We Design: People. Practice. Progress.
This firm has a soul. I have seen it grow from one office to 27 offices and 2500+ people. It has consistently focused on the broader goals of society. The work has expanded from healthcare to education, K-12, higher ed, research, commercial, interior design and more. It’s a full-fledged multidisciplinary firm that has, over time, afforded me the choice and opportunity to do work across the globe that aligned with my own values. And that has been paramount.
Born in Harlem and raised in the Bronx, Gabrielle knew from the time that she was 12 years old that architecture would be her calling. Today, she is one of only 444 Black female architects in the United States, and has been working with Perkins and Will for over 30 years. Managing and designing healthcare and cultural projects from coast to coast, her work continuously exemplifies her motivations to positively impact the lives of people of color in her community.
Choose a path and firm that aligns with your values. For women and people of color, you will likely be the only one in a room at some point. Don’t feel less than; celebrate it.
As the second Black female to graduate from the architecture department of the Rhode Island School of Design, Gabrielle has been intentional about her role in the profession from the start. Working in both their NY and LA studios, she became the first African American and first woman to rise to the position of managing director at Perkins and Will. Over the course of her career, she has led numerous high-profile projects, including work on the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences in Saudi Arabia.
Gabrielle created the director of global diversity position at the firm in an effort to push for more equity and inclusion in both policy and practice. She oversees their Diversity, Inclusion, and Engagement program, which works to strengthen a firm-wide culture that embraces a diversity of people, colors, creeds, talents, thoughts, and ideas. As 2018-2019 president of the International Interior Design Assoc. and a board member of the National Organization of Minority Architects, Gabrielle seeks to combine her passion for architecture and social justice to effect positive change. Among her many accomplishments, Gabrielle finds the most pride and joy in being both a wife and mother, firmly believing and demonstrating that having a family and successful career are not mutually exclusive.
Gabrielle Bullock speaking at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Leadership Institute in 2018
It Was A Calling
“My mother wanted to find the best public school she could for us, and moved us to Riverdale in 1968,” Gabrielle said. “It is a predominantly White neighborhood, and we were one of the first families of color there. I decided early on I wanted to be an architect to improve and impact positively how my people lived, particularly people of color. We didn’t grow up in public housing, but I had family members and friends who did. I was very aware of the conditions and design of public housing, and how it was detrimental to people. I knew I wanted to be an architect and focus on improving that since I was 12.”
First in the Family
“I was the first person in my family to go to college, so it was a big deal,” Gabrielle said. “I was determined to go to RISD. I was on financial aid and Pell Grants, working summers and evenings to put myself through school. I was often the only woman in the room, and typically the only Black woman. My thesis, Housing and Harlem, was a revitalization project re-designing what low-income housing could be. I had a great foundational education, but designing for different cultures wasn’t taught or acknowledged in architecture then. I knew I would have to wait until I was in practice to really explore the social impact of design.”
Learning to Break Rules
“I charted a path. It didn’t always go to plan, but I sought out firms focusing on low-income, affordable housing,” Gabrielle said. “The first place I worked was a minority firm run by a woman. Unfortunately they closed down during a recession, but when I was there, I learned the ins and outs of how to design affordable housing, reviewing processes, all the nuts and bolts. I wanted to learn as much as I could so I could break all the rules. Someone suggested I work for a firm called Russo & Sonder in healthcare next. My focus was primarily on housing, but healthcare or education were the next best thing, since I wanted my work to be socially impactful. That firm was eventually acquired by Perkins and Will, and I’ve been there since 1988.”
Applying Experience to Change
As both the director of operations and an architect for Perkins and Will, Gabrielle helped open doors at another office in Santa Monica, serving as project manager for a large project at UCLA Medical Center for nearly 10 years. While completing the UCLA project in 2005, she was named managing director of their LA office, a position she held for 8 years before shifting her focus to diversity and inclusion efforts within the fields of architecture and interior design.
“I was chosen to lead a group in the firm-wide initiative to develop templates, tools, new approaches, and training around project management,” Gabrielle continued. “In 2013, I transitioned out of managing director and was given the opportunity to focus on what I wanted firm-wide. I really thought about it, and presented a new diversity initiative. That’s how our focus on diversity and inclusion got its legs, and I’ve been splitting my time between this and being an architect since then.”
Gabrielle also spoke to the wide variety of societal issues that Perkins and Will addresses through their work, and how the scope of the firm has allowed her to feel fulfilled in her work through its aligning with her principles.
“This firm has a soul,” Gabrielle continued. “I have seen it grow from one office to 27 offices and 2500+ people. It has consistently focused on the broader goals of society. The work has expanded from healthcare to education, K-12, higher ed, research, commercial, interior design and more. It’s a full-fledged multidisciplinary firm that has, over time, afforded me the choice and opportunity to do work across the globe that aligned with my own values. And that has been paramount.”
Gabrielle is currently managing principal for Destination Crenshaw, an outdoor museum celebrating the story of Black communities in Los Angeles through art and the urban environment along a 1.3-mile stretch of Crenshaw Boulevard in South LA. The design includes pocket parks for exhibiting local art and design.
“So far it is the most rewarding project I’ve been involved with, because it will have such an impact and is truly driven by the community,” Gabrielle said.