Tiara Hughes: Distinguished Member, November 2018

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Tiara Hughes

Firm: SOM, Chicago

How did you first learn about architecture and when did you decide that it was an area of interest for you?

When I was in elementary school, I was placed in a gifted arts program. Every year the students in this program produced art for a holiday fundraiser to sell at their art show. The proceeds would go toward the money raised to purchase holiday gifts for ALL the students in the school. In the 3rd grade, I decided to try different mediums and a variety of images – it was then that I realized I was particularly gifted and passionate about drawing buildings. Later that same year I saw blueprints for the first time – astonished, I was able to put two and two together that those drawings represented the footprint of a building. I knew from there I was destined to be the person designing buildings and producing those blueprints. A year later in fourth grade I learned the term architect – the same passion and excitement I had when I first laid eyes on blueprints is still within me.

What do you do?

I currently serve as a Senior Urban Designer for SOM which enables me to focus on the overarching concepts of complex problems and having an impact on a much larger scale. Additionally, I am a Real Estate broker for Chicagoland.

What makes your work exciting or inspires you professionally?

The work I do now is so important and impassioning  to me because I am able to give back communities similar to where I come from. It feels great to relate to the work I do on a personal level. Education is another passion of mine and real estate allows me to educate those around me about a whole breadth of knowledge including their financial options for property ownership. In conjunction with my careers, being a voice and leader for my peers, inspiring our youth and volunteerism are the philanthropic aspects in the work I do that excite me as well.

Who or what inspires you professionally?

I will always appreciate the likes of Mies Van Der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright and more recently Jeanne Gang, Dina Griffin, and Santiago Calatrava. But I think of one person as my greatest inspiration when it comes to paving the way, standing by her truths, and delivering audacious, new typologies to our industry. Zaha Hadid has done more than just influence me, she serves as one of my idols. From breaking into this industry with such bold flavor as a minority to being the first woman awarded the Pritzker in 2004 – Zaha conquered all during her time. For all aforementioned, she lives on through me and others she inspired.

The other inspiration I receive is from our youth. They are so eager to learn. A lot of them do not have information about Architecture, Construction & Engineering (ACE) readily available. We engage with them and fill that void. They inspire me to keep going and to keep applying myself because I want to serve as the best possible mentor to them. Our youth is EVERYTHING!

What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement?

My proudest professional accomplishment so far was launching First 500 at the end of 2017. The idea of my project: FIRST 500 started when I finished my M.Arch in 2015 and immediately moved to Chicago from Springfield, Missouri. This was a huge change for me culturally, and practically. The goal was to become more acclimated with the city by connecting with black women architects to learn the ropes from them. Searching led me only to find that there was not a central resource anywhere about these ladies and their accomplishments. Furthermore, I learned that of 105,000+ licensed architects, less than 500 of them are African American Women. Many emotions and ambitions were evoked from this statistic alone. At the same time, I grew an admiration for these idol women before meeting them. NOMA, I-NOMA and other leaders in the architecture realm are backing this project so I expect great things to come of it. Among many other things, FIRST 500 will become a publication highlighting each and every one of the African American Women Architects. This will serve as the central resource for all of their stories.


I have been involved since 2016. Shortly after I relocated to Chicago in 2015, I was connected with I-NOMA. The work we do is great at touching other lives in ways that play a huge role. I love, love, love introducing kids to ACE and serving as a resource in any way I can as they start their road to becoming an architect. Furthermore, NOMA is my family. I am away from home and have no family in Chicago, but because of this group of people, I have never felt empty. Our chapter is one of the largest in the country and it doesn’t feel that way when you’re in it. Everyone cares and roots for your success.

What do you value most about your I-NOMA Membership?

I value the opportunities I-NOMA offers to get involved and grow as a leader. I also get personal coaching and mentoring as I go from other leaders.  For me, lifelong friendships have come from this group of amazing individuals. Truly, what you put in is what you get out.

Featured Project

Kentucky International Convention Center, Louisville, Kentucky. Completed August, 2018   Role: Architectural Technician and Team Member

Kentucky International Convention Center, Louisville, Kentucky. Completed August, 2018

Role: Architectural Technician and Team Member

HOK was awarded this project from winning the design competition. The renovation and expansion of the downtown convention center will help retain events that are outgrowing the current building and will create space to attract and accommodate new events that have been unable to fit into the current facility. Louisville is nearing the completion of a $1 billion transformation. Not only are we home to a brand-new convention center, we’re also home to a world-renowned culinary scene, countless Bourbon distilleries and cocktail destinations and endless authentic cultural experience.