Meet the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in Architecture at a US university

Pioneering Change: Danielle McCleave Breaks Barriers as the First Black Woman to Attain a Doctorate in Architecture

In a groundbreaking moment for the architectural community, Danielle McCleave has made history by becoming the first Black woman to achieve a Doctorate in Architecture from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa School of Architecture. While her remarkable accomplishment is a cause for celebration, it also sheds light on the glaring lack of diversity within the field.

Upon discovering her historic achievement, McCleave experienced a spectrum of emotions, ranging from excitement to a sense of melancholy, realizing that she now stands as the first and only Black woman in her position. In an industry where representation is paramount, her success serves as a source of inspiration for aspiring Black architects and designers.

McCleave’s academic journey commenced with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, focusing on sculpture and painting, from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. Her passion for architecture led her to UH Mānoa, where her exceptional thesis, titled “Redesigning the Hood: Using Culturally Aware Wellness as a Tool to Inform Architectural Design,” earned her the prestigious Hawai’i Architectural Foundation award.

Motivated by her commitment to fair housing and culturally sensitive design practices, McCleave plans to persist in her research in these areas while infusing her work with her artistic sensibilities. Her determination to bridge the gap between diverse cultural experiences and architectural representation marks a significant stride toward a more inclusive industry.

Laura McGuire, an assistant professor at UH Mānoa, underscored the historic nature of McCleave’s graduation and expressed optimism that her accomplishment will pave the way for increased diversity in architecture. McGuire emphasized the importance of architects representing various backgrounds and cultures, making Danielle McCleave’s achievement a pivotal moment in that direction.

McCleave graciously acknowledged the unwavering support she received from her loved ones, teachers, family, friends, and peers, highlighting the profound impact of their encouragement on her journey. Looking ahead, she expressed optimism for the future of UH Mānoa, envisioning a more diverse and equitable institution.

Danielle McCleave’s groundbreaking achievement not only propels her career but also catalyzes transformative change within the architectural realm. Her story stands as a testament to the power of perseverance, determination, and the vital importance of dismantling barriers to foster a more inclusive and representative industry.