Sam Diephuis

Gabrielle Bullock, FAIA, has devoted her career to reshaping both the built environment and the architectural profession. Since 2013, she’s been the director of global diversity at Perkins and Will, tackling long-standing problems of inequity and helping the firm strive for equilibrium in gender and racial diversity. For her accomplishments, she recently received AIA’s 2020 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award. Her design work, which includes the first coed University in Saudi Arabia, is just as dedicated to social responsibility. “Since the beginning, I’ve been committed to this kind of work,” she says. “I’m not interested in designing a shiny new skyscraper.”

When I was 12, I remember my teacher asking what I wanted to do when I grew up. I said, “I want to be an architect.” I didn’t really know any architects or anything about architecture; I probably just thought of it all as “spaces.” But I could already see the positive impacts of good architecture and the negative impacts of bad architecture. I knew how I felt around poorly designed public housing versus well-designed homes. I could tell the difference, and it affected me greatly.

At a certain point in my career, I reached a tipping point in regard to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Like many firms, Perkins and Will dabbled in [EDI] over the years, but it was always either forming a committee or just talking. It was really the work we did in Saudi Arabia that opened my eyes. I saw a deficit in cultural competency, both at our firm and across the profession. That was the main catalyst. I knew we couldn’t stand still any longer. In 2013, I was ready to take another step at the firm, and I wanted to be doing work that would contribute to making the profession more inclusive.

It’s such a vast problem to solve: you’ve got culture, demographics, the pipeline. Everything from race to gender to LGBTQ+ [issues]. The biggest success on our end is that we’re focused on measuring our progress. You can’t change what you don’t measure. It’s become a core value of the firm, and I think it’s becoming a core value of the profession.

Thankfully, around the same time I became director of global diversity, the profession started to actually change for the better. It wasn’t like that over my first few decades. It started to feel like a critical need; we’d face irrelevancy if we didn’t adapt. And our clients and the work we do are also changing. There are more projects in cities and within urban communities, and our clients are more diverse than ever before. That’s been key in our attempts to mirror society and the people we serve.

I chose to do this work, and at the same time, the need for this work has blossomed and expanded. Perkins and Will has set out to do socially relevant work, and there’s no shortage of that at this point. — As told to Steve Cimino