This Q&A is part of a series of interviews with Gensler architects, designers, and others in the firm about their career journey, and the impact that design and architecture can have on our communities and the human experience. Here, we sit down with Davae Gibson, job captain, Gensler Boston:
What was your first introduction to the field of architecture and design?
It was during my junior and senior year of high school. As part of my AP English class, we were assigned to a write about a topic that was new to us. I chose to write about green architecture, which up until then, hadn’t been on my radar. To learn more about it, I reached out to a handful of architecture firms located in the Charlotte, North Carolina region. I only got one response, and that was from Jim Williams, a partner and director of Design at the firm Little. He invited me to meet with him in their studio and I was amazed by the experience — the office, models, and lighting. He sat with me and explained ways to make my project sustainable. His investing that time with me made me realize how important mentorship is.
What was an early experience that influenced your career path?
I’m a twin. Growing up, my sister and I had an imaginary world that we created through art. We would make cities, such as “Gibson City.” I loved drawing the people and my sister would color them in. In addition to drawing and painting, we used things around the house like a bookshelf for rooms and tissues for bedding. My mom had an old set of encyclopedias that we arranged like building blocks, with voids and courtyards to make a school. I was also inspired by my grandfather. He wasn’t formally trained as a carpenter, but he built all kinds of things — from decks to sheds, and even a playground for my sister and me. He kept his yard fresh and tended to his many plants.
How has your career shaped your understanding of the world?
Well, I’ve only just started in this profession and am still a technical designer with the aspiration to become an architect. That’s a question that’s still evolving. The answer will come with time and experience.
How can architecture and design advance wellness, equity, and inclusion?
For the architecture and design community to solve issues related to wellness and equity, we have to consider that real people and their well-being are at stake. It requires empathy, compassion, listening, and the ability to visualize the world from their shoes. For example, helping homeless people — you need to listen to their story. The first step is to acknowledge that these are real people with real needs, not just a statistic. Finding commonality and connecting with people is the first step for achieving great design. We should think of buildings not just as a task. We should consider, what legacy does this building leave? Is it oppressive, or exclusive, or will it inspire and contribute to multiple cultures and the community?
What role does architecture and design play in shaping the minds of future generations?
Similar to culture, design changes. It continually evolves. As more people come into the field of design, we’ll see things change. Design can inspire; it has the capacity to change someone’s direction or vision. For example, my getting to see an architectural office with drawings and models encouraged me to consider a career in design. Similarly, a kid might visit a beautiful office and think, “I want to work there someday.” Good architectural design should be accessible to all communities of people.
The most important thing I’ve learned as an architect/designer is…
What I’ve learned so far is that you are accountable for your career. You can redefine your role as an architect or designer by dictating what you want to do or achieve. During our “Mondays in the Square” creative conversation series, I was struck by guest speaker Jha D Williams, who identified herself as a “spacemaker.” She is a designer, but also has other creative endeavors, such as poetry and creating spaces where people can share their stories. How can we bring these other elements of our creative lives into design? The architect David Adjaye has a brother (Peter Adjaye) who is a composer, and together they created an album called “Dialogues,” which I thought was a nice blend across disciplines. I’m still young and learning, but I think we can all become visionaries if we design toward a common goal — create architecture that inspires you and reflects progress.
Name a building or space that every designer should see in person.
I have two:
The National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. Everything is so intentional — the screen, the texture. It’s an amazing and powerful space that encompasses so much history. I had the opportunity to visit and it’s an experience that I cannot fully put into words. The main exhibition is a journey of ascending through the depths of history and meandering through the Black experience in America. It is thought-provoking, elegant, and powerful. No doubt, it’s a must-see for everyone!
And the Reichstag in Berlin. I spent a semester studying abroad in Berlin and fell in love with the city — both the grungy, artsy vibe it has today and its complex history. At the Reichstag, the building itself reflects the evolution of power in Germany. From the fire of 1933 to the bullet holes from WWII, and the engraved writing in the interior, the building speaks volumes about Berlin’s past. I love the Norman Foster dome and the overall experience of the ascending around a mirrored centerpiece that reflects various views.
Interview courtesy of Gensler