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Naomi Shewa: my architectural heroes - saluting our sisters

In this blog to mark Black History Month, Naomi Shewa, architect at BDP, discusses her architectural heroes who happen to be Black and women.

17 October 2023

This year’s UK Black History Month theme is saluting our sisters. As an architect, I wanted to take the opportunity to ask myself "who are my architectural heroes, who happen to be Black and women"?

I admit, the names didn't readily spring to mind. Yet, as I pondered, I realised my heroes are a bit closer to home - my mother, sister, aunties, cousins, and friends. Each day, I witness them tenaciously pursuing their goals, unwavering in their belief of their worthiness, and resolute in getting things done, no matter the circumstance. 

To reflect on my architectural heroes, I began by considering a project I am particularly proud of, the Senate House steps at the University of London, also known as the stepped pavilion. This timber structure is a landmark for students, who use it for meeting, eating, relaxing and connecting. 

Senate House Steps, University of London (Credit: Nick Caville)

The pavilion for me was an opportunity to deliver what I always knew I could deliver given the chance. Yes, my architectural education provided technical know-how, but it was the invaluable lessons from my community that fortified my ability. Lessons of self belief, perseverance, and a myriad of other qualities that form the very nature of my practice.

Time and again, the concept of community resurfaces in conversations about the pavilion. It is a space designed not only to meet and thrive but also to serve as a canvas for continued growth. It is an embodiment of providing a platform for community - a space where dreams converge, ideas flourish, and connections deepen.

As we use community as a defining piece in our architecture, I believe we should also use it as passionately in our profession. Much like the pavilion, the wider profession should offer possibilities, actively seek out new voices and ideas, and provide platforms to facilitate the growth of communities, like Black Females in Architecture (BFA). This growth helps our profession to thrive.

So, in the spirit of honouring heroes, I celebrate my community. I celebrate my sisters who I’ve encountered on my career path, who are all at varying points on their architectural journeys, doing incredibly different things and bringing incredibly different ideas with them.

Naki Narh, Rashidah Less, Joana da Silva, Hafsat Abdulsalam, Theresa Badero, Kayira Momife, Atim Kilama, Daisy Adebiyi, Celeste Abayomi, Thelma Mbewe, Iara Silva, China Chapman, Titi Olasode, Carmel Simmonds, Ligia Terra, Temi Soyinka, Ayoola Oyefuwa, Onique Huggins, Nicha Kente, Tati Britto, Vanessa Okeowo.

It’s a short list, right?

As I look to the future, my hope is that we all widen our spheres of influence, so that more names easily come to mind when discussing architectural heroes who happen to be Black and women.

About the author

Naomi Shewa is an architect and designer, holding an MA in Architecture from the Royal College of Art. She has contributed to a range of projects at various scales, including the Senate House Steps and Google's Headquarters in London during her tenure at BDP.

Naomi Shewa

Naomi's expertise spans architecture, art, graphic design, and web design. She is passionate about creating human-centred experiences and believes in the power of storytelling in design. Her work reflects a commitment to crafting memorable and shareable stories.

"In the end, it’s about creating an experience, no matter how small," she asserts. Naomi is driven by a love for crafting experiences, both physical and digital. She adheres to the principle of passing on knowledge to ensure that ideas continue to evolve beyond her contributions.

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