For the first time in the event’s history, the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) 48th annual conference commenced in a fully virtual format. Following an unprecedented year of global unrest and uncertainty, the online event will have an audience of over 1,500 registered participants from October 14–18, making it NOMA’s most well attended conference ever, with most sessions counting towards AIA continuing education credit. This year’s theme, Spatial Shifts: Reclaiming Our Cities, is especially pertinent to current issues.

“When faced with the difficult question of whether or not to cancel our in-person conference at the onset of the pandemic earlier this year, we decided to prioritize the health and safety of our members. In light of this decision and recognizing how much our members need each other,  now more than ever before, we opted to forge into the unfamiliar territory of delivering a virtual conference experience,” says Kimberly Dowdell, 2019-2020 NOMA president and HOK principal (she is also RECORD's 2020 Women in Architecture Awards Activist honoree) in a statement.

Kimberly Dowdell speaking at the 2019 conference. Image © Neville Simpson Photography
“We are gathering online to discuss the pressing issues that COVID-19 brought to light with NOMA members and colleagues from across the industry. As architects, we are responsible for shaping the future of the built environment,” she continues. “In the shadows of this pandemic, it is critical that our profession is better equipped to help foster greater health and wellbeing for people in all communities, particularly those that suffer from the greatest health and wealth disparities in our nation. NOMA members expect to be on the frontlines of these issues moving forward.” 

With the national percentage of registered minority architects hovering around a mere 2%, the organization launched the NOMA Foundation Fellowship (NFF), a new program to increase minority licensure. The NFF began this past summer, virtually, as a two-month research fellowship for 30 architecture students. The pandemic’s effect on soaring unemployment rates has been a recent point of focus for NOMA leadership. The fellowship is designed to provide professional experience to students with the goal of keeping them engaged in the profession, fueling the pipeline with underrepresented young architects, and leading to eventual employment. “In all recessions, including the current one, minorities are often the most adversely impacted by job loss,” NOMA said in a statement. The organization plans to continue the program this winter.

“Mentorship is a key component to the success of any architect, and almost any NOMA member can name at least three people that helped them overcome obstacles to get them to where they are now,” says Dowdell. “The fellowship is a means to formalize that support structure for minority students and open the process of giving to NOMA members and non-members who wish to support the program with a named fellowship.”  

Jason Pugh will be inducted as NOMA’s 2021-2022 president during the conference. Image courtesy NOMA

This is the last year in Dowdell’s NOMA presidency. During an online awards brunch on Saturday, October 17, Dowdell will induct incoming President Jason Pugh, an architect and certified planner at Gensler’s Chicago office. Pugh’s two-year term as president begins on January 1, 2021.

NOMA’s 2021 conference is scheduled to be held in Detroit next fall.