Renee Kemp-Rotan ’75 (BArch) is both an urban designer and a master planner who turned architecture and planning degrees into a career devoted to urban design, cultural heritage, and the power of design to impact social change. From studying mud-based architecture in Ghana to serving as Atlanta’s liaison on the construction of Phillips Arena and Olympic Park, she’s been involved in nearly every type of building design imaginable: parks, schools, trails, hotels, museums, arenas, stadiums, theaters, housing, and new towns.
She was the first African American female to graduate Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Architecture / cum laude; attended the Architectural Association, in London; and graduated from Columbia University, with a Master of Science in Urban/Regional Planning.
Renee is a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA); AIA’s Diversity+ Inclusion Council; and the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). Kemp-Rotan has directed AIA’s Design, Education, Practice Division and the National Endowment for the Arts’ Design Demonstration and National Design Competition Programs.
She has served ten mayors as the Urban Policy Advisor in major U.S. cities, such as Washington, New York City, Atlanta, and most recently, Birmingham, where she was the Director of Grants and Special Projects. Renee also served as Director of Master Planning for Birmingham’s award-winning Railroad Reservation Park and the innovative Birmingham Civil Rights Heritage Trail.
Renee’s works are included in the African American National Biography, edited by Dr. Henry Louis Gates; Harvard University, WEB DuBose Center and Oxford University; and the African American Research Center.
She has lectured at leading international universities, including the Sorbonne, Cairo University, MIT, and Harvard on issues of design and social impact. Renee is contributing editor, Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World, Cambridge Press/Bloomsbury, London.
Presently, Renee is the CEO and Design Principal of studiorotan and serves as Professional Competition Advisor for The Africatown International Design Idea Competition—one of the largest multi-site competitions in the world—to be launched Juneteenth 2020. It is an open competition to design four sites and 16 venues to commemorate Africatown as a unique 19th-century African American settlement built by emancipated Africans in 1865 and still inhabited by descendants of the last slave ship Clotilda recently found in Mobile Bay, Alabama.