#MentorMonday: Mona Elamin
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.
I am your typical Third Culture Kid; I am of Sudanese origin, but I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. As of now, Houston stands as home.
What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?
I suppose I can’t be a true millennial if I don’t mention the Sims. Now that I think about my childhood, I remember an early fascination with spaces and maps, but I wasn’t fully aware of architecture until high school. I was then formally introduced to it by a family friend whom I consider an older sister. With a bit of naiveness and rebellion, I fell into studying architecture. I then developed a sincere appreciation for the design process and conceptual realization.
What does it mean to be a black architect/ designer to you? Do you feel that you have more responsibility?
Being Black in the architecture profession is an honor not to be taken for granted. Last year might have shed light on existing inequities and disparities across the profession, but our real responsibility comes with continuing the fight for diversity, equity, inclusion, and real change.
What are some obstacles you’ve experienced or currently experiencing as a black architect/ designer?
I can’t pinpoint a particular obstacle I’ve experienced, but since moving to the US, I’ve grown to be more conscious of our field’s lack of representation. As a student, I began to feel physically and socially alone in classrooms, and sadly, this feeling is carried today throughout my professional journey. Also, a lack of leadership and mentorship representation creates an ever-growing disconnect for young professionals like myself. You constantly feel like an outsider amongst your peers. I also learned that microaggression could take several forms, including micromanagement which seems minor but truly affects your confidence.
Should we ignore race in this profession?
Absolutely not! Race frames our social diversity, which is also the heart of our architectural identity. We must remember that architecture is a product of multiple cultures, experiences, perspectives, and stories, necessitating design to respond to people’s actual needs within the built environment.
If you could give advice to a black student in Architecture school right now, what would it be?
To be unapologetic, confident, resilient, and critical. Connect with Black and Brown people in the field through professional organizations. I still regret not becoming involved with NOMA (Houston chapter) earlier than I did. Such organizations help you establish connections and relationships with mentors and allies. You are also quick to learn how to advocate for yourself and others. Being a minority is not a disadvantage; it is an opportunity. Ultimately, continue to ask questions.
Describe a moment you were at your lowest on your pursuit to licensure and how did you overcome it?
One would probably be my first failed test, which I don’t view as a low moment; it is part of the process. I am still pursuing licensure, and I am learning how to be less critical of myself and have a stable group of supporters.
Two low moments that shaped my architectural journey happened when I first decided to study architecture. As a freshman, an admission dean told me not to think highly of myself because I am most likely to be a mediocre student. You can only imagine how that broke me as a young adult, but I took that and ran with it. I then transferred to a highly-ranked university, where I couldn’t make the cut to the architecture program at first. I almost gave up, but I made it the second time and met my first architecture professor, Michael Hughes, at the American University of Sharjah, the UAE, who knowingly or unknowingly believed in me and helped me gain my confidence back. I owe to him!
I share these two stories because I think we rarely ever talk about failure in architecture. Because of these two encounters, I firmly believe that failure is nothing but part of the process.
How important is representation?
Representation is not only important; it is critical. It decreases the gap and ever-growing disconnect we face as young professionals with leadership and mentorship. It also creates a comfort level where you’re able to advocate for yourself and others.