New NOMA Central Texas Chapter Led by Overland Partners Architect Gregory Street, RA, NOMA, NCARB

Like most elementary aged children growing up, Gregory Street craved a small space that felt like his own special hideaway, one where he could retreat to let his imagination run wild. Against the urban backdrop of Chicago’s west side, the first structure he created was in his grandmother’s backyard, a simple loft that allowed him to see beyond the chain link fence that separated his grandmother’s yard from the neighbor’s. “My grandmother encouraged me, my siblings, and cousins to explore the natural world, dig around in the dirt, and would often play good cop when I did too much tinkering with my grandad’s tools,” Street said. The rough inner-city context of Chicago’s west side diminished with Greg’s freedom to dream and create which he said allowed him to maintain his childlike wonder.

Everything changed in Greg’s world the day he left for school and his mother heard gun shots shortly thereafter. Greg and his sisters were fine, but the heart-dropping event clarified his mother’s convictions to move the family. Arlington, Texas was their landing point. Culturally, it was upside down compared to Chicago.

“People talked differently and seemed to have dissimilar interests.  When I walked into Ms. Chatman’s third grade class, none of the kids looked like me. This was my first time experiencing a space and having my skin put me in the minority,” he said.

Even with all the differences, Greg believes the move was the best thing for him and his family – forcing him to make new friends and consider things from different perspectives. He also noted that Arlington had a heightened priority of education and encouraged the arts in high school, which allowed him to pursue one of his passions, singing. He received a high level of classical music training throughout his high school years and considered pursuing a career as a music educator, or in the performing arts on Broadway and opera. “Music fills in the gaps of our language when words are not sufficient,” he said. During his teen years, Greg also had a knack for adding details to his family home. He and his mom were DIY warriors.

When it was time to consider college, Greg had many options, as he was ranked at the top of his class. “I decided to pursue architecture—it is a confluence of all of my interests.” He was still able to sing and perform while working on his architecture degree, combining the two worlds and using the artistry of each to inform the other.  Greg carries this practice into his professional career.

In Austin and at University of Texas School of Architecture, he observed that the ethnic diversity was similar to what he had encountered in his third-grade class so many years ago. He said there were few underrepresented students in his architecture classes, and even more lacking was representation among the faculty. It also seemed that most of his peers were able to be students only, while he worked to help support himself all five years of school.

During Greg’s time at the University of Texas, there was a loosely organized chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS). He found this was a space where the students had many of the same lived experiences and became active in the organization. Under-resourced with little faculty guidance, Greg soon became a student leader and organizer of the NOMAS chapter, where he facilitated cross-disciplinary participation and provided a student-based framework for discussing the Activist Architect.

As part of his architectural studies, Greg completed a professional residency program at Overland Partners in San Antonio and worked on the $100 million Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation at Baylor University, a huge project that allowed him hands-on design experience from concept to construction. “It is still is one of the largest, and perhaps most influential, higher education projects the firm has completed to date,” said Greg.

When deciding where to go after graduation, he returned to Overland Partners, and has been with the San Antonio firm for seven years. As an architect, Greg believes in the power of places and spaces to act as conduits for the improvement of the human condition and is interested in the role that the built environment plays in the creation of identity. This concept came full circle as he and two other architects from Overland attended the 2016 NOMA National Conference in Chicago, Greg’s hometown. It was there that he interacted with under-represented people in architecture in a new context—as professionals who were experts in their fields, advocates, and agents for change in their communities. He felt empowered to do more in his role as a registered architect.

At the same time Greg was gaining experience in his role at Overland, a heightened social climate pervaded the country. Such energy provoked the need to establish an organization like NOMA that would serve two closely located metroplexes: San Antonio and Austin, Texas. Both cities are ranked in the top five in terms of population growth in Texas, yet there was not a professional chapter in either.

“Each of us has a responsibility to effect change in our individual areas of influence,” said Street.

“Architecture just happens to be mine. In the context of our current social and political climate I can think of no greater mission than the one championed by NOMA to carry the profession into the future.”

The timing was right, so Greg sought the guidance of his friend and colleague, Donna Carter, FAIA, in Austin, and others to help shepherd the formation of the organization. Together, they worked to identify and recruit a core group of architects who have a deep interest and commitment to advance the J.E.D.I. principles of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion for the new chapter and profession.

Aligned with National NOMA, the Central Texas Chapter’s mission is to sustain the legacy of NOMA’S Founding members by deepening the visibility, support of, and solidarity of under-represented people in the field of architecture and beyond. Street said that members are advocates inside and outside of their workplaces. “This means bringing their design thinking to committee work in the community or developing the language to discuss hard issues like gentrification and offering strategies that could serve a common good,” he said.

Overland Partners is proud of Greg’s achievements and his colleagues as they pave a new path of inclusion in architecture. Meet the new Executive Board of NOMA of Central Texas:

The new chapter is open all professionals. Follow them @noma_centraltx on Instagram. Inquire at nomacentraltexas@gmail.com or learn more about NOMA’s National Organization at www.noma.net

 

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