#MentorMonday: Maya Bird-Murphy

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: Maya Bird-Murphy

Hometown: Oak Park, IL

What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?

I wasn’t interested in architecture probably until high school, but there’s a good chance I was subconsciously thinking about architecture as a career because of my upbringing in Oak Park. Frank Lloyd Wright was a hot topic and we often went on field trips to his projects.

What does it mean to be a black architect/ urban designer to you? Do you feel that you have more responsibility?

I feel like I have a special window into the field as a black person. We see design differently, which is a strength. I feel like I have the responsibility to do work that matters because I’m black. But “responsibility” shouldn’t be conflated with “obligation”. I choose to do this work every day and I’m passionate about it. I’m creating my own path through the field.

 

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

My time in architecture school and working in the field have often been uncomfortable. I was the only African American to graduate in my entire architecture class and I’ve rarely worked with another black designer at my various firms. Being respected and heard at work was a huge challenge which is why I started working on my nonprofit, Chicago Mobile Makers, on the side.

Should we ignore race in this profession?

Absolutely not. We should never ignore race. We should make everyone in the field feel included which is going to take a lot of work – work that can’t be done unless race is addressed.

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

I would be realistic and let them know that there are tough times ahead, but if you’re passionate about design, you’ll find a way to make this field to work for you. Don’t sit and wait for change, create it for yourself.

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

I worked at a firm for a couple of years where I was mistreated. I was at my lowest point emotionally. Instead of giving up on licensure or on the field itself I decided that I needed to make a change in my own life. I started my Master of Architecture online which led to my thesis project which became my nonprofit.

How important is representation?

Representation is important but it’s only the start. Representation piques interest. Once that interest is piqued there needs to be guidance and support all the way through the process.

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