Black Owned Architecture Firm Designs Hurricane-Resilient Buildings

Stacy A. Bourne FAIA is the founder of The Bourne Group, a Black-owned architecture, and urban design firm on a mission to build resilient spaces and inspire social change, through collaborative design.

Black-owned Architecture
Stacy A. Bourne FAIA

We caught up with Stacy to learn more about her business.

What inspired your move to the US Virgin Islands?

In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo struck the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was the first in more time than could be recalled. I was a student at Tulane University’s School of Architecture.  Lydia Webbe, my sister at Tulane and friend from the Virgin Islands, had to return home because of the impact of the storm.  

While working for architect Christopher Green, she recommended me when he needed more people.  I remember the day he called.  My parents were just coming in from the road trip, with lots of people in the house, while I’m trying to play cool on a phone interview of my only job offer. In the Virgin Islands no less.

Why did you decide to specialize in hurricane-resilient architecture?

I’m not sure if I chose it or if it chose me.  My path to the Virgin Islands in 1990 was because of a hurricane, resulting in my experience in commercial and historical structures.  

My experience in advocacy and legislating for building codes in 1995 came as a result of a hurricane and needing standardization through codes to save communities. My role as an architect shifted to a residentially focused career, completing over 1000 custom hurricane resilient homes. 

My international experience between Canadian, British, and American building codes through the financial and banking industries expanded in 2007 because of a hurricane. 

Through a pair of hurricanes, in 2017, we expanded yet again into higher education and government facilities, paying particular attention to resiliency strategies across the campus and the Virgin Islands territory.

What role does the Black architect play in the Black community?

One of the most admired attributes that the US Virgin Islands has to me, isn’t its beaches, food, or activities. Its that everyone in Black!  The Governor is Black, his Lieutenant Governor is Black.  The senators are Black. The Chief of Police… Over time, you will get to know them, understand passionate discussions, willingness to take initiative, and even risks.  

Living in a community of color, with mixed ethnic cultures, has allowed me to exude a different level of confidence and understand the importance of connection to the community.  It is at this level that you begin to realize what is involved in inspiring social change. Change for an improved economy, environment, and culture for communities to thrive. This gave me much more confidence when speaking externally with other professionals and groups.

I met the first architect that looked like me when I was 24 in the Virgin Islands. I was used to being the only, or one of a handful, Black faces in the rooms since I was in the fourth grade. I decided I wanted to be an architect in the 10th grade, without ever having met one.

I had internships at Black-owned firms in St. Louis and New Orleans but the day I met Donna DeJongh, a Black female architect, nothing would come out of my mouth. I think it’s always important to have a mentor, someone to look up to push you and hold you accountable. My father always said, “Make sure that you’re not the smartest person in the room. If you are, change rooms.”

As a Black architect, I intentionally help my communities. I’ve learned the importance of relationship building. It is through these relationships that we can leverage our skillsets as architects and planners into virtually every industry, particularly those that affect our community’s utilities, resources, creative strategies, and more. 

Start where you are. In your block, in your neighborhood, your community. Become an advocate for the issues that you know.

For the growth of our communities, it is important to have an architect on your team to capture the vision of the community. As a planner, knowing with whom to collaborate, fulfill to its greatest extent the boundaries of the codes mixed with good design, and a plan for the future. 

Why do you think it’s important to incorporate resilience measures into designing and planning?

It is clear to me that hurricanes are not going to go away.  In fact, combined with some of the climate change information, the dry seasons will become longer and rainstorms will be shorter and heavier.  The ocean currents will continue to increase and the wind gusts in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea will continue to provide favorable conditions to increase hurricane activity. It is no longer a matter of IF we have a hurricane but WHEN we have a hurricane.

This transformational thinking is proactive, not reactionary. We begin to ask and seek solutions to different questions based on our disaster typology and our location.

  • How can we minimize the impact of disasters on a statewide scale, community scale, and individual scale? 
  • What is our most resilient available material and is it sustainable?  
  • What areas are flood prone, what communities are there and what resources will they need?  
  • How can we control indoor air quality in a mold-dominated environment?  
  • What is our community core and how can we restore that quickly and spread to surrounding areas?  
  • How are we engaging with our shorelines, and how does that affect our tourism and industrial products?

What are your thoughts on diversity in the field of Architecture?

There are 115,000+ architects and 2,800+ Architects in the AIA College of Fellows BUT….

Diversity in architecture is critical in so many other areas than statistics. I’ve chaired several national and local boards and our contributions to community activities and planning, beyond buildings, cant be quantified. 

We lend our expertise to contributions to social change, inclusiveness in design strategies, community envisioning, disaster resilience, and mentorship, just to name a few.

-Tony O. Lawson

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