GCA assistant to the directors Camille Germany (C), sat down with Rachel White (R), an alumna from Gibbs college! Rachel shared everything she has learned post-grad, balancing her work and mom life and how her job will be impacted by COVID-19! Read on for highlights, or click the link below to access the full podcast.
C: You mentioned in your 2020 Gibbs College of Architecture Convocation keynote address a little bit about what you do a PBK. I was wondering if you could expand on that a little bit for us.
R: In my keynote, I had mentioned that I always wanted to design schools, but I did not realize when I landed in Houston that I was in one of the fastest growing places in the country, which means there is a continuous need for new schools compared to Oklahoma. I grew up in Norman and there was a new school built every five to ten years. In Houston, it is just constant in terms of needing new schools. There are new neighborhoods popping up left and right. In the founding office of PBK, we do exclusively K-12 design work. In the last year, I have had the opportunity to work a ground development for an elementary school, a high school football press box, and a large security update program.
C: Wow! You have been all over elementary schools. That is cool. How did your time at OU in the Gibbs College of Architecture prepare you for your career?
R: I think the most valuable aspect in architecture education at OU is what professors call “design thinking.” When I was in school, we were not taught about it, but I was taught how to problem solve in a way that I had never experienced before. We were thinking about design problems from a human perspective and applying creative solutions. That value has been important to me in every aspect of my life, from work to personal. That way of thinking can help anyone even if they don’t have an architecture degree.
C: Speaking of adapting, what’s changed about your working during COVID-19 and what are some creative ways that you have been able to adapt?
R: As a mom of two little boys, I think the hardest thing has been learning to manage the distance learning and working full-time. It was pure chaos at our house the first couple of weeks. I was just trying to take one day at a time, so I had to focus on the fact that all of it would end at some point. When being a mom I have learned that raising kids you will always been in a new season of life, so it is just part of adapting.
C: Yes, for sure. I think a lot of us were caught off guard by this pandemic. Everyone was just going about their work and then suddenly, a huge obstacle was put in our path. We all had to be a little more creative on how to solve the everyday issues. In your area of focus, is there any common problems or obstacles that you must overcome during or post COVID-19?
R: Obviously, there is a huge focus on getting kids back into the classroom. A lot of thought is going into how to change the school environment, such as, rethinking how to use the spaces or how we make surfaces more resistant to passing on the virus. A lot of thought is going to that by engineering and architecture programs. LEAF, an engineering program, published a paper on how to update the school environments for it be safer for the students. There is a lot of thinking going into it, but we do not think those things will be able to happen in the next couple of months. It will be years in the making.
C: This is a longer timeline than people are used to dealing with. There’s a lot of thinking and planning to do.
R: There needs to be a lot more research about it. No one is sure yet to be able to put a lot of money into making changes in the schools. My husband is principal of a middle school, so we have been having a lot of these conversations recently. They are not sure what changes to make because they do not even know if every student will be able to be at the school at once. Everyone is learning to adapt as it comes.
C: As a country we have a lot of work to do about racial and social justice. Right now, a lot of radical demonstrations of change are taking place across the country and we are all learning in new ways to do better. How do you and your colleagues plan and design diversity, equity, and inclusion in mind?
R: I think there are a lot of thing that urban planners can do to design with diversity, equity, and inclusion in mind. We can intellectualize all day different ways to connect people through the designs of buildings, but I think the best way is bringing people of many backgrounds to the table in the design process. Houston is normally compared to New York for being one of the most diverse cities in the country, so we can bring several types of people to the design process. At PBK, when we are starting a building from the ground up, we bring in different stakeholders for the design process. I have worked with more black women leaders in Houston than I have anywhere else that I have lived. I was doing some reading and discovered that only 3% of licensed architects are black women. That is why it is important for us to bring in more black women and men for the design process in the future. I think bringing the community to design the spaces that are for them can be a way for us to include equity and inclusion in mind.
C: That is a shocking number for most people to read.
R: I read in another article that there is only 196 people in the United States total. I am going to be thinking about ways that I can support young people of color at The University of Oklahoma and The University of Houston, who I have done some work within the past. It is important for us to get those numbers up because it is a huge problem.
C: You mentioned the different articles that you have been reading, do you have any favorite design podcasts, websites, or profiles that are inspiring to you right now?
R: Considering the Black Lives Matter protests, I have put some thought into how I can listen to people of color and engage with them. I have followed a black man designer for a while now, his name is Hilton Carter. He is an interior designer and he uses a lot of plants, which are beautiful, it has inspired me to buy more plants for my home. I follow a few other accounts that will promote other designers and architects. I think learning more about them and the type of work that they do.
C: Thank you for sharing those. Where can people follow you and PBK to see the work that you have done?
C: Thank you for talking with me today!
R: Thank you so much for having me!
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.