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Conversations with Pascale Sablan

Today we’d like to introduce you to Pascale Sablan. 

Pascale, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
Pascale Sablan, FAIA, NOMA, LEED AP, Associate at Adjaye Associates, with over 15 years of experience, has been on the team for a variety of projects around the world. Pascale is the 315th living African-American woman registered architect in the United States. She is an activist architect who works to advance architecture for the betterment of society through bringing visibility and voice to the issues concerning women and BIPOC designers. She founded the Beyond the Built Environment organization to address the inequitable disparities in architecture. She has been quoted in the New York Times regarding her efforts, and Forbes magazine described her as “the powerhouse woman…actively changing history with a simple mission: women and designers of color must claim and be credited for their contributions to the built environment.” More recently, she was featured on Oprah’s Future Rising website for Black trailblazers moving our world forward in the Audacious category. 

As the Founder and Executive Director of Beyond the Built Environment, LLC, Pascale uses the organization to address the inequitable disparities in architecture by providing a holistic platform aimed at supporting numerous stages of the architecture pipeline. 

To impact the culture, Beyond the Built Environment elevates the identities and contributions of women and diverse designers through exhibitions, curated lectures, and documentaries that testify to the provided value of their built work and its spatial impact. Pascale has curated over 35 SAY IT LOUD exhibitions globally. The exhibits are paired with relevant programming speaking to the mission. The SAY IT LOUD – United Nations Visitors Centre exhibition created a tremendous opportunity for exposure and echoed the call to action to the leaders across the world. After her opening speech at the exhibit, the United Nations generously transformed the exhibition into posters, translated into eight languages (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, and Kiswahili), then distributed the posters to information centers worldwide. The SAY IT LOUD – United Nations exhibit has been displayed in Bujumbura, Geneva, Harare, Lagos, Lome, Nairobi, New Delhi, Minsk, and Yaounde. 

Pascale has been recognized for her contributions to the industry with several awards, including the 2021 AIA Whitney M. Young. Jr Award for her advocacy efforts and ascended to the AIA College of Fellows, the youngest African American to receive that honor in the organization’s 165-year legacy. She was featured in the Council of Tall Building & Urban Habitat Research Paper, in the same company as Jeanne Gang and Zaha Hadid. 

To engage the culture, Pascale has given lectures at Institutions, such as the National Museum of African American Heritage & Culture and the United Nations Visitor Centre. She has lectured and engaged students at Universities and Colleges all over the US: including Columbia University, Georgia Technical College, Harvard University, Tuskegee University, Pratt Institute, Parsons | The New School, Madison Area Technical College, and California Polytechnic State University. 

Pascale is the 2021-2022 President-Elect of the National Organization of Minority Architects, the 5th woman to hold this position of leadership in the organization’s 50-year legacy. Pascale is on the AIA New York Board of Directors and AIA National Secretary Advisory Council. She was awarded the Architectural League 2021 Emerging Voices award and the 2020 AIA New York State Presidents Award. She is the 2022 AIA National Secretary’s Advisory Committee Member. 

Mrs. Sablan holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Pratt Institute and a Master of Science in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. 

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I am relentless working towards dismantling and eradicating racism and oppression from the built environment and the profession is my ultimate goal and the reason for founding Beyond the Built Environment LLC. 

Sparked by the discrimination I faced in the first few weeks of architecture school by a professor. In front of a class of about +/-80 peers, another student and I were asked to stand and told we would never become architects due to their race and/or gender. Although I ultimately proved my biased professor incorrect, it was my advocacy moment. I realized that I was no longer just representing Pascale. Whenever I’m in a room, I am the steward and representative of women and diversity and understand that my actions could potentially be used to judge our entire demographic. Therefore, in every way, I can I show up and show out! 

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Although used interchangeably the difference between activism and advocacy. Activism is posters, marches, protests, getting everybody aware, mobilizing, and cultivating resources to draw attention to a particular issue. Advocacy, is more long-term, the nitty-gritty of policy writing, getting information and statistics embedded so that regardless of the person in charge, this rule has to be followed. Although Pascale plays both roles, she sees herself more as an advocacy leader and is strategic about selecting board positions that allow her to create policy changes. As a New York-based architect, those positions form a laundry list: currently a senior associate at Adjaye Associates. 

In her various positions of leadership facilitate her effort to push for Diversity & inclusion initiatives that protect women and BIPOC designers in the profession and make policy to ensure equal pay, career advancement, and training opportunities, and most of all, initiatives that ensure women and BIPOC designers are not disadvantaged in the workplace. 

Pascale works tirelessly to dismantle injustice by engaging the community through architecture to advocate equitable, reflectively diverse environments. 

Inspired by Marian Wright Edelman’s quote, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” Pascale has lectured at 28 colleges and universities with a total of over 4,000 attendees capitalizing on this platform to personally advocate representation and diversity. To make facilitate access to educational lectures and testimonials, she founded a diversity & inclusion initiative, the NOMA National Vimeo page. The resource has engaged over 33,290 views via an online platform used as an educational resource to centralize and archive programming. 

The majority of her career was sculpted by her experience at a firm where she spent 10 years. This was an environment where she excelled and was supported until she became a mother. Giving birth to her son was the largest challenge of her professional career. Returning from maternity leave, she had to advocate for initiatives that ensure women are not disadvantaged in the workplace and had a healthy and supportive work environment. Pascale fought to have a conference room to be converted to a mothering room for those in the office who are nursing, to have a dedicated space designed and furnished for that use. This space was catalytic in forming a culture and positive attitude towards the mental and physical well-being of these women. 

Pascale promotes agency among diverse audiences and advocate for equity in the built environment through their “triple E, C” approach. Engage, Elevate, Educate, and Collaborate. She engages diverse audiences through programming promoting intellectual discourse/exchange. She elevates the identities and contributions of women and BIPOC designers through exhibitions, curated lectures, and documentaries that testify to the provided value of their built work/impact. She educates the masses through formal and informal learning opportunities that introduce architecture as a bridge to fill the gaps of inequity. She collaborates with community stakeholders and organizations to crowdsource information and amplify opportunities to advocate for equitable and reflectively diverse environments. 

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
Favorite quote: “Impossible is for the unwilling” – John Keats 

My essential quality… I’m willing. 

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