This Digital Library Is Bringing Overdue Recognition to Marginalized Designers
Pascale Sablan wears many hats. She’s a senior associate at S9 Architecture, the historian and northeast regional VP of the National Organization of Minority Architects, and the founder and executive director of Beyond the Build Environment—plus, a spouse to a motion graphic designer and a mom to a four-year-old. And while they may all look different, Sablan’s hats are cut from the same cloth: Her universal goal is to engage the greater community through architecture and advocate for equitable and diverse environments.
One of the many ways she’s achieving that is by building the Great Diverse Designers Library, which Sablan started earlier this year. The virtual resource, which features more than 400 women and people of color, is an ever-evolving repository of great talent with the aim of providing long-overdue recognition for marginalized groups. It’s also an important step toward a more inclusive industry amidst a global reckoning with racism and discrimination.
It all started with a Google search. When researching “great architects,” Sablan was shocked to see only one woman—Zaha Hadid—and zero African Americans featured on Google’s highlighted results. “How is this possible?” she asked. With the Great Diverse Designers Library, Sablan wants to set the record straight, but also give minority groups more time in the spotlight, and opportunities to continue doing great work.
Before the library was born, Sablan created Say It Loud, a series of exhibitions that highlight the work of people of color and women around the country. The library has become the digital extension of these showcases, which themselves have become virtual due to COVID-19. With Say It Loud, architects submit their work, which, in pre-pandemic times, would be reviewed by a committee and displayed in cities like Atlanta, Cleveland, and New York. Now, as architects submit their work for the virtual editions, Sablan personally appraises entries to pick out the best ones to include in the directory. “The submission should have a strong sense of place and purpose,” she says of her criteria. “The intent is to get blown away by their work.”
The library acts as a cross-section of the broader field. Emerging designers such as Josh Greene from Boston’s MASS Design Group rub shoulders with seasoned architects like David Adjaye and Toshiko Mori—and women like Ashley Byars from Omaha-based TACKarchitects. “People assume that my library is only for African Americans or for diverse people; white women are also feeling the wrath of erasure,” says Sablan.