Cultural Expression in Design: A Comparative Study of African-American and Nigerian Designers

Presented by: Abimbola O. Asojo, Ph.D., AIA, LEED AP, IDEC

In 2010, the United States Census Bureau estimated that ethnic minorities make up 36.3% of US population. The United States is a multicultural society, with more than one in three Americans belonging to a minority group.  A report titled Building Community: A New Future for Architecture and Practice sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and written by Boyer and Mitgang (1996) notes “the need for inclusiveness is more urgent than ever we were told by practitioners and educators that much of the future of the profession lies beyond U.S. borders, in developing nations and in non-Western cultures” (p. 96). Although the implications of the increasing cultural diversity of our society have been recognized in the design field, there are still significant challenges in terms of design scholarship on minority and non-Western cultures.

The accreditation boards for interior design and architectural education both recognize the importance of integrating culture, diversity and global issues in design education. For example, the 2011 Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) professional standard 2 requires “entry-level interior designers have a global view and weigh design decisions within the parameters of ecological, socio- economic, and cultural contexts” (p. 12). Similarly, the 2009 National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) standard 2.A.10 recommends students understand “the diverse needs, values, behavioral norms, physical abilities, and social and spatial patterns that characterize different cultures and individuals and the implication of this diversity on the societal roles and responsibilities of architects” (p. 22).

All the aforementioned authors and accreditation requirements suggest the increasing need to engage design students in the diverse and global design discourse. In order to effectively design in today’s world, design students have to understand the cultural, social, economic, and political circumstances of many cultures. This study explored how African-American and Africans designers, represented this time by Nigerians deploy cultural expressions in their designs.

The study employed qualitative research methods in obtaining information from fifty black architects and interior designers in the US and Nigeria to see how they integrate black cultural expressions in their designs. The questionnaire was based on a cultural framework which incorporates the following five constructs: social dynamics, juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary culture, elements and principles of design, visual and performance arts, and sustainability (-----, 2011). 

Our findings show that African-American and Nigerian designers derive inspiration and concepts from indigenous African cultures. Our presentation will illustrate and demonstrate how designers incorporate cultural expressions in their work. Our goal is to contribute to the body of knowledge on how cultural expressions inform design.


  • ------ (2013). Application of a Cultural Framework for Interior Design Education: Pedagogical  Examples from Design Studio. In Proceedings of the 2013 Interior Design Educators Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana (pp. 409-414).
  • Boyer, E. L., & Mitgang, L. (1996). Building Community, A New Future for Architecture  Education and Practice. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
  • Council for Interior Design Accreditation. (2011) Council for Interior Design  Accreditation:  Professional Standards. Grand Rapids, MI: Author.
  • National Architectural Accrediting Board (2009). The 2009 Conditions for accreditation. National  Architectural Accrediting Board, Inc. Retrieved December 10, 2009, from
  • United States Census Bureau (2010). United States Census Bureau State & County  QuickFacts. Retrieved September 3, 2011, from
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