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Nexus Podcast: Tiara Hughes Calls for Equity across the Architecture Community

by African American Design Nexus | Jul 15, 2021

Season 2, Episode 4: Tiara Hughes calls for equity across the architecture community, with an emphasis on increasing initiatives that focus on education and mentorship.


Tiara Hughes founded the First 500 in 2018, after becoming aware of the fact that less than 500 of the 100,000+ licensed architects in the United States were Black women. The First 500 highlights Black women architects and their contributions to the built environment. This resource has developed into an initiative that mentors the next generation of Black women architects. Tiara’s work focuses on increasing exposure of Black women architects, diversifying curricula, and increasing representation in academia and the workplace. Through the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, she pushed for the preservation of Emmett Till’s home and legacy as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement in the United States of America.

About Tiara Hughes

A St. Louis native, now based in Chicago, Tiara Hughes is a Senior Urban Designer at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), an adjunct professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, a Commissioner with the City of Chicago Landmarks Commission, and a real estate professional.

She is a devoted activist, educator and advocate for underrepresented communities and voices, and currently serves on the Board for the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) and the Charnley-Persky House Board of Directors for the Society of Architectural Historians. Tiara’s personal experiences in the industry along with her passion for advocacy led her to establish a national research initiative called FIRST 500 in 2018. As the founder and executive director of FIRST 500, Tiara travels the country to raise awareness of the importance of Black women architects throughout history and their contribution to the built environment.

Tiara is a believer in giving back to her community, serving as a co-leader of SOM’s ACE Mentorship program in Chicago. As a designer, Tiara is driven by creating work that emphasizes greater socioeconomic equity and cultural awareness. She believes “Ultimately our efforts to positively impact communities of color will expand outward and evolve our academic institutions, our firms, our industry and by extension, our communities.” In 2021, Tiara received the prestigious AIA Associates Award, given by the Institute to associate members who best exemplify the highest qualities of leadership and have demonstrated an unparalleled commitment to their component or region’s membership.

About the Show

Developed by the African American Design Nexus at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, The Nexus is a podcast that explores the intersection of design, identity, and practice through conversations with Black designers, writers and educators. The Nexus is produced in conjunction with a commitment by the Frances Loeb Library to acquire and create an open-access bibliography of various media suggested by the GSD community on the intersection between race and design.


SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
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Chicago, Illinois 60610