#MentorMonday: Taylour M. Upton

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:

Taylour M. Upton (@t_m_universal) 

Hometown:

Toledo, Ohio, United States

Current Position and Firm:

Designer II at Cooper Carry

What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?

I used to draw (pseudo-) floor plans of what I envisioned would be my future house(s) in elementary school. But it was not until my sophomore year of high school when I attained “solidified” interest in this thing called “architecture”. I took an Architectural Design/CAD Tech course (taught by someone whom I still connect with today) and participated and placed in the annual AIA Toledo High School Design Competition for three consecutive years. Competition winners got the opportunity to go on field trips to famed architectural works around the country. These experiences allowed me to realize my interest in architecture, and I never looked back.

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

As a Black woman on the path toward becoming a licensed architect, I realize the importance of fighting for societal equality. Growing up, it honestly took some time for me to be explicitly aware of the numerous, ingrained inequities which continue to impair the critical potential that space can have on a sense of being (I have always experienced it, but did not always know exactly what it was). During my undergraduate college career, I attained a minor degree in
Women’s Studies, which exposed me to feminism and intersectionality (its relationship with race, gender, sexuality, etc.).
As I increasingly experience and witness such injustices, I become more and more aware of the significance of #designequity to “make space” for marginalized peoples like me. Such an endeavor does serve as a responsibility that I have as a Black female designer, let alone, as a human being, but it is undoubtedly crucial to the movement towards spatial and social equality.

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

As a Black woman designer, and thus someone upholding (at least) two intersecting, marginalized identities, I have personally experienced the mighty hand of inequality and prejudice. There are obstacles (of various magnitudes) which are a continual battle to overcome in everyday life as a minority in a predominantly White, male profession of
architecture. From experiencing “imposter’s syndrome”, to struggling to find other Black (especially female) designers to relate to, there have been times where a sense of isolation ensued, as well as a feeling of self-neglect due to working in a White patriarchal system that has historically and exclusively considered White bodies as the ideal/standard figure to base design.

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

…. However, in working on my Master of Architecture Thesis, entitled The Un-site, I was able to more clearly understand and define my voice. I learned about the few, but substantive Black and Brown men and women who paved a way for future Black designers such as myself. This project has expanded to become a lifelong pursuit of mine towards #designequity in the profession and built environment. Through networking and connecting with organizations such as the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), I have met more Black female architects/designers than I ever thought existed! I got to know of the similar struggles that they have endured on the path to licensure as I embark on this strenuous path. This comparatively small, but steadily growing network of Black designers has greatly empowered me in my pursuits for spatial justice, and I am glad to be able to also influence others, Black and White.

Should we ignore race in this profession?

I wish that we could simply ignore race, and by that, I mean being a part of a profession and society that were created from the history and continuation of systemic injustices. It is, however, the unfortunate reality that they are both highly erected systems with deep foundations of racism, sexism, and other inequities. Hence, it is only necessary to directly and purposefully address these constraining structures in order to uphold space and opportunities accessible to all. Until such is permanently achieved, instilled, and normalized, race (and gender) must remain an integral part of the discussion and implementation of #designequity.

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

I would say to them what has often been said to me by other Black designers who have come before me and who exist alongside me—be persistent. There will likely be numerous moments throughout their educational and professional career that may seem stagnant and like obstacles which are impossible to overcome. They will likely still be the “minority” in many firms, meetings, and other establishments. It is, nonetheless, imperative to remain passionate about what they believe in and keep their visions and end goals in mind. Additionally, it is a must for them to network and to make others aware of their existence! I have met and connected with many fellow designers of color through NOMA and serving as co-founder of the UC DAAP NOMA(S) student chapter at the University of Cincinnati. These experiences only strengthened my connections with others, thus making me a more well-rounded designer and individual.

How important is representation?

Representation is highly important and encompasses the very essence of oneself and their input/outlook on design in the spatial and societal context. As an underrepresented entity within the architectural profession and overall society, Black designers are justified in the quest for #designequity. From publications such as The Un-site, to discussions and opportunities for learning and growth of all, regardless of race and gender, such efforts are integral components in facilitating an equitable environment that is receptive to everyone.

The Un-site: by Black Women, for Black Women
Visit https://issuu.com/taylour_upton/docs/the_un-site for publication, which focuses on spatial
design from a Black feminist perspective.

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