The Board of Directors and the Strategic Council of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) have honored the organization, RIDING THE VORTEX, with the 2022 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award.
Established in 1972, the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award annually honors an architect or organization that champions a range of social issues.
For more than a decade, RIDING THE VORTEX (VORTEX), a collaboration of African-American women representing the entire spectrum of practice, had endeavored to increase the number of people of color licensed to practice architecture in the U.S. Following its 2007 launch at the AIA Conference on Architecture in San Antonio, VORTEX has directly responded to Whitney M. Young Jr.’s observations on the disheartening history of American architecture. VORTEX’s key collaborators are architects and design leaders Kathryn Tyler Progmore, FAIA; Kathy Denise Dixon, FAIA; Katherine Williams, AIA; and Melissa R. Daniel, Assoc. AIA. Barbara G. Laurie, AIA, was also a critical member until her passing in 2013.
The collaborators’ primary engagement medium, RIDING THE VORTEX: African-American Women Architects in Practice, was a prime-time program when it debuted at the 2007 AIA Conference and repeat performances occurred in 2008 and 2009. It was also a crucial element of NOMA’s 2008 conference in Washington, D.C.
Everyone involved in VORTEX’s programming, whether they are a collaborator, panelist, or audience member, has emerged from the experience with a unique blend of intellect, creativity, and aspiration that empowers them to move confidently through the profession. Many often find support through the connections they make, allowing them to better respond to all aspects of practicing architecture and better balance their professional, personal, and service lives.
Perhaps the greatest contribution VORTEX has made thus far is its direct impact on the increased number of African-American women architects, which from 2007 to 2020 has risen from approximately 175 to more than 500, according to the Directory of African-American Architects. When participants gain insight and advice from collaborators and panelists who have successfully navigated the maze of architecture education and licensure, it often helps keep them on the path to achieving their own goals.
The number of practicing African-American architects had been a stagnant two percent in recent decades. In the early 1990s, there were just 1,800 licensed African-American architects in the country, and only 30 of them were women. As of the summer of 2021, those numbers have grown to 2,435 and 533, respectively, and VORTEX has been a major catalyst in the 254 percent growth in African-American women architects.
VORTEX’s core program format allows for both creativity and a collaborative process in developing discrete but cohesive sessions. It features presentations by five women, ranging from emerging architects to design professionals at the apex of their careers, who discuss their entrance and progression through the profession. In 2009, VORTEX began including panelists from the region where the program is being hosted. Many of those panelists went on to establish their own programs that provide girls and young women with opportunities to spark an interest in architecture.
Visit AIA’s website to learn more about VORTEX’s selection as the 2022 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award recipient.