College of Architecture, Art and Construction

Coming full circle: Architecture student designs in the factory where grandparents labored


From a young age, graduate architecture student Mahogany Christopher knew she would become an architect. Unbeknownst to her, Christopher would end up learning in the same building that the matriarchs of her family once worked in.

Born and raised in North Charleston, Christopher’s education brought her back home as a part of her graduate degree, where she studies at the Clemson Design Center in Charleston (CDC.C), one of the School of Architecture’s Fluid Campus locations.

Her journey to Clemson

In her junior year of high school, Christopher visited The Cigar Factory as a part of a summer camp the CDC.C offered to students interested in architecture, where she learned the basics of architecture and architectural drawing.   

“I still have pictures of my first pin-up that we did during the week with David Pastre,” she said, referring to the CDC.C’s current director.

Following the summer camp, she knew that architecture and Clemson was where she wanted to be. Two weeks after graduating from high school in 2019, Christopher jumped straight into Clemson through the Tigertown Summer Bound program.

Christopher graduated from Clemson with a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture in the Spring semester of 2023 and was offered the opportunity to return to Clemson to join the Master of Architecture (M. Arch) program as one of the 2023-2024 Thomas Phifer Fellowship recipients.

Coming full circle

For Christopher, continuing her education at The Cigar Factory has been a full-circle moment, not just for her but for her entire family.

Before The Cigar Factory was converted into office space, Christopher’s paternal great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother worked at The Cigar Factory as cigar rollers. Additionally, Christopher’s great aunt, her grandmother’s first cousin, Christopher’s aunt and some distant cousins have also worked in the building.

“It’s kind of a full circle moment,” explained Christopher. “It’s one of those things where it’s just like, WOW! To think that at one point women, not only women, but African American women, were set back, and you know, maybe had to do the lesser works, now to be in the same place where not only these women once worked, but then to know I have direct family ties to this building, is definitely impactful. So now I’m a part of the building in a way as well.”

Christopher explained that if her great-great and great-grandmothers could see her now and the work that she is doing, it would make a huge difference and change for them.

“Hearing from my grandmother, like, ‘Oh wow! You’re really studying in the building where my mother once worked,’ it is so impactful,” Christopher shared.

Christopher explained that working in The Cigar Factory and knowing her family’s history in the building impacts her experience and the work she does in her classes.

“It’s one of those things that becomes a driving force and most definitely has an impact on all my designs and the efforts that we are doing here in the studio,” she shared. “It keeps me pushing myself forward and making sure that I am presenting myself as if they were still here watching because I genuinely believe that I am one of their wildest dreams.”

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