Gabrielle Bullock: building diversity and inclusion from early on

| July 27, 2023 | 0 Comments

Most 12-year-old girls are interested in friends, listening to music and, maybe, boys. When Gabrielle Bullock was 12, she was interested in changing the world — one building at a time.

“I had some artistic ability through heredity,” the Windsor Square resident and Fellow of the American Institute of Architects says, noting that her mother was somewhat artistic. Although she grew up in the leafy Riverdale section of the Bronx, she was aware that not everyone was so lucky. “Traversing the city and seeing the public housing and how people of color lived, it impacted me greatly,” Bullock explains. “I knew then that I wanted to be an architect.” She continues, “Everybody deserves a beautiful place to live, a healthy place to live.”

Bullock was the second Black woman to graduate from the architecture department of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. She then joined architecture firms that focused on designing affordable housing. Unfortunately, they went belly-up during the recession in the mid-1980s. “I decided if there isn’t housing getting built, I could still do purpose-driven buildings. I didn’t have to completely divorce myself from my mission.”

Bullock joined the New York-based architectural firm Russo & Sonder, which eventually was acquired by her current firm, Perkins & Will. She focused her practice on health care and ways in which design could impact health. For example, when working on the design of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, she considered the value of natural light: every patient room is infused with daylight, and every hallway ends in a window to let in light. She brought a similar sensibility to her work on the Beckman Research Center at City of Hope and USC’s Health Sciences Campus.

When Bullock became managing director and a principal at Perkins & Will, she often found herself to be the only woman and only person of color in the room. As Bullock explains, “Black architects are 2-3 percent [of all architects]. Black women architects represent .2 percent. It is not a terribly diverse profession.” Additionally, she noticed a lack of cultural competence when working on a project in Saudi Arabia, a country with vastly different needs and expectations than those typically found in the United States. She believed her profession needed to be more welcoming to a greater variety of architects who could bring unique viewpoints to solving problems in differing communities here and abroad. Consequently, 10 years ago, she created her position of Director of Global Diversity to address justice, equity, diversity and inclusion — both for the culture within Perkins & Will and in how its architects engage with clients.

An example of that engagement in action is Bullock’s latest undertaking, Destination Crenshaw, an under-construction 1.3-mile series of connected parks and outdoor art exhibits celebrating the history and culture of the Black community — located on either side of Crenshaw Boulevard near Slauson Avenue. Community members were integrally involved in decisions about what the project needed to accomplish. “We’re partners, not saviors,” Bullock states about her professional involvement. Begun in 2017, Part One is scheduled to open early 2024.

Bullock will be the first to tell you that passion for her architecture career fills her hours, but she loves the time she spends with her husband, actor Rocky Carroll (perhaps best known for his role on “NCIS”) and their 22-year-old daughter Elissa. She loves to travel and enjoys relaxing at their Palm Springs weekend house. She admits, however, that, “Putzing around the house is my favorite part.”

She wasn’t always a committed Angeleno. When Bullock moved to Los Angeles from New York in 1995 to be with her then boyfriend, now husband, she was skeptical. They tried several neighborhoods and kept moving east until they found a house in Windsor Square. Ever the architect, she was attracted to the “classic but subtle Spanish style of the house,” but what really spoke to her was the neighborhood. “This area is walkable and much more diverse than other areas,” she explains. “It reminds me more of New York than any other place.”

In fact, Bullock regularly walks to Larchmont Boulevard to “pop into all the boutiques” and eat at Le Pain Quotidien, get bagels at Sam’s and go to A Silver Lining to frame the pen-and-ink and pencil portraits that she draws of people she knows, such as her husband, daughter, sister and herself. “I’m fascinated with the face,” she states.

In spite of being as busy as she is, Bullock has found time to serve several professional organizations and on the board of Girl Scouts of America, for which she did pro bono work to design their Camp Lakota in Frazier Park. She also served on the USC Architectural Guild board and delivered the 2019 commencement address to the USC Architecture School. Mentoring future generations of architects is important to her, and she has frequently made presentations at other Southern California architecture and design schools, such as California Baptist University in Riverside and Otis College of Art and Design. Bullock also visited Hancock Park Elementary School when her daughter was going there to share with students what an architect does.

So has the young girl with big dreams changed the world yet? Gabrielle Bullock considers, “Some of the [diversity] numbers have improved, but it’s a journey.”

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Category: People

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