The complexity of the Arab-American experience in architecture

Submitted by ce8f442d-41a9-… on Mon, 04/10/2023 - 17:57
{"version":"0.3.0","atoms":[],"cards":[["images-card",{"images":[{"url":"http:\/\/\/dpcbzfiye\/image\/upload\/v1681148548\/iwdcnomduhtt4vcbt0uq.png","id":"6613828"}],"caption":"Elaine and her parents at their family market in Oklahoma in 1982, Image source: Elaine Asal"}],["images-card",{"images":[{"url":"http:\/\/\/dpcbzfiye\/image\/upload\/v1681148615\/a4mbqqekqtlypzoqrqf3.jpg","id":"6613830"}],"caption":"Eager Park, Baltimore, MD, Image source: Gensler "}],["images-card",{"images":[{"url":"http:\/\/\/dpcbzfiye\/image\/upload\/v1681148709\/m4id6au4bdw52yrjvuz6.jpg","id":"6613833"}],"caption":"Elaine\u2019s family in Nazareth, May 2022, Image source: Elaine Asal"}]],"markups":[["a",["href","https:\/\/\/","target","_blank"]],["b"],["i"]],"sections":[[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"For Arab-American Heritage Month AIA\u2019s Senior Director of\nCareer Advancement Jenine Kotob, AIA, interviewed Elaine Asal, AIA, Senior\nAssociate and Strategy Director at "],[0,[0],1,"Gensler"],[0,[],0,", about the duality of her identity,\nher mentors growing up, and some of the crucial work she\u2019s done in her adopted\nhometown of Baltimore, Maryland. Both architects with familial roots in\nPalestine, Kotob and Asal dive deep into the Arab-American experience in the\nworld of architecture."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Asal was born and raised in Oklahoma City after her parents\nmoved to the United States from Nazareth in the late 1970\u2019s. She has worked at\nGensler in Baltimore since graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a five-year\nBachelor of Architecture in 2004. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[1],1,"Jenine Kotob"],[0,[],0,": What inspired you to become an\narchitect? "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[1],1,"Elaine Asal"],[0,[],0,": I actually wanted to be a lawyer growing\nup! I liked arguing! I took five years of Latin in high school and was really\nplanning on that path. A love for reading and writing drove an interest in\nbeing a journalist, and I had an inspiring history teacher, so I thought maybe\na political science path could get me into politics or law. From my Latin\nclasses, I also became obsessed with Roman columns and classical architecture\nand I thought that could be interesting too. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"So, as a good Arab daughter, my mother was involved in all\nof this decision making. She immediately vetoed journalism, deciding it was a\ndying profession. She vetoed political science, because she knew someone with a\npolitical science degree that could never find a job and was a chimney sweep, so\nthat was out as well. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"In Nazareth, architecture is a combination of architecture\nand engineering. Engineering is an Arab-approved profession, like medicine and\nlaw. So, I took a few classes, and I was hooked. I fell in love with the\nproject driven nature of the work, the studio environment and how collaborative\nand productively chaotic it was. I love that story because if I circle back to\nwhere my work is today, its rooted in writing, storytelling, social justice,\nand civic engagement. The medium or vehicle for those things is in the design\nspace. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[1],1,"Jenine Kotob"],[0,[],0,": It\u2019s so funny hearing your story and\nwhat other Arab parents conceive to be the best jobs. My traditional\nPalestinian grandmother said \u201carchitect? No, no, no,\u201d you can either be an\naccountant or a teacher. In the end, I chose architecture."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[1],1,"Elaine Asal:"],[0,[],0," To be fair, I think they\u2019ve added a few\napproved jobs to the roster since late-70\u2019s Nazareth so that\u2019s good news!"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[1],1,"Jenine Kotob"],[0,[],0,": So, who has been a significant role\nmodel or mentor in your life?"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[1],1,"Elaine Asal"],[0,[],0,": I probably have to start with my parents.\nThey instilled very strong values in\nboth me and my sister that have very much influenced my practice and point of\nview. My mother was very much an introvert, loved reading and constantly encouraged\nus to be learning, and doing creative and imaginative things. She was always telling\nus to go play outside, invent games, or to make things. Reflecting in later\nyears, I really appreciated that love of us playing and exploring and being\nimaginative. It built a lot of skills I use in my engagement work today. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"On the other hand, my dad was an extreme extrovert who loved\nbeing around people and loved his work. My parents opened Mediterranean Imports\nand Deli in Oklahoma City in 1981. The store was the center of our collective\nfamily life for forty years. He loved when any \u201chyphen American\u201d would come to\nthe store and ask about ingredients. If they were Italian, he wanted to find all\nthe Italian ingredients. Whether Persian, Greek, Lebanese, he always took such\ndelight in talking about the recipes people were making. He wanted to connect\nthem to others in town from that community. He really enjoyed helping people\nconnect with their own identity and finding community. The store was this\namazing platform that created a space for people from different cultures to\nconnect to each other and discover new things. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"That platform for community building was an incredibly\ninfluential experience to grow up with. Being Palestinian in Oklahoma, the\nstore surrounded us with a very well-traveled and international community. I was\nconsistently in a very international bubble relative to what might be\nconsidered a more typical Oklahoma experience. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"As far as mentors, I also have to give a lot of\ncredit to Gensler as well. I\u2019ve had an incredible number of mentors across the\nfirm. It\u2019s a big part of why I\u2019ve stayed as long as I have. I\u2019ve been fortunate\nto have so many people be supportive and create space to explore ideas - it\u2019s\nsomething Gensler does really well as a firm. They hire brilliant people and\ncreate lots of different spaces and opportunities to explore ideas, share, connect,\nand collaborate in both very organic and more structured ways. "]]],[1,"p",[]],[10,0],[1,"p",[[0,[1],1,"Jenine Kotob"],[0,[],0,": I love how your story starts with the foundations of your parents. My mother\u2019s\nfamily moved to Ohio also in the 60\u2019s and started a market called Abed Market,\nafter our family name, and similarly it became the anchor where people come and\nyou develop that community. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"But tell me a little bit about your life in Baltimore, what\nit means for you be embedded in Baltimore and to be a community architect there\nserving that community. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[1],1,"Elaine Asal"],[0,[],0,": If you told me in 2004 when I moved here\nthat I\u2019d still be here 18 years later I never would have believed you. It goes\nback to this appreciation for networks and community you\u2019ve built in a place\nthe longer you\u2019re there. It hasn\u2019t been until more recently that I\u2019ve connected\nthe dots between what I experienced growing up, and the value I place on social\ncapital and community networks. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"If my dad needed something done he would have a person,\nusually a customer he knew that would be able to help with whatever we needed. I\ntell people today, that you can go further faster when you have a strong\nnetwork of relationships in a place. There\u2019s a foundation of trust and history,\nof crossing paths on projects and extra curriculars such that you\u2019re one or two\ndegrees of separation from who you might need to get something done\nefficiently, and creatively. It\u2019s something I\u2019ve loved about living here \u2013 the\nsize of the city really helps make it easy to navigate from a social network\nstandpoint, while also being very dynamic by nature of the incredible institutions\nand adjacency to DC and Philly constantly bringing new, interesting people here.\n"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"When I think about a community architect, I think it\u2019s someone\nwho can make that investment in a place and knows how to build trust with the\ncommunity they engage with. They\u2019re invested in their city and understand\nlong-term community relationships are essential to being an effective community\narchitect. "]]],[1,"p",[]],[10,1],[1,"p",[[0,[1],1,"Jenine Kotob"],[0,[],0,": Can you talk to me about the duality of\nbeing a \u201chyphenated person?\u201d How do you navigate the world around you, and how\ndo you navigate architecture being a \u201chyphenated person?\u201d "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[1],1,"Elaine Asal"],[0,[],0,": When I would go to Nazareth in the\nsummers I was always \u201cthe American\u201d there. In the U.S., I was always \u201cthe Arab.\u201d\nI was rarely the majority in any context. I think that creates an interesting\nmindset. it made me a very "],[0,[2],1,"listen-first"],[0,[],0," type of person. My parents\u2019\ngeneration was very much about assimilation and not necessarily about being as identity\nforward as culture is moving today. There was a lot of listening and learning\nto figure out what I need to present in different situations while thinking\nabout how to maintain a strong sense of self and values. You\u2019re basically in a\nconstant state of adapting and code-switching to make sense of your context. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"What I find interesting, in my current role people often\ncomment \u201chow are you able to change gears so quickly? How are you able to multi-task\nso much?\u201d I attribute it to a lot of time spent adapting, listening, and trying\nto figure out creative ways to engage my audience."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"I do want to say, while my experience is complex, everyones\nis complex in their own ways, hyphen or not. How do we create spaces that\nrecognize that complexity and celebrate it? My experience made me more aware\nthat though I felt different, everyone has their own thing they feel different\nabout. I often think about how we can create processes and spaces that allow\nfor those difference to emerge and better recognize and harness it. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[1],1,"Jenine Kotob"],[0,[],0,": It\u2019s such an important framing. A lot\nof people aren\u2019t good at that. You have a negotiation and communication skill that\nyou\u2019ve developed because you\u2019re so attuned to yourself and your identity. I\nthink that\u2019s a great pivot to our last question. What do you think are some of\nthe most pressing equity, diversity, and inclusion issues, perhaps as they tie\nback to your identity or not? "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[1],1,"Elaine Asal"],[0,[],0,": There\u2019s a space for a greater\nappreciation and patience for process as a means of discovery and creating\nspace for nuance. I think we have an opportunity as an industry and a\nprofession to be more expansive in how we engage different perspectives in our\nwork. I think the profession is getting a little better, but there\u2019s an\nopportunity to invest in, and value engagement and process as it\u2019s own outcome.\nWith that deeper, more intentional process of how we bring different\nperspectives in, I think it will inherently create space for cultural exchange\nand it will invite stories that make for a more meaningful built experience. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"I spend a lot of time talking about the process because there\u2019s a huge opportunity\nthere that we can better recognize and leave it less to the lone genius and give\nmore trust to the collective. How do we draw from the collective to create the\ngenius we\u2019re after?"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Relative to the Arab-American experience, I mean that\u2019s such\na broad category. I can only be an expert on my own experience. I do think\nthere is an incredible amount of things to learn from the Arab world. Their approach to generosity, the importance of family, community, and tradition, the\nincredible art, music, and culture - modern or historical. The relationship of\nland, plants, food and identity. Too often in architectural representation, Arab\ninfluences gets a little oversimplified to geometric patterns, arches and shade\nstructures - I think there\u2019s an opportunity to dig deeper and really celebrate\nall the rich texture and diversity of the culture. "]]],[10,2],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n \n\n\n\n\n\n"]]]]}
Elaine Asal, AIA looks at the complexity of the Arab-American experience in architecture.
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Elaine Asal, AIA, Strategy Leader, Senior Associate, Gensler
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Arab-American, Architect, Architecture, Baltimore, Oklahoma, Palestinian, Nazareth, Arab, Gensler, experience
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