For trailblazing a path for Black female architects
There are roughly 122,000 registered architects in the United States. Of those, just 2 percent are Black, a statistic that hasn’t budged in the past decade. And for Black women (the least represented group in the profession), the numbers are even more abysmal, with fewer than 550 on the books. Asia Allen is one of them, and she’s determined to expose more young Black students—girls and women in particular—to the possibilities of a career in architecture.
"It’s often difficult walking into a room of designers, contractors and engineers and being the only Black person," says Allen, a founding member and current VP of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) Nashville Chapter. "But I understand that in those moments, barriers are being broken, and doors are being opened for those who come after me."
It’s a fitting role—Allen is a natural born problem-solver. As a kid, her favorite classes in school were art and math, and she decided to pursue a college degree in architecture because it so perfectly married those dual passions. She joined Gresham Smith in 2015 and worked on more than US$250 million in healthcare facility projects. One of her favorites was also one of her first: Wellstar Cherokee Health Park, a four-story, 112,000-square-foot (10,405-square-meter) medical office building. But it came with challenges.
"It was a new client, and we were tasked with taking a design done by a different design firm through an extensive value engineering process in order to get it in budget," Allen explains. "By working closely with the client and contractor, we were able to reduce the project costs and stay on schedule, without sacrificing the original design intent of the building."
Now a project manager at Smith Gee Studio, Allen recently shifted sectors to focus on multifamily residential spaces. Her first project at the firm also happens to be in her hometown: the Cayce Place master plan, which aims to revitalize the Nashville neighborhood and spans everything from affordable and mixed-income housing to cultural centers and medical spaces. And to ensure the specs align with what the community actually wants, Smith Gee Studio led a 12-month planning process placing a heavy emphasis on stakeholder involvement, with regular town meetings, online surveys and multiple revisions.
Everything about the project—from its emphasis on well-being and equity to its intentional planning process that centered on residents—speaks to Allen, who aims to bring more diverse perspectives into the built environment. Like many in her generation, she says she wants "a career in alignment with the vision I have for myself and the life I want to create."
Q&A: Asia Allen on staying grounded, Big Magic and being unapologetically herself
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m proud of becoming an architect. Finishing school, gaining the experience and passing all of the licensing exams will always be a huge accomplishment for me.
What’s your project management superpower?
My ability to stay grounded in the middle of stress and chaos.
How are young people changing the world of projects now?
Young people are asking more questions and aren’t afraid to challenge what has been considered the norm for so many years. Young people are more passionate about making the right decisions, even if they don’t align with what has historically been considered acceptable.
What book are you obsessed with recommending right now? Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is a book that I always recommend. It’s an inspirational book that encourages you to pursue your creative interests while also dealing with the fear that comes along with it.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?
Be unapologetically you. Everyone else will adjust.