Black Women in Architecture

Kathryn Prigmore

In 1991, at a time when there were fewer than 50 licensed African American women architects, an energetic group of women in Baltimore, Maryland, organized Black Women in Architecture (BWA).  Membership was open to any woman who had graduated from an architectural program or worked in the AEC industry. The group quickly formulated an organization under the leadership of Sharon Graeber, AIA; Alice Burley, Assoc, AIA; Pamela Fountain; Sharon Richmond, ASLA; and Cherie-Cooper Harris.

Many of the women had ties to Howard University, Morgan, the University of the District of Columbia, or Hampton University, making it easy for BWA to connect with the majority of the African American women in the AEC professions who worked in the Washington-Baltimore Metropolitan area.  

BWA was also loosely aligned with the New York Association of Black Women Architects and Design Professionals. Eventually women architects from as far away as Chicago participated in BWA activities.  

BWA’s original mission was “to enrich and improve the architectural and design communities at large by the promotion and worldwide recognition of its membership”. Its goals were:

  • to develop a means of meeting and networking with women of African American descent who are presently engaged in the practice of architecture and/or a related field (interior design, landscape architecture, construction administration, planning, engineering, and support areas.)”

  • to develop methods that will educate and increase public recognition of African Americans in the built environment professions

  • to gain an understanding of the dilemmas—culturally, socially, and politically—facing black women in these professions.

BWA mounted an exhibit of African American women’s work in Baltimore in 1992. The organization also held a quarterly brunch. For a brief period, the organization also published a newsletter. BWA discussed plans for an annual symposium, but this idea never came to fruition.

The program held on March 12, 1994, at the DC Design Center was its last official event. It included sessions on starting a business, CADD literacy, marketing, and ADSA compliance.