SAY IT LOUD: Celebrating Diverse Architects and Designers

Strong and healthy communities, rich in diversity, make strong nations. As architects and designers, we have the power to represent more than ourselves, and representation is quintessential to achieving equitable diversity.

In underserved communities, poorly appointed architecture perpetuates inequity. These inequities more often adversely affect communities of color. As an architect, I deeply value collaborative processes of creating environments that reflect and sustain diversity and the dignity of human life. When studying architecture, one of my professors said I was incapable of becoming an architect because of my gender and race. I resent those words for having such prominence in my purpose, but those words have helped define a call to action. I aspire to inspire marginalized groups to understand the important role they can have in deciding and designing their environments.

"Hear Our Voices”

In 2018 , I founded Beyond the Built Environment, an organization that engages community through architecture to advocate equitable, reflectively diverse environments. We involve everyone (from preschoolers to practitioners to pundits) as critical stakeholders and advocates for just, diverse environments. We elevate the identities and contributions of women and diverse designers through exhibitions, curated lectures, and documentaries that testify to the provided value of their built work and its spatial impact.

Through our SAY IT LOUD initiative, we have gathered content on over 195 women and diverse designers. So far, we’ve hosted 14 SAY IT LOUD exhibitions at various events—including the United Nations Visitors Centre, SXSW, and the AIA Conference on Architecture—with an additional five exhibitions planned for 2020.

The concept for the exhibition is "to see our faces, hear our voices, feel our impact within the colorful tapestry of our heritage." SAY IT LOUD is a traveling activation and international movement of sharing, protecting, and celebrating the journey of local underrepresented designers to inspire the next generation. To further elevate those exhibitors, here are featured designers and projects from each of our exhibitions.

Architect Venesa Alicea, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP BD+C
Via Verde | SAY IT LOUD – United Nations

Images courtesy of Dattner Architects/Beyond the Built Environment, LLC

Who or what inspires you professionally?
Action. I am inspired by people who challenge the status quo so they can be a part of the change that they want to see in our cities. I am inspired by the work of J. Max Bond Jr. I am inspired by the work of the Design Trust for Public Space through the Leadership of Susan Chin. I am inspired by Whitney M. Young Jr., and his call to action to architects in 1968. I am inspired by the amazing work of all of the AIA Whitney M. Young Jr. Award winners.

Architect Mark Gardner, AIA, NOMA
Tanzania Beekeepers Asali & Nyuki Sanctuary | SAY IT LOUD – AIA 2018

Images courtesy of Jaklitsch/Gardner Architects/Beyond the Built Environment, LLC

How did you first learn about architecture, and when did you decide that the built environment profession was an area of interest for you?
I was always interested in new buildings and houses in construction. Wood framed houses always caught my attention. In high school I traveled to Paris in a study program and I was hooked. During high school, I also did a NASA program in material forensics—how materials fail. I could incorporate this stuff into building? Architecture was the perfect mixture of a love of art, science, history, and materials. I had a teacher who told me I could take it as far as I could imagine. I was always fortunate to have family and teachers who pushed me to stay curious. 

Architect Emmanuel Garcia, AIA
Chapel of St. Joseph at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe | SAY IT LOUD – Illinois

Images courtesy of Tom Harris Architectural Photography/Beyond the Built Environment, LLC

What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement?
The Dedication Service for the Chapel of St. Joseph was one of a kind. The project was truly community led, and to experience the congregation’s joyful celebration in their new space was one of the most moving moments of my entire life.

Designer Yolande Daniels
Mizuta Museum of Art | SAY IT LOUD – New York

Images courtesy of Studio SUMO/Beyond the Built Environment, LLC

What excites you in the work you do?
I am excited by many things in my work from design problem solving to design problem creation; from operating on an idea as a barely formed germ to formalizing and constructing the idea whether it is written or otherwise constructed. I consider the practice to consist of meditations on ideas and forms. I am also inspired by the consistency of practice as well as the idiosyncrasies and chance in acts of creation. Although I do work alone and enjoy it, I have spent most of my practice as a partnership, and I enjoy working with other creatives flowing ideas back and forth and seeing them grow and flourish as they are realized. 

Architect Michael Marshall, AIA, NOMA, NCARB
UDC New Student Center | SAY IT LOUD – SXSW 2019

Images courtesy of Michael Marshall Design/Beyond the Built Environment, LLC

What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement?
Being asked to design the student center at University of the District of Columbia, where I studied in the 70s when it was a technical school—contributing to its growth for the next generation (many are the first in their families to attend college).

Designer Sneha Mansukhani, Intl. Assoc. AIA
Hospital Creative Space: Major Healthcare Facility | SAY IT LOUD – Pennsylvania

Images courtesy of Ed Rombout/Beyond the Built Environment, LLC

How did you first learn about architecture, and when did you decide that the built environment profession was an area of interest for you?
A creative artist since a young age, I learned about architecture in the tenth grade when I took up technical drawing as a subject, which introduced me to the visual communication of objects to drawings using tools leading me to pursing architecture.

Architect Daimian Hines
Jamaica Houses of Parliament | SAY IT LOUD – AIA 2019

Images courtesy of Hines Architecture + Design/Beyond the Built Environment, LLC

What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement?
This submission is perhaps one of those moments. I was born and spent my early childhood in Jamaica. To be selected as the architect to design the country’s future Houses of Parliament, is a great honor.

Architect Siboney Diaz Sanchez, AIA
ChildSafe | SAY IT LOUD(er) – SXSW 2019

Images courtesy of Overland Partners/Beyond the Built Environment, LLC

What excites you in the work you do?
The people. This project was about listening to how spaces can contribute to healing traumas and how design can contribute to better mental health. I want to be learning always.

Architects William J. Stanley III, FAIA, NOMA, and Ivenue Love-Stanley, FAIA, NOMA
Georgia Tech Student Athletic Complex | SAY IT LOUD – Georgia

Images courtesy of Georgia Tech/Beyond the Built Environment, LLC

What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement?
Ivenue: In 1983 I became the first African-American woman licensed architect in the Southeast.
William: Being elevated to Fellow [of] the American Institute of Architects.

How did you first learn about architecture and when did you decide that built environment profession was an area of interest for you?
William:
I first learned about architecture as a young child. Not long after that it became my dream to become an architect one day.

Designer Zachary J. Robinson, Assoc. AIA
Martin Luther King Jr. and Hampton Heroes Memorial Plaza | SAY IT LOUD – Virginia

Images courtesy of Zachary J. Robinson/ Beyond the Built Environment, LLC

What excites you in the work you do?
Designing a place that a person or a group have pride for is what excites me most. The second most exciting part of design is when the community impacted by the design takes ownership of the work and champions it forward.

Architect Rodney Leon, AIA, NOMA
The Ark of Return | SAY IT LOUD – NOMA 2018

Image courtesy of Rodney Leon Architects PLLC/Beyond the Built Environment, LLC

What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement?
My proudest professional accomplishment is the design for the African Burial Ground Memorial in Lower Manhattan (not pictured). The process involved in competing, designing, presenting, managing, and constructing the memorial was extremely challenging and complex.  

Perkins & Wills
Destination Crenshaw | SAY IT LOUD – NOMA 2019

Images courtesy of Perkins&Will/Beyond the Built Environment, LLC

What excites you in the work you do?
Architect Gabrielle Bullock, FAIA, NOMAC, IIDA: Being able to marry my architectural endeavors with my commitment to social justice has enriched my professional life. There is nothing more satisfying than contributing to the transformation of a neighborhood, a community, a city.

What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement?
Architect Malcolm Davis, AIA: I am most proud and grateful to have been able to lead and hopefully inspire diverse teams; encouraging many voices to contribute to the design process, setting the stage for the people who will inhabit our buildings to take ownership, benefit from the process, and fully embrace their new facilities. With a trained ear and a constant desire to make a difference, maintaining the nimbleness to understand rapidly evolving client needs and promoting the convergence of design thought are factors that propel me to continue pushing forward with practice.

How did you first learn about architecture and when did you decide that the built environment profession was an area of interest for you?
Architect Drake Dillard, AIA, NOMAC:
 I first learned about architecture in high school drafting class. Like my father, I was interested in art, so I was thinking of becoming and artist. After my second year in high school, it was clear that designing buildings to help people was my goal.

What do you do?
Architect Zena Howard, FAIA: 
As Managing Director, my goal is design excellence achieved through mentoring staff and working with some of the best clients and communities. As a principal architect, I engage deeper in the design and execution of our most meaningful work.


One of the ultimate goals of the Beyond the Built Environment initiative is to develop a textbook that expounds on the exhibition research of our SAY IT LOUD programming. In the interim, we created the Great Diverse Architects Digital Library to house the content gathered through these various exhibitions and continue elevating the work of featured designers.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).