Rafeeq Asad has been promoted to vice president and director of team development at JLA Architects.
In his new role, he will “strategically conceive, implement, facilitate” professional development and continuing education for the firm’s approximately 30 employees in both its Madison and Milwaukee offices. He will also remain a part of the firm’s design team, and continue working on projects across southern Wisconsin.
In a Facebook post Monday, the firm wrote, “We are excited for him to bring his experience and passion to strategize, conceive, and facilitate firm-wide professional development to enhance the growth of our team members, both individually and collectively. He will also continue as a member of our project teams assisting with projects from inception to completion.”
Asad joined JLA three years ago as a project specialist, working on projects like the forthcoming Center for Black Excellence, planned for Madison’s South Side.
Now 40, Asad graduated with a degree in business from Florida A&M University, but soon knew he’d follow a different path.
“Once you get into that profession, you get a couple of internships under your belt. You kind of realize that you either love it or you hate it, and I could not see myself doing the same thing day in and day out,” he said. “And then on top of that, in order to graduate, I had to take five accounting classes. Math and numbers, that’s just not my thing. I’m a lot more creative. Architecture affords you the opportunity to be creative, to do different things and problem solve as well as help people.”
He said architecture allows him to have a lasting impact.
“Every project that I’m doing is essentially helping to shape the built environment,” he said. “So I’m putting my mark on the communities and societies, because these structures, they’re up for almost a hundred years or so. They last a couple of generations, so you leave your imprint on the built environment in a lot of different ways. And I think that kind of shapes how people live and how they move.”
And as one of a very small number of Black people in the field, he sees this work as his contribution to a movement.
“When we look at what’s going on today in terms of community activism, I think we all have different roles,” he said. “Some of us, our role is (as) foot soldiers out there on the front lines, and then other people have chosen to assist in other ways … and I do it this way through helping shape the built environment, giving people access and outlets to dwell in different spaces that help support and facilitate a clean environment and life and things like that.”
Asad said he’s been able to flourish and move up at JLA in a relatively short period at least in part because of the open and welcoming environment the firm creates.
“This is one of the first firms that I worked at where I don’t feel like ‘the Black guy,'” he said. “They’re open to listening and understanding … they understand and appreciate that me being a minority, my experiences and my background bring something different to the table that they’re not necessarily familiar with. And I think it’s respected and it makes working with a team like that just that much better.”
Asad is also aware that stepping into a leadership role at this firm can set an example for the next generation.
“I think it allows me to not only help promote the field of architecture,” he said. “When we get the first Black president or the first female vice-president of color, it gives people an image that they see. I can not only just be an architect, but I can be in a significant role and I can be in a leadership role … Without those images of successful people that look like you, sometimes it’s hard to imagine those things.”
Asad has also served on Madison’s Urban Design Commission, taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and served on Madison Area Technical College’s Architectural Review Board, He is also active in the National Organization of Minority Architects.