A couple weeks ago, Devanne Pena made a surprising discovery.
“I just became a licensed architect,” Pena said. “I found out that I am the second black woman to be licensed in Austin, Texas altogether, which is nuts.”
Pena was keeping her eye on a directory of African-American architects maintained by the University of Cincinnati, but that directory is an unofficial record. We turned to some official record-keepers to see if Pena was really the second black female architect currently working in Austin.
Glenn Garry with the Texas Board Of Architecture Examiners said Pena is set to become the third black woman architect licensed in Austin after some standard administrative procedures, but there could be even more that aren’t accounted for.
“So it looks like Ms. Pena is almost correct,” Garry said. “Our database has a field for whether you’re male or female, for what your race or ethnicity is, stuff like that. Those fields are totally optional though, so we have a lot of people who don’t answer any of that stuff, so we can’t – we don’t know.”
Why diversity matters
Still, the data does point to an overall lack of diversity in the field. Out of the more than 1,100 licensed architects in Austin, only seven reported their race as African-American.
You may be thinking, why does any of this matter? What difference does it makes if the person designing a building is a man, a woman, or a person of color? We posed that question to Donna Carter, the first black woman architect on record to be currently licensed in Austin.
“The form can be very, very important to how a community and a culture survives,” Carter said.
To Carter, architecture is more than just technical design and planning. It’s a mode of creative expression, a way of defining your community and your idea of home.
“In many, many urban situations, 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock at night the streets are bustling,” she said. “There are little kids out on the street. They’re out on the front porch, it’s hot inside, everybody’s kind of out. To me, the very presence of front porches without huge gates in front of them, to me, that’s very welcoming.”