ABOUT First 500
When I first moved to Chicago after graduate school in 2015, it was in search of a community of Black women architects–future friends, collaborators and mentors who would inspire and help guide my career. I quickly learned that this community was more decentralized than I had anticipated, and there were little to no resources to connect and celebrate this distinguished group and their accomplishments.
Inspired by this challenge, and honoring a vow to my beloved grandfather to live my passions and mentor girls from similar backgrounds as my own, I founded FIRST 500 to create a centralized community and resource for designers of all levels, and to inspire Black women and girls to infinitely increase their licensed representation in the industry.
As designers, it is our responsibility to serve and to reflect the communities we design for. This starts with increasing the number of licensed Black women architects practicing globally. I hope you join us as we grow and celebrate this collective legacy!
Learn more about the team charting a new course for justice and equity within architecture.
A St. Louis native, now based in Chicago, Tiara Hughes is a Senior Urban Designer at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), an adjunct professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, a Commissioner with the City of Chicago Landmarks Commission, and a real estate professional.
She is a devoted activist, educator and advocate for underrepresented communities and voices, and currently serves on the Board for the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) and the Charnley-Persky House Board of Directors for the Society of Architectural Historians. Tiara’s personal experiences in the industry along with her passion for advocacy led her to establish a national research initiative called FIRST 500 in 2018. As the founder and executive director of FIRST 500, Tiara travels the country to raise awareness of the importance of Black Women Architects throughout history and their contribution to the built environment.
Tiara is a believer in giving back to her community, serving as a co-leader of SOM’s ACE Mentorship program in Chicago. As a designer, Tiara is driven by creating work that emphasizes greater socioeconomic equity and cultural awareness. She believes “Ultimately our efforts to positively impact communities of color will expand outward and evolve our academic institutions, our firms, our industry and by extension, our communities.” In 2021, Tiara received the prestigious AIA Associates Award, given by the Institute to associate members who best exemplify the highest qualities of leadership and have demonstrated an unparalleled commitment to their component or region’s membership.