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4 Lessons from Lines and Lives: DNK’s Architectural Legacy

By David Kirk

President and CEO, DNK Architects

Navigating the complexities of architecture has been an enlightening voyage filled with challenges, triumphs, and invaluable lessons. The following lessons, learned over years of sketches, projects, and collaborations, are the pillars upon which DNK stands today. They are reminders that our journey in architecture is not just about the buildings we create but about the lives we touch, the challenges we overcome, and the legacy we leave behind.

  1. Embrace Your Unique Vision

My dream began at the tender age of 4 years in Dayton, Ohio, under the watchful eyes of a supportive mother and a father who supported the idea, she told her son that he would grow up to become an architect. Those dreams began to crystallize in high school and college and came to fruition when I formed DNK Architects, now 38 years old. Soon after opening my wife joined me in business. This venture was more than just about designing buildings; it was about challenging norms and carving out a space where a Black-owned firm could not just exist but excel.

When we started DNK in Cincinnati, we were determined to carve out a niche for ourselves, not just as another architectural firm but as a beacon of innovation and diversity. This ambition taught me the importance of embracing and staying true to your unique vision because your distinctive perspective is what sets you apart in a crowded field and ultimately defines your legacy.

  1. The Power of Resilience and Coming Full Circle

The path was not always smooth; facing skepticism as a Black-owned firm in a competitive profession tested our resolve. It was through my belief in Jesus that I learned the true power of resilience to overcome challenges. Overcoming doubts and barriers taught me that steadfastness in the face of adversity is one of the most crucial assets you can have. It’s not just about weathering the storm but also about emerging stronger and more determined.

I grew up in Dayton and attended schools in my neighborhood from kindergarten through high school.  That is why looking back over our portfolio of projects the honor of being able to say that my firm redesigned every school I attended makes my heart sing. This particular achievement is a full-circle moment, tying my early inspirations to my professional contributions.

  1. Collaboration Elevates Creativity

Our work on significant projects like the redesign of schools in Cincinnati , Dayton, and collaborations with other firms on projects in healthcare with UC Health, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Mercy Health has underscored a vital lesson: collaboration elevates creativity. For over 15 years, we’ve partnered with these institutions on various hospital projects, including designing new medical office buildings and patient floors, underscores our role in shaping environments that touch lives every day in very significant ways.

Working alongside talented individuals and organizations not only broadens your horizons but also enhances the quality and impact of your work.

  1. Give Back to Grow

Perhaps the most fulfilling aspect of our journey has been our commitment to nurturing the next generation of minority architects through our architectural summer camp known as Summer CAMP (Cincinnati Architectural Mentoring Program) Project Pipeline.  For 18 years this initiative has allowed us to open doors for young minds to the architectural profession and the world of design, hoping to ignite passions similar to the ones that have fueled my journey.  This camp has become successful in Cincinnati but was the springboard for a model for the country.  It is now a national initiative of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) with 20 cities sponsoring their own camps every year.  This experience has taught me that giving back is not just a responsibility but a privilege. It’s a way to pay forward the opportunities we’ve had and to ensure that the future of architecture is even brighter than its past.

Looking back on my journey, from my dreams in Dayton to the skyline of Cincinnati and beyond, I am reminded that DNK’s story is far from over. It’s a living narrative, one that I continue to write with every line I draw, every student I mentor, and every challenge I overcome.


* REDI Cincinnati partnered with DNK Architects to support the company with  JobsOhio Small Business Grant in 2020. The grant supports businesses with underrepresented ownership or are located in distressed zip codes. For more information on the Grant, please visit our dedicated page or contact Cierra Clymer, REDI Cincinnati director of international business development & inclusion (; 513.579.3103).

**This blog is part of REDI Cincinnati’s effort to empower minority-owned businesses by providing them with the knowledge and resources to effectively represent themselves through personal blogs. Our goal is to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the business world by helping minority entrepreneurs enhance their online presence.