#MentorMonday: Craig Aquart, RA

Welcome to #MentorMonday! Mondays are dedicated to celebrating Black LICENSED Architects, Designers, and individuals in the profession of Architecture!

The questions asked to these individuals are to allow us into their lives and to be used as an inspiration. I hope you all enjoy this series.

Name: Craig Aquart

Hometown: I’ve been living in Miami for the past 20 years. I’m originally from Kingston, Jamaica.

What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?

Directly after high school in Jamaica, I worked at an engineering firm where one day I was in the drafting room and a set of drawings was delivered. On the coversheet was the most beautiful rendering I’ve seen at the time. I was so impressed by the drawing I asked the lead technician “Who did this?” and he replied “The architects, they dream and we make their dreams stand up” I replied, “If that’s what architects do – I want to dream as well.” I became fixated on becoming an architect and the next year I was fortunate to be accepted with 34 other students at the Caribbean School of Architecture, University of Technology, Jamaica, W.I. I graduated 1998 with a professional Master of Architecture degree.

What does it mean to be a black architect to you?

A Black architect is a rarity in the United States. Except for National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) events, I’m usually the only or one of very few Black architects in the room wherever I go. Being a Black architect means you are a 2%-er and there’s effort needed to improve this statistic. I am very aware and appreciative of those who overcame many obstacles to clear a path for me and as a result, I feel a responsibility to continue that effort for those who are to come after me.

Do you feel that you have more responsibility?

I do. I’d like to see more people who look like me in the profession. I know it will benefit the profession and our communities and I am aware of my responsibility to help make this happen. I often remind myself that people (civil rights activists) were beaten, jailed, and some were even killed so that WE can today partake in the benefits of a more inclusive United States. I feel an obligation to these heroes and use their sacrifice as motivation to continue the struggle. For many decades there was a system that discouraged Black students from pursuing architecture as a profession. It can be successfully argued that remnants of this system are still in-place. The number of Black professions has not kept pace with other industries and BAM has discovered that most students from Black communities are not aware about architecture and the profession. We have a responsibility to help inform as many of these students as possible about architecture.

How do you think you can help make a difference in the profession?

We have created the Black Architects in the Making (BAM) program to assertively and deliberately inform students about architecture. To learn more about BAM visit. https://miami.cbslocal.com/2018/10/09/mentoring-matters-veteran-architect-on-mission-to-diversify-world-of-architecture-design/. Talk alone about diversity and inclusion is pointless without meaningful actions. The AIA, NOMA, schools of architecture, employers, and architects (especially Black architects) need to be more deliberate about the following issues:

1. Educating more Black students about architecture and the profession.

2. Earmark more scholarships for deserving Black students to help them afford the expense associated with architecture education.

3. Encourage more black architecture graduates to take and pass the AREs by financially incentivizing them.

4. Employ more black architecture graduates and architects.

5. Empower more firms owned by Black architects especially those who pursue projects in underserved communities.

BAM is helping to accomplish most of these goals.

What are some obstacles you’ve experienced or currently experiencing as a black architect?

The architecture profession is a microcosm of the larger society and has similar challenges as the larger society. I’ve focused my extra-curricular efforts on helping to overcome one of these obstacles: Making the profession more inclusive. I’ve surrounded myself with like-minded professionals who are keen on being active change agents. We are mentors in Black Architects in the Making (BAM) program and are very deliberate about enhancing students’ knowledge about architecture especially in underserved communities.

Should we ignore race in this profession?

Before I answer, I need to clarify that the idea of dividing humans into “Races” is a misinformed and racist concept. It is perpetuated by a discriminatory system intent on keeping us divided. I prefer to re-frame the question to: Should we ignore ethnic, and cultural differences in the profession? My answer is no, ethnic and cultural differences make the profession stronger. Centuries of racist and discriminatory practices in the United States have resulted in a lack of diversity in many professions and architecture is no exception. We cannot deny the positive effects inclusion has had on industries such as music, sports, art, theater, etc. Ethnic and cultural diversity is a very powerful factor that has contributed to the success of these industries and we must consider the impact it would have had on architecture if it wasn’t for these discriminatory practices that continue in varying degrees even today.

If you could give advice to a black student in Architecture /Urban Planning school right now, what would it be?

I have three recommendations for Black students and emerging professionals:
1. Become informed about architecture to give yourself the necessary desire to become an architect. Being a Black architect in the US at this time is an opportunity of a lifetime.
2. Identify and pursue a mentor who is willing and able to help guide you along the journey of becoming an architect.
3. Be a thirsty mentee. Most mentors give only as much as you desire.

Describe a moment you were at your lowest on your pursuit to licensure and how did you overcome it?

I struggled with colleagues who, years ago, suggested becoming licensed was unnecessary. They would say “Why waste your time with licensure? It won’t attract more salary and there’s no room to grow so why waste your time and effort?” Even though I knew they were wrong, their comments were easy to accept since it is easier and less expensive to do nothing. After years of complacency, I decided to pursue licensure. I studied on the bus and train to and from work and passed all 7 AREs in a year. I’ve heard Les Brown say “It is better to be prepared for an opportunity that never comes than for an opportunity to come and not be prepared” and I’m living proof of this, with licensure, many opportunities have come my way that would not have been available without it.

How important is representation?

There is a real need for more Black architects on Boards and Committees at work, churches, schools, communities, cities, states, and at the federal level. These are places where decisions are being made and these decisions may benefit from informed diverse perspectives. Our profession and indeed the nation need diverse representation. To grow Black representation in the architecture profession, we especially need Black architects to be mentors to encourage Black students to consider architecture as a career. The involvement of Black architects in communities where Black students live, learn and play is a good way to show students success does not lie only in becoming a pro-athlete or an entertainer. BAM shows Black students that being an architect has many benefits for themselves and their communities. Students seeing professionals that look like them as mentors and role models have a profound psychological impact. So “representation” is very important.

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