Danielle McCleave has become the first Black woman to earn a Doctor of Architecture professional degree at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa School of Architecture (UH Mānoa). She obtained the degree in the spring 2022 semester, a major achievement for the university and the national architectural professional community considering Black women are deeply underrepresented as architects and designers.
Figures cited by the university show that nationally, the number of licensed Black architects in the U.S. sits at only 2 percent of 116,242. Of that number, Black female architects represent only 0.4 percent of licensed architects.
“When I first found out I would be the first Black woman to obtain this degree, I was hit with a variety of emotions. I was excited to be in this position of trailblazing, and I knew it would be encouraging for other Black women looking to get into design,” McCleave told the university.
She said that even though she was proud to have come this far, she was also saddened that in 2022, there are still firsts like this to be had. “It honestly is overdue, and I feel like there is room for improvement in the architecture world, and in the architecture curriculum to highlight and showcase more females and people of color designers,” said McCleave.
Before her doctorate, McCleave earned her bachelor of fine arts with an emphasis in sculpture and painting from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. While she was at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa School of Architecture, she won the Hawaiʻi Architectural Foundation award for her thesis on housing, titled “Redesigning the Hood: Using Culturally Aware Wellness as a Tool to Inform Architectural Design.”
She now wants to go on with her research of equitable housing and culturally aware design practices in architecture while still incorporating her art into architecture and design practices, a statement by UH Mānoa said.
“Historically, architecture has been a predominantly white and male profession and it remains so. But with graduates like Danielle that will hopefully change. It is vital that architects represent all walks of life and cultural experiences and Danielle’s achievement is a significant step in that direction,” said Laura McGuire, a UH Mānoa assistant professor of architectural history, theory and criticism.
McCleave has expressed gratitude to her classmates, friends and family for supporting her throughout her journey at UH Mānoa. She hopes that her story will inspire others to follow in her footsteps.
“We have learned time and time again that representation matters, and how important it is to be able to see yourself in other people doing different things, so I hope that my journey can be an encouragement for other women and people of color to get into architecture and design,” said McCleave.