Melvalean McLemore-Catina, AIA, NOMA, is an architect at Moody Nolan in Houston. She has been a member since 2015. Learn more about Melvalean from the Q&A below!

What has been your involvement with AIA and TxA?

My involvement with AIA Houston and TxA over the years has been extensive and deeply rooted in my passion towards advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion. I first got involved volunteering by working on the Women in Architecture Exhibit in 2013. The WiA Exhibit was an idea led by Sharon Chapman and Donna Kacmar, FAIA, of the University of Houston, which was developed in response to AIA San Francisco’s “Missing 32%” event highlighting the lack of licensed women in architecture.

Following the success of the exhibit I co-founded the WiA Houston chapter. When TxA was starting their EDI Task Force in 2017, I was recruited to serve as the inaugural co-chair. I served as co-chair of the TxA EDI Task Force and later the EDI Committee for several years, advancing EDI initiatives within the organization and leading a group of architects from across the state. I have curated and participated in numerous panels and discussions for our members such as WiA Houston’s Equity Series Event titled “Hidden Costs,” and a TxA Conference panel called “Advancing Equity, Diversity & Inclusion: Approaches From Vision to Action.” I currently serve on AIA Houston’s Executive Board as Treasurer, I Co-Chair WiA Houston’s Women of Color Steering Committee, and I serve on TxA’s Public Outreach Task Force as well as their Community Engaged Design Committee.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I’d share with my younger self to embrace being flexible and adaptable. I believe in the importance of always moving forward, but at times I have found myself getting too focused on trying to pinpoint the “how” in unexpected situations. Adopting a mindset committed to forward movement while also embracing the value of being able to adjust to change would have been incredibly beneficial to my younger self over the years.

How can the profession improve and grow?

I believe we can improve and grow by addressing and removing the barriers that act as pinch points to the pipeline of bringing more diverse architects into our profession. To do so takes time and commitment to understand the existing realities of where our profession is today in equitably representing the diversity seen in our communities. As the saying goes, “We can’t change what we don’t measure.” I’m encouraged to see so much effort going into identifying pinch points in representation in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, etc., and the programs being implemented to dismantle systemic barriers and support more diverse architects. If we are intentional and follow through with these efforts in academia, practice, and our affiliated professional organizations I believe we will see the (positive) growth and improvement for all.

What do you wish people knew about architects and architecture?

We are not monolithic. I think a lot of people have ideas about what an architect looks like or does, but the reality is that there are so many kinds of architects and different ways in which we serve our communities. I hope that as we address our issues with representation, we will begin to reflect the rich diversity of our communities and that those changes will be appreciated and celebrated by those outside of our industry as well.

“I think a lot of people have ideas about what an architect looks like or does, but the reality is that there are so many kinds of architects and different ways in which we serve our communities.”

If you could choose three people (real or fictional), with whom would you invite to dinner and why?

This is a though one. There are a ton of amazing people that I would love/have loved to meet. Starting out I’d have to say Michelle Obama, simply because I think she is fabulous. Then there is Serena Williams because she seems like someone that I could be real life friends with (haha). I really admire her drive and determination to be her best. I’d also love to meet Virgil Abloh. Although he is no longer with us, he was able to have such a unique impact on the design world. I have read so much about him since his passing, and I imagine a conversation with him would be nothing short of thought provoking. (Bonus) If one of them couldn’t make it, I’d love to meet Eunice Kathleen Waymon, a.k.a. Nina Simone—the amazing singer, songwriter, pianist, civil rights activist, and expat. I can only imagine the stories she’d tell!

What building or space is on your bucket list to visit?

There are so many, but I’d say one that is up there on the list is Luis Barragan’s “Casa Luis Barragan” in Mexico City.

What legacy do you want to leave?

I’d love to leave a legacy of contribution. Be it with my family, through my work, or as a mentor, I would like to be remembered for having given more than I had taken. If I can add value and help to lift other as well as provide opportunities for others to face less adversity, I think that would be a life well-lived.

This post is a part of our “Member Spotlight” series, which highlights TxA members who are making amazing contributions to the architectural community. If you know a TxA member who exemplifies our mission of supporting the creation of safe, beautiful, sustainable environments, you can nominate them to be featured here.

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