We caught up with alumnus Gregory G. Street [BArch '14], a designer at Overland Partners in San Antonio, Texas. While studying at UT Austin, he was an active mentor and leader in the school's National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) student chapter. Here, he talks about his views on diversity and equity, hopes for the future of the design professions, and how his education positioned him for success.
UTSOA: Can you describe a defining moment in your education or professional career that had a significant impact on how you view diversity and equity?
Gregory Street (GS): In both my education and professional career there have been many moments that have contributed to my purview of diversity and equity. It is difficult to isolate just one “defining” moment, as they tend to build upon each other. However, one class that I took at UT that stands out for me in more ways than one was a class called The Black Power Movement with Dr. Leonard Moore. This class was offered through the College of Liberal Arts, and was so valued that dozens of people who were not registered for the class would sit in to hear the lecture. For me, this was a safe space for discussion centered around diversity and equity. While we uncovered problematic themes that circulate through our collective histories in regard to race and equity in the United States, Dr. Moore stressed the importance of making impacts, not impressions. I was able to uncover and re-focus my energy in a meaningful way, and really take a hard look at myself and how I was engaging with those topics. I realized in those moments that I had to become the person I had been looking for all of my college career, and that if I waited for a model to emulate that somehow fit my own unique perspective, then I would wait forever. That reality was empowering. As a result, my views on the subject matter were magnified, and I began to believe even more strongly in the inherent value of diversity and its necessity.
UTSOA: Tell us a bit about your career path.
GS: I am an Architectural Designer at Overland Partners Architects in San Antonio, Texas, where I have had the opportunity to work on some of our largest, and, arguably, most influential projects such as the Paul L. Foster Campus at Baylor University. I started at Overland as an intern through the Professional Residency Program at UTSOA, and came back full time shortly after graduating. I have called Overland home ever since. I am on the path to architectural licensure, and will be done testing very soon. Overland, with its advancement/strategic plans and overall support of continuing education, makes opportunities for growth seem limitless. I look forward to continuing my professional development at OPA with amazing people and projects.
UTSOA: As an alumnus of the UT Austin School of Architecture, are there any courses and/or experiences that were significant in positioning you for success?
GS: While at UT, I took every class that was offered by Juan Míro, from Construction V to Studio Spain. I chose this path because I viewed Juan as a well-rounded architect, with the ability to successfully navigate the nuance of professorship and professional practice. I am in constant pursuit of that level of development in my professional career, and do believe that each class that I took with Juan was a worthwhile experience, and are significant to my positioning today. I also believe that being involved with UTSOA’S chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students was defining for me. While it did offer a platform for discussing the Activist Architect, it also gave me the opportunity to develop my leadership skills and test different ways of leading with my fellow members. I bring a lot of that discovery with me to my current role at Overland Partners as I collaborate, interact, and manage people. That being said, I give a lot of credit to my work with NOMAS for making me a more effective professional.
UTSOA: How can architects and designers, broadly speaking, positively contribute to making American cities more equitable, healthy, fair, safe, and beautiful?
GS: The profession of Architecture has a multitude of issues that are waiting to be addressed. It is my belief that many of these issues are pedagogical, and begin with architectural education. However, the process associated with the creation of spaces and places requires a certain level of critical thinking unique to architecture. This process deals with what happens at the cross sections of art, architecture, culture, equity, and placemaking among other things. As a result, I believe that individuals with architectural training and professional experience should embrace alternative roles in related fields as advocates and thought leaders. All too often, in places where a critical eye could be the most impactful, change is met with systematic inefficiency and resistance. If we develop a culture where architecturally trained professionals are members of both local and national government, sit on code review boards, become lawyers, and work with/as developers and contractors, we could spend less time educating these entities on the power of good design, and more time evaluating our work and researching alternative options. In addition to raising awareness about architecture, this shift has the added benefit of providing architects with a firsthand account of the inner workings of some of these groups, allowing us to better understand their point of view and the perspective from which they make decisions. A lot of this hinges on architects becoming even more culturally competent and diverse. Meaning, in order to go into more visible roles as advocates concerned with protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public, architects and designers must become more self-aware, and must have the ability to view the world from many spatial perspectives. There is no way to solve the most critical problems of the City without this.
UTSOA: As an emerging practitioner, can you offer some reasons to be optimistic about the profession concerning race and gender in the built environment?
GS: The AIA just published a document titled “The Habits of High Performing Firms”. This document is the product of a body of research that revealed patterns and cross currents gleaned from AIA COTE Top Ten award recipient firms. What was encouraging about the work with respect to race and gender in the built environment is that it can be used as a metric to give quantifiable value to diversity. The research uncovered quite a bit, but two things that stand out to me are that these “High Performing Firms” generally have 50% more women on staff, and are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors if ethnic minorities are represented. So, as an emerging practitioner, I am optimistic that celebrating diversity and being faithful to the ideal is bulletproof in a way. I would also venture to say that, despite our current political climate, the pulse of our humanity still beats toward a society that is more inclusive, more tolerant, and, of course, more diverse. I have to believe that architecture will have no recourse but to fully embrace that trend.
UTSOA: Do you have any advice to share with our students and/or recent graduates?
GS: I believe that, in its highest form, architecture has the ability to help us define who we are and be a conduit for growth. I would challenge future alumni and recent graduates to be in aggressive pursuit of a career path that utilizes their architectural education to make positive impacts on people and the environment in which we live. This could mean that the traditional lane that many of us take may not be the most effective way to realize those goals, and that a “non-traditional” grey zone could be where the greatest potential lives. As long as the process is composed of consistent forward movement, respect, and reflection, something extraordinary is bound to happen.
This interview originally appeared in the 2017 issue of PLATFORM. View the digital issue of PLATFORM: Convergent Voices.