The First Black Female Architect to Earn Doctorate From the University of Hawaii at Mānoa Aims to Diversify The Industry

Meet Danielle McCleave, the first Black woman to earn a Doctor of Architecture professional degree from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa School of Architecture.

McCleave’s degree serves as a milestone within the industry where Black people make up just 2% of 116,242 licensed architects, and Black women represent only 0.4%, the school notes. With her degree, McCleave is looking forward to diversifying the industry and inspiring more Black women to enter the field.

“When I first found out I would be the first Black woman to obtain this degree, I was hit with a variety of emotions,” McCleave said.

“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.”

McCleave received her bachelor’s in sculpture and painting from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, before attending 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,” while in the doctorate program, and stressed the need for more equitable housing and culturally aware design practices in architecture.

“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,” McCleave said.

“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.”

McCleave aims to live up to her new title as a trailblazer by promoting diversity in architecture and design.

“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,” McCleave said.

“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.”