2021 Young Architect Award Recipient
Emerging talent deserves recognition. The AIA Young Architects Award honors individuals who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made significant contributions to the architecture profession early in their careers.
A mathematician by nature, Danielle Tillman’s, AIA, NOMA, career path has not been linear. Instead, her stature as a leader and ability to problem solve has allowed her to address architectural issues through sound logic. As a member of the small group of Black women—less than 500—who have become licensed architects in the United States, Tillman strives for a profession and built environment that reflects its communities. Throughout all of her work, Tillman is visible and tenacious in her engagement in an effort to shift the perception of what an architect is.
Tillman’s professional career began as a graduate school intern in Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s (SOM) Chicago offices. When her schooling was complete, she returned to SOM and emerged as an advocate and mentor on the team shaping the Olympic Village master plan for the city’s 2016 bid to host the Olympics. While the project was a global competition, its local effects would have reverberated throughout a historic Chicago neighborhood for generations. Those experiences honed Tillman’s ability to work hand in glove with government officials while balancing the long-term development needs for countless community members and stakeholders.
"She is working to grow a profession that embraces increased diverse, inclusive, and equitable relevance for service to communities in a global context."
In 2011, Tillman joined Chicago’s bKL Architecture. Last year, she was elevated to managing principal and remains committed to ensuring the firm’s work mirrors the communities it serves. Her portfolio spans a wide range of project types, programs, and locations, but the common denominator of her work is her careful consideration of user needs and contextual impact. While Tillman has led the design of a number of high-rise projects, such as the 48-story Wolf Point West apartment building on the convergence of the north, south, and east branches of the Chicago River, projects like the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Branch Library on the city’s South Side highlight her architectural priorities.
“Recently, she served as the lead architect for the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Branch Library, which included a renovation and addition,” wrote Thomas Kerwin, FAIA, founding principal of bKL, in a letter nominating Tillman for the Young Architect Award. “It was inspiring to observe her enthusiasm while working with members of the neighborhood, ensuring that the library’s design reflected the purpose of the intended space: to serve as a community center for the neighborhood and to be an architectural jewel for the community.”
Further guided by her values, Tillman strives to create opportunities to support the profession’s future leaders. From 2015 to 2019, she served as a mentor with LINK Unlimited Scholars, which supports Black students in Chicagoland through their time in high school. In addition, she has overseen spring break internships at her firm and has been a juror for Chicago Architecture Center’s Newhouse Architecture and Design Competition. Today, Tillman is working to increase the representation of Black architects in her firm by forging internship partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities.
Viewing architecture as a continual journey has prompted Tillman to continue her leadership development. To that end, she was a member of the Chicago Urban League’s IMPACT Leadership Development Program 2019 cohort. The program, in partnership with the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, hopes to broaden racial parity by supporting emerging Black leaders. Last year, Tillman was approached by her local Urban Land Institute and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation to participate as a seasoned professional in the Yield Chicago 2020 cohort. The partnership seeks to invest in diverse developers to spur impactful projects across the city.
“Danielle Tillman is active in the Chicago architectural community through her engagement with professional and community associations,” wrote Walter D. Street III, AIA, NOMA, in a letter supporting Tillman’s nomination. “She is working to grow a profession that embraces increased diverse, inclusive, and equitable relevance for service to communities in a global context.”