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    Reaching Out and Speaking Up

    By thebacboston
    May 18, '23 3:26 PM EST

    Octavia Pinckney, M.Arch'23, has seen, “Minorities in this country have been hit disproportionately hard by environmental disasters.” Growing up in Texas, Octavia’s own family was seriously impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “I understand firsthand what not being prepared for a disaster can feel like,” they say.

    Katrina’s chaotic aftermath, which left so many people unhoused, motivated Octavia to build a mission-driven career in architecture. Over the last few years, they worked as a Designer at Perkins+Will while simultaneously pursuing a Master of Architecture degree at The Boston Architectural College (BAC).

    An especially impactful course at the BAC, Design and Social Entrepreneurship taught by Jack Cochran, challenged Octavia to create a business model for a startup. Their plan was a resilient design platform where people would learn how to prepare homes for natural disasters and how to tap into local funding resources. Right now, the concept is speculative—but they intend to move forward in the future.

    “Doing this type of work in resilient design is why I went into architecture,” they say with conviction. Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, Octavia learned to draw from their grandfather, Robert Edward Hill, an Air Force engineer who also enlisted his grandchild’s help with home renovation projects.

    Motivated by those memories, Octavia received a bachelor of science in architecture in 2015 from the University of Texas in Arlington, where they deep dove into building construction and examined the history of suburban American design.

    After graduation, and some time working in construction industry jobs, they worked in facilities at Amazon while considering their next career move. “I wasn’t sure if it was going to be architecture,” Octavia admitted candidly. “I’d had some experiences that reminded me that this is a male industry. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put myself through that stress.”

    Yet, after learning about the Master of Architecture at the BAC, which supports concurrent work experience towards licensure, Octavia felt ready to take the leap. They said, “The BAC has such good student reviews online and I wanted a program that would help me get practical experience while I was going to work and earning a living.”

    Relocating to Boston from Texas in 2019 in order to study at the BAC the following fall while looking for a job was hard. Despite some initial culture shock, Octavia was determined to build a life in the city because of its history of human and environmental-centered design, and environmental regulations. Showing up and networking is what helped Octavia to acclimate.

    “Connecting with the local based chapters of Boston Society for Architects Women in Design (WiD) and the Boston National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) gave me a supportive community where I felt like I could really advocate for myself,” they say.

    After applying to jobs for what felt like a black hole for several months, it was ultimately an opportunity to support a fellow colleague at The Boston Architectural College NOMA Students Orientation (BAC NOMAS) event which led to a referral for Octavia’s current role in the Boston-based studio of Perkins+Will. Known for design that makes an intentional impact in communities, the firm is an ideal match for Octavia’s ambitions, values, and skillset.

    Most recently, Octavia has been part of the team serving the Massachusetts School Board Authority on a project building Stoneham High School in Stoneham, Massachusetts.

    “I’ve worked on residential and commercial projects in Texas, but this has been my first time designing a school. I got to work on the interior design and external façade, learning a tremendous amount from the experienced people around me.”

    What was Octavia’s biggest takeaway from the project? Balancing budget-friendly functionality with inspiring aesthetics to best serve the community.

    “The BAC did a great job of preparing me for how to advocate for a client and on using iterative processes in team collaborations,” they said.

    Integrating team and community collaboration where everyone has a voice is an important value to architecture.

    Disenfranchised Black communities, Neo-Colonial design on the African continent, and how South Africa’s kingdoms contributed to the history of design all matter to Octavia. “Let me tell you about it,” is how they often start off a sentence both at the BAC and at work.

    It was in the virtual classroom that they learned to speak up and make sure that the rich legacy of African design makes its way into discussions and creative thinking not just as a passing detail but as an essential pillar of the design canon.

    Making sure that their own voice matters is a skill that Octavia will carry into the field forever.

    “When I’m at a table and I feel like I’m not being heard, that’s an opportunity for me to build a bridge and show that there is a voice that is missing, a history that still exists and longs to be known.”

    Having completed the requirements for graduation in the winter of 2022 Octavia will walk at the BAC graduation in the spring and plans to remain in Boston. Next up? They plan to study for an advanced degree in Disaster Management to be able to volunteer with organizations providing emergency response to underserved communities facing an environmental disaster.

    Octavia is determined to help every client feel heard and respected at the table.



     
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The #BACbuzz blog will help to inform, educate, and share relevant and noteworthy architectural and design news happening within the Boston Architectural College and around the Boston community.

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