Gabrielle Bullock, 56, is the Los Angeles-based head of global diversity for the international architecture and design firm Perkins+Will, an 83-year-old company with a workforce of more than 2,000 professionals. Bullock is also something of a pioneer, one of only 404 African American women who are licensed architects in the U.S. In 2017, Bullock was appointed as president-elect of the International Interior Design Assn., which has more than 15,000 members in 58 countries.
“I’m an architect, so I lead projects 50% of my time,” Bullock said. “The other 50% of the time I’m the firm’s director of global diversity. I lead the strategy, monitor it, lead the diversity council that we have and try to build a more inclusive culture for the firm.”
Bullock said she discovered her natural artistic ability early on. “I always drew. I used to make my own stationery when I was 9 or 10 years old. I believe I had some talent from my mother, who was an artist. Art was my thing.” It was also what earned her a coveted spot at the Fiorello H. Laguardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in her hometown of New York City.
Listening well, Part One
Mentors were few and far between, but Bullock was careful to listen intently when she heard someone give important information. One was a teacher named Mrs. Kravitz. Even though Bullock preferred drawing portraits and album covers, Mrs. Kravitz said, “‘You could be an architect.’ I only needed to hear that once. I went home and told my mom I was going to be an architect.” Bullock switched gears and began drawing buildings that she liked.
Bullock was a very observant child growing up, noting the differences when she traveled from the relative comfort of her family’s home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx through other parts of the borough that were stricken by poverty and blight.
“I had friends and family who lived in public housing,” Bullock said. “I saw how the black community was living, and it was an embarrassment. I wanted to change that. I thought about how I could redesign the housing environment for low-income people. If the windows were really small, I’d make great big windows. Everybody loves sunshine, right?”
Bullock attended the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, becoming only the second African American female graduate, in 1984. Not only did it help buttress her belief in more livable architecture, she got a reverse course in diversity when it became clear that the school’s professors didn’t know how to reach out to her. “Few seemed to know how to tailor their instructional approach to people of different cultures.”