#MentorMonday: Kendal Bowman

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. The opinions and views expressed do not reflect those of America’s Hidden Gem(TM). They are exclusively opinions of those by whom they’re shared.

Name:

Kendal Bowman

Hometown:

Pontiac, MI

What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?

I think as a kid there are specific toys you gravitate to. Like many others in the design and building community, legos and K’Nex were my toy of choice – K’Nex moreso.  My parents would buy me a $100 set of K’Nex every year for Christmas to put together.  The joy I got from months (yes, months) of assembling everything to the finished product is something that I still remember.

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

This is a very loaded question. I’ll try to be brief but I do have a lot to say on the subject. To a certain extent I am proud and honored to be part of a group of people who saw something they wanted to do – be an Architect or Designer – and figured out how they fit into the design community.  At the same time, I am often left feeling alone due to the fact there are so few of us in the Architecture profession.  I can honestly say that until very recently, I had not been on a project with another Black Architect or designer and so I most certainly felt an added responsibility and pressure to ‘over-perform’ and ‘out-perform’ my contemporaries and coworkers.  It’s mentally, not to mention physically, exhausting to always try to be one step ahead and 2 times better but we do it.

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

How much time do you have?  I’ve dealt with a lot of overt racism in this profession. From being given slave money at the office, constantly putting contractors and subcontractors in their place, to nooses on my desk when I walk into the office. I’ve dealt with it all.  There was a time I was going to quit the profession and start in another field due to the obstacles but designing is a very large part of who I am. Ignoring it or ‘trying to do something else’ would leave me unsatisfied and always looking for an outlet to do so. 

Should we ignore race in this profession?

Absolutely not.  I don’t have a canned answer for this but I think it’s pretty simple.  Trying to ignore race is the beginning or erasure. 

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

Not everyone is going to understand your stance or voice.  Speak anyway.  It’s needed and necessary for the discourse and to challenge the baseline ideas that are presented to you as ‘normal’.  And keep in mind that most people’s idea of ‘normal’ is code for white.  Don’t be normal. Be you. Be unapologetically you.  Draw from every life experience you have to make yourself the expert in your projects so while they may take you to task on the technicals of architecture, you know the essence better than any of them. 

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

October 26,2017 was my lowest point in trying to become a licensed Architect. I made a pact with myself at the beginning of 2017 that after several years of failed attempts to get licensed, 2017 would be the year that I buckled down and actually completed this last task. There were bumps in the road in the beginning of the year but October 26, 2017 felt like Mt. Kilimanjaro. Leading up to October I found out that my Wife was pregnant in late August with our first baby. A month later in September, there was a noose on my desk. I found out through admission that my Boss was the person that did it. In addition to all this I had been failing exams left and right for the past 3 months. October 14 I took the Building Systems exam. October 26, 2017 I found out I failed. Something in me just broke. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to provide for my Wife and baby. I had the stress of going into an office that I was immensely uncomfortable going to everyday. I did not want to be an Architect if this is what it would look like. After failing that exam I was done with the profession before I even really started.


Overcome is a bit too strong of a description for what I did. I’m irrationally stubborn and have a very strong family support system. My Wife, Mother, Father, Brothers, close friends and NOMA were all there to help me continue. They continually picked me up when I got knocked down. Additionally, I try as best I can to keep promises that I make to myself. At the beginning of the year I promised myself I would try until the end of the year to get licensed and that’s what I did. Don’t get me wrong, I cried and allowed myself to be angry for about a week then kept on with my plan. I took my final exam, Building Systems, on 12-23-2017. On 12-27-2017 I found out that this year wasn’t pointless and my stubbornness had paid off. I passed my final exam.

Describe a moment you were at your lowest on your pursuit to licensure and how did you overcome it?
October 26,2017 was my lowest point in trying to become a licensed Architect.  I made a pact with myself at the beginning of 2017 that after several years of failed attempts to get licensed, 2017 would be the year that I buckled down and actually completed this last task.  There were bumps in the road in the beginning of the year but October 26, 2017 felt like Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Leading up to October I found out that my Wife was pregnant in late August with our first baby. A month later in September, there was a noose on my desk.  I found out through admission that my Boss was the person that did it. In addition to all this I had been failing exams left and right for the past 3 months. October 14 I took the Building Systems exam. October 26, 2017 I found out I failed.  Something in me just broke.  I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to provide for my Wife and baby. I had the stress of going into an office that I was immensely uncomfortable going to everyday.  I did not want to be an Architect if this is what it would look like. After failing that exam I was done with the profession before I even really started. 
Overcome is a bit too strong of a description for what I did.  I’m irrationally stubborn and have a very strong family support system. My Wife, Mother, Father, Brothers, close friends and NOMA were all there to help me continue.  They continually picked me up when I got knocked down.  Additionally, I try as best I can to keep promises that I make to myself.  At the beginning of the year I promised myself I would try until the end of the year to get licensed and that’s what I did. Don’t get me wrong, I cried and allowed myself to be angry for about a week then kept on with my plan.  I took my final exam, Building Systems, on 12-23-2017.  On 12-27-2017 I found out that this year wasn’t pointless and my stubbornness had paid off. I passed my final exam.

How important is representation?

Representation is monumental. Period. It’s hard enough trying something new or different when you are growing up. But being placed in a scenario where no one looks like you, understands your culture or disregards your point of view makes it an almost insurmountable task.  I think representation is what honestly kept me going towards licensure when I didn’t really want to keep going.  My office was not diverse and their investment in me getting licensed was purely superficial and financial.  My mentors and accountability group (NOMA) were mostly in a minority group of some sort and understood what me getting licensed meant. 

Having someone that you identify with and are able to model your moves off of is crucial.  Maybe you don’t follow their exact blueprint but having the blueprint to build from is a priceless tool.

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