Buildings and Places, Design, Equity Diversity & Inclusion, ESG, People Spotlight

Our People Spotlight series gives you an inside look at our technical experts around the world. To kick off 2021, we are highlighting designers from our Buildings+Places (B+P) business line in the Americas and providing you insight into their design inspiration and work.

Pierre Roberson is design lead in AECOM’s Michigan office, whose socially driven design approach results in inspirational and ambitious architectural solutions that complement the urban context. Throughout his career, he has played a key role in the design and delivery of several groundbreaking & award-winning projects.

Design inspiration

I was a naturally talented artist as a kid, receiving a handful of accolades and recognitions for my work. I also excelled in science and mathematics. When I was introduced to architecture through one of my high school teachers, I thought that it might be a good career path for me – a very practical application of art, math and science.

A design that reflects the people of the city

I had the pleasure of designing a new YMCA for downtown Flint, Michigan. The YMCA of Greater Flint has been triumphant through the turbulent times that the city has faced. This organization is a reflection of the people of the city, who have exhibited an unmatched resilience and ability to endure, survive and grow. Working on this project has allowed me to witness this in action, and it is breathtaking. It’s one thing to be strong… It’s a whole other thing to be “Flint Strong”!

The current Downtown Flint YMCA is much more than what meets the eye—it has historic roots. Many NBA players (most notably 2020 NBA Champion Kyle Kuzma of the LA Lakers) spent time at the Downtown Flint Y as young athletes and, in turn, created an emotional connection to the space. By metaphorically peeling away the historic exterior, we are unveiling a new beginning for the building and deepening its existing social connection with the community.

The exterior of the new building will be visually and psychologically inviting to the community, fostering an environment of inclusivity. The verticality of the original architecture will be brought to life in a modern way, to support the building’s updated identity.

The building itself is intended to manifest what the YMCA does for the community. Its materials directly correlate to the history of the city and its people. A combination of natural and man-made textures will work together to represent the strength, resiliency and authenticity of Flint.

Creating design opportunities for the Black community

As I grow into my role as a leader in the design profession, I am finding that architecture is about much more than just blueprints and beautiful designs. At its heart, this profession is about social responsibility. It is our job to present ideas that facilitate the development of the right amenities and spaces for communities to thrive – physically, mentally and economically. For an architect, being “socially conscious” is more than just a tagline – it’s a responsibility. In many cases, we are the voice of the community and our design solutions and built works should manifest that. As a native Detroiter & blue-collar raised Black architect, I understand the voice of Black Americans and the issues faced by the Black community. I am dedicated to working in my community, providing appropriate architectural and design services to individuals and companies that might otherwise be overlooked by a world-class organization. I have developed a long-term business strategy that focuses on historically underserved communities. Through this strategy, I am providing access to the wealth of expertise at AECOM for burgeoning businesses, community organizations and reanimated communities that are gearing up for revitalization.

Originally published Feb 15, 2021

Author: Pierre Roberson