Very Few Architects are Black. This Woman is Pushing to change that

Pascale Sablan
Pascale Sablan, NOMA President

By Vanessa Romo

There is a devastating story that Pascale Sablan sometimes tells when she talks about the experiences that have shaped who she’s become.

It starts in a place of joy. In her case, Sablan remembers feeling elated as a teenage freshman at the Pratt Institute School of Architecture back in 2001 — long before she became an architect and went to work for one of the world’s most prominent architecture firms.

During her second week of classes at the prestigious New York City school, a young white professor asked Sablan and another female student to stand up in a classroom of about 60 of her peers, she told NPR during a recent phone interview.

“These two will never become architects because they’re Black and because they’re women,” she recalled him saying.

The words — embarrassing, stinging, demoralizing — were intended to prove a point: That architecture school is rigorous and most people never finish an architecture degree. The San Francisco Institute of Architecture reports that nationally “for every 100 students who enroll, only 20 will graduate.” The statistics plummet further for students of color and grow more dismal still for women of color.