Kimberly Dowdell, AIA, gives remarks in her first moments as president. | Photo courtesy AIA


THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS (AIA) elected its first Black female president. Kimberly Dowdell, AIA, is the 2024 President of AIA. Dowdell, 40, describes herself as “an architect determined to make the world a better place.” She is a principal in the Chicago office of HOK, the global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm. Inaugurated on Dec. 15, she is the 100th president of AIA.

Women are leading at the American Institute of Architects. Dowdell succeeded Emily Grandstaff-Rice, AIA’s 99th president. The inauguration ceremony was hosted by Lakisha Woods, who has been CEO and executive vice president of AIA since 2022. Evelyn M. Lee, FAIA, is 2024 President-Elect. She will take the helm at the end of the year and lead AIA throughout 2025.

Dowdell’s dynamic career spans many sectors and experiences. A LEED-accredited professional since 2007, she has practiced architecture, worked in government, taught architecture and urban planning, and redeveloped properties. Currently, she is director of strategic relationships at HOK. Before taking on leadership roles at AIA, Dowdell served as president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (2019-2020). On June 9, 2022, she was elected 2023 AIA First Vice President/2024 President-Elect at AIA’s annual meeting.

“All along, I knew that my job as an architect was to see the future and now as president my purpose is to see and help realize a stronger future for the American Institute of Architects,” Dowdell said in her first moments as president.

“I see a future where architects across the globe share a profound sense of responsibility for the stewardship of our natural resources. I see a future where architects are celebrated for helping our civic leaders solve some of our most challenging issues. I see a future where the population of architects more proportionately reflects the communities that we serve, where our ZIP code do not determine our life expectancy, and where everyday people have a better understanding of what architects do.”

“I see a future where the population of architects more proportionately reflects the communities that we serve, where our ZIP code do not determine our life expectancy, and where everyday people have a better understanding of what architects do.” — AIA President Kimberly Dowdell

FROM A YOUNG AGE, Dowdell set her sights on being an agent of change. She said her grandmother played a significant role in her upbringing in Detroit and the city influenced her career choice.

“I was profoundly impacted by experiences during childhood that involved watching buildings of all types being shuttered and demolished all around me in Detroit. One of my earliest childhood ambitions was to become a doctor because I wanted to help people. However, at age 11, I had a change of heart,” Dowdell said.

“I began to think that if I could play a role in revitalizing buildings like the Hudson department store in Woodward Avenue or The Old City Hall, then my purpose would become the healing of my city. In a way, I’d be like a doctor, but operating at a different scale. That was the moment when I decided to become an architect.”

WE DON’T REALIZE IT, but architecture plays an outsized role in our lives. She said that most of us spend more than 90 percent of our lives in and around buildings designed by architects. We live, work, learn, heal, sleep, celebrate, grow up, and grow old in buildings. The beauty, functionality, accessibility of these spaces, the indoor air quality and the amount of natural light they let in, for example, profoundly affect our everyday experiences and our physical and mental health.

Design has the power to address and solve real problems. Despite its ubiquity, however, like many other professions, architecture has historically struggled with diversity and equal opportunity, particularly for women and people of color.

For rising professionals, the outlook is improving with more racial, ethnic, and gender diversity among newly licensed architects, according to a 2023 report from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, whose members are architectural licensing boards for the District of Columbia, U.S. states and territories. Two in five new architects are women and seven percent are Black/African American, 18 percent Asian, and 21 percent Hispanic/Latino. While increases and improvements in representation from 2018 to 2023 are shown throughout the report, the findings among new Black/African American architects lagged behind the other groups.

According to AIA’s 2021-25 Strategic Plan, the organization envisions the future of AIA and architecture with an emphasis on five pillars. Justice and equity in the profession and the communities it serves, is second only to climate action.

“It is truly an honor and a privilege to stand before you today as the 100th president of the American Institute of Architects. You should know that in the 166 year history of AIA, I’m the seventh female president, the third Black president, and the very first Black female president. I stand on the shoulders of giants. I thank all of those who have come before me, from president number one to 99,” Dowdell said at the top of her remarks.

“And yes, we do refer to one another by our numbers. So you can call me 100 now. I’m also the first AIA president of the millennial generation, so of course I’m live streaming this event. So hello to my friends on the internet. Thank you so much for being here.”

“I began to think that if I could play a role in revitalizing buildings … then my purpose would become the healing of my city. In a way, I’d be like a doctor, but operating at a different scale. That was the moment when I decided to become an architect.” — AIA President Kimberly Dowdell


On Dec. 15, 2023, Kimberly Dowdell was officially inaugurated as the 100th president of AIA. (She starts speaking at 14:25.) Dowdell holds an undergraduate degree in architecture from Cornell University and earned a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University, where she was a Sheila C. Johnson Leadership Fellow. She co-founded the SEED Network in 2005. SEED stands for social, economic, and environmental design. The organization connects members of the general public with architects and designers who focus on community-based design. In 2022, she was elected to the Cornell University Board of Trustees. | Video by AIA


HEADQUARTERED IN WASHINGTON, D.C., AIA was founded in 1857. The organization describes itself as “the largest, most influential network of architects and design professionals.” With more than 200 chapters in the United States and internationally, its members “share a passion for design, a desire to change the world, and a commitment to the highest standards of practice.”

Dowdell mentioned that it was “poetic” that her tenure as AIA’s 100th president was beginning 100 years after Paul R. Williams, FAIA (1894-1980), the renowned Los Angeles architect, became the first Black member of AIA in 1923. Williams was also the first Black fellow of AIA and in 2017 he was posthumously awarded an AIA Gold Medal. He was the first Black person to win that recognition, too.

In her role as president, Dowdell promised to “do more.” In her remarks she said, “AIA must do more to elevate, support, and propel architects into a new evolution of practice for the betterment of our society.”

Dowdell hopes to bring more money, more members, and more mission to AIA. “More money refers to compensation we need and deserve for the tremendous amount of value we generate for our clients and our communities,” she said. “We need to think critically about our business models, how we leverage technology, and how we communicate our value to the public so that we can attract and retain the very best talent available to help us shape the future.”

She also intends to grow AIA’s membership, which stands at 98,000 members for the first time in the organization’s history. She is encouraging her peers to join or renew their memberships with the goal of reaching 100,000 members under her leadership.

“With more money and more members, AIA will be in a stronger position to help our members deliver more mission,” Dowdell said. “Together we will achieve a more sustainable and equitable built environment for all, centered on design excellence and improving people’s lives.” CT


IMAGE: Above right, Kimberly Dowdell, 2023. | Courtesy AIA


FIND MORE about Kimberly Dowdell on her website

READ MORE about diversity in the field of architecture, demographic representation in architectural licensing, and AIA’s strategic plans

FIND MORE Kimberly Dowdell is the third Black president of AIA. She was proceeded by Marshall E. Purnell, FAIA, the first who served from 2007-08, and William J. Bates, FAIA (2018-19).


AIA is renewing its Washington, D.C., headquarters. San Francisco-based architecture firm EHDD is leading the projects, working with a few other firms including Hood Design Studio of Oakland, Calif. The renovation is expected to be completed in early 2025. | Video by AIA


AIA CEO Lakisha Woods is the author of “Never Get Their Coffee: Empowering Fearless Leadership.” Other volumes of interest include “Black Built: History and Architecture in the Black Community” and “The Architectural Legacy of Wallace A. Rayfield: Pioneer Black Architect of Birmingham, Alabama.” Several books explore the life and work of Paul R. Williams. “Paul R. Williams Architect” and “Paul R. Williams: Classic Hollywood Style” showcase the legendary designs of Williams in lavishly illustrated volumes authored by Karen E. Hudson, the architect’s granddaughter. Also by Hudson, “The Will and the Way: Paul R. Williams, Architect” tells Williams’s story. “Regarding Paul R. Williams: A Photographer’s View” features photographs of the architect’s buildings by Janna Ireland. “Paul R. Williams: Master Architects of Southern California 1920-1940” was also recently published. For children, consider “Curve & Flow: The Elegant Vision of L.A. Architect Paul R. Williams,” “Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon,” and “Ava the Architect.”


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