Kimberly Dowdell has made history as the first Black female president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). She was elected at the 2022 AIA Annual Meeting, held virtually earlier this month. Her election makes her the 100th president in AIA’s 165-year history.
Her one-year tenure will begin in 2024. She will first serve as AIA First Vice President/2024 President-elect in 2023 while current First Vice President Emily Grandstaff-Rice will become president, replacing current President Dan Hart.
“As the 295th living Black woman to earn an architectural license in the US, I am keen to help young women and people of colour,” Dowdell said in a statement. “I do believe that representation matters, and I would be honoured to demonstrate a new set of possibilities for young women and people of colour, in particular.”
Before making history this month, Dowdell served as the president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) between 2019 and 2020. As president, she started #AllinforNOMA, an initiative focused on “building greater access, leadership, and legacy opportunities for all,” according to The Architect’s Newspaper. Under her leadership, NOMA grew from 902 members to over 2,000.
Dowdell has been a member of the AIA since 2007 and is currently working as a principal at HOK Architects in Chicago. At the start of her career in 2006, she worked at the General Services Administration in Washington, D.C., where she helped found Social Economic Environmental Design, S.E.E.D., “an initiative intended to supplement the LEED rating system to advance the right of every person to live in a socially, economically, and environmentally healthy community,” according to archdaily.
Currently, Dowdell sits on the board of directors at the Architect’s Foundation, the charitable arm of the AIA, and was recently awarded a Young Architects Award by the AIA for her amazing leadership skills.
Growing up in Detroit, Dowdell had always wanted to be an architect. She was inspired at the age of 11 to become an architect.
“At that time, in the early 1990s, Detroit was experiencing disinvestment, crime, blighted buildings, and things of that nature,” she said. “I recall a very specific moment right in front of the old Hudson’s department store–this iconic building in Detroit which had shut down the year I was born. I remember looking at the building and saying, ‘I want to fix this.’”
Dowdell is a graduate of Cornell University, where she obtained a Bachelor of Architecture in 2006. She went on to receive a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University in 2015.