#MentorMonday: Tasanee Durrett
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.
Tasanee Durrett – Founder of H.E.A.L (Helping.Enrich.All.Life.)
What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?
I’ve always had a passion for community, art and culture since I was younger. I thought of becoming a graphic designer until a friend in high school told me about the Chicago Architecture Foundation. I started becoming involved with the organization, where I learned about how the built environment helps shape communities and improve communities that are underdeveloped. I never looked back since.
What does it mean to be a black architect/ designer to you? Do you feel that you have more responsibility?
Being a black designer means having the opportunity to positively impact communities and bring forth innovation to developments. Being a black designer means becoming an example to the younger generations and teaching them that they can also become architects, interior designers, construction managers, etc. I definitely feel that I have more responsibility within my field due to the fact that the representation of minority architects and designers are extremely low.
What are some obstacles you’ve experienced or currently experiencing as a black architect/ designer?
As a double minority in the profession, I’m unfortunately typically viewed in one of two ways. I’m either viewed as an asset to the profession for being a minority only, or I’m valued as a professional regardless of my sex and ethnicity. I faced this when I started in a Design-Build firm right after college, and I learned then that I was valued as being a number for a firm meeting a diversity “statistic” with their employees. I strive to be valued as a professional, not because I’m a Black woman. It’s been a challenge that I’ve been learning to tackle as a young professional in my career.
Should we ignore race in this profession?
Race and culture are integral to Architecture as a whole and should absolutely not be ignored. I believe that designers of color can bring just as much if not more creativity and innovation to the table than their counterparts because of their experiences and backgrounds.
If you could give advice to a black student in Architecture school right now, what would it be?
My best advice to a black student or student of color in Architecture school right now would be to gain your voice and keep it. There will be multiple moments in the profession and in life where people will not recognize your worth. You will have a voice to be heard for your talents and persona as a designer, never lose sight of it.
Describe a moment you were at your lowest on your pursuit to licensure and how did you overcome it?
The pursuit to licensure is a challenging yet rewarding one. I was at my lowest point while on my pursuit licensure after having failed four exams back to back in one year. To add to my frustration and discouragement, there wasn’t much encouragement to pursue licensure at the firm that I was at around this time. It was at that moment where I wanted to give up and where I had thoughts of no longer becoming licensed. After talking to one of my mentors, I was reminded that all successful people fail. Failures are what build us up and make the finish line much more rewarding. That was the driving force I needed to get back on track and finally pass all of my exams.
How important is representation?
We all have a story and each of our stories represents who we are and where we’re going. Representation is important for understanding each other and what we value. By not acknowledging the importance of representation, we are ignoring someone’s background and value, and instead we are using discrimination to understand a person. This causes black designers to be invisible, where we are in fact here! We need more black representation in the Architecture profession to be recognized, seen and heard.