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The Plan for Progress: Inclusivity Redefining Architecture

Pascale Sablan

The Plan for Progress: Inclusivity Redefining Architecture
By Pascale Sablan -

Behind every successful initiative lies a story of inspiration, determination and collaboration. Beyond the Built Environment (BBE) embodies this narrative, a testament to what can be achieved when a vision extends beyond one person and becomes a collaborative effort. In this article, we will journey through the evolution of BBE, highlighting key milestones, challenges, and the remarkable transformation it has undergone.

Say it Loud, mostra itinerante, Lawrence R. and Sandra C. Armstrong Gallery, Kent (OH), USA, 2022 Courtesy Pascale Sablan

Founding BBE: A Natural Progression

My journey with BBE began as a natural progression of my early advocacy work in the architecture field. For years, I had been actively involved in organizations like the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA), where I networked with fellow advocate architects and gained an intimate understanding of the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) challenges our industry faced. However, it was during those years that a critical gap came into focus, one that resonated with my unique abilities and passion: elevating and celebrating the success stories of underrepresented voices rather than solely addressing systemic challenges.

The spark that ignited BBE’s creation can be traced back to 2017 when I organized and curated the first Say It Loud exhibition. It was a transformative experience that showcased the power of exhibitions to effect change, not just locally, but on a broader scale. As the exhibition garnered attention and recognition, the potential for impact beyond New York became evident. Thus, in 2018, the need for an organizational structure – BBE – became paramount to expand our reach, host, curate, and organize programs globally.

At its inception, BBE’s mission mirrored the one it upholds today: to celebrate the contributions of diverse designers and advocate for equitable built environments and communities. While my initial focus was on creating a platform for my programs and securing financial support, BBE’s aims and objectives crystallized as I pursued this mission.

The organization celebrates and empowers women and people of color (BIPOC) through initiatives such as the traveling exhibition, a platform for sharing stories and experiences, engagement with community through events and programming, a media pledge, and the documentation of this important work. BBE provides resources and support to underrepresented individuals in the architecture and design industry. It emerged as a force and resource for professionals in the architecture field, fostering diverse voices and building a community committed to equity.

Say it Loud, mostra itinerante, Omaha (NE), USA, 2020 Courtesy Pascale Sablan

Programs that Amplify Diversity

When I founded BBE, the goal was clear: to celebrate and elevate the often-overlooked contributions of women and BIPOC design professionals in the built environment. BBE’s programs and initiatives have been carefully crafted to achieve this mission by engaging, elevating, educating and collaborating with diverse audiences.

  • Say It Loud: these exhibitions have been at the heart of our mission. They serve as vibrant platforms that amplify the identities and contributions of diverse designers through community-oriented exhibits. These exhibitions have been viewed by an estimated 48,000 visitors, and online publications like House Beautiful, Curbed, and The Architect’s Newspaper have helped expand their reach.
  • Great Diverse Designers Library (GDDL): this library is a vital repository of content gathered from over 45 Say It Loud exhibits, featuring over 1,093 diverse design professionals. It serves as a resource to the profession and a platform for the elevation of diverse designers, ensuring that their stories are told from their perspective.
  • See It Loud: this planned initiative leverages augmented reality to highlight the work and identities of diverse designers at specific locations. By using the cumulative content from Say It Loud exhibitions and GDDL, this initiative engages students in understanding the history and significance of diverse-designed structures. This program has the potential to transform cities by actively involving new designers in the architecture discourse.
  • Say It With - Me(dia): recognizing the power of media in shaping narratives, we launched this pledge. This initiative seeks to hold media outlets accountable for featuring diverse designers in their content and creating historical narratives around their contributions. To date, Say It With - Me(dia) has engaged nine publications, reaching over 6,353,000 monthly impressions.

While these programs have achieved significant impact, we have encountered challenges, such as resource limitations and communities lacking the means to host Say It Loud exhibitions. Our goal is to shift fundraising efforts toward supporting local communities through scholarships and financial aid, ensuring that the next generation of diverse designers can participate.

Say it Loud, mostra itinerante, Dallas (TX), USA, 2022 Courtesy Pascale Sablan

The Relentless Effort Behind BBE

Founding BBE was a journey marked by challenges, dedication and relentless effort. In the early stages, BBE was primarily a solo effort, and turning the vision into reality demanded unwavering commitment.

One of the initial challenges was breaking the silence within the architecture profession regarding DEI issues. The profession historically served primarily wealthy patrons, resulting in significant inequities in the built environment, particularly in communities of color. BBE aimed to disrupt this status quo, but it meant going against a system that had long remained unchallenged. It meant becoming a voice where there had been none.

The dedication required to accomplish this was immense. Advocating for equitable environments and celebrating the contributions of diverse designers was not just a cause but a calling. It meant long hours, tireless advocacy, and a deep belief that the work was essential. It meant being a bridge between the marginalized and the profession, amplifying the voices of those often overlooked or unheard.

While the Say It Loud exhibitions were successful in raising awareness and celebrating diverse designers, expanding the mission globally posed its own set of challenges. There was a need for resources, partnerships and support to host exhibitions and programs in different regions. Building these connections was a laborious task but one that was essential to expand the reach and impact of BBE.

The effort of getting it done extended beyond just organizing exhibitions. It meant actively seeking out underrepresented designers, encouraging them to share their stories, and convincing them that their work was worthy of celebration. It meant collaborating with community groups and organizations, often in underprivileged areas, to make the exhibitions accessible to all.

As BBE started to grow, so did the challenges. Ensuring that diverse designers saw themselves as worthy of being called great was an ongoing effort. Some communities lacked the resources to host exhibitions, highlighting the need for financial support and scholarships to bridge these gaps. Yet, with every challenge, BBE’s resolve strengthened.
The hard work, dedication and belief in the mission continued to drive the organization forward. BBE became a beacon of hope for marginalized designers, a platform for their stories, and a testament to the power of one person’s vision evolving into a global movement.

Pascale Sablan a Noma Unplugged, Nashville (TN), USA, 2022 Courtesy Pascale Sablan

Building the Prestige of BBE

This journey from a humble initiative to a respected force for change has been characterized by strategic partnerships, prestigious awards and impactful collaborations, all contributing to our growing prestige.

 

Awards and Accolades

One of the defining moments in BBE’s trajectory was the recognition I received in 2021 – the AIA Whitney M. Young Jr. Award. This honor not only acknowledged my contributions but also underscored BBE’s pivotal role in advocating for diversity and inclusion in architecture. It served as a validation of our mission and an invitation for others to join us in reshaping the architectural landscape.

Pascale Sablan all’Orlando Architecture Foundation, Orlando (FL), USA, 2022 Courtesy Pascale Sablan

Strategic Initiatives

Our path to prominence was illuminated by several key strategies and initiatives:

  • Public Speaking: I realized that sharing my personal and professional journey was instrumental in articulating the challenges faced by underrepresented groups in architecture and design. Through over 160 public speaking engagements, I connected with an estimated 63,500 people, conveying the essence of BBE’s mission and our unwavering commitment to addressing these issues head-on.
  • Media Engagement: Media outlets recognized the urgency of our cause. BBE’s message was carried across over 162 articles in prestigious publications such as The New York Times, Forbes and NPR. These features painted a vivid portrait of our advocacy, positioning us as catalysts for change within the architectural community.
  • Authorship: My commitment to education and advocacy found expression in being published within five industry books, which are not just informative resources; they symbolize BBE’s dedication to empowering individuals pursuing careers in architecture.
  • Podcast Appearances: Podcasts became a dynamic platform to reach diverse audiences. I participated in 14 podcasts, using these opportunities to inspire others to champion diversity and inclusion in architecture.
  • Collaborations: BBE’s reputation attracted accomplished and emerging designers who shared our passion. These featured designers became integral to our initiatives, expanding our network and amplifying our message.

Through these strategic endeavors, BBE’s credibility grew, and our voice became more resounding. Yet, this journey is far from over. We continue to push boundaries break down barriers, and challenge the status quo.

Our aim is not just recognition but a fundamental transformation of the architectural and design landscape – one that truly reflects the rich tapestry of our society and celebrates the contributions of all, regardless of their background or identity. With every award, partnership and collaboration, we move one step closer to that vision, and I am honored to lead the charge.

Say it Loud, mostra itinerante, Saint Paul (MN), USA, 2021 Courtesy Pascale Sablan

Applications Multiplied

As the prestige of BBE grew within the architecture and design community, so did the demand for our programs and services. Over time, we witnessed a remarkable surge in interest and participation from both individuals and organizations, signifying a profound shift in the industry’s perception of diversity and inclusion.

Pascale Sablan al City Tech Commencement Address, New York City, USA, 2022 Courtesy Pascale Sablan

Growing Demand

BBE’s journey has been marked by an increasing demand for our initiatives, reflecting a broader recognition of the urgent need for diversity and inclusion within architecture and design. Our advocacy efforts gained traction as more individuals and institutions sought to be part of the change we were championing.

 

Individuals Eager to Engage

One of the most gratifying aspects of this journey has been witnessing the eagerness of individuals to engage with BBE’s mission. The growing numbers of applicants demonstrated a hunger for opportunities, recognition, and a deep commitment to making architecture a more inclusive field.

 

Organizations Embracing Change

Beyond individuals, organizations within the architectural and design community began to actively engage with BBE. Firms, universities and institutions recognized the importance of fostering diverse talent and advocating for inclusive practices. They reached out to partner with BBE on various initiatives and diversity-focused events, showcasing a collective dedication to reshaping the industry’s landscape.

 

Shaping the Future Together

It is heartening to see individuals and organizations aligning with our vision, collectively shaping the future of architecture and design. Through their engagement, BBE’s impact multiplied, and we began to witness tangible changes in the industry, from more inclusive hiring practices to a greater emphasis on equitable design solutions.

In this phase of expansion and influence, BBE recognized the responsibility to continue offering high-quality programs, mentorship and advocacy. BBE’s commitment to meeting this demand remains unwavering, and we look forward to further empowering individuals and organizations on their journey towards a more inclusive profession.

Say it Loud, mostra itinerante, Omaha (NE), USA, 2020 Courtesy Pascale Sablan

Building a Team

Expanding BBE from a singular vision into a collaborative mission was a pivotal moment in our journey toward a more inclusive architectural and design profession. Recognizing that sustainable change required a collective effort, I made the decision to involve others in this vital mission.

 

A Pivotal Moment

The pivotal moment for expanding BBE came as I witnessed the growing demand for our programs and the transformative impact they were having. It became evident that the scope of our work had the potential to reach even greater heights with a dedicated team. I realized that by bringing together diverse voices and perspectives, we could amplify our efforts and create a stronger platform for advocating change.

 

Selecting Team Members and Collaborators

Selecting the right team members and collaborators was a crucial step in this evolution. The criteria for choosing individuals to join BBE were rooted in their passion for diversity and inclusion in architecture and design, as well as their commitment to our mission. Here are some key factors we considered:

Shared Values: Team members and collaborators needed to share BBE’s core DEI values. Their alignment with our mission was paramount.

Expertise: We sought individuals with diverse skill sets and expertise, ranging from architecture and design to advocacy and program management. This diversity of skills allowed us to tackle multifaceted challenges effectively.

Diverse Backgrounds: It was essential to assemble a team with diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. This diversity enriched our discussions and decisions, leading to more innovative and inclusive approaches.

Commitment: BBE’s work often involves dedication beyond the typical nine-to-five schedule. Team members needed to demonstrate a strong commitment to the cause, showing a willingness to go the extra mile to drive change.

Collaborative Spirit: Collaboration is at the heart of BBE’s success. Team members and collaborators were selected based on their ability to work collaboratively, fostering a sense of unity in our mission.

Track Record: Past accomplishments and contributions to the field of diversity and inclusion were considered when selecting team members. Demonstrated passion and a history of advocacy in this space were valuable indicators of dedication.

Our team includes part-time staff who play pivotal roles in program delivery and execution, ensuring that our initiatives have a lasting impact. In 2023, as our limited liability company (LLC) expanded to include a nonprofit arm, we expanded further. We welcomed a new Executive Director and established a Board of Directors comprising industry leaders who share our commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion in architecture and design.

 

A Collective Force for Change

The expansion of BBE and the inclusion of dedicated team members, collaborators, part-time staff, an Executive Director and a Board marked a significant turning point. Together, we harnessed our collective strengths, expanded our reach and intensified our impact. This collaborative approach allowed BBE to become a powerful force for change in the architectural and design profession, shaping a more inclusive and equitable future for all.

 

Expanding to a Nonprofit

The decision to establish BBE as a non-profit organization while retaining our LLC was a strategic move that aligned with our long-term vision and mission. This transition marked an important milestone in our journey towards a more inclusive architectural and design profession.

 

Strategic Decision

It is essential to note that even as an LLC, BBE always operated with a non-profit spirit, prioritizing our mission over profits. The financial benefits of an LLC focused on advancing diversity and inclusion within architecture and design.

The decision to establish a non-profit arm of BBE was driven by our commitment to expanding our impact and sustainability.

 

The Hybrid Approach

It is essential to clarify that BBE’s transition to a non-profit did not entail eliminating the LLC. Rather, we have adopted a hybrid approach. The LLC handles the commerce side of our operations, while the non-profit side focuses on our core mission: promoting DEI in architecture and design.

By separating our commerce and advocacy work into distinct entities, we could access a broader range of funding sources for our non-profit side, including grants and tax-deductible donations. This financial flexibility allowed us to invest more significantly in our programs, initiatives, and the communities we serve.

 

Advantages of the Transition

Increased Funding Opportunities: Non-profit status for our advocacy work opened doors to a wider array of funding opportunities. This additional financial support enabled us to scale up our programs and reach more aspiring architects and designers.

Tax-Deductible Donations: Donors who support our advocacy mission can now make tax-deductible contributions. This incentivizes individuals and organizations to invest in diversity and inclusion initiatives within the architectural and design profession.

Enhanced Credibility: Non-profit status bolstered our credibility within the industry and among potential partners for our advocacy efforts. It demonstrated our commitment to transparency, accountability and the greater good, attracting collaborators who shared our values.

Sustainability: The establishment of the non-profit side laid a solid foundation for the long-term sustainability of BBE’s advocacy work. This ensured that our advocacy efforts, educational programs and community outreach would continue well into the future.

Mission Alignment: Non-profit status allowed us to further align our organizational structure with our advocacy mission. It reinforced our commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion within architecture and design, placing these values at the core of our identity.

This transition reaffirmed our dedication to creating equitable opportunities for underrepresented individuals in architecture and design. With nonprofit status, we are better equipped to fulfill our mission of breaking down barriers and building a more inclusive future for the profession we hold dear.

As BBE stands today, it embodies the essence of transformation within the field of architecture and design. We have come a long way, evolving from a personal mission to a movement that resonates within the industry and far beyond its boundaries. In the realm of architecture and design, BBE has not only established itself as a notable organization but has also become synonymous with advocating for diversity and inclusion within the profession.

 

Growth Beyond Measure

Over the years, the demand for BBE’s programs and services has grown exponentially. The interest and participation from individuals and organizations have been inspiring. We leverage local opportunities like exhibition-affiliated lectures and workshops that tap into a global network of architects, designers and enthusiasts committed to change.

 

The Need for Support

We stand at a crucial juncture where financial support and resources are imperative to sustain and expand our mission. While the demand for our programs and services continues to grow, we remain committed to keeping costs reasonable and within reach of our target community. Support can make a significant difference in furthering our cause.

 

A Vision for the Future

As we look to the future, our vision remains steadfast. We aim to continue breaking down barriers, forging new partnerships, and amplifying our advocacy for underrepresented voices. BBE will explore new horizons, reaching even more communities and schools, and engaging in impactful projects that resonate with our mission.

 

Upcoming Initiatives

Currently, we are excited about several projects on the horizon. These include collaborations with educational institutions, exhibitions that showcase diverse talent, and initiatives aimed at empowering the next generation of architects and designers. We envision a future where every individual has an equal opportunity to shape the built environment.

Our journey is far from over. It is a continuous process of growth, learning and progress. BBE will persist in its mission, furthering the cause of diversity and inclusion in the architecture and design professions, and we invite all those who share this vision to join us in this transformative journey. Together, with your support, we can build a more equitable and vibrant future for all.

Stay tuned for updates and be a part of our exciting journey ahead.

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