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My Journey to Fellowship | Kenneth Martin, FAIA

Photograph of Kenneth Martin, NOMAC, FAIA, VANOMA Founding President
Kenneth Martin, FAIA, NOMAC, NOMAF, NCARB, NAAB | VANOMA Founding President

Join us in celebrating the elevation of VANOMA's founding President, Kenneth Martin, to the prestigious AIA College of Fellows! AIA Fellows are recognized with the AIA’s highest membership honor for their exceptional work and contributions to architecture and society. Only 3% of the AIA members have this distinction. And, in 2023, Kenneth was honored to share this accolade with 73 member-architects and three non-member-architects from across the nation.

Prospective FAIA candidates must have at least 10 years of AIA architect membership and demonstrated influence in at least one of the following areas:

  • Promoted the aesthetic, scientific, and practical efficiency of the profession.

  • Advanced the science and art of planning and building by advancing the standards of practice.

  • Coordinated the building industry, and the profession of architecture.

  • Ensured the advancement of the living standards of people through their improved environment.

  • Made the profession of ever-increasing service to society.

  • Advanced the science and art of planning and building by advancing the standards of architectural education and training.

Kenneth has chosen to commemorate this momentous event by sharing details about his path to fellowship with our VANOMA family:

My Journey to Fellowship

My elevation by the AIA College of Fellows to FAIA status was a wonderful experience. It represents a monumental shift in how others see me, but also in how I see myself.

The new title doesn’t define me, but it adds an extra emphasis to my credentials. Having recently gone through the process, I can tell you the rewards far outweigh the rigors of the process. KENNETH MARTIN

My volunteer tendencies began when I was a student of architecture at the City College of New York. I attended this tuition-free school and received a scholarship from the AIA. In the 1970’s, the Civil Rights movement was in full swing. We formed the Black and Latin Workshop and were given the freedom to hire our own instructors for studio. We called our group “Mfanyiza” (the creators).

MFANYIZA (The Creators)
MFANYIZA (The Creators)

I was president and we petitioned the school administration to fund our field trips to other cities. We studied architecture and met with architecture greats such as I.M. Pei, visited Toronto, Canada (Toronto City Hall) and Boston, MA (Harvard’s school of architecture). This was a fun and informative time for our group.

Following graduation and a move to Atlanta, Georgia, I enrolled at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and due to good grades was awarded a fellowship by my employers towards a Master of City Planning degree. During the final stages of completing this degree, I was recruited by the Upjohn Company, a pharmaceutical firm in Kalamazoo, MI. Another architect and I formed an Explorer’s Post for middle school and high school students interested in architecture. We took field trips, attended annual Explorer jamborees and taught them what we knew about the profession. Several of the young men in the group are now licensed architects and planners and we are still in contact. They contributed to my FAIA submission.

We left Upjohn in 1989, moving to Greenville, South Carolina. I received a fellowship from the National Black MBA Association to obtain a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Furman University. My desire was to understand the business end of architecture and to use this degree to either become a partner in a large firm or a principal in my own firm. My family later transferred to Holly Springs, a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina where Piedmont Olsen Hensley, the A/E design firm at which I was employed, had an office.

I continued my volunteer activities and received awards from the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce for service on the board of directors and the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce when my firm had offices in both cities. In Holly Springs, North Carolina, I was a founding parent of the Holly Springs Boy Scouts Troop and the Cub Scouts Pack (my son was an initial member of both). My work was recognized by the Occoneechee District Council and I received the Bronze Big Horn award and the Award of Merit.

I served as a Town Councilman for the Town of Holly Springs starting in 1999. While in this post, I accompanied the Mayor, Town Attorney and an interpreter to China to propose a Sister City relationship with the Province of Liaoyang. We visited five cities in the northeastern part of the country including Beijing, Dalian and Liaoning. Our small town grew from about 800 back then to over 38,000 now. My architectural expertise was handy and I designed many buildings in Holly Springs including a renovation to the Town Hall and the town’s recreation center.

Kenneth Martin, FAIA, NOMAC over the years

My interests extended beyond architecture. I was the founding president of several organizations such as the 100 Black Men of Triangle East in NC and The African American Cultural Festival of Raleigh/Wake County which are both very active after many years.

Relative to the AIA, I was an AIA NC board member, an AIA Triangle Section board member and the co-chair of the AIA NC Women and Minorities Scholarship Committee which gave out thousands of dollars to deserving students who competed for the award. My co-chair and I created design problems for the students. I also created an event with the AIA Triangle Section called 'Scrap City' which was held in the heart of downtown Raleigh. Kids came to the downtown storefront on a Saturday and used donated scraps of metal, wood, plastic and other materials we obtained from contractors, to construct “buildings.”

I joined NOMA in 1991 and served as the NOMA Southern Regional VP. I visited every chapter in my region and several new chapters were created including Memphis, Orlando and Miami. I was given the key to the city in Memphis by the Mayor. In 2001, I was elected President of National NOMA. During the national conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida that year, we honored the original Founders of NOMA. Following the conference, we treated the membership to a cruise to Nassau, Bahamas where the concept for the organization was formulated. We held a luncheon to allow the Founders to inform the members of their planning during that time. In a bold move, I led the charge to fire our executive director firm for non-performance. This was a very stressful time for NOMA, but we weathered the storm.

From 2008 to 2013, I served on the NAAB Visiting Team. The mission of NAAB is to evaluate the architecture programs at various universities across the US. This evaluation must occur every 5 years to recertify the university’s programs. As a perk, I was given the team leadership to evaluate the architecture program at the University of Hawaii.

In 2015, we resurrected the NCNOMA chapter which had been dormant for many years. I was made chapter president and wrote many of the chapter’s documents. In 2020, the year after I left North Carolina and moved to Virginia, NCNOMA received the Most Improved Chapter of the Year award from the NOMA national office.

A similar situation occurred in Virginia after relocating there in 2019. We started a NOMA chapter there. I was made chapter president and again wrote the chapter documents, importing many from North Carolina. We again won Chapter of the Year from National NOMA. My wife and I relocated back to North Carolina in 2022 and I resigned my position with VANOMA.

At present, I am founding principal of The OBSIDIAN Group, and am attempting to begin another Explorer’s post in Raleigh to encourage students to enter our profession.

Kenneth Martin, FAIA with VANOMA members at the 2022 AIA VA honor awards reception.
Kenneth Martin, FAIA with VANOMA members at the 2022 AIA VA honor awards reception.


Keep up with Ken by sending him an email or messaging him on LinkedIn.


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