Enneadeans (EA) Colin Carpenter, Nick Hornig, and Jarrett Pelletier spoke with Build Out Alliance Directors Aditya Ghosh and Tracy J. Passarella about supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community within the field and how that translates to greater inclusivity in the design process.
Nick Hornig (EA): Tracy and Aditya, can we start by talking a little bit about Build Out Alliance? How did it begin and what does the organization aim to do?
Aditya Ghosh: Build Out Alliance is a nonprofit that advocates for a building design and construction industry which universally values inclusion and where LGBTQIA+ professionals work openly with pride. As one of the founders back in 2017, it was clear to me that this type of facilitating organization was missing within the industry – which could anchor the efforts happening within various firms and provide support and resources to offices and individuals. Some of us are willing to take on the mantle of being an open, out, loud, proud professional in the field and be that role model for the people and places who really need it.
Tracy J. Passarella: For me, getting involved with Build Out Alliance was like walking into an open field that you never knew existed when you are in a crowded, cramped city. Working in construction, I had no idea a resource like this existed or what it could mean professionally to have that sense of community, after feeling so isolated for so long. As a project manager, it has changed how I run my jobs. By being able to be fully myself, open, strong, and confident at work, anybody that is on my job site understands that this is a safe space for them too. I feel a responsibility to the younger generation. If they can see more people like them out there, they can be led to that big open field faster.
Jarrett Pelletier (EA): Exactly. As architects, designers and builders, we can have impact as visible mentors, but it is also about what we consciously leave behind – creating an ecosystem that allows LGBTQIA+ people to feel safe, comfortable, and welcome within our working environments and within the built environments we create, while leaving space for the next generation to do what they need.
Aditya Ghosh: Architecture threads this line between being a professional practice and at the same time being a creative practice. You cannot be fully creative in your workplace if you are trying to hide a part of yourself away. It takes away from being able to be and give a hundred percent at work. The more we establish that our industry is not just queer-friendly, but queer-welcoming and queer-encouraging, it is not only better for practitioners and firms, but for what ultimately gets designed and built.
Nick Hornig (EA): We have been talking recently about the role that LGBTQIA+ designers can take in creating more inclusive spaces. What can that look like within in a project?
Colin Carpenter (EA): For me, I think it starts by seeing the program as a question, rather than a rigid set with a right or wrong answer, which is in essence kind of a queer idea. Entering the project with that mindset changes the trajectory. We are not designing spaces that are the reflection of a singular experience but are providing for a spectrum of identities – whether that is through gender neutral design, or non-hierarchical spaces, or how we create a feeling of safety for different people. When a community loves a space, it’s because it reflects all of them and welcomes all of them, so they use it more, the project becomes richer, and everyone benefits from that inclusivity. There is this intangible joy that happens when everyone is comfortable in a space and can present their authentic selves.
Nick Hornig (EA): I was just thinking back to a couple of summers ago and how incredibly moved I was to see the full plaza of the Brooklyn Museum taken over by thousands of people in support of Black Trans Lives. There aren’t that many big public spaces in the city where you could do that, and this is one where people felt like the space was truly theirs to occupy, which was so inspiring and made me feel proud to work for the office that designed it.
Colin Carpenter (EA): Would you say that designing for LGBTQIA+ inclusion is uniquely different than designing for other communities that have been historically marginalized?
Aditya Ghosh: I would say no. As we know, there is a difference between designing for a community and designing with a community. I think in the profession we are at a point where rather than thinking of it as a separate and distinct consideration for a particular group, which usually leads to a segregated or stereotyped kind of a design, we are thinking about how to nuance our current understanding of design to more purposefully include those who, by default, get excluded. There are all of these intersections that add to a richer kind of a design conversation.
Ennead is proud to be a sponsor of Build Out Alliance. To learn more about the organization, please visit buildoutalliance.org.