Student Spotlight: Kendall A. Nicholson MDes ’23
“Financial assistance was what made it possible for me to choose the GSD, and is especially important for students of color, who may not come from financial privilege. Going back to school at age 34 is valuable—because with age comes maturity, and there is always more to learn. This time around, my focus is on making a larger impact in my chosen career rather than just trying to find a job.”
—Kendall A. Nicholson MDes ’23
Kendall’s academic journey began when he earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Virginia and continued with a master’s in real estate development from Georgetown University. After working briefly in real estate, Kendall moved to Paris, where he worked for a community architect.
“Working in Paris was an amazing experience, but deep down I knew that a traditional career path in either real estate or architecture wasn’t where I would have the biggest impact. It was hard to make the change, but I knew doing so would lead me to more fulfilling work.”
After returning from France, Kendall was hired by Franklin City Public Schools in his home state of Virginia. There he discovered a passion for teaching after leading courses in technical and architectural drawing for students in grades 6–12. He also met Allison, his wife, there.
“No part of this journey would work if it weren’t for Allison’s love and sacrifice. If there’s one thing you include in this story, let it be how incredible my wife truly is.”
Four children and nine years of marriage later, Kendall and Allison began discussing the possibility of him pursuing a second graduate degree. In his academic career, Kendall has been engaged in exploring issues of race and racism within architecture; he felt compelled to further explore the intricate relationship between race and design.
“Everything I knew was self taught—not because I pursued African American Studies, but just from my own lived experience. I remember telling my wife that I wanted to know about the relationship between race and design in a more theoretical way.”
They agreed that if he was going to go back to school, the decision had to make sense for the whole family. Additionally, they did not want to accumulate debt on top of their existing student loans. Kendall began to search for a program that would offer new opportunities for him and his family of six. The GSD felt like the best fit.
“I appreciated the freedom the GSD MDes program gave me to pursue my research interests without being locked into a specific curriculum. The chance to learn from peers who had expertise in different areas felt like a very exciting opportunity.”
When Kendall applied to the GSD his youngest child was a newborn, which made the whole endeavor feel somewhat unrealistic. But, he had the opportunity to speak with the GSD’s Office of Student Affairs to explain his situation, and ultimately received the Dean’s Merit Scholarship along with additional financial support.
“Receiving financial support from the GSD made everything tangible. I’ve always strived to be responsible with our finances, and we wanted to make wise choices and explore all available options. I received the support to help provide for my family, but it was also an acknowledgement of the significance of my research and its potential impact on the field. It’s validation of the value I bring, both as a caretaker and as a catalyst for professional advancement.”
Kendall’s work aims to investigate racial constructions of the land, labor, and layout of existing and future built projects. By viewing architecture through this lens, he hopes to help push the discipline further by understanding the role of race in building design.
“For design professionals, recognizing race as a social construct needs to be a fundamental consideration—it cannot be a siloed endeavor. Setting up race education as a supplement to core curricula is a complete disservice to the people who live and work in the spaces we are creating.”
Kendall graduated in 2023, and continues to increase his impact as a researcher and educator. His ultimate goal is to open a design research firm. Now, he feels equipped to do so.
Kendall is the author of Where Are My People?, a research series that investigates how architecture interacts with race and how the nation’s often-ignored systems and histories perpetuate the problem of racial inequity. He is currently working as the director of research and information for the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, an organization that leads and directs architectural education for 147 architecture schools in the US and Canada.