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HOK’s Kimberly Dowdell Discusses Diversity in Architecture in Advance of NOMA Conference

Kimberly Dowdell HOK

The National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) will host its 47th annual conference in Brooklyn Oct. 16-20. NOMA President Kimberly Dowdell previews the event and shares her vision for a more inclusive, community-minded profession.

Kimberly Dowdell returned to HOK this past spring as business development director in the Chicago office, utilizing her unique educational background in both architecture and public administration. As the current president of NOMA and a new co-chair of HOK’s Diversity Advisory Council, she recognizes the need to focus on inclusivity and mentorship both at HOK and across the profession so architects better represent the communities they serve.

During her first stretch at HOK a decade ago, Kim identified an opportunity for the firm to give back to local communities. She helped found HOK Impact, which encourages employees to make a difference in their cities through volunteer work and pro-bono services.

Recently Kim spoke with Madame Architect and appeared on an Archinect Sessions podcast to discuss her hometown of Detroit, her goals as NOMA president, her hopes for the architecture profession and what to look forward to at the NOMA Conference.

Excerpted from Madame Architect:

On returning to HOK:

I kept looking at these downtown buildings; what I really love are the big urban interventions. Eventually, I started to have conversations with my former colleagues at HOK and they expressed that there was a need within the Chicago office to actually look at our entire business within the Midwest. When I started the conversation, it was about beginning a Detroit office with HOK, but we decided to focus on strengthening Chicago for the moment. HOK has been supportive of my role with NOMA, so I get to cover a lot of ground. I have really loved my return to architecture.

On the biggest challenges she has seen in the architecture profession:

Figuring out how I want to spend my time is somewhat of a challenge—finding the time to both deal with diversity issues, and be a professional and advance that aspect of my career. I’m passionate about urban revitalization, particularly Rust Belt cities, and places that have a rich history but have been disinvested. How do we reactivate these buildings with people and vibrant businesses? Ultimately, my professional mission is to improve the quality of life for people living in cities.

On NOMA and her presidency platform

There is work to be done with the institutions and organizations that produce the people who shape the built environment. My two-year NOMA presidency is an opportunity to focus on that. The programs that I’m looking to put in place now, if done well, can have a major impact on diversifying the profession.

My platform for the two years is “ALL in for NOMA” signaling that all people are invited to join. There’s a misconception that you have to be a minority, or African-American, or Hispanic. Sure, it was founded by twelve African-Americans in 1971 in response to the fact there was no organization to help facilitate community for that group, but since then we’ve become a much larger organization.

All are invited to join, but “ALL” is also an acronym for ‘access,’ ‘leadership,’ and ‘legacy.’ How do we make sure that we support everyone through that pipeline?

Advice to those starting their careers in the built environment:

Find a mentor and be a mentor. It’s really the secret to success. Not just mentorship, but relationship building in general. Even peer-to-peer, being a sounding board to people is important. No one has all the answers, but if you have a problem and you source solutions from a wider variety of people, you’ll be able to make a stronger decision because of the diversity of thought that’s gone into counseling you. Mentorship in both directions is really critical. NOMA is a great place to start!

Listen to her interview on the Archinect Sessions podcast:

HOK at NOMA ’19

HOK is proud to be diamond level sponsor for this year’s NOMA conference. Additionally, HOK’s people will be speaking at multiple sessions throughout the conference. President Carl Galioto will give a welcome address on Oct. 18, Assistant General Counsel Donovan Olliff will speak on AIA contract documents on Oct. 17 and Director of Sustainable Design Anica Landreneau will present on building performance standards on Oct. 18. The HOK table at the job fair on Oct. 18 will provide resume and portfolio reviews. Learn more about the NOMA conference.

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