The AIA has named New York–based Pascale Sablan winner of the 2021 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award. Named for the civil rights leader who led the National Urban League from 1961 to 1971, this annual prize honors an architect or organization that embodies social responsibility.

Sablan, a senior associate at S9 Architecture and the 315th Black woman to be licensed in the U.S., is a champion and advocate for women and diverse design professionals. As the founder and executive director of Beyond the Built Environment—an organization that aims to address inequality by elevating and engaging Black architects—Sablan has launched a database of diverse designers and spearheaded the SAY IT LOUD exhibition series that has spotlighted some 400 architects of color across the country. She spoke with RECORD earlier this year, shortly after the police killing of George Floyd, explaining how architects are uniquely positioned to dismantle injustice and brutality perpetuated by the built environment “from day one,” through mentoring young people (she is involved with ACE Mentorship Program, for instance, and worked with students to design a new school campus in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake), volunteering for humanitarian causes, and monitoring and maintaining diversity in the office. “We have so many abilities as architects, that we can't say we’re only going to start fighting for justice when it's time to build a monument, or a memorial, or a museum,” she said.

"SAY IT LOUD" exhibition, Ohio, curated by Pascale Sablan, photo © Cleveland Cavalliers

“In this season of strife and unrest—2020, the year of perfect vision—Pascale’s sojourn is refreshing and reassuring,” wrote architect William J. Stanley III, in a letter supporting Sablan’s nomination for the award. “Some people take years to achieve the same level of accomplishments that she has attained in so short a time. Her meteoric rise is a testament to the maximization of her gifts. She is exactly what the late author Lorraine Hansberry meant when we wrote the play book To Be Young, Gifted and Black.”

Sablan has been recognized with the 2014 AIA New York/Center for Architecture Emerging Professional award; as the 2015 National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) Member of the Year; and with the 2018 AIA Young Architects award. In 2021, she will become NOMA president-elect, working closely with incoming president Jason Pugh, who follows 2019-2020 president Kimberly Dowdell.