She’s The First Black Woman Architect To Earn A Doctorate From The University of Hawaii At Mānoa


May 27, 2022

She’s blazing a trail! 

The University of Hawaii (UH) at Mãnoa has just graduated its first Black woman Doctor of Architecture, the University of Hawaii News reports.

Danielle McCleave holds a bachelor of fine arts degree, with an emphasis in sculpture and painting from Belmont University. From there she pursued her doctorate at UH Mãnoa, winning the Hawaii Architectural Foundation award for her thesis entitled “Redesigning the Hood: Using Culturally Aware Wellness as a Tool to Inform Architectural Design.” Now McCleave has made history, becoming the first Black woman to earn a Doctor of Architecture professional degree from UH Mãnoa in the school’s 115-year-history. 


“When I first found out I would be the first Black woman to obtain this degree, I was hit with a variety of emotions. I was excited to be in this position of trailblazing, and I knew it would be encouraging for other Black women looking to get into design,” said McCleave.

Of the 116,242 architects in the country, Licensed Black architects account for only 2% of that number, Black women architects making up only 0.4% of the 2%. For McCleave, representation is critical to changing those numbers and ensuring the sector feels like a viable option to others who may be interested. 

“We have learned time and time again that representation matters…Black women are deeply underrepresented as architects and designers. I strongly believe that great design is a right not a privilege, and for that to happen, there needs to be designers that are a part of and deeply understand the communities they are designing for,” McCleave explained.


During her time at UH Mãnoa, McCleave devoted a lot of time to researching equitable housing and culturally aware design practices in architecture, work she plans to continue incorporating into her practice. McCleave said while the doctorate program was challenging, the reward was worth it, albeit bittersweet. 

“I was…proud to have been here, this program is not easy, and I had to overcome a lot to accomplish it, but I was also saddened that in 2022, there are still firsts like this to be had. It honestly is overdue, and I feel like there is room for improvement in the architecture world, and in the architecture curriculum to highlight and showcase more [women] and people of color designers,” McCleave told reporters. 

Laura McGuire, assistant professor of architectural history, theory and criticism at UH Mãnoa, said McCleave’s historic graduation is critical for the sector and the University’s School of Architecture.  While they are one of the most diverse architecture schools in the U.S., the University has still only graduated a handful of Black students, McGuire hoping that McCleave’s story will help attract other Black students. 


“Historically, architecture has been a predominantly white and male profession and it remains so. But with graduates like Danielle that will hopefully change. It is vital that architects represent all walks of life and cultural experiences and Danielle’s achievement is a significant step in that direction,” said McGuire. 

McCleave credits her teachers, family, friends, and peers with helping her navigate this journey. She is also grateful for her contributions to the whole of architecture thus far and is looking forward to a more inclusive future at UH Mãnoa. 

“I am excited to see the future of the architecture department and UH as a whole as it becomes more and more diverse and equitable,” she added.


Congratulations Danielle! Because of you, we can!

Photo Courtesy of Danielle McCleave/UH.edu

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