Around this date 25 years ago, I decided to start my own firm. I’d left a firm where I was bored. I wanted to design projects for which I had passion and could do beautiful, thoughtful design. The previous fall I had offered Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative 20 hours a week pro bono, and ended up facilitating Dudley’s Young Architects and Planners, leading 10 architects and planners working with 75 kids to plan and design a community center. While not architecture, it helped shaped my career, affirming my commitment that community engagement is essential to good design and development. I would not join just any architecture firm. The first recession of my architecture career, there were few jobs available and none I was interested in. I looked for projects rather than a job. I got business cards.
As often happens, a project for which I didn’t get selected led to a new project:
Kit Clark Senior Services needed to renovate its Codman Square Senior Center. It began as programming and planning, and culminated in a decade-long relationship with a gut renovation, a later second floor addition for day treatment for Alzheimer’s and memory loss, and a few more studies of other properties.
“Gail Sullivan recognizes the power of, and need for, diversity in architecture and design. She creates an environment where women (of all cultural backgrounds) can flourish, be confident and stand as equals with their male counterparts in today’s design and construction industry.”
– Margaret Okonkwo, former employee of 9 years, began as a Wentworth Coop student
I submitted a proposal to renovate a former high school basement as a Head Start child care center and got it, despite telling the client in the interview that they would need to triple their budget. Unbeknownst to me, NSCAP Head Start was the first project ever funded by the #Children’s Investment Fund, with whom we continue to work today.
Designing at the same time for the two ends of the age spectrum set the stage for the decade to come. The projects convinced me that an architecture studio dedicated to social and environmental justice was feasible despite all advice to the contrary. I was determined to pursue it. On April 1, 1993, I incorporated to hire our second full-time employee, still working out of the front room of my triple decker. The irony of incorporating an architecture firm on April Fool’s Day was pointed out later.
25 years later, we have metamorphosed a few times: from Gail Sullivan, Architecture and Planning (I didn’t have my license at the start, so couldn’t call myself an architect), to Gail Sullivan Associates, to Studio G Architects. We moved from the triple decker to an office in Allston to Jamaica Plain’s Brewery, where we have been for nearly 21 years. We’ve grown from 2 to 17 people. Our projects have expanded from small child care centers to K-12 schools, from small housing renovations to new workforce and affordable housing.
We continue to refuse to be limited by project type, but instead to bring thoughtful, research-informed design to every project. Current projects include zero net energy multi-family housing, many schools, two courthouse renovations, a substance abuse treatment facility, and a land port of entry. And we continue to build a firm full of designers interested in delivering great design consistent with social and environmental sustainability and justice.
“Gail instills her passion for improving lives through architecture in all those around her. I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to be one of those people and to have an utterly inspiring woman to look up to.” – Fatimah Al-Asad, Northeastern coop student