Virginia NOMA (VANOMA) is on the verge of becoming the newest chapter of NOMA (National Organization of Minority Architects). The organization was formed in 1971 and supports minority Architects, architecture interns and students providing education, training, mentoring and resources. Student chapters (NOMAS) exist on most university campuses with an architecture curriculum.
NOMA has a rich and distinguished history whose beginnings can be traced back to the 1968 AIA National Convention in Portland, Oregon where Whitney M. Young, Jr., executive director of the National Urban League was invited to give the keynote address. He challenged the architects present to become more involved in establishing diversity in our profession. His speech also motivated a group of African American architects at the conference to act. In 1971, twelve courageous architects and their spouses established the framework for an organization that would become NOMA.
The organization grew and expanded its base not only serving African Americans, but now boasts a membership as diverse as our country and has extended its reach beyond the US to include international chapters. Numbering in the tens of thousands, it serves members who felt disenfranchised from the established architectural system. With programs aimed at inclusion, education and professional development, NOMA has become an organization that gives both minority and majority members a parallel path to gaining entrance into the architectural profession. Similarly, the AIA realized it needed to do more and began its own initiatives to promote minority participation. Through its Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, it sought to assist NOMA by supporting it and creating forums for dialog about racial, gender and LGBTQ issues.
Realizing the common goals of the two organizations and as a means of formalizing a relationship, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was established between the AIA and NOMA in 2009 whereby members of both organizations would share information and resources. This MOU is renewable every three years and is still in effect.
Fast forward to 2020 and VANOMA is the newest chapter in the NOMA family. Led by a committed group of African American architects, interns and students from across the state, the synergy created by this group is encouraging to see in action. Several meetings have been held in Richmond at the state AIA headquarters and in the Hampton Roads area to create the organizational structure of the chapter, establish bylaws, gauge interest and encourage membership. One of the initial actions taken was the establishment of a Virginia MOU between AIA Virginia and VANOMA, similar to the document enacted by the national organizations.
As VANOMA finalizes its chapter’s creation, it continues to communicate with the national organization. It has adopted NOMA’s signature national program called Project Pipeline with an eye to rolling it out this summer. Project Pipeline is a program created to introduce grade school students with an interest in architecture to the profession through workshops, summer camps and year-long activities. The students will design projects with the help of professionals, interns and students who will assist them in learning basic architectural concepts. The setting for these activities can be a university campus or an architectural firm’s offices, after hours. The format of the activities can be adjusted to suit the number of students involved and can range from a one-day introductory seminar to year-round sessions. A curriculum has been formulated by the national organization and will be used by local chapters.
The intent of Project Pipeline is to encourage students to develop an understanding of the profession by offering structured learning in a fun, interesting and interactive environment. Architecture has long had the stigma of being too difficult and the educational process too long for many students to manage as a career. With early and extended exposure, we hope to avoid this roadblock and to provide a nurturing environment for students who already have an affinity for the profession. Although the chartering of the VANOMA chapter is not yet complete, we have taken on this challenge to begin a Project Pipeline program on a modest level this fall. With the COVID-19 pandemic, those plans may be delayed.
The future looks bright for the start of VANOMA. The leadership of this newly created chapter is dedicated and committed and with the support of interested groups in the profession around the state, we are encouraged. The assistance of AIA Virginia has proved invaluable in the early stages of VANOMA’s operation and we look forward to a fruitful partnership, contributing to VANOMA’s success.
Kenneth Martin, Emeritus AIA, NOMAC