Patricia Acevedo Fuentes: I want people to know my name

George Floyd was not the first or the last black to be killed by police or vigilantes, but his documented murder helped spark a rise in discourse on systemic racism. In this multi-week series, members of the design community share how their conversations, vision and place in the profession have changed in a year that has also seen an increase in attacks, many of which are deadly, against people of color as well as the lives of millions more disappeared due to COVID-19.

Here, JLG Architects Patricia Acevedo Fuentes, AIA, Market Leader and Senior Product Manager, shares how she made a name for herself and made a home in Rapid City, SD, far from Puerto Rico, where she was born. Acevedo Fuentes is also a Bush Fellow 2021 seeking to expand knowledge of social justice and rural policy through data and storytelling.

courtesy of Patricia Acevedo Fuentes / JLG Architects
Patricia Acevedo Fuentes

Few people are or resemble me in architecture, let alone in the Dakotas and the Western Highlands. I have two last names, but I had minimized them to [not stick out] and make it difficult for people to pronounce them. After the events of last summer, many friends reached out and said, “You have two last names. Which one am I calling you? And where do they come from? I want to model our growing awareness and our ability to talk about things younger people see.

Conversations by Franck
Before George Floyd’s murder, BIPOC and LGBTQ designers inside and outside our organization were starting to have conversations. [about inclusion]. After his murder, we gave ourselves permission to say the things we hadn’t said before.

I love working at JLG. [However,] it is a 96% white company. I reached out to [the remaining 4%] and said we need to start having these company wide conversations. We held guided conversations around the themes of inclusion and equitable access. The most valuable outcome was not the conversations, but the relationships that happened afterward. We have started to make meaningful connections between our 12 offices across the tri-state and across generations.

Customers and staff are asking for more diversity and inclusion, and our strong leadership knows that has to be a goal. Our company crosses the Just label application process. We compare the makeup of our company with, for example, AIA Minnesota, which will be more diverse in terms of gender, race and ethnicity. We ask, “Are we happy with where we are?” Where else do we want to go? “

I’m used to having conversations about nationality, race, ethnicity, gender, and access to goods and services because of the communities I work with, including homeless and Native American reservations. Now we are able to speak the words a little louder and also be more direct in conversations with communities and customers.

OneHeart Transformation Campus in Rapid City, SD, by JLG Architects
JLG Architects
OneHeart Transformation Campus in Rapid City, SD, by JLG Architects

Conversations can be tense and emotional. We recently completed the OneHeart Campus in downtown Rapid City, which deals with wrap-around services and transitional housing. We talked about designing from a trauma-informed perspective, how to make people feel safe, and how much space the campus needs to be fenced off. People on the outside have different perceptions than on the inside. Because we all had the same project goal, we were able to have difficult and sometimes heated conversations.

I’m not perfect. I am in this continuum and I try to design better for the person who will inhabit, live or receive a service from these spaces. It’s understanding who you’re designing for. If I’m designing for an executive director who provides a service, I should design for that person’s client. We need to think beyond the person signing your AIA agreement. It takes a partnership with your client so that he understands that it is a gain for him, that it will end up enriching the project.

The other aspect of clarity is to understand architecture as a process and not as a product. Many people think of architecture as buildings. But the joy and magic of architecture occurs in the process, but the design is not accessible to everyone. So how do we bring it to people?

Architecture has big implications for the community, and for a long time to come. We have to do it right.

Pull up a chair
In 2019, I was elected to a general position within the AIA Strategy Council. I began to speak out loud about the rural condition. Rapid City is not rural from a census perspective, but it has a rural culture and mindset. We are far away. Our construction costs and access to goods and services are different. Try to design affordable housing in the middle of the country, in a rural environment where the weather is harsh. I started talking about how the funding formulas discriminate against our remoteness. We called it the rural agenda to offset the urban agenda.

We asked ourselves: “Are there people who cannot be seen here? Not only from the point of view of practitioners, but also from that of communities. Are we providing services to these communities? Many people saw themselves reflected in these questions, so I helped create a platform for other practitioners and other communities to begin to be seen.

Red Cloud Indian School, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD, designed by JLG Architects
JLG Architects
Red Cloud Indian School, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD, designed by JLG Architects

As architects, we have the opportunity to be leaders in the community. I’m originally from Puerto Rico but realized that if I wanted my community here in Rapid City to care about me, to make me feel like I belonged here, I had to give something first. to the community. I wanted people to know my name.

I started volunteering and sitting on boards of directors with lawyers and accountants, and there is always a real estate agent. The planning and design perspective provided by architects is invaluable. It is invaluable to have seen different things in the professional world. My undergraduate degree is from Puerto Rico, so I learned to design in the tropics. I got my masters in New York, then I moved to Florida. Even the location of the air barrier and vapor barrier in the walls is different.

I was doing the community a favor, but I was surprised to find that I had a seat at the table. AIA people [and many others] said: “If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” And Shirley Chisholm said, “If you don’t have a place at the table, pull up a folding chair. »Make your own space. But it’s in a big and ideal world. Sometimes you can’t even bring your own chair.

I don’t have to agree with everyone, and not everyone has to agree with me. But if we agree that we have the same goal, we can just both be. People who are in the community, trying to do something, and raising their hands to get involved rarely have bad intentions. It’s about understanding what their goals are.

Red Cloud Indian School, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD, designed by JLG Architects
JLG Architects
Red Cloud Indian School, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD, designed by JLG Architects

On creating momentum
Being out in a fight all the time can be exhausting. I want to empower others because I am not going to make the changes myself.

The easiest way for people to get involved is to start serving on committees and boards. And you’ll learn so much about the community you serve or where you live. Many organizations are looking for a new board member or committee member. Everyone wants volunteers. To become an advocate or activist, you don’t necessarily need to speak to state lawmakers or a delegation from Congress. It starts in your community.

In some ways, architects have turned into a commodity. We need to demystify the profession and value what we do. Being more visible however you choose is important.

As said to Wanda Lau. The opinions and conclusions of this author are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine or the American Institute of Architects.

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