Remember Why You Started

In 2018 I was asked to participate in the American Institute of Architects Los Angeles (AIA|LA) Chapter Powerful V Conference hosted by the Women in Architecture (WIA) Committee. The conference was dedicated to gender equity in the architecture profession and showcasing women who made waves in the industry. I was asked to participate as an emerging voice and to share my story about becoming a licensed architect 2 years after graduating with my Bachelor of Architecture degree. I was honored to receive the invitation to speak to a group of over 400 people about my architecture journey, but also very nervous. Public speaking has never been my favorite activity, but as I grow in the profession I learned how sharing my voice is essential to reach my goals.

 

I ended up on that stage in front of 400 people, after a presentation I gave for the WIA Speed Talks event. Within three minutes of my presentation, I explained how I knew I wanted to be an architect as a sophomore in high school. The journey I led the audience through started with me growing up in the suburbs of Maryland and accompanying my dad to homes under renovation. I threw in a joke about how he let his two young daughters sit on the roof of a house –an act I am sure my mother would not approve of. The journey continued on to my freshman year of high school when I was surprisingly placed in a required tech education class. I was one of the few young, easily intimidated girls in the class with a bunch of senior males. To everyone’s astonishment, I excelled in every design-thinking assignment and quickly caught the attention of the professor—a black man who happened to be an architectural engineer. He also taught the architectural drafting class and before I knew it, I was a sophomore in high school designing my own home and declaring my future in architecture.

 

Growing up in the metropolitan area meant that my architecture lens focused on “pretty” buildings with stature as displayed on the national mall. It was not until I took a trip to the Dominican Republic that my focus really shifted to equity in architecture. Traveling to the rural parts of Punta Cana, I discovered families who looked like me, but were living in metal scraps pieced together. As I reflect on what I saw back in 2007, today I wonder how I did not see it before.

That historically, black people are left with the scraps and are expected to turn those scraps into communities that will sustain their needs.

It is still true today that inequality in architecture is controlled by the historical racial wealth gap in an effort to keep a leash on the progression of marginalized communities. I traveled through black neighborhoods in D.C., Virginia Beach, and Oakland and saw the differences. But it still wasn’t until I traveled to Punta Cana at 15 years old with my newfound interest in architecture, that my lens refocused. Something in my story clicked with the audience and I left them with four words: remember why you started.

 

Well, they for sure remembered why I started and allowed me to share that I became an architect to advocate for equity in architecture. And, if I was going to do that I not only needed to share my story, but be a voice for underrepresented and marginalized communities. As a presenter at both the Speed Talks event and Powerful V conference, I was reassured that the shy girl I was for so long could blossom into a confident woman who would continue to participate in lectures and panels. As an advocate for equity in architecture, I represent the 3% of licensed Black women to practice architecture. I am motivated by the next generation of Black architects who are encouraged to pursue architecture through my visibility in the industry. I quiet my own nerves about public speaking and take a chance on myself because I know it will open more doors for other women who will come after me.

Rachel Jordan Bascombe

Rachel Jordan Bascombe

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