Chicago-based architect Jason Pugh begins his two-year term as president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) on January 1, 2021. The Denver native will be the group’s first leader who is both a licensed architect and a certified planner.

A 2005 graduate of Howard University—one of seven of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) with an architecture accreditation—Pugh earned his Master of Science in Architecture and Urban Design from Columbia University. In his day job with Gensler, he is a passionate advocate for elevating underserved communities through high-quality affordable housing and participatory design. He spoke with record by phone to discuss his goals for NOMA.

Tell me about your history with NOMA.

As an undergraduate, I helped resurrect the student chapter at Howard University and served as president. In ’07, when I moved to Chicago, NOMA was one of the first organizations that I connected with. I eventually became president of the Illinois chapter.

What has the organization meant to you as an architect and as a leader?

When I think of NOMA, I honestly just think of family. I’ve met a long list of mentors and friends through the organization, including 2019–2020 president Kimberly Dowdell, who I met at my very first conference, in 2008, and Pascale Sablan. Pascale was just voted in as president-elect, so she’ll be my successor and my right hand. Overall, NOMA offers a deep pool of people who inspire and challenge me. Seeing others excel in their own fields gives you fuel to find your own passion projects.

What are your goals as president?

Kim has done an amazing job of steering the ship during one of the most difficult moments in our country’s history, and an unprecedented one. I have some tremendously large shoes to fill. Fortunately, there has been continuous dialogue between Kim, Pascale, and me over the last year. We want to sustain the momentum of Kim’s platform, which focused on access, legacy, and leadership. Building on that great foundation, my platform will be to educate, elevate, and empower members.

What does education look like?

We will expand and rebrand Project Pipeline to support young minority professionals all the way through licensure. There will also be a new focus on HBCUs, starting with an advisory committee of students, faculty, and alumns from each school. And I think it’s critically important for us to better track metrics. We need to know whether students who move through mentorship programs are graduating from architecture school and entering the profession, to see if we’re really moving the needle.

As for elevating and empowering members?

The elevation piece will focus on our professional members, aiming to strengthen the performance and engagement of our local chapters and to enhance the value of being part of the organization. And, in terms of empowerment, we hope to create more economic opportunities for our members through an initiative called Leveraged Legacy, which will partner some of our more established NOMA firms with young entrepreneurs and early-career professionals, to share resources, contacts, and lessons learned.

This has been a tough year in many ways. Do you feel hopeful about the future?

I do. There has been so much uncertainty and conflict across the board, but I have also seen more support and understanding than ever before: I’ve seen people going the extra mile to have really tough conversations; I’ve seen industry players go out of their way to meaningfully engage with NOMA; I’ve seen firms start to look themselves in the mirror and focus on how they can do a better job.

I think the protests and unrest following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others have allowed us to zero in on some of our own inequities and disparities across the profession. I feel hopeful about what can be accomplished if we’re all very clear and focused on the same target goals, which we haven’t been before. That’s what I’m seeing.