Pictured below with the spiral car ramp, Detroit’s Cobo Center played host to the 1971 AIA National Convention, during which 12 African American designers founded NOMA. (Hiawatha Postcards)
National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA)
Leveling the professional playing field
At the 1971 AIA National Convention in Detroit, a dozen African American architects met to discuss the state of the profession . . . and to address what the group felt was a continued failure to recognize racial and socioeconomic inequalities that shaped the built environment. Nearly three years after Whitney Young’s famous keynote speech at the AIA National Convention in Portland—in which he implored architects to remedy social issues and diversify the profession—few efforts were making strides in supporting minority architects working in minority communities. Discriminatory policies, not to mention the era’s ongoing racial intolerance, barred many minority architects from design and construction projects.
To move the profession forward, these dedicated architects would create the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). Present at the fateful first meeting were William Brown, Leroy Campbell, Wendell Campbell, John S. Chase, James C. Dodd, Kenneth B. Groggs, Nelson Harris, Jeh Johnson, E.H. McDowell, Robert J. Nash, Harold Williams, and Robert Wilson—all names that would rise in professional and civic notoriety in the decades to come.
“Recognizing that the ‘majority’ would not hear their cries of unfairness, the group organized into an entity, NOMA, which could voice their dissatisfaction more clearly and loudly,” read the organization’s nomination for the 2007 Whitney Young Award. “Even if their message continued to fall on deaf ears, as a group, they could make significant strides towards leveling the playing field.”
Today, NOMA has become an influential voice in architecture, supporting the work and social activism of minority design professionals. With more than 30 chapters nationwide, NOMA leaders push for increased diversity at schools of architecture and help foster access to government policymakers. The organization produces a magazine to highlight current struggles within the field of architecture, celebrate the accomplishments of its members, and further cement the legacies of pioneering architects of color. NOMA, in partnership with AIA, also remains committed to emerging minority designers through scholarships, mentorships, and competitions. For its efforts, the organization received the 2007 Whitney Young Award.