Sat January 16th
June Grant is the principal design lead for blink!LAB Architecture, a research-based architecture and urban design practice of mostly self-funded work and self-directed initiatives. By not being primarily client-driven, the firm is allowed to pursue topics in design that they consider important. And, because they are designers committed to new forms of knowledge through making, they situate themselves in the middle of catalytic design where new challenges and emerging opportunities are addressed through integrated thinking and design. Unlike other firms, blink!LAB is specially situated for holding onto places and spaces for the community through design that addresses what the community has asked for.
Oakland is the firm’s research base where June and her team seek areas of opportunity to explore spatial transformation through design, urban advocacy, and technological experimentation. They focus primarily on neighborhoods with a high percentage of African American residents and history. Blink!LAB is interested in the reclamation of that narrative and to celebrate this history of presence but also the intersection and identification of avenues for economic restoration through design, advocacy and technology.
Architecture is a long-duration activity and yet at other times can work through the creation of quick temporary installations or small public structures. Blink!LAB’s work is not only building as June and her team are often required to create a future vision of and about a place; this vision is what holds and gives direction to communities.
As an architect and a member of the Oakland community, June found that oftentimes developers can afford to hire architects and urban planners, but communities do not have an advocate from the professional side. The result is often antagonistic and adversarial. While sitting in meetings, she found that this was because communities do not speak in the same technical language that developers and architects were used to. So, when the community wants to object to or give input on a planning project, people fight instead of listening. After learning this, June decided that she wanted her practice to be that community voice, to side with the issues they wanted heard, and to bridge the gap. She was not there to teach but rather to listen to and understand what the community needed, to articulate that, and be strategic about how to solve problems.
June officially opened her office in 2003 but took a break to work on big high-tech and sustainable design projects before reopening her firm to bring those same skills to the community in 2014. Since then, she’s been working as a sustainable community designer to solve problems and – more importantly to her – spending time with the community to understand the real issues they are facing. As one of only 478 licensed African American female architects in the country, June Grant’s greatest passion is integrating her knowledge into design solutions for communities.
What is exciting now is that the firm has started to tap into June’s background in economics which means that the studio is not only designing visions and leading construction fabrication but is now taking on community investment projects in historic commercial corridors. She embraces the risk and invests in the idea, a process that most often eventually finds a long-term owner for the project.
As a member of the CultureBank West Oakland artist learning cohort, June is most interested in creating solutions that work not just in West Oakland but for other areas as well using the demonstrated success of her projects as a roadmap for other communities. The impact of her own work reflects her desire to promote sustained community ownership and investment by and for its historical residents. When empowered by the support of June Grant and her firm, community members are activated toward increased engagement with the overall preservation and health of their communities and to help to drive the vision for their neighborhood.
Blink!LAB has been busy working on designs for new mobile panels, new wall dividers, an outdoor pavilion and, of course, finally revealing their ADU designs. As a result of the stay-in-place mandate, they have been able to work even more on design in the computer. For blink!LAB Architecture, 2020 is the year of construction and that continues to be the plan.