GSD Names Kimberly Dowdell the 2023 Class Day Speaker

Kimberly Dowdell Portrait
Photo credit: Anthony Tahlier.

Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) names Kimberly Dowdell as its 2023 Class Day speaker. Dowdell will address the GSD’s class and their families during the School’s 2023 Class Day exercises on Wednesday, May 24, at 3:30 PM ET in the Gund Hall Back Yard.

Kimberly Dowdell is a principal at HOK, a leading global design firm based in Chicago, and frequently lectures on the topic of architecture and the future of cities. Driven by the overarching mission to improve the lives of those living in urban environments, Dowdell has dedicated her career to applying social and economic principles to the profession. She has long championed diversity and triple-bottom-line sustainability, a business concept that posits that firms should commit to measuring their social and environmental impact—in addition to their financial performance—rather than solely focusing on generating profit. In 2024, she will act as the 100th National President of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the first Black woman to hold this position in the organization’s history.

Dowdell currently serves on the Cornell University Board of Trustees, and in 2020 she was recognized as an AIA Young Architect of the Year awardee as well as a recipient of the Architectural Record Women in Architecture award. In her 2019-2020 term as National President of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), Dowdell worked closely with her board of directors and staff to increase opportunities for women and people of color to gain more equitable access to the building professions. Her professional aspirations are rooted in her upbringing in Detroit, where she was initially inspired to utilize architecture as a tool to revitalize cities.

Dowdell earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree at Cornell University and a Master of Public Administration degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Dowdell’s contributions to the architectural profession began during her undergraduate years, when, in 2005, she co-founded the Social Economic Environmental Design (SEED) Network during an internship with the chief architect of the General Services Administration. A global movement that sets standards for economic, social, and environmental justice for design projects, SEED boasts more than 2,000 pledged members and is featured in The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice.

After graduating from Cornell, one of Dowdell’s first projects was the renovation of a dormitory that serves deaf students at Gallaudet University at Ayers Saint Gross in Washington, DC. She was later hired as an architectural technician and communications manager for HOK’s New York studio. To promote the firm’s efforts to empower the communities it serves, she co-founded HOK IMPACT, one of the profession’s first corporate social responsibility programs. Since 2010, the program has given employees a greater sense of connectivity and provided venues to engage the community in a meaningful way. Dowdell recently returned to HOK as a principal, where she is focused on generating new business models in the Midwest. She is the co-chair of the firm’s diversity advisory council, which aims to create a more diverse and inclusive firm culture.

To see a full schedule of 2023 Class Day and Commencement exercises, and for other Commencement information, please visit the GSD’s Commencement webpage.