2021 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award Recipient
Named for civil rights leader Whitney M. Young Jr., this award distinguishes an architect or architectural organization that embodies social responsibility and actively addresses a relevant issue, such as affordable housing, inclusiveness, or universal access.
As an architect and an activist, Pascale Sablan, FAIA, is a champion of women and diverse design professionals. Through documentation, careful curation, and promotion of their work, she has greatly enhanced the profession and broadened social awareness of the built environment. Just the 315th Black woman architect to attain licensure in the United States, Sablan’s drive has inspired those around her and spurred the network she has built to advocate for themselves and their communities.
“In this season of strife and unrest—2020, the year of perfect vision—Pascale’s sojourn is refreshing and reassuring,” wrote William J. Stanley III, FAIA, in a letter supporting Sablan’s nomination for the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award. “Some people take years to achieve the same level of accomplishments that she has attained in so short a time. Her meteoric rise is a testament to the maximization of her gifts. She is exactly what the late author Lorraine Hansberry meant when we wrote the play book To Be Young, Gifted and Black.”
Sablan is a senior associate at New York’s S9 Architecture and has represented the firm at a number of local and national professional events and educational institutions, assuming a variety of roles from lecturer to panel discussion participant. Sablan’s very first project, while a member of Aarris Architects’ team, helped position her as an advocate. Sablan joined the firm when it was a finalist for the design of the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York, and she helped construct models and contributed to drawings from the schematic design through design development. Sablan also drafted the numerous symbols now engraved along the walls of this important monument, which shares the history of the more than 20,000 African slaves buried beneath City Hall and neighboring federal buildings.
A member of the Haitian diaspora, Sablan was selected by AMHE, a Haitian humanitarian organization, to serve as the lead architect for its new school campus in the country, replacing the one destroyed in the devastating 2010 earthquake. For the project, Sablan blended her humanitarian and mentoring interests and designed the sustainable campus with the aid of high school students involved in the ACE Mentor Program. Together, they shaped the campus and its requisite structures to withstand future events while positioning it as an important resource for both students and the community surrounding it. In addition, Sablan has regularly traveled to Haiti to assist in rebuilding the significant number of elementary schools destroyed in the earthquake and to lead construction workshops for local contractors.
“Pascale has been a leading advocate in moving the debate from merely acknowledging the challenge of the lack of diversity and representation in the profession and the wider built environment to being about constructive ways to use diversity itself to design solutions to these challenges,” Alan Vallance, chief executive of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), wrote of Sablan. “Just like climate change, diversity is a global phenomenon and not a topic relevant only to the United States or the United Kingdom. Pascale has recognized this and is now active on the international stage, working with organizations such as the RIBA and also the United Nations.”
To involve everyone in the design process, specifically marginalized people, Sablan founded Beyond the Built Environment, LLC, which addresses the disparities in the profession and engages diverse audiences through her innovative “triple E, C” method. Through her strategy to engage, elevate, educate, and collaborate, the organization fosters programs such as SAY IT LOUD, a series of exhibitions that has profiled nearly 400 diverse designers from across the United States. The series of exhibitions has traveled to the United Nations campus in New York, New Delhi, and multiple AIA National Conventions. In light of COVID-19 and social distancing, all previous SAY IT LOUD exhibitions have been made available through virtual galleries.
Sablan has served the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) in a number of important capacities, including as historian and northeast regional vice president, a role in which she oversees seven of the organization’s chapters. In addition, Sablan has served on AIA New York’s board of directors and was appointed to the AIA National Strategic Planning Committee. Her efforts have been widely recognized with awards and honors, including an AIA Young Architects award, the New York Center for Architecture’s Emerging Professional award, and the NOMA Member of the Year Award. It’s clear, however, that her most important accomplishment is the prominent voice she has developed in support of women and architects of color.
“In this climate of racial unrest, Pascale is, loudly and unapologetically, leading the charge,” wrote Kevin M. Holland, FAIA. “And, by speaking to one person at a time, she is making relevant the African American architect, the minority architect, and The American Institute of Architects.”