december 15, 2006

NOMA Receives Whitney Young Jr. Award
Organization honored for promoting profession and increasing diversity

by Heather Livingston
Contributing Editor

Summary: The AIA Board of Directors on December 7 selected the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) as the recipient of the 2007 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award, given to an architect or organization that exemplifies the profession’s responsibility to society. The award honors the contributions of Whitney Young Jr., outspoken civil rights activist and head of the Urban League from 1961 until his death in 1971. At the 1968 AIA national conference, Young shamed the audience of architects for their social reticence and challenged them to become a positive force for social change, saying, “You are not a profession that has distinguished itself by your social and civic contributions to the cause of civil rights. You are most distinguished by your thunderous silence and your complete irrelevance.”

NOMA’s nomination was submitted by the Boston Society of Architects and supported by six previous Whitney M. Young Jr. Award recipients. In her letter of nomination, Jane Weinzapfel, FAIA, partner of the 2007 AIA Firm Award recipient Leers Weinzapfel, writes, “Although we have repeatedly acknowledged the relative homogeneity of our profession and our commitment to diversify it, we have failed to [increase significantly the number of African-American architects].” Thirty-eight years after Young’s call for action and 35 years after its creation, NOMA was selected for its unfailing dedication to promoting the architecture profession with the goal of increasing diversity among practitioners.

Preeminent voice for minority architects
NOMA was formed to address the existence and impact of racism during the late 1960s and ’70s and acknowledge how socio-economic conditions negatively influence the built environment of poor and oppressed Americans. In 1971, at the AIA national convention, 12 African-American architects formed NOMA to voice dissatisfaction with the status quo and begin the task of equalizing the opportunities and design practices of black architects. Thirty-five years later, NOMA remains the preeminent voice for minority architects.

“NOMA has given greater visibility to African-American architects, provided ‘role-models’ for students, and informed the general public,” says J. Max Bond, FAIA, in his letter of support for NOMA. “Through the establishment of student chapters and by inviting students to attend its meetings, NOMA has helped young people learn about and become members of the profession.” Indeed, NOMA’s commitment to students of color interested in pursuing careers in architecture may prove to be the organization’s greatest legacy.

NOMA’s commitment to students of color interested in pursuing careers in architecture may prove to be the organization’s greatest legacy

The annual National Organization of Minority Architects Students (NOMAS) Student Design Competition has become the coveted award among minority architecture students across the country. The unique program highlights a cultural aspect, historic figure, or significant location that likely won’t be found in other design competitions, but the camaraderie and interaction among other architecture students and professionals is the compelling factor. The NOMA Conference provides students the opportunity to interact with professional architects for portfolio review, advice, internships, and career guidance. Conference seminars offer interns insight on the Architecture Registration Exam, Intern Development Program, portfolio development, interview skills, and resume writing. NOMA also has held a regional ARE preparation program for interns.

Career choice awareness
Additionally, NOMA has begun to make inroads in primary education to make minority youth, and their parents, aware of architecture as a career choice. NOMA has financially supported organizations like Chicago-based ADventure Program, which introduces minority disadvantaged students to architecture and the built environment. NOMA also partnered with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to support their National Afro-Academic Cultural Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) Competition for high school students interested in architecture.

Today we are present and accountable in the AIA

“Architectural students of color gravitate to NOMA because of its sensitivity to their needs,” says Leon Bridges, FAIA, FNOMA, in his letter of support. “NOMA’s membership is small, but its striving for excellence for minority architects continues to increase in its intensity. NOMA’s mere presence provides hope to hundreds of graduating minority architects for their inclusion in an otherwise, still, white-dominated profession.”

Adds NOMA cofounder Van B. Bruner Jr., FAIA: “Over 30 years have [passed] now and NOMA has and is realizing those goals created by the group in the ’70s. Today we are present and accountable in the AIA. Our dream has taken flight. We have contributed to the AIA and America a segment of our society that would have been lost were it not for NOMA.”


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