Perspectives 02.08.2021

Conversations with Colleagues: Rania Karamallah

Rania is a designer in our Boston studio
This February, in honor of Black History Month, our Conversations with Colleagues series features staff perspectives on Black design.
Q: What message about design’s positive influence on the world would you most like to get out there?

A: Design should be engaged and inspired from and for the community. I find lots of joy and positivity in buildings that tells you a past, present or even a future story of the community and human lives. I am originally from the land of Nubia (modern day Sudan) where pyramids and architecture were built thousands of years ago that we still can visit today and it carried stories of human civilization and culture throughout this time, that always inspired the way I see architecture. In general, I believe that centering human experience and storytelling is essential to achieve positive design influence.

Q: What drew you to the design profession, and what’s keeping you here?

A: I learned how to express myself by ink and paper when I was 8 years old, my dad is a great Arabic calligrapher and through his teachings I learned how powerful communication and expression can be through art. What is keeping me in the design field is that power we have as designers to imagine spaces in different ways and our ability to translate feelings and stories into physical forms and frame social and cultural context. The challenge in tying imagination and reality is interesting to me. I also think that there are a lot of invisible forces that shape our world that I hope to make visible through design and architecture.

"I tend to document special moments told by my clients in series of small sketches: Here, a client was describing how he felt at home upon arriving to the building we designed.".
"I think some buildings are like music: They make you dance."
Q: What role does diversity, inclusion, and engagement play in the design profession at large?

A: People are inherently diverse—whether it be by religion, culture, ethnicity, language, or past experiences. To be a good designer is to understand this is the norm, the world we live in is rich and diverse, and our job is simply to translate that through our work.

Q: As a leader in the design industry, what steps do you take to expand professional design opportunities to members of the Black community?

A: I know that I would not be where I am today if not for the people who opened doors for me, believed in me and supported me throughout my design profession. I pay that forward always and whenever I can. I seek to facilitate connections and create platforms for Black and African designers where they can find opportunities. I was one of the organizers of the Black in Design Conference at the GSD in 2019, where I learned how crucial such platforms are, especially in our profession. That collaboration with the GSD now expanded and we are launching a mentoring program this year for Black and African students in public high schools, that way we can build a pipeline and eventually expand the access to institutions like Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) and Perkins&Will.

Black in Design Conference: Black Futurism 2019 at Harvard's Graduate School of Design