Incoming IIDA Head Gabrielle Bullock Makes Diversity Priority One

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By Georgina Gustin
The first order of business for the incoming president of the International Interior Design Association is tackling diversity.

You’ve stated that inclusion and diversity are priorities for you as the head of the IIDA. It’s something you’ve been working on already at Perkins+Will. How did that role come about? 

I had been managing director of the Los Angeles office for about eight years, and we typically rotate that position because you get kind of burned out. The CEO [Phil Harrison] asked what role I’d like to take on next, and I came back with a proposal—a new role as head of Diversity, Inclusion, and Engagement.The architecture profession has not been diverse at all, and the demographic changes in the world have been broad and global. We should mirror the society we serve. As one of very few African Americans in this industry and in this firm, I saw firsthand what we’re missing. I went to every one of our offices in the U.S. and London and had very open discussions, and it was clear that my notion was correct: We did have issues around diversity and inclusion—around race, gender, LGBTQ rights, you name it.

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Gabrielle Bullock graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1984, becoming only the second African American woman to earn an architecture degree from the school. Even today, black women make up less than half a percent of registered architects. Bullock’s projects include the master plan for the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles’s Camp Lakota, in Frazier Park, California, completed in 2016 (dining hall, above and below).

Gabrielle Bullock graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1984, becoming only the second African American woman to earn an architecture degree from the school. Even today, black women make up less than half a percent of registered architects. Bullock’s projects include the master plan for the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles’s Camp Lakota, in Frazier Park, California, completed in 2016 (dining hall, above and below).

After you did research, what came next? 

I developed a strategic plan, based on each office. Not every office faces the same challenges. What was key was training. We engaged a consultant to develop a curriculum for the leadership of each office that covered unconscious bias, micro-inequities—all the aspects of how to recognize and deal with and embrace diversity. Then we go deeper into exercises and onboarding for new employees. There are homework assignments and tools. The point is to keep it accessible and top-of-mind. It was implemented first in Los Angeles about a month ago. We’ll be doing New York next.  

Incoming IIDA Head Gabrielle Bullock Makes Diversity Priority One - Photo 2 of 5 -

When you meet people at, say, a party, what do you say about social equity in architecture and why it matters? 

It depends on who’s at the party. As an architect for more than thirty years, I’ve seen the change in the focus of the work we’re doing. It’s not so much about the iconic building. It’s become more about the large-scale or community-based project that really touches the community. So engagement is key. We’ve found that if we can’t relate to the socioeconomic issues of the community, we can’t respond.  

Have you seen much change in the diversity landscape of the profession since you started? 

Fortunately, I have seen an increase in diversity. The latest statistics from architecture schools show more women enrolling. I believe we’re approaching fifty-fifty male-female. As far as minorities, Latinos are the biggest group, and African Americans are about five percent—that number is going up more slowly. That’s the biggest diversity issue the profession faces. It’s building that pipeline. 

Is that also true of clients? How have the changes affected your business?

 We’re seeing more and more change in the client makeup. We’re seeing more clients who are more diverse. I’m hearing: One of the reasons our firm won a significant project was because we represent the diversity of the client.   

Bullock joined Perkins+Will in 1988 and has been a principal since 2002. She is managing principal for the King Abdullah Specialized Children’s Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which is under construction.

Bullock joined Perkins+Will in 1988 and has been a principal since 2002. She is managing principal for the King Abdullah Specialized Children’s Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which is under construction.

As president-elect of the International Interior Design Association, what challenges do you face and are they different from those in the field of architecture? 

The interior design profession is largely made up of women; its challenges around diversity and inclusion are very similar to those of architecture. The glaring gap in architecture is around race and ethnicity, and in interior design, it’s gender. But the significance of the gap is similar.  

Incoming IIDA Head Gabrielle Bullock Makes Diversity Priority One - Photo 4 of 5 -

Why is it important? 

The corporate workplace is a large part of the focus in interior design. How do people work now? How does that interior environment support inclusivity? Architecture is based on community interaction. You could turn that inside and say it’s the same. The interior design industry has to look at how the environment can support a more inclusive and diverse workforce.  

What would be your prime example of a design where the conversation around diversity was especially successful? 

The Museum of African American History and Culture. It’s the epitome of how a culturally rich architectural design can tell the story of African Americans in this country. It’s beautiful and engaging. It’s everything we want architecture to be—and, most important, it tells a story. 

Bullock was on the team that completed a new research laboratory and a seismic bracing renovation for the Steven Spielberg Building at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in 2010.

Bullock was on the team that completed a new research laboratory and a seismic bracing renovation for the Steven Spielberg Building at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in 2010.