#FutureArchitectFriday: Shawn T. Waddell

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


Shawn T. Waddell



Greensboro, NC, USA 


Educational Status:

I graduated from North Carolina A&T State University with my B.S. in Architectural Engineering in 2015. Then I came to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and graduated with my Masters of Architecture with a structures concentration. I will be starting my career at SmithGroup in Chicago where I will be working as a structural engineer.


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

It can feel very isolating, especially in academia, where you might be the only black person you see on a daily basis. What helped me when I first started was knowing that I wasn’t just busting my tail for my own success – my growth and graduation was for the people behind me. The people behind me – those who are looking at my every move, look up to me, or who don’t believe they could do it – are the people I do this for. When they can see someone like me walk across the stage – or even speak at the graduation – that means they will believe that it is for them, too. Architecture is for the people, not the ego.

Why do you want to get your license?

I am not licensed yet, but I am working towards my hours and hope to start taking the exams by the end of the year. I believe it is important for people of color – especially black people – to be licensed because it puts power into the communities we design for. It also is a point of recognition, paving the way for the designers in the pipeline. Getting licensed is not just of yourself, it is for those behind you as well!  


Biggest inspiration/influence?

My biggest influence in the field of Architecture is Paul R. Williams. He was one of the first licensed black architects and the first African-American member of AIA. For all the times he was told “no” or when we he would be the only black person in the room, he took it as an opportunity to shine and use his talents to thrive. It is not a bad thing to be the first at something; it makes you a trailblazer for the people behind you.

How important is representation?

Diversity should be paramount in the profession, especially as the world melts into other countries. Architecture isn’t just for the majority; other inputs/ideas/backgrounds are necessary to make the world grow. If we have only one point of view designing, they aren’t always going to know what is best for another group of people. We need all colors, creeds, orientations in the fold to make the best architecture. If you do not believe that, then you are holding the profession back!

What is your design philosophy?

I have two ideas that keep me going. One, “don’t call it architecture if you aren’t helping anybody”! This means that all your designs need to account for the client and the user groups. This isn’t just about making the most complex design, it is about solving a problem through usage of space. Second, “simplicity”. This doesn’t mean make all buildings rectangular, it means don’t worker harder than you have to. Don’t make the design process difficult for yourself. Be efficient and know when to switch from the theoretical to the practical.

Favorite quote/poem/song/etc.?

“Hang on to the world as it spins around/just don’t let the spins get you down” – Donny Hathaway; “Keep Striving” – my own personal mantra; “Real Games” – Lucky Daye (favorite song at the moment); “Overjoyed” – Stevie Wonder (for when you need some sunshine in your day)

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