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Q+A with Kimberly Dowdell, Director of Business Development in HOK’s Chicago Studio

Contract magazine featured Kimberly Dowdell as its “Designer You Should Know” for December 2019.

Dowdell talked about her passion for architecture, diversity and social justice as president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) and director of business development for HOK in Chicago.

Excerpted from the December 2019 issue of Contract:

How does your background inform your design and approach today?

Given the level of complexity involved in revitalization for a place like [my hometown of] Detroit, I began studying the issues very early on and learned the importance of community engagement, public sector leadership, and solid business acumen. For complex problems to be solved, all of the key stakeholders must have a voice in shaping the solutions. In the context of design and development, striking the appropriate balance between all of the various priorities is vital to delivering a successful project. From my perspective, a successful project is one that is delivered on time, on budget, and at the level of quality required by the client, which drives my approach to design and management.

As president of NOMA, what are you doing (or planning on doing) to advance representation in the architecture industry and fighting for professional equity?

As part of my 2019-2020 ALL in for NOMA presidential platform, we are bolstering and creating programs that provide greater Access, Leadership, and Legacy (ALL) building opportunities in the design profession for all people, but with a particular focus on the African American community. Since NOMA was founded by 12 African American architects in 1971, the percentage of black architects has remained around the 2 percent range. NOMA is committed to improving this statistic by building pipelines to the profession through our K-12 programming, supporting our student chapters, and helping our members navigate the licensure process. We also seek to create leadership opportunities for our licensed members and support our well-established members with awards, recognition, and even brass-tacks support like succession planning resources for firm owners. We welcome membership by anyone of any ethnic or racial background who is interested in seeing our industry become more diverse as we prepare for the future needs of increasingly more diverse clients and cities around the globe.

You’ve been quoted as saying that you believe in a quadruple bottom-line sustainability—incorporating financial, ecological, social and cultural priorities. Why do you think cities will be better off if we see greater cohesion between those quadruple line priorities?

Two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities or other urban centers by 2050, according to the United Nations. Meanwhile, by 2045, this country’s population will become mostly non-white according to the Brookings Institution. The racial problems we have today will only be exacerbated as density increases, and this includes cultural divides. We often confront finance, ecological, and increasingly, social issues in our design, but we also need to tackle cohesion as communities today head toward an increasingly more diverse and complex future. It can be achieved with balanced leadership, thoughtfulness, and inclusion in our design approach.

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