Awards are significant because they reveal who we uplift and what type of contributions are valued in our profession. Receiving an award can be a catalyst for honorees, especially for emerging professionals early in their careers, since recognition from colleagues can further motivate them to continue investing energy into serving their communities and the profession.
The Texas Society of Architects (TxA) has been celebrating Texas’ architects since the inaugural Honor Award, the Medal for Lifetime Achievement, was given out in 1968. In the 53 years since, scores of architects from across the state have been recognized through multiple Honor Award categories issued each year, and what may not come as a surprise is that the recipients have been overwhelmingly white men. It took 22 years for a woman to receive a TxA Honor Award, given in 1990, and 41 years for a woman to be awarded the Medal for Lifetime Achievement, in 2009. The first Latinx architect received a TxA Honor Award in 1991, the first Asian-American architect in 1996, and the first Black architect in 2003.
It is widely acknowledged that the profession lacks representation of women and people of color, which has been documented in studies, such as the 2015 AIA Diversity in the Profession of Architecture Survey. This lack of equitable representation in architecture also translates into the memberships of AIA and TxA, where the gaps grow even wider within TxA’s leadership and Honor Award recipients.
Making Measurable & Equitable Changes
In 2017, TxA created an Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) Task Force (later established as a committee in 2020) to help accomplish, among other directives, the goal of increasing the diversity in membership and leadership to reflect the diversity of TxA membership and the state. This included creating equitable processes that will help TxA’s Board of Directors, committees, and Honor Award recipients reflect the racial and gender diversity of Texas and the Society’s membership.
“The year 2017 was a benchmark year for TxA,” said Paul Dennehy, FAIA, 2017 TxA president. “The Board [of Directors] committed to establishing an EDI Task Force to help create a truly diverse future for our profession. No longer would we just talk about equity, rather we would be committed to enacting it. We looked critically at ourselves and our profession and took action to become as diverse as the communities we work in. There is much to do going forward, but I’m proud of the commitment that TxA is making to the future of our profession.”
With the belief that things cannot be changed until they are measured, the EDI Committee went to work analyzing the gender, racial, and geographic diversity of TxA Honor Award recipients from 1968 to 2021. Measuring and analyzing the diversity of Honor Award recipients provides a pulse check of where the organization has been and offers the opportunity to reflect on why changes are needed.
“It’s important that the desired outcome is not just to get more people of color in the room, but to deconstruct systemic barriers that will allow all forms of diversity to be represented and thrive within the organization,” mentions Brien Graham, AIA, 2022 co-chair of TxA’s EDI Committee. “Therefore, we must change our current processes to facilitate growth and allow all members of TxA to flourish.”
This analysis was not about “checking the diversity box,” but rather about ensuring TxA members have equitable access to opportunities that celebrate their exceptional contributions. Women and architects of color are underrepresented as Honor Award recipients, despite the wide breadth of contributions many have made to our profession. Representation matters, especially for the increasingly diverse emerging professionals and architecture graduates who are entering the profession and not seeing themselves reflected in TxA’s leadership and honorees.
Taking the Pulse
According to the criteria, the TxA Honor Awards recognize exceptional members “for their outstanding achievements in support of the profession of architecture, the built environment, and quality of life in Texas.” The EDI Committee analyzed the recipients of awards that are given to individual architects and associate members in seven categories:
- Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Honor of Llewellyn W. Pitts FAIA
- Award for Community Service in Honor of James D. Pfluger FAIA
- Award for Outstanding Educational Contributions in Honor of Edward J. Romieniec FAIA
- O’Neil Ford Medal for Design Achievement
- Award for Equitable Practice in Architecture in Honor of John S. Chase Jr. FAIA
- Award for Young Professional Achievement in Honor of William W. Caudill FAIA
(as of 2022, the Award for Early Career Achievement in Honor of William W. Caudill FAIA)
- Associate Member of the Year
A total of 174 individuals have received awards in these categories since 1968. The average percentage of women who have received awards is 22.4 percent, while TxA membership is 24.6 percent women. The average percentage of people of color who have received awards is 13.2 percent, while this group comprises 26.4 percent of the TxA membership. The ultimate goal should be to have Honor Award recipients reflect the state’s diversity, with Texas’ population being 50.3 percent women and 58.8 percent people of color.
Among the most prestigious awards is the Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Honor of Llewellyn W. Pitts FAIA. Only three women have received this award in its 53-year history. The first time it was awarded to a woman was in 2009, when Carolyn Peterson, FAIA, was honored. Additionally, there have only been two people of color, both Asian Americans, to receive this award.
Heather McKinney, FAIA, commented: “I’m very proud of being the second woman to receive the Medal for Lifetime Achievement and yet also dismayed by the same fact. We can’t change the past, but I can guarantee that this medal will hang around the necks belonging to much more diverse faces in the future.”
The Award for Community Service was the first TxA honor award to be received by a Black architect when Donna Carter, FAIA, was honored in 2003.
“I want my granddaughter to be able to say that her grandmother did wonderful things for the people she served, not that I was the first African American woman architect,” Carter said. “The 21st century is way too late to still have firsts. It is a conversation about diversity, but also how the diverse voices hopefully will inform and change what we have traditionally thought of as architectural practice and it is also about history and not a history of firsts, but a history of ‘ands.’”
The newest TxA Honor Award, the Award for Equitable Practice in Architecture in Honor of John S. Chase Jr. FAIA, was spearheaded by the EDI Committee in collaboration with the Honor Awards Committee. This award is named after John S. Chase Jr., FAIA, the first Black licensed architect in Texas, the first Black member of TxA, and a founding member of the National Organization for Minority Architects (NOMA). In 2020, Anzilla Gilmore, FAIA, was the inaugural honoree and became the second Black architect to receive a TxA Honor Award.
“It is no secret that awards play a significant role in the success of architects,” Gilmore said. “Awards drive public recognition, acceptance by peers and enhance the visibility of firms. When we fail to recognize the talent of minorities in our profession, we are actively supporting a culture of exclusion that denies minorities the opportunity to gain notoriety in the profession.”
The Award for Young Professional Achievement in Honor of William W. Caudill FAIA has had some of the most diversity among recipients, with 25 percent being people of color and 41 percent being women. This highlights the importance of providing opportunities for honoring emerging professionals and celebrating the increasingly diverse future generations of architects. The award has recently been renamed the Award for Early Career Achievement, to eliminate the typical association with age. In the past, members had to be a licensed architect for fewer than 10 years; the updated criteria defines early career as the first 120 months someone practices architecture post licensure and does not require the time to be consecutive, allowing for broader opportunities for architects who take time off for various reasons.
Another award that has been modified to be more inclusive is the Award for Outstanding Educational Contributions. Chair of TxA’s Honor Awards Committee Al York, FAIA, noted that “this award’s criteria is being broadened so educators at community colleges with architecture programs will also be eligible.” Previously, this award was limited to educators from the eight accredited architecture programs in Texas, which overlooked the contributions of teachers at community colleges with programs that can offer more accessible and affordable options for architecture students.
The most diverse category is the Associate Member of the Year honorees, with people of color comprising 35 percent of recipients, and 45 percent being women. The first Black and Afro-Latinx man to receive a TxA Honor Award was Ricardo Maga Rojas, Assoc. AIA, when he was honored as the Associate Member of the Year in 2020.
“I think we have made some progress in our profession by recognizing the work that our professionals are accomplishing,” Rojas said. “I also believe that we still have a lot of work to do and a lot of conversations about EDI to be had. We have so many professionals doing great work who are not being recognized, and we risk alienating them from the profession.”
Seven TxA awards were named in honor of a person, six named after white men and one after a Black man. None of the awards are named after women, Asian American, or Latinx persons. This could be an opportune time to reflect on who TxA awards are named after and consider opportunities for naming awards that more inclusively honor Texans who have greatly impacted the architecture profession.
Submitting Nominations for Honor Awards
Members can be nominated for TxA Honor Awards in multiple ways, including by a local AIA component or an individual TxA member. The award submission process can be intensive, which requires creating many pages of content including a statement of contributions, exhibits, and letters of recommendation.
It has been observed that recipients of a local AIA component’s Honor Awards are typically nominated by their local chapter for the corresponding TxA Honor Award. For example, if someone receives their local AIA chapter’s associate award, they will likely be nominated by their chapter for the TxA associate award. Therefore, if there is a lack of diverse recipients from local chapter’s award programs, then there could be a corresponding lack of equitable representation reflected in TxA award nominees and the eventual honorees. This reinforces that the work toward making Honor Awards programs equitable and accessible must be done at both the local and state level of Texas’ AIA chapters.
The Honor Awards Committee & Getting Involved
Once people have been nominated for Honor Awards, submissions are reviewed and selected by the TxA Honor Awards Committee, which is composed of approximately 12 members serving three-year, staggered terms, with a third of the members changing each year. Committee members have historically been appointed by the current Honor Awards Committee chair and/or by the TxA president; however, for the last two years, a volunteer and committee “Call for Interest” has been advertised to TxA members via email newsletters and social media posts.
“The goal of having an open call is to provide a more inclusive pathway to leadership for our members,” said Audrey Maxwell, AIA, TxA 2021 president, in a blog in 2020. “It is important that we offer a transparent process for those interested in engaging with us as volunteer leaders. This is one channel by which we can identify a more diverse pool of candidates.”
The “Call for Interest” efforts offer transparent pathways for committee involvement that could help ensure committee members reflect the diversity of membership. While TxA’s Honor Awards Committee is currently composed of 60 percent women, no people of color currently serve on the committee. Various TxA committee chairs agree that it is important to directly contact people to encourage their application and involvment, especially in committees that lack diversity. This could be an opportunity for committee chairs, TxA leadership, and general members to reach out to members from Women in Architecture, Latinos in Architecture, and NOMA chapters in Texas to encourage them to engage. TxA has recently started tracking the racial and gender diversity of each committees’ members. This data can shed light on where changes need to be made.
Implicit bias affects us all, and this can come into play during the selection process for Honor Awards and impact who is ultimately honored among the submissions. These challenges must be addressed as well to ensure the Honor Awards process is as transparent and equitable as possible. TxA leadership, including committee chairs, have participated in implicit bias workshops annually since 2020, so that incoming leaders have an opportunity to learn about and address the impacts of implicit biases.
If the goal is to have equitable representation of TxA’s membership diversity among Honor Award recipients, here are some strategies for how we can achieve that:
- Encourage the nomination of more women and people of color for local AIA and TxA Honor Awards. Past award recipients can offer to help navigate the process or write a recommendation letter.
- Ensure there is an inclusive Honor Awards Committee environment and diverse members making decisions. This could be an opportunity to engage with Texas’ NOMA chapters as well as WiA and LiA Committees to encourage their members to apply for committee membership. Encourage local chapters to also raise awareness. While familiar faces can be valuable contributors to TxA’s volunteering, there are many more people who desire to get involved if they have access to and awareness of the opportunity.
- Review the criteria for TxA nominations and the processes for selecting award recipients to ensure the process is transparent and the access to nominations is equitable and reflects the diversity of TxA membership and ultimately the diversity of the state. Encourage local chapters to do the same.
- Identify and challenge implicit bias and the standards of merit that may be influencing the award review and submission process. This must be an ongoing process committed to annual implicit bias training with both internal and external analysis to ensure TxA is accountable toward making progress on equitable representation goals.
There are also systemic barriers within architectural education and the profession that create exclusionary and inequitable spaces and processes. These barriers must be broken down if we truly want to achieve the equitable goal of reflecting Texas’ diversity in TxA membership, leadership, and award recipients. While these are larger goals with changes that can take generations to realize, it’s important that we work on the following as well:
- Expand access to educational opportunities, especially for Black students. ACE Mentorship and NOMA’s Project Pipeline are two programs to support to help accomplish this goal.
- Increase support throughout college and transition to early careers for women and people of color, including deconstructing financial barriers and providing support for job placement, AXP and ARE examination, equitable pay, equitable access to work opportunities, and transparent avenues to leadership roles and promotions. NOMA’s Foundation Fellowship and HBCU Professional Development Program are two programs that firms could engage with to work towards these goals.
Things cannot change until they are measured. Now that TxA’s past Honor Awards have been measured and analyzed, progress can be tracked toward accomplishing shared values and goals — goals we must work towards together to make the future more equitable and just for the architecture profession, our organizations, and those elevated to its highest honors. As the saying goes, “Everything’s bigger in Texas,” and we see this as an opportunity for Texas to lead big changes toward celebrating and honoring the rich diversity of our architects and communities throughout the state.
Melvalean McLemore, AIA, NOMA, is an associate and project manager/project architect at Moody Nolan’s Houston office and was a co-chair of the TxA EDI Committee for four years.
Beau Frail, AIA, is the principal architect of Activate Architecture and was a co-chair of the TxA EDI Committee for two years.
Gabriella Bermea, AIA; Dennis Chiessa, Assoc. AIA; Jamie Crawley, AIA; and Brien Graham, AIA, NOMA, contributed to developing this data and/or to this post.
If you would like to nominate someone for an 2022 Honor Award, you can do so here until Thursday, June 16.
The data in this report is accurate to our best knowledge at the time of publication. We acknowledge that the data we have access to is limited and doesn’t give us a full picture of the complexities of race, ethnicity, and gender. For example, the race and ethnicity categories provided do not differentiate between Middle Eastern, South Asian, and other subcategories that often face increased barriers within the architecture profession.