70 years later: Maria Telkes and Eleanor Raymond’s Solar House, 1947

Daniel Barber

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How can we reimagine activism in architecture? Prospects for agency come from many directions. If it is self-evident that questions around environment form one possible basis for considerations of advocacy, activism, and alliance, it is perhaps less intuitive to view familiar issues of technology, efficiency, and performance with a brashly sociocultural framework.

In the late 1940s—more precisely, in the brief period of five years from 1947 to 1952—it wasn’t yet clear that petroleum would overwhelm economic and environmental systems. Corporate and government agencies were just beginning to assess the extent of oil reserves in the Middle East, and there was a general anxiety about where the energy for economic growth could be found.

Numerous architects, engineers, and others were focused on how solar energy could fulfill certain heating needs in particular. Houses in the growing suburbs were tantalizing sites for experimentation, not only as technological means to absorb and store solar radiation (this was before photovoltaics), but also as a means of experimentation with how to live differently with geophysical systems.

One of the most important of these projects was the Dover Sun House, designed by architect Eleanor Raymond in collaboration with engineer Maria Telkes and funded by sculptor and philanthropist Amelia Peabody. The house used an innovative chemical system to absorb and store daytime solar radiation for nighttime heating. It was an awkward building—a compact one-story residence with a large second level for solar panels and the chemical system that stored heat. It stood out, in this sense, as both an aggressive attempt to take advantage of the sun’s power and also as a monument to the design and technological changes that would be necessary to live without fossil fuels. Such collaboration—between architect, engineer, and client—also helped shepherd a model of environmental research in architecture.

Although the Dover House did not work very well, it inspired conversation and exploration into precisely how the designed system of a house could relate to the system of the biosphere; into how modern architecture could be a platform for regional adaptations sensitive to environmental and social conditions; and into how broad new technological trajectories (environmental science, architectural science, and their applications) could help bring collectives together to agitate for different economic systems, for different environmental consequences, and for different patterns of life. Though its impact was initially quite dramatic, the house lay dormant in technological lore for decades. Its relevance today is both as an experiment in efficiency and as an episode in counter-conduct, opening up toward a wider range of practices and proclivities as they resonate across architectural forms, discourses, and technologies. It is an early moment when architects considered how the design and technology of a building could intervene in the fraught relationship between economies and ecologies.

As contemporary concerns around climate change and energy efficiency grow more acute, it becomes clear that the collective experiment of fossil fuel-dependent economic growth has been catastrophic. Experiments in solar house heating are also models of multifaceted, multivalent, and multidisciplinary engagement with the latent reality of other possible futures. They are points of resistance, but delicately so. Raymond and Telkes attempted to take advantage of the policies, economies, technologies, and cultural frameworks available to them in order to emphasize a different disposition to the postwar global energy metabolism—not to overthrow it. Such ambitions require advocacy and alliances across fields of expertise, national boundaries, and geographical differences.

Women's Development Corporation

A. Ipek Türeli

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Second-wave feminism led to an increasing awareness that US housing was largely built for a nuclear family with a working father and homemaker mother, despite this family structure’s declining prevalence. Feminist design practice began to focus on housing alternatives for the changing family, specifically examining issues of the suburban house. Architects Katrin Adam, Joan Forrester Sprague, and Susan Aitcheson founded the Women’s Development Corporation (WDC) together with Alma Green in 1979 as a response to a major shift in housing policy that allocated governmental spending from direct housing supply to dispersal programs that ranged from community development programs to vouchers.

The WDC’s housing projects in Providence, Rhode Island, featured plan layouts developed based on information gathered through community design workshops with local women in need of better housing. The workshops, which went on for over a year, gave these  low-income women a sense of participation in the design process. Furthermore, earlier projects focused on adaptive reuse of abandoned historic properties and downtown revitalization. Because the units were dispersed, these projects managed to avoid the stigma of living in public housing projects, a quality much appreciated by future residents. The WDC eventually focused its efforts more on real estate management, development, and fundraising.

Once federal grants became harder to obtain, the WDC diversified its target groups to include elderly, disabled, and other marginal groups to tap into other types of local, city, and state funds. Since historic housing stock is not always available, the group also engaged in building new housing that resembles low-income housing.

The architects in the WDC were aware of their relational power in choosing to work with women of different racial and class backgrounds and experiences, but they wanted to build alliances that would challenge the norms of the “male-dominated” built environment and empower both the user groups and themselves as architects. 


A. Ipek Türeli is Canada research chair and assistant professor of architecture at McGill University. She has worked on urban visual culture with geographic focus on the eastern Mediterranean, and more recently on social engagement in the profession, ranging from the longer history of humanitarian architecture, such as that of religious missionaries, to efforts by contemporary designers to contribute to social movements.

The Organization of Lesbian and Gay Architects + Designers

A.L. Hu

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In 1991, the Organization of Lesbian and Gay Architects + Designers (OLGAD) was formed in New York City, originally as a networking collective for job-seeking, political activism, employment harassment support, queer design discourse, and recognition of design contributions from LGBT architects and designers. The national organization’s mission was to reclaim lost history by identifying and recognizing lesbian and gay architects throughout history, identify spaces and places that have significance in the history of lesbian and gay movements, and analyze and define “queer design.” To commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York City, OLGAD organized Design Pride ’94, the first International Lesbian and Gay Design Conference, in partnership with Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA) and the Elsie de Wolfe Foundation. The exhibit, Design Legacies: A Tribute to Architects and Designers Who Have Died of AIDS, celebrated the talent and contributions of people who lost their lives at the height of their careers.

One of OLGAD’s most well-known public advocacy efforts was A Guide to Lesbian & Gay New York Historical Landmarks, a foldout map of historic lesbian and gay sites in Greenwich Village, Midtown, and Harlem published in 1994. The map broadened the public’s knowledge of LGBTQ place-based history beyond Stonewall. Former OLGAD members Andrew Dolkart and Jay Shockley, along with historian David Carter, through the auspices of Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, wrote the nomination of Stonewall, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000. It was the first and only LGBT-associated site recognized by the federal government for over ten years. Those two listings helped pave the way for the 2016 designation of the Stonewall National Monument by President Obama.

Evolving out of the OLGAD map, preservation committee members Andrew Dolkart, Ken Lustbader, and Jay Shockley officially launched the New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project in August 2015. The project includes a selection of sites from the 1994 map on its interactive website, which covers the five boroughs of New York City with over 140 locations associated with LGBT history. The project is an important resource for the long-unknown history of queer spaces in New York City.

Blacklines of Design

Kathleen Ettienne

Blacklines of Architecture originated in a publication by a few ambition visionaries, resulting in about four issues. Printing costs were very expensive, and eventually the idea was put to bed until 2011, when I decided to revamp the concept. The focus shifted to include other related trades, such as landscape architecture and lighting design. I also shifted the project to an online publication called Blacklines of Design.

My vision for Blacklines of Design is for it to be a channel for diverse and developing architects and designers of color to showcase their contributions to the global architectural community. The quarterly publication acts as a resource for those seeking to learn about the diversity of style and design that can strengthen the foundations of modern design as well as further an understanding of historic architecture.

The online publication was received well by many designers who welcomed a place to finally exhibit their work. I was just as excited—but very nervous at the same time, as I was alone in the undertaking. I had to finance the project out of pocket.

My first online issue included an article on a hot topic: hip-hop meets architecture. As a graduate student of cultural studies at the University of Minnesota, Craig Wilkins was struck by how people defined space at hip-hop raves.

A group of college students started this dialogue at a National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) conference by a group of college students. It was a thought-provoking session to ignite a conversation about how hip-hop culture influences the built environment. The fresh discussion earned a positive response, and Wilkins went on to further investigate and document the relation between the dynamic shared components of the urban art form and design.

#Roadsidemarker Series: an Interview with Dr. Alyssa Mt. Pleasant

Elsa Hoover

 Elsa Matossian Hoover + Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, Central NY Waterway Systems, photograph courtesy of Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, 2017.

Elsa Matossian Hoover + Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, Central NY Waterway Systems, photograph courtesy of Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, 2017.

Dr. Alyssa Mt. Pleasant’s #roadsidemarker series is a personal archive that considers the spatial implications of memorial markers and political signage. As a Tuscarora scholar of Native American and indigenous studies at the University at Buffalo, Dr. Mt. Pleasant’s travel draws her along the highways and backroads of New York State, which has been contested space for over 200 years—and her people’s homeland for much longer.

A 2017 interview between Dr. Mt. Pleasant and myself (an architect) brought this project into architecture’s orbit. #roadsidemarker series’ historical lens, archival approach, and biographical qualities create important points of reference and discussion for architects and spatial thinkers. For the last 18 years, Dr. Mt. Pleasant has watched—and now photographed—signs playing out a microcosmic fight over the future of these lands through historical representation, a fight occurring simultaneously in judicial, academic, public, and commercial spaces along these roads.

This includes:

  • historical markers recalling the violent Sullivan Campaign and land surveys directed by Gen. George Washington (what native people here remember as the invasion);

  • towns, parks, roads, and other places named in ways that represent a long-standing anxiety toward indigenous presence; and

  • political signs contesting the Cayuga Nation’s litigation and earlier landmark legal fight by the Oneida Indian Nation of New York to reclaim land in the region between the 1970s and the first decade of the twenty-first century.

History is directed through physical remembrance along the highways of the Haudenosaunee homeland, some of which is called Upstate New York. Contemporary legal battles resurrect the invasion—and with it a zombified history told by parts, reanimated and made to walk the highway. The spatial experience generated by these signs and their documentation are sites of indigenous memory work that make room for future visual practice by indigenous designers, builders, and communities.

The International Archive of Women in Architecture Center

Donna Dunay & Paola Zellner Bassett

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Traditionally, women have been omitted from the history of architecture and their contributions overlooked in archives. In 1985, Professor Milka T. Bliznakov—with the cooperation of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and the University Libraries at Virginia Tech—established the International Archive of Women in Architecture Center (IAWA) to counteract this.

The IAWA constitutes the largest archive of its kind, currently holding over 450 collections representing 47 countries. In collecting the work of women in architecture—sketches, manuscripts, books, individual projects, and the papers from entire careers—the IAWA fills serious gaps in the availability of primary research materials for architectural, women’s, and social history research.

The Board of Advisors of the IAWA Center, elected from around the world, seeks to identify potential collections while overseeing research, publication, and publicity to uphold the IAWA goals to:

  •    find and preserve the records of the pioneer generation of women in architecture and design related fields whose papers may be lost or dispersed, if not collected immediately;

  • appeal to retired women from these professions who have played a part in the history of their professions to donate their papers to the IAWA;

  •     appeal to active women architects, designers, and planners to save their papers and to consider donating them to the IAWA at a later date;

  •   serve as a clearinghouse of information on all women architects, designers, and planners past and present, and to encourage research on the history of women in these professions through seminars, exhibits, and publications;

  •       foster cooperation between all libraries or archives containing data on or collecting material on women in architecture, design, and planning.

Now after more than three decades of commitment to this mission, the IAWA has fostered research and greatly expanded its reach by broadcasting the mission and goals of this endeavor.

Universal Design

Leslie Kanes Weisman

My work as an activist architectural educator was profoundly shaped by the civil rights, anti-war, environmental, women's, and disability rights movements of the 1960s and ’70s. I began teaching in a traditional school of architecture in 1968, and in the ’70s I co-founded the Women’s School of Planning and Architecture (WSPA). In the ’80s, I participated in protest marches with friends and colleagues in the disability community, whose years of persistent activism eventually resulted in the passage of the Americans With Disability Act (ADA) in 1990. The ADA was a sweeping piece of civil rights legislation that, among other requirements, mandated access to public buildings and spaces for people with disabilities by removing physical barriers. The universal design movement grew in the US in the early ’90s to incorporate and build upon minimal access codes by embracing a human-centered approach to design that strove to create inclusive products and spatial environments with the same level of comfort, accessibility, and assistance to users of all ages, cultures, abilities, and lifestyles.

In 2004, to promote universal design education and practice, Elaine Ostroff and I created a free online slide presentation with full lecture notes called “Tools for Introducing Human-Centered Design.” This teaching unit compared the civil rights, disability rights, and universal design movements; illustrated the principles of universal design in several design disciples, including architecture and planning; and included a user-friendly building survey that, for the first time in one form, included universal design performance criteria, ADA requirements for public buildings, and sustainable design principles. That same year, Ostroff and I also made available online the “Universal Design Building Survey” for architects, planners, facilities managers, and others to use to conduct post-occupancy evaluations of users’ experiences of public spaces across the spectrum of age and ability.


Leslie Kanes Weisman is Professor Emerita of Architecture at the NJIT and the author of Discrimination by Design (1992), “Diversity by Design: Feminist Reflections on the Future of Architectural Education and Practice,” in The Sex of Architecture (1996), and “Creating the Universally Designed City: Prospects for the New Century,” the epilogue to the Universal Design Handbook (2001).

Riding the Vortex

Katherine Williams

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I did not meet a black woman working in the architecture profession until I went to college. Once I graduated, I lived and worked with very few other black architects. In 2007, I was invited to be on a panel of black women in architecture titled “Riding the Vortex.” As a collective, we have presented the session eighteen times since 2007 at various architecture conferences across the country. Typically the session has been presented as panel of women, usually exclusively black, in architecture, talking about their experience in the industry and offering a place for other people to share their stories. The original panel members were Kathryn Prigmore, FAIA; Kathy Dixon, FAIA; Barbara Laurie (deceased); and me. The four of us presented, and at the end of each session attendees gave testimonies and asked questions.

We reach out to a woman in whatever city the session is held and invite her to be on the panel. This has led to an increase in the number of shared voices and experiences. In February 2013, Barbara unexpectedly passed away, leaving us with a missing piece. The session had originated out of Barbara’s work attempting to document as many of the more than 200 licensed black women architects as she could. Continuing these sessions is continuing her work.

As a group, black women make up 0.4 percent of licensed architects in the United States. The “Riding The Vortex” sessions have been popular year after year because they offer connection for black women. Many of us do not see other black women in our offices, at project meetings, or on our job sites. We may not have a regular way to connect with those with similar experiences. “Riding The Vortex” is the place for that annual connection.

400 Forward

Tiffany Brown

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Growing up in Detroit’s inner city, I didn’t see much art or architecture of any kind. I attended school in what was considered a failing district. I didn’t have many professionals coming to my schools for things like career day.  

I’ve recently realized I was indirectly exposed to something I would grow to love. I was good at drawing, art, math, and creative writing, which I would eventually learn are related to architecture.  Against all odds, I managed to receive three college degrees, as well as become an adjunct professor in the college of architecture at my alma mater.

My journey toward architecture inspired me to make the road easier for girls following the same path I did.  In August 2017, the 400th living African American woman became licensed (as of 2018,there are over 110,000 licensed architects in the United States). My goal is to seek out the next 400 women architects through 400 Forward.

Through this initiative, I can show girls in our inner cities they can accomplish anything, and that they can make needed change in our communities. I use my story as a tool of empowerment to create the next generation of women leaders in architecture. I aspire to be the face I was looking for growing up and look forward to using this initiative to shape the future of our profession while promoting social change.

Sybil Griffin, the woman who saw something special in me and gave me my first job in architecture, inspired me to make a difference in my profession. The work and research of Roberta Washington on black women in architecture is also a source of motivation. These women and many others encourage me teach the next generation to change our world for the better.


Tiffany works diligently to raise awareness on how planning and design makes a significant social impact in urban communities, and seeks to examine the influence of the built environment and its impacts on culture, behavior, and health. She is dedicated to rethinking architecture education for the traditionally underserved.

When Ivory Towers Were Black

Sharon Sutton

When Ivory Towers Were Black tells the story of how an unparalleled cohort of ethnic minority students earned degrees from Columbia University’s School of Architecture during the Civil Rights Movement.

Chronicling a little-known era in US history, the book begins with an unsettling effort to end Columbia’s exercise of authoritarian power—on campus and in the community. It ends with an equally unsettling return to the status quo.

The book follows two university units that steered the School of Architecture toward educational equity. It illustrates both units’ struggle to recruit ethnic minority students, while also involving them, and their revolutionary white peers, in improving Harlem’s slum conditions.

The book is narrated through the oral histories of twenty-four ethnic minority alumni who, after receiving the gift of an Ivy League education, exited the school to find the doors of their careers all but closed due to Nixon’s racist policies.

The book assesses the triumphs and upending of this experiment to achieve racial justice. It demonstrates how the triumphs lived on not only in the careers of the alumni but also as best practices in university/community relationships and in the fields of architecture and urban planning.

Through its first-person portrayal, When Ivory Towers Were Black can catalyze contemporary struggles for educational equity as injustices increase and historically marginalized students remain excluded from elite professions like architecture and planning.

The Association of Black Women in Architecture

Roberta Washington

On December 17, 1982, two dozen black women met to ratify the bylaws for what was almost certainly the first organization of black women in architecture. At that time there were approximately sixteen licensed African American women architects in the United States, with ten living in New York City. The organization, the Association of Black Women Architects and Design Professionals, was often referred to as the Association of Black Women in Architecture (ABWA).

The leaders of the new organization were Garnett Covington and Sandy Moore. Covington was the first black female to graduate from NYC’s Pratt Institute in architecture and a 1953 architecture graduate from Howard University. She had been an active member of the Council for the Advancement of the Negro in Architecture. Moore, a professor of architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, was one of the first women to graduate in architecture from Tuskegee Institute in 1967.

Most of the members saw ABWA as providing a connection to others who understood the complexities of being an architect, black, and female. The organization’s stated goal was to promote advancement and career growth and broaden educational and work opportunities for black women in architecture. Of the thirty-one black women originally listed as members of the association, only five were licensed at the time of the 1982 meeting. Two more became licensed in New York prior to the organization’s ending in 1984.

The ABWA existed only a few months beyond Garnett Covington’s sudden death from breast cancer in 1984. Past members of ABWA continued to get licensed, became leaders in large national and international architecture firms, and started their own firms. They became role models for a future generation of black women architects and example to black women in other cities.

The 1974 Women In Architecture Symposium

Lindsay Nencheck

The 1974 Women in Architecture Symposium at Washington University in St. Louis captured the transformation of the male-dominated design community in the United States at a time when women were integrating the tenets of the women’s liberation movement into their professional lives. Organized by fourteen female undergraduate and graduate students and implemented with the help of their male peers and the school’s faculty, the three-day event explored the realities faced by women in the architectural field.

The conference featured a body of work undervalued by the nation’s architecture schools and publicized the words of designers underrepresented in educational and professional circles.  Gertrude Kerbis, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) who worked for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in Chicago before opening her own firm in 1962, gave the keynote address. Regi Goldberg, an architect from New York and founder of the Alliance of Women in Architecture (AWA), presented a talk titled “Symbolism in Architecture: A Feminist Approach to Design.” Goldberg, along with AWA cofounders Marjorie Hoog and Phyllis Birkby, also led a workshop on the group’s history and their ongoing project to create an archive of women’s work in architecture. The panel, “Role Problems Facing Professional Women,” with sociologists Whitney Gordon, Kay Standley, Bradley Soule, and professor Leslie Kanes Weisman of Detroit University’s School of Architecture, placed the design field within a larger context. Architect and head of the AIA’s Task Force on Women in Architecture Judith Edelman served as the moderator. Other presenters and panelist included Lois Langhorst, a professor of architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; Natalie De Blois, associate partner at SOM; and Ida C. Scott, a St. Louis architect. Audio recordings capture intense audience engagement during lectures, discussion panels, and workshops.

At the symposium, female students created a forum for public dialogue that directly addressed their role within the academy and the field. The event garnered the attention of local media and national publications. This experience was replicated nationally, spreading between disparate cities and institutions throughout the 1970s.


Lindsay Nencheck is an architect with Gresham, Smith and Partners. She received a Master of Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis in 2010. She lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Crisis of the African American Architect: a Fifteen-Year Retrospective

Melvin L. Mitchell, FAIA, NCARB, NOMA, James Silcott Chair Professor of Architecture, Howard University & Pres./CEO Bryant Mitchell Architects

Harold Cruse’s magisterial 1967 book The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual continues to inform much of my worldview about the black struggle in the US. One of the questions I posed was, “How would Cruse’s analysis of the role of black architects apply to the time between 1900 and the year 2002?”

Through a Crusian prism, I argued that black architects had been in a serious state of cultural and socioeconomic estrangement from Black America since the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. I found that no such state of estrangement existed between 1893 and the 1920s. That was the period when Booker T. Washington charged a band of black architects—led by Robert Taylor—with designing and building the Tuskegee University campus in Alabama while also wanting to create a similar type of development in Harlem.

Black architects often cite the fact today only 2,000 out of 120,000 (1.7 percent) of America’s  architects are black. But closing that gap, while necessary, is nowhere near sufficient. The burden of training the next generation of black “culture and power” grounded  architect-entrepreneurs and community developers falls to the nation’s small band of  HBCU-based architecture schools. Up until the 1970s, that cohort of schools was reputed to have produced nearly 50 percent of the nation’s licensed black architects.

I find it ironic that the only front where the “culture and power” estrangement between black architects and Black America decreased is in the African American museum building phenomena of the past twenty years. A parallel argument in my book is that the late-20th century maturation of the IT and communications revolution irrevocably transformed the basic business model for the practice of architecture. We are now on an accelerating trajectory of obsolescence over the next several decades.

ALICE Through the Glass Ceiling

Sally Levine

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In 1994, New Langton Arts, a San Francisco art gallery, invited me to continue my installation work addressing the status of women in architecture. The result was Architecture Lets In Chicks, Except (ALICE) . . . through the Glass Ceiling. ALICE recognized that the very metaphor of the glass ceiling indicated that women had made gains. After all, if women had not gotten their collective "foot in the door," they would not be able to see the ceiling at all. But like a ceiling of glass, women’s progress has been fragile, and it was (and is) imperative that these gains not be taken for granted.

In Lewis Carroll’s Alice through the Looking Glass, the Red Queen notes that “it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.” Entering the exhibit through strips of mirrored mylar, this ALICE’s wonderland was a series of seven playful, interactive, three-dimensional installations showing that women still needed to run at least twice as fast.

The vignettes confronted the ways statistics can be interpreted, the differences between media portrayals of women architects and the real work of women architects, the ambiguity of affirmative action programs, the ways that women are made to be invisible, and the challenges of climbing the corporate ladder.  The pieces gave context to these issues, noting both how far we had come and how much further we have to go. Twenty-four years later, many of the same challenges lie ahead.

Feedback about the exhibit was particularly gratifying.  While many men recognized themselves in the mirrors and statistics, women were able to share their encounters with invisibility and be made visible; and everyone was given permission to discuss important subjects that often are unspoken.  

Women in Design Award

Sally Levine

In the late 1990s, Boston Society of Architects (BSA) President Rebecca Barnes created the Women in Design (WID) Network to re-energize architecture’s focus on women. In 2000, Gretchen von Grossman transformed this monthly conversations program into the first Women in Design Conference, an event that has grown each year since then. The same year, I proposed a WID awards program, even though I thought the last thing the architectural field needed was another award. However, I recognized that women were still underrepresented in most awards programs.

Over several months, I met with many women from the building professions, both in groups and one-on-one, to ask them their definition of success, their thoughts on what made for a successful career, and what they thought was worthy of recognition. The results of our research and conversations were summarized in the four Ps—the four criteria developed for the WID Award of Excellence:

  • Person A living person who works and/or has worked in the New England area. Ethical, confident, exemplifies exceptional excellence.

  • Process Shares responsibilities and information, cares for others’ well-being.

  • Product Demonstrates exceptional excellence, reflects process.

  • Position Affects change in the design community and the public at large.

Over the years the selection committee has awarded architects, landscape architects, interior designers, writers, educators, advocates, artists, graphic designers, engineers, and community leaders. We decided that the best way to assure that we live up to our commitment to inclusivity was to present the award to more than one person each year. This decision allowed us to celebrate the many ways individuals contribute to the built environment. In contrast to the one-person award, recipients of the WID Award often have expressed how honored they feel to be in the company of that year’s cohort.  

Architect as Advocate: Beyond Patronage, Toward New Subjectivities

Joyce Hwang

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To be an advocate is to defend the cause of another or to support the interests of another. One might find readily the term “advocate” in the realm of law, politics, and activism. But what does it mean for architecture to be a form of advocacy? Certainly, one could identify important concerns and address them through community-oriented design processes that engage particular (and often underrepresented) stakeholder groups; this mode of working is common among architects who stand as advocates. I would like to push this a step further and propose that we take up the notion of architectural subjectivity in a more expansive sense, not only identifying specific groups to assist but to reconsider the pluralities of subjectivity itself. In my work, for example, I place particular emphasis on exploring the inclusion of nonhuman species in the built environment. This preoccupation with underacknowledged or alternate “subjectivities” has led me to consider the scope of architectural audiences and agencies more broadly—in terms of both human and nonhuman subjects.

Focusing and expanding on these issues of redefining audiences and stakeholders, I coedited (with Martha Bohm and Gabrielle Printz) a book, titled Beyond Patronage: Reconsidering Models of Practice (Actar, 2015). As we well understand, the profession of architecture centers on the conventional notion of “patronage” and is shaped by its implications. Patronage—or relationships between clients (patrons) and architects (those in service to the patrons)—has indeed been the defining role in our understanding of architectural practice. Key relationships between architects and private clients have enabled the development and realization of some of the most significant canons of work. Today, conventional patronage is still thriving, and, of course, it is necessary to maintain the profession. Yet, we have to be aware that embedded within these relationships are power structures that tend to give advantages to wealthy patrons and people connected to them and established networks and circles (such as “old boys’ clubs”). These established forms of patronage tend to feed a system in which dominant cultures remain dominant.

In initiating Beyond Patronage, we were interested in what we perceive to be a shifting landscape of patronage today. We see an increasing number of designers who are engaging in broader collaborative relationships and finding forms of enabling outside of these dominant modes of practice and actively redefining the role of sponsorship in architecture and design. Added to that, there is a growing sense of urgency around pressing issues today—whether they are economic, political, or ecological issues—that influences practices in different ways and provokes designers to confront our own disciplinary priorities and assumptions. These emerging issues are ultimately asking us a number of questions: How can architecture transcend its status as a “service” industry to move beyond primarily serving those who can afford it? How can architecture be more inclusive of diverse interests and audiences? How do we initiate work on projects that advocate for what we believe is important and urgent?

To start addressing many of these issues, we organized a symposium at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York in 2012—which was then expanded into the book—that focused on three themes:

1. Architect as Initiator: architects who seek out ways to initiate and fund their own project through forms of creative entrepreneurship or by forming new processes of collaboration.

2. Architect as Detective: architects who conduct research and deploy strategies to reveal the unknown, finding clues to “discover” projects where they were thought not to exist.

3. Architect as Advocate: architects who find and define “clients” and “audiences” where they were thought not to exist. These architects reach out to communities beyond the conception of the typical moneyed client. They engage underrepresented populations and reconsider who the audiences and users are—and what their subjectivities are.

On one level, the book is about expanding models of practice, reflecting on ways to move architecture beyond the status of “service” and toward becoming a vehicle for advocacy or revealing knowledge. And already since the writing of the book, we have seen a multitude of new examples emerging in both the academy and practice. But at another level, the symposium and book also advocate for thinking about architecture beyond the dominant master narratives and considering a much more pluralistic view on architectural issues and ways of practicing. We conceived of the Beyond Patronage project with a decidedly feminist agenda, one that would also specifically advocate for women in architecture. We invited only women speakers to the initial symposium to make a statement. Today, when one sees an all-male panel, it is hardly a disruption in the status quo. Although we now see an emerging number of online and social media watchdogs monitoring the frequency of all-male panels—such as Congrats, you have an All Male Panel! and the Feminist Wall of Shame—it is still infrequent that one might find a panel or event consisting of all women without it explicitly being labeled as a women’s event. Citing Lori Brown’s research presented in Beyond Patronage, in the 2011–12 academic year, out of 73 US schools of architecture’s lecture series, 65 percent had no woman or just one woman in its series, and 34.3 percent—that is, over one-third of all schools—had no women as part of their public programming.

Now, in the twenty-first century, we may like to think that we are already in a postgender, inclusive world. However, many events of even the immediate past—such as the results of the 2016 presidential election in the United States and the #MeToo movement—have shown that this is not the case. Not only are the rights and dignity of women still being challenged, but so are the rights and dignity of many others, due to their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. Indeed, approaching our work as advocates is essential to undertake, now more than ever. It is imperative, as in the spheres of society and politics, that we as architects resist the urge to move smoothly along with the tides—that is, to go along with “business as usual.” That kind of complacency, especially in the face of the challenges before us, will not only impede any social, environmental, or cultural progress that has been made, but more fundamentally, it will slowly and imperceptibly drive a stake into the heart of humanity itself.


Joyce Hwang is the director of Ants of the Prairie and an associate professor of architecture at the University at Buffalo SUNY. She is a recipient of the Architectural League Emerging Voices Award, the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, the MacDowell Colony Fellowship, and is coeditor of Beyond Patronage: Reconsidering Models of Practice.

Project Pipeline

Lorin Jackson

 Project Pipeline Organizational Diagram, Image Courtesy of Lorin Jackson, 2005

Project Pipeline Organizational Diagram, Image Courtesy of Lorin Jackson, 2005

In order to support students who otherwise would not find entry into architecture an obvious or easy path, the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) founded Project Pipeline in 2005. NOMA designed Project Pipeline to encourage students’ pursuit of architecture through hands-on experience and exposure to the field. Initially, this was accomplished with summer camps hosted by local NOMA chapters and small workshops at schools. This model enabled participants to have direct mentorship from those who had recently passed through the same stage of development. The first ten years of Project Pipeline brought hundreds of participants annually across various cities including New Orleans, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.

In 2017, the Illinois chapter alone hosted 150 participants at its Project Pipeline Summer Camp. Additionally, it organized a dozen workshops at schools in the North, West, and South sides of Chicago. This chapter has expanded “the Pipeline” to encompass all stages of development, from the earliest age a person can decide to pursue architecture through becoming a licensed architect. I-NOMA piloted a sixteen-week design-build program last year for early high school students. These students then matriculate into a local partner organization. After high school, student chapters at Illinois universities support students throughout their college years. Finally, those preparing for licensing are supported with resources through an initiative launched in 2017.

It is important to note that working professionals accomplished all of this. Seeing themselves in the younger generation or a peer compels them to help others realize their goals. One member, Christian Pereda, wrote in a testimonial, “Born to undocumented parents from Mexico, I saw myself as an inspiration to young students that are living with the same challenges but want to succeed. I was able to step into leadership roles and make a commitment to help my community.”


Lorin Jackson (BFA Interior Architecture, NCIDQ Candidate) is a designer providing interior architecture and design services primarily in Chicago with Inhabit Interiors. She has been a member of I-NOMA since 2016 and serves as co-marketing coordinator. She looks for ways to leverage her roles to create community benefit and develop solutions for urban living in underserved communities.
www.linkedin.com/in/lorin-e-jackson

The Directory of African American Architects

Brad Grant & Dennis Mann

The Directory of African American Architects identifies and highlights licensed African American architects who practice in both the private and public sectors, who teach in higher education, who work in associated disciplines, and who have left the field of architecture but maintain their license.

We began the first edition of the Directory in November 1991 to account for and identify all of the African Americans who were professionally licensed as architects. At that time, we suspected that the estimated numbers we came across in various publications were not accurate. The first directory established a baseline with which we could begin to plot the demographic changes among African American architects over time. We also used the data collected from the first edition to facilitate our research profiling the roles that African American architects play in education and in practice, including those who are owners of firms, those who are partners in firms, those who are employees in both the public and private sectors, and those who are educators. The second edition of the directory (1996) continued our efforts to provide an up-to-date and accurate listing of licensed African American architects.

By now both Whitney M. Young's admonition to architects attending the American Institute of Architects' National Convention in 1968 in Portland, Oregon, and the Kerner Commission's June 1968 report on urban unrest have become important historical documents. Robert Traynham Coles, FAIA, a noted practicing architect and a past Distinguished Visiting Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, cited both of these documents in a Progressive Architecture editorial entitled "An Endangered Species" (July, 1989). Based on his observations over a period between 1968 and 1989, Coles bemoaned the dismal growth in the number of African American architects. Coles quoted Young, who said that architects had shared in the responsibility for creating "the white noose around the central city," where much of the urban unrest of the late 1960s occurred. Coles also cited the Kerner Report, which concluded that the nation was rapidly developing into two societies, one black and one white, separate and unequal. These factors, as well as the dismantling of federally supported housing programs, the reduction of federal support for the maintenance and development of physical infrastructures, and the attack on affirmative action policies, along with other discriminatory practices, inhibited the success of African American architectural practices.

Major reductions in grants, scholarships, and guaranteed loans for underrepresented students led Coles to conclude that the African American architect was an "endangered species." Coles noted that "the number of black architects had grown from about 1000 to about 2000, remaining at about two percent of the total (of all architects)," notwithstanding the fact that African Americans represent more than 12 percent of the population. Coles' data was taken from statistics collected by the Department of Labor, which counted everyone in the field of architecture without distinguishing licensed architects from interns, technicians, or even designer/builders. Coles found it difficult to substantiate that there were two thousand architects in current practice based on his own observations and experiences with African American architects between 1969 and 1989.

The architectural press continued to report weak African American representation in the profession. This is true not only for practice but also for architectural education. The National Architectural Accrediting Board reports that for the 1993–94 academic year, 6.3 percent of students in accredited B. Arch and M. Arch programs were African American. In that same year, only 3.6 percent of the graduates from both of those programs were African American. African American women are even less represented in practice. We listed only eighty-four women in the 1996 directory. No recent statistics tell us how many graduates remain in the profession as interns or continue on to licensure.

Recent studies of the role of gender and race in the architectural profession and in architectural education suggest that weak demographic presence has a negative effect on African American architects and other underrepresented architects in the field (see Kathryn Anthony’s Shattering the Glass Ceiling). Conventional architectural history reflects this bias. Historians have been slow to incorporate African American contributions to American architecture into their work or into architecture curricula. Most students of architecture have never heard of Benjamin Banneker, who assisted Pierre Charles L'Enfant in the planning of Washington, DC; or Julian Abele, who designed the Widener Library at Harvard University; or Robert Taylor, the first African American to earn an architecture degree and who worked with Booker T. Washington on the design of Tuskegee Institute.

The African American architectural tradition continues today. African American architects are actively involved in all levels of professional practice, from the design of high style interiors to that of large international airports and major museums. African American architects are also senior partners in majority-owned firms, deans in prestigious architecture schools, and administrators in governmental agencies.

After the publication of our second hardbound directory, we realized how quickly information can become outdated in print. We decided to create a website that could be updated instantaneously as we received new information. We also felt that a website would put our research into the public sector and make it available not only to other architects but to aspiring architects searching for African American role models.

Since we began our research in 1990, the number of licensed African American architects has more than quadrupled, and the number of licensed African American women has grown from 48 to 440. We believe that the website alone has helped to publicize who African American architects are and where they practice. The site provides live links to those firms that have websites and publishes research papers, books, job postings, and current announcements. More recently, we have added a listing of licensed landscape architects.

As of September 2018, there are 2,239 licensed African American Architects in the database. We confirm that all licensees are in fact licensed by consulting the state board of architecture registration website for their home state. In addition, the number of licensed women has greatly increased. When we began there were only 48 licensed women. Today there are currently 440. They now make up nearly 20 percent of the total. This year three of the four new FAIA inductees were African American women.

Over the past twenty-seven years we’ve been fortunate to widen our contact network as well as discover that our website shows up first in Google searches for “African American Architects.” When we’ve asked someone who contacts us about being added to the Directory how they discovered the site, their response is often that they didn’t know it existed and they found it after searching for African American or black architects online. Today more and more young interns follow the site—and often ask to be added as soon as they learn they’ve passed the Architect Registration Examination. The site is often a good resource for potential clients, suppliers, and young students looking to talk to an architect in their area.


Women in Architecture at Georgia Tech

Anna Preece

Founded by seven graduate students in 2012, when only 30 percent of enrolled students were women, Women in Architecture (WiA) has continued to gain momentum and presence in the College of Design at Georgia Institute of Technology. In 2015, membership grew fivefold, and the WiA clarified its mission: Inspire. Empower. Celebrate.

• Inspire by encouraging members and peers in the College of Design to pursue their goals with passion and confidence

• Empower by providing a variety of opportunities that are not as easily accessible outside of the organization

• Celebrate by bringing people together to recognize the wide range of talents within the community and offer opportunities to show their talents

This mission guides and frames every meeting, lecture, and event sponsored by WiA. The formation of a mentorship program, created in 2015, fosters relationships between students across all levels throughout the school. In addition, the design, development, execution, and installation of an independent design-build project leveraged the facilities in the (previously male-dominated) Digital Fabrication Lab, putting WiA squarely in the spotlight. Furthermore, amongst numerous events to learn about others’ work, from symposia to casual roundtable discussions with respected professionals, members of WiA seek to showcase and learn from the work created by their peers. In February of 2018, WiA curated a student exhibition held in the Ferst Center of the Arts, which shared the work of many students in a variety of media, from photography to physical models.

The exchange of ideas, values, and opinions promotes leadership among women within the College of Design and creates role models and mentors within the college and the greater Atlanta community. WiA’s growth and recent achievements continue to build an energetic community of leaders who inspire, empower, and celebrate.


Anna Preece, an Atlanta native, is a 5th year Undergraduate student at Georgia Tech, who will return to the Institute for the Graduate program in Fall 2018. She has served on the Executive Board of Women in Architecture since 2015, and aided in developing the new mission to "Inspire. Empower. Celebrate."