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Meet Susan Nwankpa Gillespie of Nwankpa Design

Today we’d like to introduce you to Susan Nwankpa Gillespie.

Susan, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
My path to architecture and interior design, and then founding Nwankpa Design in 2016 was a non-traditional one. I was born to a Nigerian father and my mother has French-Canadian roots, I grew up in the Midwest and moved to New York to study Political Science. I was on the path to work in finance but decided to switch gears and found myself studying Interior Architecture and working as a materials librarian. I moved to LA to do a Masters of Architecture after which I worked for a water feature design company before landing at a boutique architecture firm. During a lot of those years, I was also a qualitative researcher and was creating my own art. All of this to say that I am very fortunate to have been exposed to many different things and have met a lot of different people along the way–all of which informs everything that I do as an architect and a business owner today.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
As a profession, architecture takes commitment and mental fortitude; it’s a long journey from school through apprenticeship to being a fully licensed architect. Add to that the fact that only 0.4% who make it to that level are Black women plus the challenges of building your own firm–it can feel isolating. It’s important to know what you want, to build a solid team around you and know that you can lean on them if you need help. There can be a lot of success, satisfaction, and joy once you carve a place for yourself and find your people.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Nwankpa Design?
As a designer, I’m interested in the human experience and getting to the heart of what that means for my clients. As a business owner, I value pragmatism and clear communication. And as a firm, our portfolio ranges from residential to restaurants and hospitality to retail and commercial office –as we’ve grown, so have the size of our projects. Regardless of the type or scope, there is necessarily variety in our approach and a commitment to finding design solutions that surprise and delight our clients.

Given all of that, there are so many facets to my work which is both the challenge, but also what makes it so engaging. It’s incredibly collaborative and at the same time, very personal. Ultimately, there is a deep sense of humanity to the work and I really thrive off that sense of connection and connectedness.

Can you talk to us about how you think about risk?
In a way, my journey can be considered a series of risks, but I never thought of my decisions in that way partly because they’ve all been calculated and considered, but also because at the time, I was more focused on working towards something and those “risks” were a means to get me there. It takes courage to try something new, but when you’re finding your path–especially when you’re younger and maybe we’re more fearless or maybe the stakes are lower–it’s exciting to work towards something that excites you. I’ve always thought of my decisions as ways I can learn, improve, grow, and that potential has always propelled me forward.

One of the biggest risks I’ve taken was starting my own architecture and interior design firm, Nwankpa Design. At the time, it was a tremendous leap of faith even though it really felt like a natural next step. I think in many ways, all of the risks I took prior to that prepared me for the challenges of building something new for myself. It’s been a very rewarding process every step of the way.

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Image Credits:

Curson & Coeur D’Alene Residences – Jess Issac Relativity Space – Here And Now Agency

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