Designing Change: Advocating for Diversity in Architecture

Designing Change: Advocating for Diversity in Architecture

I’ve known since I was 12 years old that I would use my design talents to impact underrepresented communities, and I never expected that journey would bring me to Pittsburgh. 



In 2011, I was invited to Pittsburgh from Florida by the UDREAM Program at Carnegie Mellon University. UDREAM, the Urban Design Regional Employment Action for Minorities, was a nationally recognized program offering a 12-week fellowship to minority designers to increase their opportunity and representation in the region. Many designers have stayed in the city as a result of the program, but not all. During my fellowship, I was exposed to various initiatives going on in the city to encourage discussion on equity, and I’ve dedicated my career to pushing those discussions forward through advocacy with NOMA.


This past October, I had the opportunity to travel from Pittsburgh to Houston, Texas for the 45th Annual NOMA Conference. The National Organization of Minority Architects is a volunteer organization that exists to improve equity and champion diversity in the Architecture Profession. This is the fourth NOMA Conference I’ve attended, and I must say, it was truly eye-opening. As we all know, Houston was hit by Category 4 Hurricane Harvey just a month and a half before the conference, so the planning committee’s ability to pull off a successful event under such adverse conditions was remarkable.



Like Pittsburgh, Houston has its own set of challenges, and the Conference weekend provided a perfect opportunity to engage in discussions ranging from equity and discrimination to sustainability and healthcare design. The weekend was packed with several events including a community volunteer day, professional seminars, a student design competition, and a large meeting to discuss Project Pipeline, an Architectural Camp and the organization’s national effort that is hosted all over the country to expose underrepresented groups to the profession. While the demographics in Architecture are changing, they’re moving slowly.


There are just 1700 African-American Men and 413 African American Women Architects in the United States. According to the NCARB By the Numbers 2017 Report, there are a total of 109,748 practicing Architects in the country. This means that African American men make up 1.5% of Architects and African American Women make up only 0.3% of Architects in the US. That is less than half of 1%…Yikes!



I personally believe that these low numbers are the result of lack of exposure at a young age. Children from underrepresented backgrounds simply don’t know what architecture is or how they can pursue it as a career. I’ve committed myself to help promote Architecture and Stem careers in these communities by volunteering as a Project Pipeline Mentor to connect underrepresented children to the field of architecture.The Pittsburgh NOMA Chapter, NOMAPGH, will host it’s first Project Pipeline Architecture Camp in the Summer of 2018. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact me.

Alicia is the Vice President of NOMAPGH. The next chapter meeting will be held on January 22nd at 6:00 pm.

PHOTO CREDIT: LenardthePhotographer


Alicia Volcy, Project Designer, LEED AP BD+C, NOMA

Do-It-Yourselfer, Cheese Connoisseur, Undisputed Wife of the Year 

Mantra: “You’re allowed five emotional minutes in a day, the rest of the day, you gotta be gangsta!” -Unknown