Reflections for Black History Month: Chelsea Jno Baptiste

Reflections for Black History Month: Chelsea Jno Baptiste
Written by: Rachel Park, IKM Project Designer

Chelsea Jno Baptiste’s journey began at the College of Engineering Design, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley. Driven by a passion for innovative design, she furthered her expertise at the Harvard Graduate School of Architecture, earning a Master of Architecture. Currently, Chelsea serves as a Project Designer at IKM Architecture’s Pittsburgh office. In addition to her professional role, she dedicates her time to shaping the next generation of architects as an adjunct professor, guiding first-year architecture students at both the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

Last fall, Chelsea attended the Black in Design Conference held at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) by the African American Student Union. The conference focused on the significance of the Black Home and featured seminars, workshops, and lecture sessions. As stated on the conference’s main website, “[The Black in Design Conference] recognizes the contributions of the African diaspora to the design fields and promotes discourse around the agency of the design professions to address and dismantle the institutional barriers faced by Black communities.”

Furthermore, The Black in Design Conference website highlights the following, “Yaad, ile, lakay. All languages have a word for home, shelter, a claim to a place, to a delineated territory of heritage. However, the experience of Black people across the world has created a unique yet divergent practice of creating and claiming home. This year’s [2023] Black in Design conference explores the Black home’s multi-dimensionality — as a literal structure that shelters, as a reflection of culture and traditions, and as spaces that are not entirely physical. The conference brings together keynote panels, workshops, and conversations that discuss and expand these themes with different thought leaders involved in designing and creating various interpretations of Black homes. The goal is to establish a broader understanding and alternate ways of experiencing the Black home in an effort to reinforce the ideals of Black communities living across the country and larger diaspora and to help plan for the future.”

Upon reflection on the conference, Chelsea shares the following:

“As I look back on the fifth bi-annual Black in Design Conference I recall a variety of exhibitions, lectures, and activities hosted by the African American Student Union of Harvard GSD. Key contributors included Tobi Fagbule, Sumayyah Súnmádé Raji, Dora Mugerwa, and Kai Walcott among others. These four women, however, were the curators of one of my favorite exhibits entitled ‘Stories That Take Me Home’. The installation features a dining room scene and a monitor at the center which looped images from different black contributors that represented what the black home meant to them. I was also asked to contribute to this catalog and submit photos that I considered to be “home.” I wasn’t sure exactly what had become of them but then, I saw the exhibit and saw them on the screen among the other photos, so it was just kind of nostalgic to see and I was deeply moved by the images.

The conference was a beautiful gathering of artists, creatives, and designers in recognition of the home through the lens of the Black diasporic community. The four women who put together that exhibit were some of my closest friends and I was very proud of their accomplishments because I know how hard they had been working on it…they had made Boston feel more like home while I was still attending school there. I think recognizing the similarities in our photos and childhood experiences regardless of where they came from — Africa, America, the Caribbean, or Europe — is very important. Similar furniture, foods, and atmospheres were shown in the photos, and it just made me understand how the Black Home is tied so closely to a way of living that is rooted in food, family, and artifacts that represent our ancestry and history with slavery, but also about a strong resilience and optimism in the face of adversity.”

Identity and placemaking hold an immense role in the realm of design. By setting the context of this conference as the “home”, attendees from an array of different backgrounds can come together and still find commonality and hold solidarity in shared experiences. That this can be achieved through spatial design continues to prove the impact that architecture can have regardless of societal differences. The acknowledgment and acceptance of these differences serve as benefits that can help to expand the boundaries of design perspectives and outreach.

During Black History Month, IKM Architecture recognizes that the African diaspora is severely underrepresented in the architecture community and related fields, especially in the city of Pittsburgh. By partnering with neighboring universities like Carnegie Mellon’s UDream program and NOMA Pittsburgh, our firm aims to support and advocate for students from underrepresented backgrounds. By doing this, we strive to provide opportunities that enhance access to the architecture profession.

Visit these resources for more information and content from the main conference: