#MentorMonday: Dwayne Smith Alexander
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.
Dwayne Smith Alexander
Bronx, New York
What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?
My dad was a construction worker and always took me and my brother to build things such as furniture and more so specifically a “shanty” which in Jamaican term is a shack. While watching and helping him build that the interest was sparked. I was about 7 years old at the time.
What does it mean to be a black architect/ designer to you? Do you feel that you have more responsibility?
To me being a black architectural designer is to carry the burden of not only excelling as an architect to show that representation matters, but also figuring out the ‘architectural design gap’ that was lost during the years of enslavement & discrimination. Figuring out the architectural language that relates to us, a people that have been removed from their place of origin, but in a new place, as a matter of fact in various places. What does the built environment of a people who have been removed from their homeland, now in a new land 462 years later, look like? That’s what it means to me to be a black architectural designer.
What are some obstacles you’ve experienced or currently experiencing as a black architect/ designer?
Obstacles I’ve faced experienced licensing is my own procrastination and seeking to get all study material perfect. I don’t have many friends within the industry, and not many black friends at that. However, as of late there are more resouceful groups that are coming together to create study groups such as NOMA, and I am thankful for that as I am taking tests now.
Should we ignore race in this profession?
Not at all, race is important in every industry. Not only does representation matter, but transparency and data go hand in hand with diversity and inclusivity. Everyone must have a hand at the table.
If you could give advice to a black student in Architecture school right now, what would it be?
Never lose your creative flair if you’re more into aesthetic design and/or never lose your pragmatic flair if you’re more of a builder. Stay true to who you are and seek work/employment that will enhance your strengths but also improve your weaknesses. Architecture will teach you a lot about life, politics, history and so much more.
Describe a moment you were at your lowest on your pursuit to licensure and how did you overcome it?
I don’t think I’ve ever been at a low point. I think once you know what your path in the profession to be, things become easier. That, and understanding that the architecture industry is a slow build, learning, becoming licensed, and become an overall great architect takes time. I think it’s important to practice self care and set bench mark goals that you achieve every quarter or every year and hold yourself accountable. I’m not licensed myself as yet, but I will be soon, hopefully.
How important is representation?
As stated earlier, representation is paramount when it comes to improving diversity within the industry. There are many younger children who may want to become architects and they may not feel connected if they don’t see anyone there that doesn’t look like them. ‘It’s also important that there are not only architects of every race but also of every sub-culture. I make it a point to showcase that I grew up in a rough neighborhood, I love to sing, I enjoy dancing to dancehall music, going to carnival and other extra curricular activities all while being an architectural designer. It’s important that personality types or personal background context isn’t attributed to what an architect ‘should be like’.