#FutureArchitectFriday: Zakiya Toney

Hi readers! It’s #FutureArchitectFriday. A day to celebrate those pushing themselves to becoming licensed architects.


Zakiya Toney, soon to be Zakiya Wiggins (July)


Cary, NC

Educational Status:

BED-A from NC State (2015), M.Arch from Morgan State University (2017)

How would you describe your experience as a Black Architecture student?

I would describe my experience as “necessary to learning how to thrive.”  In undergrad, I was at a PWI and 15 minutes from my childhood home. For graduate school, I was at a HBCU 6 hours from where I considered to be home. I learned just as much about my undergrad experience by reflecting & contrasting during grad school, as I did during that 4 years. Reflecting on my time as a Black Architecture student in undergrad, I know that there were times where I had to make conscious decisions to prioritize “self-care.” For me, that meant breaking away from the silo that design majors can be, and venturing cross-campus to attend events and programming by African American student organizations. In grad school, thriving was more organic. I didn’t feel the need to be anywhere besides where I was.

Why do you want to get your license?

To be very honest, I want to get licensed because I didn’t go to school for six years to limit myself to being an intern for the following 3-5 years. I’m currently on an aggressive track to getting licensed. I’ve been out of school between 1.5 – 2 years, and I’m almost done with my NCARB hours and powering through my exams. I’ve taken my fair share of losses with the AREs, because I started testing with less experience than the average tester. However, I’ve seen so many stories of why architects waited 10-15 years before getting licensed because “life happened.” That will not be my story. My story is one of what is possible when someone relentlessly plans, prioritizes and does not take no for an answer.   

Biggest inspiration/influence?

My biggest inspirations are my mom and my grandma. My mom has always had an unparalleled work ethic. Last year, she received her PhD of Social Work. My grandma is one of the most creative people in my family. She has taught me that all you need to create, is your mind. Lastly, my National Organization of Minority Architects family also inspires me on a daily basis. I’ve met so many influential architects and designers over the past two years that are literally changing the face of architecture.

How important is representation?

Marie C Wilson said, “you cannot be what you cannot see.” Representation matters, but it is actually not everything. Representation must be paired with exposure. Black architects exist, but if no one ever sees them (because they make up less than 5% of the USA’s licensed architects), how do we know they are out there? [If a tree falls…] I entered into this field without having ever met or even see a black architect in person or online. I had met a woman architect at NC State’s Design Camp. In hindsight, I do think that experience had a contribution to my comfort level with the major. I didn’t make any assumptions that it was a male-dominated field. I had no idea that I would be a double minority, until I started undergrad a year later. 

Favorite quote/poem/song/etc.?

The official quote is, “If you want something you have never had, you must be willing to do something you have never done,” by Thomas Jefferson. Although I’ve changed it up a little in my head, this quote has been my favorite for many years and continues to propel me through obstacles. It is a reminder that there will always be challenges when striving for more, and it is expected.

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