Michael H. Anderson, AIA, NOMA - Principal, Anderson Barker, Inc.
Michael H. Anderson, AIA, NOMA - Principal, Anderson Barker, Inc.


Questions for Michael H. Anderson, AIA, NOMA – Principal, Anderson Barker, Inc.

When did you realize architecture was your calling and what were some defining experiences that shaped your values and outlook on the built environment?

7th grade, when I was 12-years old.

From working at our family gas station, I saw how my work servicing customers and repairing their cars made people’s lives better and gave them pride, pleasure, and joy in driving and riding in their clean, smooth cars. At the same time, the community where our gas station existed was dying due to new suburbs extracting upper-income Black folks. My godfather was an architect whose office I could see from my bedroom window in St. Louis as a child. I watched him and his firm remodel old and designed buildings that made the place feel better. I saw him and his partner in Ebony Magazine as the architects of Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital in Willowbrook.

He bought acres of land in St. Louis County and developed an entirely new community for upper-income people. All of this showed me the power an architect could have in shaping the quality of life and economics of a community or place. I could not afford college at the time I graduated high school, so I started working in my godfather’s firm just to be in his world and figure out how to do what he was doing.

Have you faced any specific challenges or biases based on your background or identity that influenced your approach to architecture and your commitment to justice, inclusion, and diversity?

In the hope of going to college, I was told that by working at Hughes Aircraft Company after about one year, I could work part-time, and they would help pay for college. After working there for almost two years this never happened all while watching young white kids hired during the summer join the same division, go to school part-time, and have their education paid for by the company. I enrolled in SCI-Arc and told my boss I could only work three days a week because I was in college and was fired the next week.

At SCI-Arc in the early 1980s, architecture was a “white male son’s” career as white males were the dominant students at the time. During this period of about 400 students, twelve were Black, eight people were from Europe or Africa, and about 30 to 40 other students were women.

How did you overcome these challenges and what lessons did you learn?

Working in the architecture industry I could get a job because I knew how to develop construction documents and knew CAD as well, but always paid about 75% of other staff members in this area. To get a raise, I’d change jobs every eighteen months. I learned by changing firms, I changed the type of projects I was working on and learned various building types and how they affected a community or the people who used the building.

Can you share a project or experience where you actively challenged the status quo in architecture to champion inclusivity and diversity? What were the obstacles, and how did you navigate them to achieve a positive outcome?

On a large multi-billion-dollar project with a $95 million fee, my firm was a support architect to a prominent architectural firm with multiple co-managers. Initially, we were assigned a fee and scope of work of about $2 million over eight years. With the help of the associate architect firm, our fee was raised to $4.8 million, and we were given more task order design assignments.

But while initially working on the project, my team who were predominantly Asian on this project was working in the office of the prime architect and informed me a co-manager asked them to clean the office and restrooms in between assignments. I withdrew my team from their office.

Who are some architects or individuals who inspire you in your pursuit of social justice and equitable design? What qualities or achievements of theirs resonate with you the most?

David Wilcox (Economic Research Associates) & Sadie Tanner Mossell – First Black economist in 1921, Charles E. Fleming – Architect, Richard Thompson ARCHIPLAN – Architect and urban designer. Social justice influencers are Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F. Kennedy.

At David’s company (ERA) we worked on a few projects together while I was working at Archiplan and through their work I learned about how specific buildings, its users such as lawyers with high-paying jobs, affected the retail sales at the small businesses at street level and how sales tax drove revenues to the local government.

Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F. Kennedy both saw inequities and how government, banks, businesses, and white supremacy deprived fellow Americans of constitutional rights and economic prosperity. I believe they also saw that America would benefit more than it could imagine by all people being free to live their best life and this in turn makes America true to its constitution and meaning.

Imagine you have been granted limitless resources to address a specific social justice issue through architecture. What problem would you tackle?

Reducing and eliminating poverty in underserved communities by:

A. Make homeownership a priority for families to be housing secured with a fixed cost (no variable interest rates).
B. Take advantage of LA’s 800,000-unit housing need and incorporate existing single-family homeowners into the solution by converting their house into a courtyard fourplex where they have a home and three income units.
C. Conduct a true SWOT analysis on underserved communities.
D. Design the financial deals to rebuild utility, streets, alleys, parks, and open spaces in the ½-mile radius of light rail transit stations. The purpose is to make a fifteen-minute walkable area capable of accepting new higher-density development with no infrastructure cost being added to each project.
E. Develop new clean tech industrial manufacturing facilities within and adjacent to Metro light rail stations for local job creation and adding higher salaries to the local market economy.

And what would this solution look like?

It would be prefabricated housing delivered like cars where four to six families are living on the same lot. Newly rebuilt sidewalks, streets, lighting, parks, and open spaces as a federally funded public works program similar to the public works programs that built the highways of the past and are rebuilding airports across the country.

As an architect, how do you think we can move beyond simply designing inclusive spaces to proactively fostering inclusive communities within those spaces?

Approach solutions as a business plan, that includes creating self-sustaining communities of great life and people experiences in school, work, transit, and nurturing self-sustaining economic development based on current and future societal needs. What practical steps can architects take to achieve this? Both questions require political will and funding behind the will.

What advice would you give to young architects or aspiring design professionals who are passionate about social change and want to use their creativity to make a difference?

I would tell young architects to learn both real estate investment and development strategies to be able to influence capital sources to invest in their ideas. And for architects to learn placemaking combined with economics where they think of designing not just buildings but the people experiences that will occur in each space and know the economic chemistry required for success.


Michael H. Anderson, AIA, NOMA – Principal, Anderson Barker, Inc.

Michael, a distinguished architect, author, and visionary, leads the Accelerated Housing and Transit Development (AHTD) Project, an extensive initiative aimed at revitalizing underserved communities across Los Angeles County. This transformative project involves pursuing Climate Funding to convert BIPOC single-family homes into fourplexes, providing a home for families and creating three income-generating units for additional family members. Spanning 24 Metro transit stations, the project includes infrastructure enhancements and has received positive feedback from the Secretary’s Office at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

With a notable 45-year career in economic development, Michael is a registered architect specializing in transit, aviation, schools, urban design, and redevelopment projects. His notable accomplishments include the LA Clippers Intuit Dome Plaza and Buildings, Metro MLK Jr. Transit Station in Compton, Charles R. Drew University Grand Entrance Plaza, and LAX Terminal 9. Committed to enhancing the quality of life for all community members, Michael is also an accomplished author, having authored “Urban Magic – Vibrant Black and Brown Communities Are Possible” and the “Metro Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor – Joint Development Study.”

Over the past three years, Michael and his team of partners and project consultants have consistently delivered award-winning designs. Particularly, Anderson Barker, the affiliated architecture firm for the Intuit Dome, received the prestigious 2022 Architizer A+ Jury Award. Concurrently, Anderson Barker was recognized with the AIA/LA Next LA Award for their outstanding design of the King Solomon Village Homeless Shelter in the same year.

Southern California Institute of Architecture, Los Angeles, CA

American Institute of Architects
National Organization of Minority Architects
Urban Land Institute
African American Real Estate Professionals

Selected Publications:
Urban Magic – Vibrant Black and Brown Communities Are Possible // First Edition, 2021