Featured Member - Geraldene Blackgoat, Assoc. AIA

December 10, 2018

Geraldene Blackgoat, Assoc. AIA, has a passion for culturally appropriate design, stemming from her upbringing on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. In fact, her graduate school research project was on Navajo ritual and ceremonial spaces, or the lack thereof, in Native American housing. Her commitment to architecture—and to her design philosophies—has made her a 2018 recipient of the Jason Pettigrew Memorial ARE Scholarship, widening the path to licensure and her dreams.

I’ve always liked creating spaces. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved to design and build things. I was constantly rearranging our living room or fixing our dogs’ houses; I even enjoyed making my own Barbie houses, using different materials and building with whatever I could find.

When I was in middle school, our teacher had us design a floor plan for our dream home. We drew it out, and then we got to build it at a small scale, of course. Solar light panels were kind of a new thing, and a local company donated mini solar panels. We were able to put those on the roofs of our dream houses, so the little houses had lights. After that, I told myself, “I really want to be an architect.”

Receiving the Pettigrew scholarship has been a huge motivator for me. Now, when it comes to getting licensed, there are no excuses. What makes this even more important is that there are only a handful of Navajo licensed architects, and there’s only one other female Navajo licensed architect. The Navajo tribe is the largest tribe in the United States; the fact that we only have one licensed female architect says a lot. It’s a goal of mine to be the next one.

I grew up in government housing, and my research project in graduate school was basically me questioning the cultural appropriateness of government housing provided for Native Americans. Ever since I was a kid, I questioned that. I feel like a lot of our cultural loss could be due to the homes that were provided. And a lot of that goes back to the fact that there weren’t many Native American architects designing for Native Americans. That drove me even further into design.

I am mostly doing this because I want to give back, not just to tribal communities but to indigenous communities all over the world. Right now, I am focusing on experience and licensure. And eventually, I want to push more and go beyond my tribe, even beyond tribes in the United States. Hopefully, I will get the chance to support and design for indigenous peoples internationally.

I have hosted an event at my high school in Arizona, on the Navajo reservation, where I brought back students who graduated and pursued college or the military. I reached out to as many as I could, and we gave presentations to the current students. I love to encourage students, telling them why I pursued architecture and asking them, “Does anyone know any Navajo or Native American architects?” No one raises their hands. I’ve always wanted to be a role model in some sense, and I encourage architecture to Native American students whenever possible.

Once I am licensed, I will take great pride in introducing myself as not only a female architect but a female Native American architect. As I’ve said, it’s quite rare. There aren’t many of us out there. —As told to Steve Cimino