#MentorMonday: Richard Asirifi

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:

Richard Kwame Asirifi

Hometown:

Born in Ghana, living in Roebling New Jersey

Current role:

Urban Designer/Project Manager, Topology LLC

What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?

Growing up in Ghana and being from a military family we moved around a lot. This exposed me to diverse cultures and the architecture of varied regions in the West African subregion at a very early stage in my life. Since then, I’ve always been curious about how places came to be, and this continues to influence my passion for design and the built environment.

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

Being a black architect/planner is a great honor I do not take for granted, and knowing the world’s greatest architects designed/built the pyramids in Egypt is ever so inspiring. Yes, I always do feel a high level of responsibility representing and advocating for marginally underrepresented groups, interests, and communities.

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

Generally, I believe obstacles in life are to help us all grow, and navigating these obstacles in school and especially in the professional world contributes to the much-needed experience for professional growth. Lack of opportunities is one major obstacle we always face as minority architects/planners – I remember earlier on in my career when I had just relocated to the US I had a hard time getting work. There were always preconceptions or misconceptions about my experience, what I could do or what I brought to the table. Lack of diversity is another obstacle both in architectural education and practice, you’re sometimes challenged mentally and emotionally when you do not recognize yourself in your surroundings. That’s why I believe we must cultivate and encourage more next-generation architects and planners!

Should we ignore race in this profession?

As long as our profession is geared to serve the public and the public is made up of a myriad of black, brown, white and in between, race in the profession can never be ignored. Embracing diversity generates great new ideas, presents new ways to cater to people, and brings out the best in the profession.

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

Create, build and nurture your brand always! Put your best foot forward wherever you find yourself – in class, studio, break rooms, library, sports field, and online – especially online. Your online profiles (Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, podcasts, websites) are your front office, they are the first impression the world gets of you so always be your best self online. Never underestimate the power of networking – attend school events, participate in competitions and alumni events. Join as many extracurricular organizations as you can and stay active and relevant. To this day, many of the hands that have pulled me up the career ladder are from some associations I formed during my time in graduate school. Keep learning something new every day, there are no limits to knowledge– learn a new skill– photography, videography, cooking, dancing, drawing, new language – whatever it may be. I have found that hiring decisions are not always based on only your hard skills, but many times your soft skills may end up be the deciding factor.  Finally, always keep pushing, there will be many no’s along the way but there also will be some yes’s – so keep focused and stay motivated for those yes’s! 

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

I was quite disappointed when I did not pass my professional exam on the first try, I, however, took the opportunity to go back to the drawing board, reassess my goals, applied myself, and came back stronger and better. Don’t be afraid to fail, there’s always an opportunity to grow and learn in failure.

How important is representation?

Representation is so critical! You can mostly be what you see – seeing people who look like you, speak like you, come from the same place as you always serve as an inspiration to aspire!  

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