Chicago's architectural community is trying to diversify with the help of a new fellowship

Darcel Rockett, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

“For our younger population, we want them to feel inspired. And most importantly, we want them to see women that look like them that are successful in the field. And likewise for students and people who are studying architecture,” Hughes said. “Another important component of the website, the building of a network. Within these women’s profiles, if you click on them, their social media or LinkedIn profiles are connected as links, allowing Black women to actually cross reference, meet and connect with each other.”

Already professionals from Canada, the Virgin Islands and Trinidad are aboard. Hughes said she’s in talks with Black architects from the United Kingdom. Hughes said she wanted First 500 to be global because statistics for Black architects are stark in other parts of the world as well. The website also has a leadership board and an advisory council comprised of Black women in architecture. Years in the making, Hughes said there’s more to come on the platform.

Hughes continues to talk to students from her alma mater, hoping to see more Black faces in the mix and when she does, she pulls her in front of all her peers to say: ‘You belong here. A fan of Dina Griffin and Jeanne Gang, Hughes said architecture is a part of her DNA.

“I grew up in the ghettos of St. Louis and when I was a very young child, learning that there’s people out there that can design the world around us to be a better place was something that has always stuck with me and it still sticks with me to this day,” Hughes said. “All of us have a lot more work to do if we want to see more of our Black and brown babies getting into architecture. And it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation.”

Hughes is also an adjunct professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, a commissioner with the City of Chicago Landmarks Commission (she just landmarked Emmet Till’s Chicago residence and is working on Muddy Waters’ home), and a real estate broker. She uses all of her intersectionality as a resource in as many spaces as possible to aid in her effort.


“Because we can’t move forward if everyone is afraid to say something and to grow and evolve and learn,” she said. “I’m jumping into these spaces and being a resource and a voice.”

Applications for UIC’s fellowship, specifically for students of color coming into the Masters of Architecture program, are due Jan. 15, 2022. UIC tries to get high school students interested in architecture too, with a summer program called HiArch, taught by faculty members in the UIC School of Architecture. An introduction to studying architecture at the college level, participants work through design exercises, receive one-on-one feedback from instructors and current UIC students, and engage in group discussions and tutorials.

“Ray and Jim share UIC’s vision for architecture and its practice, as an attractor for inclusion and difference,” Woolley said. “We’re hoping that in addition to the immediate impact that the gift gives to our students and to UIC, that it will provide a model that’s inspiring to other firms in the city who want to collaborate with us who share that vision. So then, we’re starting other pipelines and eventually diversifying the entire industry. That’s the goal, that there will always be this pipeline that’s being fed.”

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