#MentorMonday: Genelle Brooks-Petty
Welcome to #MentorMonday! Mondays are dedicated to celebrating Black LICENSED Architects, Designers, and individuals in the profession of Architecture! The questions asked to these individuals are to allow us into their lives and to be used as an inspiration. I hope you all enjoy this series. The opinions and views expressed do not reflect those of America’s Hidden Gem(TM). They are exclusively opinions of those by whom they’re shared.
Los Angeles, CA
What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?
I cannot remember what sparked my interest, but feel like space has always been important to me. My maternal great-grandfather went to Howard University School of Architecture. His son, my grandfather, was a brick mason. My father studied Interior Design at Southern University in Baton Rouge. With that influence coming from both sides I think the value of the built environment was planted too early for me to realize what was happening. I embraced it when I went to college at Howard University, but only as a subject of interest. I took a few design classes as a business major and spent a bit of time in the HU School of Architecture studios visiting friends. I worked in fashion for several years before a friend and colleague asked me to design her first boutique. It was exciting and challenging as someone who was not yet formally trained. That project led me to graduate studies in Interior Architecture and to a new professional chapter.
What does it mean to be a black architect/ urban designer to you? Do you feel that you have more responsibility?
I absolutely have more responsibility because there are so few Black people in architecture and interior design. That means any one of us has the reality of representing all of us. It also means we should feel responsible for bringing more of us into and up in the professions. Then we have the responsibility of working toward equity in our professions. I am active as a board member of SoCal NOMA (www.socalnoma.org) and as Vice Chair of the AIA LA JEDI committee (https://www.aialosangeles.org/committees/jedi/). I also mentor aspiring designers. We have the responsibility of considering our culture and bringing our experiences into our work. I realize all of us do not feel or cannot manage these responsibilities proactively. Sometimes we will have to accept that a Black architect or designer doing a job well will be fulfillment of this responsibility. Representation has tremendous value.
What are some obstacles you’ve experienced or currently experiencing as a black architect/ urban designer?
I cannot say that anything outside of financing my education and time management has been an obvious challenge. I have been fortunate to build a supportive network of people who have helped me along the way. I hope I have honored their support through quality work and paying it forward to the aspiring and practicing designers that I mentor.
Should we ignore race in this profession?
You cannot ignore race in America. Race informs experience here…experience as a professional and then the work that we are engaged in. Can we show up to work and be valued as a practitioner? Are we held to different standards? Are we able to respond to external factors (specifically social unrest directly relating to our experience in this country) or do we have to suppress those responses and do the job. As architects and designers creating effective solutions requires consideration of experience, perspective, and intended outcomes… which are often informed by race. We have too much history in this place affected by race to ignore it. Ignoring it does not create equity at this point. With representation at about 2% we are far away from the point of reflection that allows the luxury of ignoring race in this profession.
If you could give advice to a black student in Architecture /Urban Planning school right now, what would it be?
I would tell Black architecture and interior design students to read, study and draw to be very prepared because we have to prove ourselves more vigorously. Be aware of our history in the profession. We are the preservers of our stories. Do not be afraid to be yourself as a designer. We are teachers even when we are students. Connect with others who share your cultural experience in the profession. I am an active member of my local NOMA chapter (SoCal NOMA). Be an active student member of other professional organizations like AIA, IIDA, or ASID. These organizations put you in a position to meet and connect with people who can become mentors and allies through your journey. Travel when you can to experience cultures and see how the built environment reflects them.
Describe a moment you were at your lowest on your pursuit to licensure and how did you overcome it?
I am an interior designer which does not require licensure, but I have explored the necessity and routes to it. It seems cumbersome sometimes because I started my design journey later than many I know. I am also a wife, mother of two, and multiple business owner. Balancing all of my obligations to properly pursue licensure is the biggest challenge I am facing.
How important is representation?
Representation is paramount. “You cannot be what you cannot see,” rings loudly when this subject is on the table. Representation is about expressing and reinforcing our right to exist and real value to ourselves and to others in the spaces we occupy. We have done the work to be here and should have the right to flourish professionally. We can also give better insight into what needs are unaddressed by our profession. I make it a point to make design services available to small businesses in my community. That work is about what environment we deserve as an underserved community and that is hard to see and know from the outside.