Student Story: Kendall 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 a background of 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 hails from rural Virginia, where his family has lived for several generations. His academic journey began when he earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Virginia and a master’s in real estate development from Georgetown University. After working briefly in real estate, Kendall moved to Paris for a year, 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 and authentic work.”
After returning from Paris, Kendall was hired by Franklin City Public Schools in southeast Virginia. He discovered his passion for teaching when he led courses in technical and architectural drawing for students in grades 6–12. During his time there he met his wife, Allison. The two have been happily married for nine years and have four children.
“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.”
A few years ago, 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 his understanding of the intricate relationship between race and design.
“Everything I knew was self taught—not because I pursued African American Studies or Ethnic 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 much more 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; in the end, the GSD seemed 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. Luckily, 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 acknowledgment 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.”
Having graduated last month, Kendall looks forward to returning to a quiet life in Virginia with his family and feels confident that he will now be able to make a larger impact as a researcher and educator. His ultimate goal is to open a small design research firm, and now, after his time at the GSD, he feels equipped with the skills 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. Kendall is passionate about reforming the design process to include the acknowledgment of racial and gender epistemologies.