Congratulations on the AIA 2013 Young Architects Award. How does it feel to be honored in this way?
It is an extreme honor to be selected as a recipient of this award – and I don’t take it lightly. For a farm boy from small town in South Carolina, it is exciting while also humbling. But with honor and recognition comes great responsibility – responsibility to not settle but to continue to strive for causes larger than me.
How do you think architecture can transform a community?
I have seen how a successful project can change the mindset of a community, especially in impoverished areas. People are always looking for something that they can be proud of. It may be a child that does well in school, it may be a promotion at work, and in other instances, it’s a school or a recreation center that addresses the needs of that particular community. And when the community embraces the structure and takes ownership in it, that's when you know that your hard work and planning has not been in vain.
What types of projects do you most enjoy working on? Are you currently working on a project that you find particularly engaging?
I take particular interest in projects in which the owner has a great passion for the ministry or service they are actively engaging or providing the community with. In these particular instances, the building is purely an instrument of facilitation, and often times, there is little to no budget. This creates a unique opportunity to make lemons out of lemonades, by stretching the dollars through innovative and creative uses of materials and systems to provide the best space for the end user(s).
There is a project in the Fair Park area of Dallas that I am currently working on. It is a replacement Middle School for Dallas Independent School District and will bring together the African American and Hispanic communities. There is an array of activity that surrounds the school – some good and some bad. However, when the school opens this fall, not only will these two cultures converge into one academic culture, but also, a safe and exciting place to learn will made available to students of various socio-economic backgrounds.
What do you think is the most challenging aspect of being an architect?
Humility! The patriarchs of my family would often tell the young folks "you’re starting to smell yourself." This term was reflective of being a conceited or arrogant person. I’ve noticed a number of architects that lose sight of the needs of their clients and instead try to create edifices to glorify themselves. Our job is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the general public while creating spaces that elevate the quality of work and life for those that utilize and reside within. When we lose sight of this, we experience failures in the delivery of the project.
Can you tell us about your leadership in the Emerging Professionals group at the Dallas AIA chapter?
There are two programs provided by Dallas AIA that I have been involved in. The first is the Young Architect’s Forum (YAF), for which I am currently serving my second term as Chairperson. The YAF is critical to the AIA as it functions as the instrument to provide programming and support for young architects. YAF serves to “fill the gap” for the skills that are not easily obtainable at one’s respective firm or to provide opportunities of exposure to advance the professional development of our future leaders. The second offering is the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP). The ELP is a year-long leadership program consisting of emerging professionals from firms across the DFW area. It was a great opportunity to live and learn through the experiences of others.
Can you tell us a little bit about your community work? What do you think is the most important part of NOMA’s mission?
When my wife and I bought our first home in Little Elm, Texas in 2001, I took an interest in this then-small community of 3,000 residents. I started attending city council meetings and began building relationships with the city staff and public officials. This led to my appointment to the town’s first ever Bond Election Committee and ultimately a successful bond election. I would later run for Town Council (while being in my early 20’s) amongst a field of eight candidates and land in a run-off election with a former Town Councilmember, who was also a resident of the community for 30+ years. Even though I lost the run-off, another door of opportunity was opened. The council appointed me to the Board of Adjustments, and I would later become the chairman and serve in this role for two years.
In addition I am actively engaged in my church and constantly open and engaged in opportunities to talk to young people about the profession of architecture. I wasn’t exposed to the profession until I was a teenager, and I think that it is important for our future leaders to have exposure to a wide array of career paths at an early age.
When I first moved to Dallas, engaging with NOMA (National Organization of Minority Architects) was one of my first objectives. Integrating into the culture of a predominately white male profession at that time was intimidating for a young African American male from small town USA. One of the primary aims of NOMA is to “foster communication and fellowship among minority architects.” NOMA was like going back home and being around people with similar backgrounds and experiences. It of course doesn’t reflect the reality of the profession but it provides a form of commonality amongst individuals.
This interview is expanded content for Texas Architect March/April 2013.