Black History Month – The Work and Importance of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA)

by Ian Vaughan

As we celebrate Black History Month, I thought it would be important to share with everyone the work of the National Organization of Minority Architects.

As current President of the Virginia Chapter (VANOMA), I wanted to use this post as an opportunity to communicate why this organization is important to me and our industry.

Ian Vaughan, AIA, NOMA. Clark Nexsen Architect and VANOMA President

My first exposure to NOMA was when I was a student at Virginia Tech, and we participated in the annual student design competition at the national conference in San Francisco. At that conference, was the first time I learned of Phil Freelon and other Black architects from around the country that I would otherwise be unfamiliar with. 

NOMA was established a little over 50 years ago to address inequality within our profession. NOMA’s mission, rooted in a rich legacy of activism, is to empower our local chapters and membership. NOMA uses programming to foster justice and equity in communities across the country through outreach, community advocacy, professional development, and design excellence. In 2020, VANOMA became an official professional chapter. 

VANOMA Open House Series in Norfolk. Pictured Left to Right: Darryl Griffin-Miles, Ken Martin (Founding VANOMA President), Willie Cooper, and Paul Battaglia. Photo courtesy of VANOMA

At the National Level, NOMA manages the "The Directory of African American Architects” to promote an awareness of who African American architects are and where they are located. According to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), only 2% of licensed architects in the United States are Black or African American, and fewer than one in five new architects identify as a racial or ethnic minority. To address this disparity NCARB and NOMA launched the “Baseline on Belonging,” which is a joint study to identify how minority professionals experience obstacles on the path to licensure. Findings from the study can be found here and NOMA is actively working to address its findings. In addition to that, NOMA recently became the 6th member of the Architecture Organization Alliance (ACSA, AIA, AIAS, NAAB, NCARB, NOMA) and is working in partnership to drive positive change within the industry.  

Each year in October, NOMA has a national conference, which is an excellent way to connect with colleagues and friends from around the world. This conference includes opportunities to network with architects, allied professionals, emerging professionals, and students. Conference attendees receive learning opportunities to fulfill continuing education requirements with various seminars and site visits. The conference also includes design awards, banquets, and a pinning ceremony for newly licensed architects. Last year's conference was hosted in Nashville and this year the conference in scheduled to be in Portland, Oregon.    

Newly Licensed Architects including former colleague and friend NCNOMA President Zakiya Wiggins pictured with Jason Pugh (2021-2022 National President), Pascale Sablan (2023-2024 National President) and Tiffany Brown (Executive Director). Photo Courtesy of NOMA National

NOMA Members during site visit at Tennessee State University which featured many projects by the McKissick Family. This tour was organized by NOMANash. Photo Courtesy of NOMA National

Ian Vaughan with VANOMA Vice President Crystal Miller(Department Chair for the Architectural Engineering Department at Brightpoint Community College) and Robert Easter, FAIA, NOMAC (Founder and President of KEi Architects.) Photo courtesy of VANOMA

At the local level in Virginia, we support National NOMA leadership goals of educating, empowering, and elevating our membership. One of our initiatives at VANOMA is to raise awareness about Black architects with a Member Spotlight Series that elevates minority and Black voices in architecture. These monthly spotlights allow our members to showcase their professional journeys and engage in meaningful dialogue. Recently, VANOMA teamed up with NCNOMA for a two-part series called “Passing The Torch” which showcases Black architects from both Virginia and North Carolina. 

Photo courtesy of Zachary Robinson

Additionally, VANOMA offers programs across the state, including our Project Pipeline camp, ARE Series, and our Professional Development Series. Our Professional Development Series supports recent graduates and students in NOMAS chapters at JMU, Hampton University, Virginia Tech, and UVA by offering portfolio reviews, interview preparation, and mentorship. 

Snapshot of Project Pipeline Summer Camp (Virtual). Students in grade 6-12 explored concepts in Architecture and Master Planning. This past year’s project was loosely based on an active Clark Nexsen Project which is developing the St Paul Master Plan outside of Richmond VA. Photo courtesy of VANOMA

In 2021 VANOMA won NOMA Chapter of the Year, and in 2022 VANOMA was recognized with both AIA Virginia and AIA Northern Virginia Honor Awards. Much of this early success for VANOMA is owed to all our members and supporters. We are grateful for all our sponsors including Clark Nexsen. 

VANOMA members at the AIA VA awards reception. Left to Right: Corey Clayborne, Ian Vaughan, Crystal Miller, Robert Easter, Kenneth Martin, Burt Pinnock, Brian Gore, Breanna LaTondre Helms, Kelley Holmes. Photo courtesy of VANOMA

Additionally, check out the following organizations to support and raise awareness of African American and minority Architects: 

Arch Stories 

Beyond the Built Environment  

Black Women in Architecture Network 

Diversify Architecture 

Ian Vaughan, AIA, NOMA, is an architect with Clark Nexsen and President of VANOMA. Interested in becoming a NOMA member, volunteering, or want to learn more about the organization? Please contact Ian at