Architect Charles Hudson Jr. can remember moments when his clients assumed one of his white interns was their home architect.
If they weren't disrespectful or rude about his presence, he said it didn't bother him too much.
He would let the intern do the talking and if he or she made a mistake, he would correct it and eventually introduce himself as the architect.
“It’s funny. You get used to it," said Hudson, whose architecture career has spanned 20 years.
The owner of Hudson Designs Inc. is one of fewer than 10 black architects in the Lowcountry. The Directory of African American Architects lists seven black architects who work in Charleston, North Charleston and Johns Island. Across the state, there are only about 20.
These numbers are low, especially considering the fact that there are 35 architecture firms registered with the American Institutes of Architects in Charleston alone. But the issue isn't necessarily unique to South Carolina. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards found that black people make up only two percent of all NCARB certificate holders.
"It is still well behind what one would ideally like to see," said Ray Huff, the director of the Clemson Architecture Center in Charleston.
The scarcity of black architects a nationwide issue, but it does present an acute problem in Charleston, which was recently named the No. 1 moving destination in the U.S. New construction is changing the city on a daily basis. Architects are in demand, Huff said.
Unlike some other cities, though, Huff said there aren't as many black residents in Charleston who have means to afford an architect. The black professional community, he said, isn't especially strong here compared to areas like Columbia, where two historically black colleges exist.
But Charleston is slowly changing, he said. "The problem you have is that there aren't a lot of black architects to do this."
Few role models
If it wasn't for a torn ACL, Hudson said he probably would have never become an architect. He wanted to be a pilot in the Air Force, but he was unable to join after sustaining the injury.
Because he spent so much time doing little designs on his own, his father suggested that he should try to be an architect. So he did.
Growing up, neither Huff nor Hudson really had people that could actively introduce them to a career in architecture. In fact, Huff came to Clemson in 1966, three years after Harvey Gantt.
Gantt was the first black person to integrate Clemson, as well as the first black person to enroll in the university's renowned architectural program.
"I didn't have many role models," Huff said.
While he did a lot of commercial architecture in his career, Huff went on to work on some of the earlier homes on Kiawah Island. He also started a firm with Mario Gooden. The two were commissioned by the Gibbes Museum of Art to design an architectural installation for its 100th anniversary.
Hudson has built, designed and renovated homes throughout Seabrook and Kiawah Island, Charleston and Charlotte.
For a long time, Hudson didn't really see a lot of clients of color when working on these homes. It wasn't until one day when he was walking through one of his Kiawah projects that things changed.
Some women of color saw him and said they never knew there were architects of color.
“I see a lot more people of color on the island than I did before," Hudson said.
Huff said his clientele was the same. When he would work with churches, he would interact with some clients of color, but there are few churches with predominately black congregations being built, he said.
Both Hudson and Huff have taken steps to gradually improve diversity within their field. Clemson has been trying to include more people of color in their program, Huff said.
The university also runs a summer camp and a program for grade school students that allows them to work on designing an actual room instead of just listening to architecture lectures.
The goal is to expose more youth to the career field.
"If we were to sit there and just talk to young people, we couldn't capture them," he said.
Hudson tries to hire more people of color for internships, especially women of color. (Women, as a whole, make up only 20 percent of the NCARB certificate holders.) Hudson hopes that internships like these will expose future architects to the business side of designing homes.
That way, they can feel more empowered when things get challenging or borderline offensive.
“You won't get discouraged as long as you’re making money," he said.