Perspectives 06.28.2018

We Change What We Design By Changing Who Designs It

By Gabrielle Bullock

In June 2018, Perkins&Will’s Director of Global Diversity, Gabrielle Bullock, was sworn in as President of the International Interior Design Assocation (IIDA) international board. In doing so, she became the first African-American woman take the helm of the IIDA. Below, we are sharing her speech upon accepting the position as part of the IIDA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

I am thrilled to be here accepting the role as President of IIDA. As an architect I never would have thought that I’d be standing in front of you as President of IIDA, an interior design association. Funny how our paths take us in unexpected directions.

But then I met Cheryl Durst! My first introduction to Cheryl and IIDA was as a speaker at the 2016 Industry Roundtable where I talked about diversity and inclusion in design. What followed was joining the Board of Directors.

A little bit about who I am. I am originally from New York but have lived in Los Angeles for the last 23 years. My sister and I were raised by our mother and a family of women. As a young child I was very shy and stuttered profusely, and only stopped when the embarrassment was unbearable. I also think I knew instinctively that I had a lot to say and better get on with it…I haven’t been a wallflower since.

As a 12 year old, I knew I wanted to be an architect so that I could positively impact the lives of my community by creating uplifting and more humane living environments. Not knowing any architects, let alone ones of color, it was a bold move in 1979 as I entered Rhode Island School of Design. At the time I didn’t see it as a stretch because I was raised by a mother who didn’t allow us to say “can’t.” She taught my sister and I to believe we could do anything we put our mind to and that the world was our oyster. I believed her and moved on with my dream.

As an architect I’ve focused on large multi-disciplinary projects with a social relevance like healthcare, education, and research.

I learned and developed my skill in the built environment focusing on the exterior and planning. At the same time, I acknowledged and embraced the importance of interior designers and that their talent was different and unique! I am not one of those architects that thinks we can do everything, architecture and interior design. I recognize the unique skill interior designers have and the magic of an interdisciplinary approach.

In the past 10-12 years, I have focused on impact and influence: it was time to give back and make a difference.

As one of the 430 or .2% of black female licensed architects in the US, I’m personally and professionally driven to improve the diversity, equity, and inclusion in the design professions. The work we do is directly tied to cultural differences. That is why the design professions should mirror the community and clients we serve. We change what we design by changing who designs it.

As the Director of Global Diversity for Perkins&Will, I use my platform and access to not only foster a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive firm but the profession as a whole. I became a sort of Change Agent!

All of these experiences have guided me to this point today, with you as president. As president, I will continue to be an agent of change to advocate and advance the value of interior design, as well as bridge the gap between architecture and interior design.

In closing, I’d like to acknowledge my family.

My husband: Rocky, is my PLUS 1. In Hollywood, his world, I’ve been the Plus 1 for 20 years and when you Google me you get him, Google him you get him.

Today, we are living out our Plan As, cause as you’ve heard we don’t have a Plan B! And today, if you Google me, you get me. But what really makes my heart beat and drives me to be the very best example is my daughter Elissa, who keeps me real, relevant ,and reminds me when I’m being “extra”  or “the most” (which by the way are not good). Thank you both for being my rocks!

Thank you for your time. I hope to see many of you over the next few days during NeoCon – enjoy your time here!