#MentorMonday: Meredith Woods
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 was born and raised in Charleston, SC. I currently live in Atlanta, GA.
Current Position and Firm:
Currently, my position is job captain at The Preston Partnership.
What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?
Growing up I was surrounded by the beautiful architecture in Charleston. I was always fascinated by the intricate details of the old buildings. As a kid I kept a notebook of drawings of clothing designs, and random houses. I would watch a show called Trading Spaces after school, and I became obsessed with the idea of designing spaces. My mom encouraged me to think bigger and mentioned architecture as a possible career. Fast forward, I started architecture school at Clemson University in 2007.
What does it mean to be a black architect/ designer to you? Do you feel that you have more responsibility?
Being a Black architect/designer, especially a Black woman, means breaking barriers in a mostly white male dominated field. I feel a responsibility to get licensed because the percentage of licensed black women is extremely low. I also feel a responsibility to look out for younger Black and POC architects since this can be an exhausting profession.
What are some obstacles you’ve experienced or currently experiencing as a black architect/ designer?
The biggest hurdle was surviving undergrad. There were only four minorities my year, two of us were black, and I was the only Black woman. It was hard dealing with feeling ignored, microaggressions, money for supplies, and a learning curve in model making all wrapped in exhaustion. Professionally, I think we all have the “we have to work twice as hard” mentality, because we are representing our race. If we fail in some way, it feels like it will create obstacles for the next Black person in our position. Now I am resolute in who I am as a person, and I know what skillsets I bring to the table. This allows me to be less concerned about “optics” in the workplace.
Should we ignore race in this profession?
Race should not be ignored in architecture. The profession is obviously predominantly white and male. Architecture should reflect and respect the community it is in, therefore architecture firms should have employees from various backgrounds to influence the designs.
If you could give advice to a black student in Architecture/Interior Design school right now, what would it be?
As a Black architecture student it can be a very grueling and isolating experience, but you will get through it. Find yourself a group or organization, I joined Alpha Kappa Alpha, to support you and take you away from the studio. There is more to college than being in the studio all night. Make sure to have fun and be a regular college student.
Describe a moment you were at your lowest on your pursuit to licensure and how did you overcome it?
I am still on my licensure journey, and it is a constant flow of highs and lows. I’m just trying to stay focused and remind myself I am not a quitter.
How important is representation?
Representation is extremely important. I did not see any Black women architects until I attended an AIA convention after grad school in Atlanta. In Charleston, the names of two Black architects were always mentioned to any Black architecture student. The more Black faces that are seen in the profession, the more Black students will enroll in architecture school.