards

 

Michelle Barrett
Hometown: Gaithersburg, MD
Class / Year: Class of 2017, 4th year
Major: Architecture

 

MC: How did you hear about Kent State?

MB: As many black youth, I thought my future was in sports. I played soccer all of my life up until I tore my ACL during my senior year. Kent State was on my list of schools (for soccer) because my coach had past connections. After it was clear that I wouldn’t be playing sports in college, I had to approach that list of schools differently. Which one would provide the best academic value? Kent State was the answer.

 

MC: What inspired you to pursue the architecture path?

MB: I have always been drawn to art and design. Probably because of my mother; she is a graphic designer. But I never really wanted to be an artist. I wanted to have an impact on people’s everyday lives, to help people. I didn’t know how or what career would allow me to do that. At an away soccer tournament in Miami, a player’s mother took us on a tour of Downtown Miami. She gave us a history lesson on all the Art Deco inspired architecture and the type of events that happened there. I fell in love. At that point I realized how I could be creative, yet impactful, in society.

 

MC: Why NOMAS? Why now? 

MB: I did not previously know about NOMA/NOMAS until CAED Associate Dean Bill Willoughby initiated discussions on the topic. He was and continues to be an integral part of NOMAS here at Kent. After the initial informational presentations he gave students, a group of us students took the lead in formalizing the organization. The other students involved included: Torri Appling, Shelton Finch, and Zai Abdi. I personally took ownership of the process because I thought it was important to have an organization devoted to minority issues (diversity, inclusion, fellowship, etc) in relation to architecture. It’s a unique niche that cannot be fully realized in groups such as Black United Students (BUS).

 

MC: Have you ever felt as if you were treated unfairly because of your gender or race?

MB: On many occasions, people are surprised to hear about my academic achievements—be it my choice of major or my honors standing. After many years, their surprise no longer catches me off guard. However, I still feel an injustice when said individuals expect you to be 10x better than your peers. They hold you to different standards and it is unfair.

 

MC: What has been you favorite studio project?

MB: My favorite studio project was in Third Year Studio—The Media Center Library—a part of the Cleveland International School masterplan. It was the first time we interacted with real clients—the community, the students.

 

MC: As president what are the main goals that you have for the organization?

MB: My main goals for the organization include career development (educational and professional), community engagement in the Greater Cleveland area, and to ensure that the NOMAS voice continues to be heard as a legacy organization in the future CAED community.

 

***

Historically, the voice of the African American architect has been suppressed. However, as our world continues to change, the profession seems to be committed to making the field a more inclusive and welcoming place for all. Organizations like Design Diversity are working to push accountability in this matter. Design Diversity, an advisory committee which grew out of Kent State’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC), is committed to educating, connecting, and celebrating diversity in the design professions. Specifically focusing on African American and Latino communities, this group has specific goals of awareness to the larger design community with hopes of encouraging authentic, diverse views and considerations within and throughout the design process. Ultimately, Design Diversity and NOMA/NOMAS are promoting the importance of varied voices in educational and professional design communities.

 

Michele Crawford, Assoc. AIA, is a Project Designer at Robert P. Madison International, based in Cleveland, Ohio. Michele serves on a number of service organizations, including the Design Diversity Advisory Committee. In 2016, Michele was recognized with the Activism Award by AIA Cleveland. Follow Michele on Twitter @initiat_ed.

 

 

References:

NCARB By the Numbers 2015
http://www.ncarb.org/About-NCARB/NCARB-by-the-Numbers/~/media/Files/PDF/Special-Paper/2015NCARBbytheNumbers.ashx

African American Architects Directory
http://blackarch.uc.edu/

Diversity in the Profession of Architecture
http://www.aia.org/aiaucmp/groups/aia/documents/pdf/aiab108092.pdf

African Americans in Ohio
https://development.ohio.gov/files/research/P7003.pdf

 

08-02-16

CUDC’s 3rd Annual Crooked River Commute

crc_2016

This summer, August 26-27, Kent State University faculty and staff will embark on the 3rd Annual Crooked River Commute. This kayaking trek along the Cuyahoga River from Kent State University’s main campus (Kent) to Kent State’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (Cleveland) is intended to promote the river as a shared regional asset for education, recreation, and sustainability.

Cheer us on as we paddle into the Great Lakes Burning River Fest

Meet us at the finish of the trip. We should arrive in Cleveland on Saturday, August 26th, around 7:15 PM. Grab a beer at the Coast Guard Station during The Burning River Festival and watch us paddle in.

Follow us for updates. 

We’ll keep everyone posted on trip details through the CUDC’s social media accounts.
Follow us at: crookedrivercommute.org
Facebook: ksuCUDC 
Twitter: @ksuCUDC
Instagram: @ksuCUDC

Share our story.

Tell your friends, family and social network about the Crooked River Commute. We’ll be using social media during the trip, using hashtag: #RiverCommute

Learn More. 

Read our summary to learn more about the back story and goals of this trip. 

2015 photos

2014 photos

10-29-15

Commuting the Crooked River; Making a Present out of History

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by Dax Roman Godkin

Morning. The river glistens with sunlight and possibilities. I paddle my kayak around a bend. A magnificent great blue heron rises from its quiet hunt in front of me in the river. I have disturbed its potential breakfast and it will have to seek different hunting grounds. The extended spread of the heron’s wings carries it into the horizon, two skinny little legs dangling along like an afterthought.

I am on the Second Annual Crooked River Commute down the Cuyahoga River. Organized by David Jurca, Associate Director of Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collective (CUDC), this trip begins at Kent State’s main campus and ends near the CUDC in Cleveland. More precisely, the trip ends at the river’s egress into Lake Erie at the U.S. Coast Guard station at Whiskey Island, site of the Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Burning River Festival. Many of us brought our own equipment, but there was a generous contribution of boats and gear from Mark Pecot from 41 North Coastal Kayak Adventures. Additional gear was rented from Dan Hudak of River Cruiser Kayaking.

The purpose of this event is to “promote the river as a shared regional asset for education, recreation, and sustainability.” Our intention, besides just enjoying the river, is to look for areas of improvement along the 50-mile stretch of river between Kent and Lake Erie.

The Cuyahoga River has the dubious reputation of catching on fire in the late 1960’s. This was not an isolated event. River fires were not uncommon in those days, but this particular fire became the catalyst for the creation of both the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency. Vast improvements in water quality on the river have come about from the interventions of these governmental agencies. There are over forty species of fish that call the Cuyahoga River home, many of which live only in clean waters.

The group met for the first time at Waterworks Park in Kent. Most of us were strangers with David being the primary connection between us. I knew David because we had lived in the same neighborhood for a time. When I heard about last year’s trip, I made sure that I got myself included in this year’s adventure by consistently pestering him for months.
Another member of the crew, David Brandt, a Cleveland Heights native and graduate of Kent State who now resides in the Washington DC area, read about the trip in an alumni newsletter and similarly pestered David to be included. Sometimes it pays to be perseverant.

There was one return member from last year’s trip, Chris Maurer, a freelance architect and instructor at Kent State, who would act as our primary scout and guide.

We all said our hellos and had a little breakfast, then hit the water for the morning.

The weather could not have been nicer, seventy-five degrees, slightly overcast, with an occasional breeze to keep it cool.

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The water through Kent was placid and serene. However, as we expected, the water levels of the river were a little low. High-centered on the bedrock and gravel riverbed several times, we scooted our way into deeper water or just got out of the boats and walked around the longer shallows. This did not take away from the beauty of the morning as we wound around the bends in this truly crooked river, talking and laughing, getting to know one another without the usual filters.

Conversations were often interrupted with the necessity to pay attention as we maneuvered through the obstacles and occasional obstructions in the river. We all watched and learned from each other, sometimes following in a member’s path as they had obviously chosen a good line through the potential stickiness, others going a different way as they got stuck in their path; the low water levels adding spice to the complex decision making processes.

We stopped for lunch and a necessary portage of the Sheraton Falls in Cuyahoga Falls. These falls are impassible for all but the most experienced paddlers.

Charles Frederick of the CUDC was in charge of the truck for this portion of the trip. Charles, a member of last year’s Commute, was quite disappointed that a shoulder injury kept him out of this year’s trip. However, his and others efforts as the support crew were invaluable assets to the trip.

A good portion of us rode with the gear in the back of the truck. We felt we were on a secret spy mission during the dark, jostley ride to the next put-in below the falls.

The next section of the trip took us past Akron and into the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Read more…

09-12-14

ULI Cleveland Campus Series: Connecting Downtown Kent and KSU

uli_kent

ULI’s Cleveland Campus Series will take place Thursday, October 2, 2014 in Kent, OH

An in depth look at how a mid-size city, the State’s 2nd largest university, regional public transit, and private developers collaborated during the economic downturn to link a declining city district with the university’s campus. Utilizing over $110 million in public and private investments, the effort transformed a four block area into the new home for multiple corporate headquarters, 15+ shops and restaurants, high-end residential, hotel, and publicly funded parking garage.

REGISTER NOW!

Schedule
3:30pm – Registration
4:00pm – Panel Presentation
5:00pm – Q & A
5:30pm – Cocktail Reception at Bricco

Event Pricing
Member $20/$30
Non-Member $35/$45

Registrations made after Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Member $40/$50
Non-Member $55/$65

Location
PARTA Parking Garage
Conference Room
201 East Erie Street
Kent, OH 44240

 

01-27-14

James Thompson Lunch Lecture | Jan 31

Garfield Scholars group led by James Thompson (lower right) in front of a fountain at the Plaza de San Francisco in Old Havana, Cuba. Photo credit: Hiram College

Join us January 31st at the CUDC for a Friday Lunch Lecture by James Thompson entitled, Designing the Future: Politics, Architecture, and the Cuban Aesthetic Question.

James Thompson is Associate Professor in Political Science at Hiram College. He received his Bachelor’s of Arts from Saint Mary’s College of California, and his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Notre Dame. Thompson specializes in International Relations and Political Theory.

The event is free and open to the public. RSVPs appreciated at: cudc@kent.edu

Friday, January 31st
12:15PM – 1:15PM
Kent State CUDC
1309 Euclid Avenue, Suite 200
(Playhouse Square, Downtown Cleveland)

11-01-10

CUDC Grand Opening Promo Video

Thanks go out to Kent State’s University Communications and Marketing office for creating this video of our opening reception held September 15, 2010. We were glad to have Kent State president Lester Lefton, the board of trustees and so many of our friends in attendance for the event.

If you weren’t able to attend the opening, please stop by to say ‘hello’ and see our new space at 1309 Euclid Ave., Suite 200. We couldn’t have asked for a better landlord than PlayhouseSquare and we enjoy running into our new neighbors at Moko, our go-to coffee and lunch spot. Although we still have fond memories of the ol’ triangle building, sometimes change can be a good thing.

10-01-10

William McDonough Lecture : 10/12/2010

mcdonough-poster2_web

William McDonough, founding principal of William McDonough + Partners and author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, will be speaking on Tuesday, October 12 beginning at 7:30pm in Cartwright Auditorium on the Kent State University main campus. A link to the event venue map is located below. Admission is free.

View Location Map