#MentorMonday: Clarence J. Powell
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.
Clarence J. Powell
Prince George’s County, MD
What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?
I’ve always had an interest in creating spaces with the built environment. While other children were using Jenga blocks as they were intended, I was using them along with my legos to build houses, castles, and parking garages for my Hotwheels. It’s always fascinated me that an idea that I had in my head could come to fruition for others to experience.
What does it mean to be a black architect/ designer to you? Do you feel that you have more responsibility?
There’s definitely a sense of pride in being one of the few black architects in the country. I realize that it was only due to the hard work of those black architects that came before me and those that wouldn’t let me fail that I made it to this point, so there’s a strong sense of responsibility that I feel to help those who are aspiring to the profession.
What are some obstacles you’ve experienced or currently experiencing as a black architect/ designer?
One of the biggest obstacles I faced on my journey to become an architect was the cultural shift that I had to navigate upon entering architecture school. I think that architecture is one of those professions that, in the educational circles, can be quite elitist. If you don’t know the right words or references to use or if you don’t speak a certain way it can affect how your work is perceived. For me, entering that atmosphere and having to find a way to conform to that without losing myself while also adjusting to the fact that I was at an institution for the first time in my life where the majority of the student body didn’t look like I did was almost too much to handle at one time. Currently, I’m at the point in my career where I find myself having to prove myself in rooms where not only am I oftentimes the only black person but also the youngest person at the table. That comes with its own challenges and difficulties, but my time in architecture school and mentorship from older blacks in the profession has paid dividends in finding success in these spaces.
Should we ignore race in this profession?
We absolutely should not. Architecture must respond to the environment in which its placed. If we want to uplift our communities in the best way that we possibly can, we need representation in the profession that understands the culture, is inspired by it, and will produce design that is responsive to it. We also have to put more of an emphasis on the history of architecture not just in Greece, Rome, and its progression and maturation through the European continent but also on the continent of Africa. I imagine that this would be the responsibility and passion of black architects in educational spheres. So yes, race is important; and for more than just representation.
If you could give advice to a black student in Architecture school right now, what would it be?
I would tell them not to quit and not to be discouraged by the rigors of architecture school. I would encourage them that the things that influence them and their ideas are just as powerful and inspiring as those of their peers, and I would encourage them to challenge themselves and explore.
Describe a moment you were at your lowest on your pursuit to licensure and how did you overcome it?
For me, starting something is always the hardest part. I studied and procrastinated for years before starting to take the AREs while I struggled with feelings of ineptitude, imposter syndrome, and a general lack of confidence in myself and what I had learned. I started studying with a peer in the office who started taking the exams and knocking them out of the park. I figured if he could get through the first exam then I could as well and if I failed, at least I would know what the experience was like. So I gave myself a hard deadline by scheduling my first exam for three weeks in the future and hoped for the best. I passed it and ended up scheduling the rest in three week intervals. With each pass I gained more confidence.
How important is representation?
Representation is very important. Not just so that people can see that it’s possible but also so that those who aspire to the profession can have resources and pockets of support. Mine encourage and push me when I need it and celebrate successes when I achieve them. It’s important to have that from people who have had similar experiences and can sympathize with thoughts or feelings that may not be able to be expressed.