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Danielle McCleave

Danielle McCleave in the spring 2022 semester became the first Black woman to earn a Doctor of Architecture professional degree at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa School of Architecture.

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“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. I was also proud to have been here, this program is not easy, and I had to overcome a lot to accomplish it, but I 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.

Nationally, the number of licensed Black architects in the U.S. sits at just 2% of 116,242. Of that number, Black female architects represent only 0.4% of licensed architects, making this a milestone for UH Mānoa and the national architectural professional community.

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“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. “Black women are deeply underrepresented as architects and designers. I strongly believe that great design is a right not a privilege, and for that to happen, there needs to be designers that are a part of and deeply understand the communities they are designing for.”

Diversifying architecture

Before earning her doctorate, McCleave earned her bachelor of fine arts with an emphasis in sculpture and painting from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. While at UH Mānoa, McCleave 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,” and wants to continue her research of equitable housing and culturally aware design practices in architecture, and also continue incorporating her art into architecture and design practices.

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“Historically, architecture has been a predominantly white and male profession and it remains so,” said Laura McGuire, a UH Mānoa assistant professor of architectural history, theory and criticism. “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. Her graduation is also an important step for the School of Architecture. We are already one of the most ethnically diverse architecture schools in the nation, but have graduated only a handful Black Doctor of Architecture students. We hope that with examples like Danielle, UH Mānoa can attract more Black undergraduate and graduate students whose life experiences will further enrich the university community.”

McCleave hopes that by sharing her milestone it encourages people to look into more diverse architecture practices and people for their knowledge and case studies.

“I am so grateful for my time at UH, and the teachers that helped me to grow as a student and professional, I can’t lie and say that it was easy, but I truly would not have been able to accomplish any of this if it weren’t for my classmates, friends and family,” said McCleave. “I am excited to see the future of the architecture department and UH as a whole as it becomes more and more diverse and equitable.”

This achievement is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Enhancing Student Success (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

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