Gianna Pigford, AIA, is an architect at Gensler in Dallas, where she serves as project architect on a variety of hospitality and retail projects, including the renovation of Reunion Tower in Dallas, which is currently in progress. Gianna serves on the national board for the National Organization of Minority Architects and spends time mentoring and advocating for women and youth.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Petal, Miss., a small, rural community located about 90 miles north of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Small-town Mississippi life can be both stimulating and frustrating at the same time, but I do treasure the wealth of character that this upbringing gave me. Without much available entertainment, I spent most of my time reading, drawing, and daydreaming. It has certainly influenced the way I interact with people and made me the constant observer that I am. I value my parent’s tutelage and my family’s support, and I appreciate those who bridged the gap for me so I could become an architect. In a place such as Petal, everyone pretty much owns a piece of what makes you You.
If you were not an architect, what other profession would you have pursued?
I’ve always enjoyed fashion! As a youngster, I made incredibly awesome clothes for both my sister’s and my Barbie dolls out of fabric scraps. When I was 10, my mother let me sew my own clothes, not the nice ones of course, but the ones she called “play clothes.” By the time I was in high school, I was pretty decent at sewing and loved designing, which obviously put a career in fashion design high on the list. My intent was to enroll in the Savannah College of Art and Design’s School of Fashion — that is, until I had a chance encounter at Mississippi State University with the dean of the School of Architecture. I still dabble with fashion design, but it is now just sketching, jewelry making, and merchandising. All that said, if architecture hadn’t called, I probably would have chosen the analytical side of my brain and gone with a medical profession.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in almost everything. I keep a book of what I call “Lyrics,” which are pieces of songs, poems, quotes, photos, and sketches that inspire me. I started doing this back in college and now have amassed a catalog that I habitually review when I need a little extra motivation.
Another thing I find to be a source of inspiration are bridges and tunnels. Wherever I travel, I snap photos of them and likely have over three hundred bridge images on just my iPhone. I know, I’m ridiculous. For me, they are that bit of the ordinary that many people do not really look at for their fastidious detail, construction precision, and structural ingenuity — all of which I consider beautiful and fascinating.
Pen, pencil or computer?
All three really, but the two I love the most I find to be the most elusive. I’ve had a passion for art every since I can remember. In fact, my grade school teachers would allow me to skip recess to draw and paint. The computer now haunts my every waking moment, and I sometimes find myself looking longingly at my stash of pencils and pens. Luckily, the iPad eases the urge, but it's not the same as the feel of paper under my fingers.
What is the next building you plan to travel to in order to see for yourself?
Sydney Opera House. I love traveling and have a plan to visit every continent by the time I’m 40. Yes, I’m running out of time. I’ve asked others to join the Antarctica adventure, but amazingly, I do not have any takers yet.
What community activities do you participate in?
I’ll just name a few of these as I’m sure that my name is already in a “she will volunteer for anything” database. I’m actively involved in Make-a-Wish Foundation, Girl Scouts of America, ACE Mentors, Boys and Girls Club, and just about any organization or group that needs a female architect to inspire young women and minorities. I was fortunate enough to have a few people step in and ease my entry into this profession, and as one of less than 300 licensed black female architects in the United States, I find it my duty to do the same for others.