Michael Mantese Photography

Julia Weatherspoon, Assoc. AIA, is a Northern California native and recent participant in the AIA Design Justice Summit. Weatherspoon works as an architectural designer at Perkins+Will, a firm she was drawn to for its emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and social responsibility. Passionate about providing design services for underrepresented populations, she works to connect young designers with their communities in the transient Bay Area.

I identify first as black, second as a woman, and third as a designer—not typically what people think of when you describe an architect. I believe—and think most people would probably agree—that this intersectionality of being a double minority has a huge influence on my identity, my experience, and the way I see the world.

Although there is this big push for diversity and inclusion in architecture, the profession is still largely homogeneous and not reflective of the stories and abilities of designers of color within the POC [people of color] community. When we have the skill set and education to understand problems and create meaningful design solutions, you also realize that we need to use our expertise to actively serve people in underrepresented communities.

There is a polarity in how we move through spaces professionally versus how we move through spaces personally. The people I interact with within my family and friends usually are not the same types of people I serve in a professional setting. When I go home—or usually are not the same types of people I serve in a professional setting. When I go home—or volunteer with local community centers and schools—the spaces don’t look like the ones we design professionally. Architecture is still very much an exclusive profession, and I want to work toward breaking down that barrier.

The lack of consideration for where we are focusing our design resources makes me wonder if we really value our communities. If we’re not providing design services to protect the health, safety, and well-being of people who need it, are we really being good architects and designers? The onus is on the architect to push the envelope in terms of what we can provide in the built environment to elevate the human experience. We have to take a step back and think about not only what the client desires, but also advocate for what communities need, and how we can include them in the decision-making process.

Currently, many young people are converging on the Bay Area. I believe there is a lack of immersion and connection to local communities by the newcomers because most of them aren’t invested in the Bay Area as a long-term living situation. I haven’t seen much of a transplant community that is deeply rooted and engaged in local culture. —As told to Kathleen O'Donnell