Riding the Vortex

Katherine Williams

I did not meet a black woman working in the architecture profession until I went to college. Once I graduated, I lived and worked with very few other black architects. In 2007, I was invited to be on a panel of black women in architecture titled “Riding the Vortex.” As a collective, we have presented the session eighteen times since 2007 at various architecture conferences across the country. Typically the session has been presented as panel of women, usually exclusively black, in architecture, talking about their experience in the industry and offering a place for other people to share their stories. The original panel members were Kathryn Prigmore, FAIA; Kathy Dixon, FAIA; Barbara Laurie (deceased); and me. The four of us presented, and at the end of each session attendees gave testimonies and asked questions.

We reach out to a woman in whatever city the session is held and invite her to be on the panel. This has led to an increase in the number of shared voices and experiences. In February 2013, Barbara unexpectedly passed away, leaving us with a missing piece. The session had originated out of Barbara’s work attempting to document as many of the more than 200 licensed black women architects as she could. Continuing these sessions is continuing her work.

As a group, black women make up 0.4 percent of licensed architects in the United States. The “Riding The Vortex” sessions have been popular year after year because they offer connection for black women. Many of us do not see other black women in our offices, at project meetings, or on our job sites. We may not have a regular way to connect with those with similar experiences. “Riding The Vortex” is the place for that annual connection.