The Metro: Detroiter named first Black female president of American Institute of Architects

Growing up around Detroit’s prominent structures is what inspired AIA President Kimberly Dowdell to become an architect.

A view of Detroit's Michigan Central Station.

A view of Detroit's Michigan Central Station.

Detroit is known for its architecture — a city filled with beautiful old buildings. Growing up around these prominent structures inspired Detroiter Kimberly Dowdell to become an architect.

Dowdell, the first Black female president of the American Institute of Architects, joined The Metro on Friday to talk about her love for Detroit architecture and how she’s inspiring a new generation of architects today.

In her role, she says she wants to encourage young women and people of color to pursue careers in the field. 

“Growing up in the ’80s, and ’90s, a lot of buildings were starting to get shut down or had been shut down for a while,” Dowdell said. “And so I appreciated sort of the beauty of the old buildings, but something was missing, namely, the activation.” 

One building in particular that inspired her to become an architect was the Hudson’s Department Store building downtown. It closed in 1983 and faced the wrecking ball in 1998. 

At the age of 11, Dowdell said she thought someone should reactivate the Hudson building. That led her to learning about the architecture job in middle school art class and what goes into the role. 

She recently toured Michigan Central Station, a building that sat vacant and is now being transformed into Ford’s mobility tech center campus. She’s inspired by the life that is being brought back to the train station, but wishes something similar could’ve happened to the Hudson building. 

As the AIA president, Dowdell says she’s pushing for cities to create a chief architect position, helping cities solve problems in creative ways. 

“I think the most sustainable building is the one that already exists. I love the idea of really investing in our existing buildings,” Dowdell says. “Of course we’re going to need new buildings built from time to time, but also weaving the new and the old together is important.”

More headlines from The Metro on Feb. 16, 2024: 

  • Former President Donald Trump is coming to Waterford on Saturday for a “get-out-the-vote” rally ahead of Michigan’s primary on Feb. 27. Vance Patrick, chairman of the Oakland County Republican Party joined the show to discuss.
  • Early voting for Michigan’s primary starts on Feb. 17. WDET’s Pat Batcheller reports on how clerks are working to ensure the primary goes smoothly
  • Libraries provide community members with more than books. Jamie Morris, head of communications and strategy for the Clinton-Macomb Public Library, and Jeff Milo, marketing coordinator for the Ferndale Area District Library, joined the show to share the many ways libraries are providing community resources. You can also hear Milo on his new music show MI Local, on WDET 9 p.m. Tuesdays and 1 a.m. Saturdays.

Listen to The Metro weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET on 101.9 FM and streaming on-demand.

Trusted, accurate, up-to-date.

WDET strives to make our journalism accessible to everyone. As a public media institution, we maintain our journalistic integrity through independent support from readers like you. If you value WDET as your source of news, music and conversation, please make a gift today.

Donate today »