How often do you walk into your favorite retail store and appreciate its layout and design? Have you ever wondered why the doors open up to the outside and not inside of your favorite store or why the light switch is at a particular height? If you answered no to one or more of these questions then join the many Americans who fail to realize the importance of architects and appreciate their dual knack for intelligence and innovation.

According to Architectural Digest, the Top 100 Architects and Designers of 2018 consist of majority white males, a smidgen of white females and one black male. Sounds bizarre, right? Black women are winning in many industries but only 0.3 percent of licensed architects are black women. 

In an industry where diversity is severely lacking, there’s one architect — the 397th black female licensed architect in the U.S. to be exact — determined to disrupt the status quo and raise the percentage of black women in STEM, specifically in the architecture space.

With her New-York-based architecture and design firm, STUDIO 397, Samantha Josaphat has designed retail spaces for COS, developed real estate properties in Brooklyn, and executed land planning in Tanzania. 

“STUDIO 397 was created with the intention of being a multi-disciplinary, boundary-blurring vehicle that operates beyond traditional client-servicing roles”, says Samantha.

Her inspiration for creating STUDIO 397 came after working for a large corporate firm and noticing not only the lack of diversity but the increased amount of depression amongst her colleagues. 

“It was a very difficult time for me," she says, "I had recently passed the most rigorous set of exams ever and here I was, working in my dream industry and miserable. Being a double minority and underrepresented in the workplace was a challenge and I was determined to make it work out for me”. 

Through a series of visualization exercises and various daily affirmations, Samantha quickly began manifesting the career she desired.


During high school, Samantha’s family relocated from upstate New York to Georgia where she caught the architecture and design bug. Prior to the move, she’d go house hunting with her mom and analyze the layouts, which she was never satisfied with. Not being aware of the term “architect,” she immediately knew from her family’s relocation experience that she wanted to be “a person who designed houses.”

Upon entering college, Samantha experienced a huge setback along with a couple of obstacles. The first obstacle she faced was finding out that acceptance into Penn State University didn’t guarantee acceptance into the architecture program. This resulted in Samantha having to put together a portfolio to apply, separately, to the Architecture program. Because the program is so rigorously structured, she had to wait an entire year to start the 5-year Architecture program, resulting in 6 years of undergrad.

Out of the 1000 architecture applicants, Samantha was one of five who was accepted. However, prior to her acceptance, there was yet another lesson was to be learned. Samantha received a rejection letter from the Department of Architecture stating she had not been accepted into their program. Determined to find a solution, Samantha went to the college of Engineering to explore the different engineering majors. Unsatisfied with what was presented, she went back to the college of Arts & Architecture to get a better explanation. While on her way to speak with an admissions counselor she ran into the college’s multi-cultural advisor. Mid-way through her rant, he stopped her and asked, “what are you talking about?" Perplexed by his confusion, she said she needed clarity on her rejection letter, which he replied, “Samantha, there was a mix-up, you were accepted.” Since then Samantha says “I never give up on the first no. I always search for solutions because you never know what opportunities may arise.” 


After Samantha made the decision to leave corporate America, she made a promise to herself to always maintain a healthy work/life balance. 

“Since becoming my own boss, I’ve become more intentional about making time for the things I truly love," Samantha says. "Life can’t always be about making the next buck, however, I do believe if you make time for what you enjoy, then inspiration will flow to create million-dollar ideas. It has to be authentic and not forced.” 

For her, that includes traveling — domestic and abroad. For example, she once traveled to Zanzibar for six weeks to learn about how the culture and religion influenced the design and make-up of the island.

 “When you truly understand your life’s passion, it speaks to you in all facets of your life, even on vacation,” she says. 

In addition to travel, Samantha is a strong believer in mentorship. She currently serves as the President-Elect for the New York chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (nycoba NOMA) and is dedicated to implementing successful mentoring programs. 


Samantha is serious about her morning routine, which she says sets the tone for her day. Every morning before checking Instagram, emails and or missed group texts, she takes 15-30 minutes to reflect on her professional and personal goals through journaling. She then hits the gym (aka her living room). 

“My boyfriend, Luis, has so much gym equipment, I refuse to purchase a gym membership,” she says. 

Her large south facing windows allows the sun to directly shine through from sunrise to sunset which she finds therapeutic; metaphorically giving her energy through her workouts as the energy of the sun emerges. She then starts her daily beauty regime, which is very simple. 

“I’m really trying to move into a minimalist lifestyle, so my product junkie days are long gone," she says. "I keep it simple with Cetaphil lotion, MAC Cosmetic’s Studio Fix powder and eyeliner. As for my hair, it’s short so I’ve kind of forced my boyfriend to double as my barber.”

Once dressed, Samantha faithfully stands in the mirror to recites her mantra “There’s levels to this shit, and you were born ready."  

So how does Samantha remain motivated throughout the workday? “Podcasts! They’re my friends in my head. And in many ways, they're like me. Young, black and stepping out on faith.” When she needs a good laugh, she listens to The Read, if she needs a “sister girl” experience then it's Not Carrie Bradshaw and for tips on how to improve her minimalist lifestyle, it’s Black Minimalist.

Finding peace is necessary for her to continue on her journey. “When I was studying for my architecture exams, it was so hard,” she says. “But I couldn’t have gotten there without the journey. I’m trying to appreciate the journey and not just the end goal. I feel like the more you appreciate the journey, the happier you can be as a whole because you’re appreciating the entire path you’re on.”

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