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Q&A with Asia Black on designing BroSis in Harlem

Q&A with Asia Black on designing BroSis in Harlem

In late-2021, we delivered a few special pieces of furniture for the new Brotherhood Sister Sol community center in Harlem, and through the process, we had the chance to get acquainted with this organization. Known as BroSis, this nonprofit is a resource for the Black and Latinx youth community, with programs that help them achieve success and equal opportunities. This short film about the organization is powerful and inspiring, and a recent New York Times article notes “the architecture is bold and out there, like BroSis; at the same time, it does its job, which is no small feat. For good reason, the building has become an instant landmark in the neighborhood.”

We caught up with Asia Black, who at the time of building was with Urban Architectural Initiatives, the firm responsible for the 6-story center.

We love spotting our furniture being used over on BroSis' instagram.

What was your favorite part of working on this project?

My favorite part of working on this project was the opportunity to provide functional and beautiful custom furniture for an amazing organization. BroSis does so much for the local community. I wanted to source from a local vendor that could create pieces as special and unique as this organization. Ottra really listened to our needs, while also personalizing the experience.

Various furniture Ottra made for the Bro Sis headquarters.A few of the pieces we made for BroSis, including a one-of-a-kind podium that we created as a gift.

Why does design matter for you?

Design matters to me because I care deeply about the human experience. I know how easily the built environment can positively or negatively affect a person’s psyche. Therefore, I make it my mission to ensure that all of my designs are well thought out. I really try to step into the mindset of the people who will inhabit the space.

When I watched the Building a Beacon video that BroSis shared, I got goosebumps! It's such a special place, and to see all the various people using it--and even getting emotional talking about the space--is profound. Did you have a 'goosebump moment' (or several!)? Tell me about one!

There were several...how could I not? One was seeing my mom and younger sisters walk through the building during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Despite a creative career being an uncharted territory in my family, my mother has always encouraged me to follow my heart when pursuing a career in Interior Design, even though that meant she had no idea what I was doing in my day-to-day life. Truthfully, it wasn't until she could walk through the doors of the new headquarters for BroSis that she grasped the scope of my journey. 

Asia Black with her mom and sisters at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Asia (second from right) with her mother and sisters at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

We feel so much pride for YOU! This was a really important project, and you handled it all so well, and it shows in the results. What are you most proud of?

Thank you so much! To date, this has been my most challenging and rewarding project. There are so many moments to be proud of along the way, like successfully navigating the inclusion of custom tiles from Zimbabwe. The fact the tiles arrived on time was a miracle in and of itself because the entire design industry at that time was dealing with shipping delays; can we talk about luck?

Overall, I am most proud of being a part of the project as an Interior Designer who identifies as a Black woman. In retrospect, one of the more demanding challenges was being the only woman on site most days during the project's construction. Yet, I know my presence on site and this project was a unique opportunity for the young people of BroSis to see both a team of Black Architects/Designers and a Black woman in a leading design role. This representation was significant to me, as I want to inspire some of them to pursue a career in architecture and design, or see a creative career as a viable option. 

Congratulations, Asia, and thank you! We’re honored to have a part in this special project.

To learn more about Urban Architecture Initiative’s project with BroSis, click here. And to find out ways that you can support BroSis, visit this page.


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