The principal in HOK’s Chicago office is honored for pushing for healthier cities and equity in the design profession as president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA).
Excerpted from Crain’s Chicago Business.
Kimberly Dowdell is a change agent disguised as an architect, looking to her profession for solutions to some of society’s biggest problems.
As an undergraduate at Cornell University, the Detroit native co-founded the Social Economic Environmental Design Network, an initiative that sets economic, social and environmental justice standards for projects. Ten years ago, she came up with a personal mission statement: “To improve the quality of life for people in cities.”
This year, Dowdell, who went on to earn a master’s in public administration from Harvard University, won the American Institute of Architects’ Young Architect Award for her “exceptional leadership” and “significant contributions” to the field. In Chicago, Dowdell, who is director of business development in HOK’s Chicago office, leads groups exploring redevelopment initiatives in Little Village and Bronzeville with the Chicago Central Area Committee.
“She has kind of a soft humility, but she is so wicked smart and generous with her time,” says Kelly O’Brien, the civic group’s director.
As NOMA’s president, a role she relinquishes in December, Dowdell has brought an architect and planner’s perspective to the recent debate over how the country can bridge its racial divides. And she’s especially proud that the Washington-based group has more than doubled its membership, to 2,000, since she became president in January 2019.
The events of 2020 have tested Dowdell, whose day job keep her busy, too. “This has been an especially intense year,” she says.
But she has show extraordinary grace under pressure, says Riccardo Mascia, managing principal of HOK’s Chicago studio, who hired Dowdell in 2019. “Her capacity is quite unbelievable,” Mascia says. “She’s quite unflappable that way.”