The Architects’ Resistance

Anthony Schuman & Chris Barker

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The Architects’ Resistance (TAR), an activist network of architecture students and faculty from Columbia, MIT, Yale, and other mostly East Coast schools in the US, emerged from the protests, occupations, and shutdowns of the 1968–69 school year. In its press releases and position papers, TAR described itself as “a communications network, a research group, and an action group . . . concerned about the social responsibility of architects and the framework within which architecture is practiced.” TAR drew inspiration from the flourishing community design movement, and the New Left, civil rights, and antiwar movements, and developed a platform of its own with local and global concerns.

In its “Architecture and Racism” campaign (1969), TAR condemned SOM’s lucrative contract with the Anglo American Corporation to design the Carlton Centre in Johannesburg. Architecture for racists, TAR argued, is racist architecture. In “Architecture and the Nuclear Arms Race” (1969), TAR opposed a new fallout shelter building program for architects and educators sponsored by the Department of Defense and endorsed by AIA leadership. In these and other “radical action projects,” TAR excoriated the architectural profession’s submission to corporate, industrial, and governmental interests. TAR argued that the profession had become dominated by a culture of expertise that, in its acquiescence to power, had reduced architecture to a purely aesthetic and technical undertaking. For TAR this was a moral failure: architecture had divorced itself from its ethical responsibility to society.

TAR lasted for little more than two years but produced a significant series of documents and events. TAR members also participated in or were connected to other activist groups and CDCs including Urban Deadline, Real Great Society Uptown Planning Studio, Urban Planning Aid, Serve the People, and The New Thing in Art and Architecture.

Organization of Women Architects and Design Professionals

Jean Nilsson, Wendy Bertrand & Mui Ho

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In sync with the energy and ideals of the women’s movement, women architects in the San Francisco Bay Area formed the Organization of Women Architects and Design Professionals (OWA) in 1973. Based on a participatory model addressing our founding philosophy, we sought to have women's full contributions in the workplace recognized. We see our professional and personal life as one. The organization has been successful and lasting due to the horizontal and rotating administrative and leadership structure. 

From the beginning we took action to challenge norms of how architecture is practiced, who participates, and who benefits with monthly meetings featuring speakers and discussion, small interest group gatherings, surveys, mock licensing exams, and monthly newsletters. Over time we held exhibitions, conferences, and symposia, and our activities addressed changes in technology, architectural practice, and members’ lifestyles. Marking our thirtieth anniversary in 2003, we launched our website, owa-usa.org, where we continue to publish members’ projects, resources, forums, current newsletters, and activities.

Being a small professional organization, OWA provides a place for members to work together, to build professional friendships, to share experiences, to test ideas, and to learn from each other. Just as importantly, we want to remain relevant and flexible for innovation and change as we move into the future.

The organization is very aware of the value of its unique tradition. Keeping old traditions and introducing changes over the decades has been driven by the members’ participation and interests and keep the organization vital. In 2018 OWA is celebrating its forty-fifth anniversary and reflecting on its history.

The Real Great Society

Roberta Washington

In 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his plans to end poverty and racial discrimination—to create the Great Society. In that same year, some former members of a Puerto Rican street gang started their own effort to reform society called the Real Great Society (RGS) in New York City’s East Village. RGS leaders declared that they would “fight poverty rather than each other” to address unmet educational, cultural, and community needs. In 1967 RGS organized a branch in East Harlem to represent Puerto Ricans and Latinos in confronting urban renewal and redevelopment plans that threatened to displace them.

In 1968, a Columbia University School of Architecture design studio, working with RGS’ Willie Vazquez, dedicated a year to East Harlem issues. It was an effort to have the class of mostly white planning students provide the professional expertise needed for the young Puerto Rican activists to challenge the system.

Harry Quintana, a Puerto Rican activist who had attended Howard University’s school of architecture, advanced the view that for the RGS/Uptown Planning Studio (RGS/UPS) to succeed as an architectural advocacy planning group, Puerto Rican architects/planners had to be involved. Approximately ten graduates were recruited. Some observers at the time considered the RGS to be the most progressive community-based organization in East Harlem.

Occasionally, RGS/UPS worked with ARCH, a neighboring planning advocacy organization in Central Harlem. In 1969, Harry Quintana representing RGS/UPS, became the face of orchestrated protests with ARCH that led to Mayor John Lindsay’s appointment of the first minority commissioner to the New York City Planning Commission.

Funded by federal anti-poverty and private foundation grants, the era of RGS/UPS influence was ending by 1971. But during its time the RGS/UPS planned community gardens, responded to the threat of large-scale housing and educational projects, advanced alternate development schemes, and introduced Puerto Ricans in New York to the concept of community advocacy planning.

Black Women in Architecture

Kathryn Prigmore

In 1991, at a time when there were fewer than 50 licensed African American women architects, an energetic group of women in Baltimore, Maryland, organized Black Women in Architecture (BWA).  Membership was open to any woman who had graduated from an architectural program or worked in the AEC industry. The group quickly formulated an organization under the leadership of Sharon Graeber, AIA; Alice Burley, Assoc, AIA; Pamela Fountain; Sharon Richmond, ASLA; and Cherie-Cooper Harris.

Many of the women had ties to Howard University, Morgan, the University of the District of Columbia, or Hampton University, making it easy for BWA to connect with the majority of the African American women in the AEC professions who worked in the Washington-Baltimore Metropolitan area.  

BWA was also loosely aligned with the New York Association of Black Women Architects and Design Professionals. Eventually women architects from as far away as Chicago participated in BWA activities.  

BWA’s original mission was “to enrich and improve the architectural and design communities at large by the promotion and worldwide recognition of its membership”. Its goals were:

  • to develop a means of meeting and networking with women of African American descent who are presently engaged in the practice of architecture and/or a related field (interior design, landscape architecture, construction administration, planning, engineering, and support areas.)”

  • to develop methods that will educate and increase public recognition of African Americans in the built environment professions

  • to gain an understanding of the dilemmas—culturally, socially, and politically—facing black women in these professions.

BWA mounted an exhibit of African American women’s work in Baltimore in 1992. The organization also held a quarterly brunch. For a brief period, the organization also published a newsletter. BWA discussed plans for an annual symposium, but this idea never came to fruition.

The program held on March 12, 1994, at the DC Design Center was its last official event. It included sessions on starting a business, CADD literacy, marketing, and ADSA compliance.

Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility

Raphael Sperry

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Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) was founded in 1981 as a voice for architects and design professionals opposing the threat of nuclear war and the militarism of the Reagan administration. Groups of concerned people in the design world soon found each other in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and other cities, and then the groups united to create a national nonprofit organization with a regular newsletter, chapter meetings, and a national board of directors. ADPSR even formed an international association, ARC-Peace, with representatives from Europe, Japan, and other countries.

ADPSR seeks out creative, nonviolent means for raising public awareness and demanding changes in public policy, always from the perspective of designers. An early poster for “Architects for Social Responsibility” (before fellow professions were added) called attention to the stark consequences of a nuclear exchange not only on human life but all of humanity’s cultural achievements—including architecture. A mid-’80s design competition for a bomb shelter mocked the idea that backyard shelters—which the government encouraged at that time—could make any difference. Entries included an “Emperor’s New Clothes” model of an ideal shelter, which was just a blank page. The collection of entries was published under the title “Quonset Huts on the River Styx: the Bomb Shelter Design Book.” ADPSR also arranged an exchange of visits with architects in the Soviet Union, showing through “citizen diplomacy” that even though our two countries’ governments were openly hostile, the people of the two countries themselves could work together peacefully and develop professional and personal collaborations. ADPSR remains active today around issues of human rights and social justice, especially in critiquing the US prison system.

NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project

Ken Lustbader

The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project is a cultural heritage initiative and educational resource documenting historic sites connected to the LGBT community in New York City. Historic preservationists Andrew Dolkart, Ken Lustbader, and Jay Shockley founded the project with initial support from the National Park Service Underrepresented Communities Program. The project builds off of the nation’s first map for LGBT historic sites in New York City, which they helped create in 1994 while part of the Organization of Lesbian and Gay Architects + Designers (OLGAD).

The project’s mission to make an invisible history visible includes publishing historical narratives on its website, researching and nominating LGBT sites to the National Register of Historic Places, curating walking tours, presenting lectures, engaging the community through events, and developing education opportunities.

The project website features a map with over 150 diverse places from the 17th century to 2000 that are important to LGBT history and illustrate the community’s influence on New York City and American culture. Last year, the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project worked with the National Parks Conservation Association to develop the LGBT History Tour, Greenwich Village NYC. This printed tour and map is being distributed at the Stonewall National Monument, which memorializes the Stonewall Uprising of June 1969, considered a key turning point in the LGBT rights movement in the United States. More recently, in partnership with the New York State Historic Preservation Office, the project completed the Historic Context Statement for LGBT History in New York City, which will be used as a guide to help future advocacy and evaluation of LGBT place-based history.

The project disseminates its content through social media channels, community presentations, and walking tours in order to show the public that LGBT history is American history. This has helped influence new research projects and raise awareness about pre-Stonewall LGBT place-based heritage. It also fosters a sense of pride among LGBT youth. The project is part of a new group of independent projects throughout the country and internationally that are looking more closely at LGBT place-based heritage.

ALICE Through the Glass Ceiling

Sally Levine

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The success of CARY’s More than the Sum of our Body Parts clearly demonstrated to me the power of exhibits to spark conversations about important social and professional issues. I was certain that this would not be my only effort to confront issues affecting women in architecture.  

In 1994, I was invited by New Langton Arts, a San Francisco art gallery, to continue my installation work addressing the status of women in architecture and professional women in general. The result was Architecture Lets In Chicks, Except…(ALICE) Through the Glass Ceiling. With this new multimedia show, I wanted to expand my investigations to recognize the progress women had made while acknowledging that women continued (and continue) to face many challenges in the workplace.

ALICE knew 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 Alice Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll’s 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.

In Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, I asked a number of questions about women’s status within the profession. Keeping the meter of the Wicked Stepmother’s question, text like “How many women architects in all?” and “Who’s the best paid of them all?” was inscribed on the outside of hinged panels. Upon opening the panels, which were connected to a mirror adhered “on the wall,” the viewer saw two answers—one indicating that progress had been made (written legibly) and the other showing the limits of that progress (written to be read in the mirror). The answers to the first questions above were: “There are 23,662 women architects in the US” (right reading) and “Women architects comprise 15 percent of the profession” (mirror image). The second pair read, “Male architects earn $1.00” and “Female architects earn $0.75.”

Rose Colored Glasses juxtaposed the rosy media versions of women architects and the reality of their actual architectural work. I drafted buildings by nine pioneering women architects—Ruth Adams, Han Schroeder, Alberta Pfieffer, Minerva Parker Nickels, Julia Morgan, Eileen Grey, Marion Mahoney Griffen, Eva Kuhleft-Ekelund, and Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter—and framed these 24 x 36 inch drawings in rose-colored plaster frames. These were contrasted with nine miniature images of women portraying architects—in films, on television, in magazine fashion spreads, and in print ads—clipped to thin cable strung from ceiling to floor. The next layer was composed of nine viewing devices held on stands made of steel plate, coil, and reinforcing rod. Various magnifying glasses, binoculars, monoculars, and telescopes, all covered with rose-colored gels, were connected to the stands. They were focused directly on the media images, placed in the gallery relative to their magnifying capabilities. Whether a woman showing architectural prints to a client whose string of pearls had broken or Elise Keaton (mom and architect) in Family Ties, none of the images came close to the accomplishments of the actual women. As the viewer looked beyond the media mystique, the real work became most prominent.

Ambiguity was the central theme of Shining Armor. Even though the whole notion of knights in shining armor is antithetical to professional ambition, it doesn’t necessarily make the concept of such a knight unattractive. Similarly, I had ambiguous feelings about affirmative action. The program offered opportunities to women but often limited these opportunities to consulting with larger, male-owned firms. As the piece evolved, I became interested in times when women wore their own shining armor, and I presented information about affirmative action within a historical context of women taking on their own battles. This large triangular sculpture corner was a patchwork of copper, bronze, steel, aluminum, wire mesh, and perforated metals. It stitched together a history of affirmative action alongside examples of women’s movements, from a twelfth-century harem revolt in Persia to a seventeenth-century riot by women bread bakers in Paris to marches in Washington, D.C.

I wanted to express my concern for the ways women have been made to feel invisible in the workplace, whether they are being denied credit for an idea or being left out of a meeting. This led to Smoke and Mirrors, Now you see her, now you don't, and Pick-a-Card, Any Card. In the former installation, slides were projected through gray “clouds of smoke” covering a platform that supported a projector and tape player. A mirror was placed in front of the projector lens to transmit the images horizontally onto another platform suspended from above, appearing to float. The projections were presented in pairs, allowing the viewer to “see her” before she became invisible. For example, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown were shown as professional partners, but then Robert Venturi was shown alone as the recipient of the Pritzker Prize. These slides were accompanied by an audio tape with a magician’s voice revealing tricks used to make women disappear.

Adjacent to Smoke and Mirrors, long white-gloved hands were perched on pedestals clad with red satin. One hand cradled blank Red Queen playing cards, inviting gallery visitors to share their experiences with “sleights of hand.” The other glove held the ever-growing hand of cards, where visitors could pick a card to discover other tricks that had been performed on women visitors who had been made to disappear.  

In The Glass Slipper, I replaced the metaphor of the glass ceiling, pointing out the treachery and fragility of advancement made by women while wearing shoes made of glass. Couples’ dance steps were painted on the gallery’s floor, leading to a pyramidal ladder reaching from the floor to the ceiling. As a few glass slippers ascended the ladder backwards, more fell behind into a pile of broken glass and mirror. Throughout the gallery, women’s dance steps were the reverse of the forward movements of the men’s, suggesting, as it has been said of Ginger Rogers in respect to Fred Astaire, that “she did everything that he did, only backwards and in high heels.”

I have always thought that Crystal Ball was ahead of its time. I wanted to create a means for communication beyond the gallery walls. Small “crystal” beads were strung on silver string, along with a message charm that read, “What do you see in our future? Email ______” and then my email address. Purely conceptual in nature, this piece provided souvenir bracelets, placed in a crystal bowl for all to take. Today I would ask for tweets at #alicethroughtheglassceiling. No one sent an email, but the feedback I did receive assured me that this gallery show struck a nerve for both women and men.

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.

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.

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 Directory of African American Architects

Brad Grant & Dennis Mann

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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.


The Women's School of Planning and Architecture

Elizabeth Cahn

Women’s School of Planning and Architecture, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, 1975

Women’s School of Planning and Architecture, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, 1975

The Women’s School of Planning and Architecture (WSPA) was a feminist educational project. The founders, seven women planners and architects, resolved to merge feminist values of the early 1970s with the essential role of design in creating physical and social environments. WSPA was a new space for feminist action with a vision of spatial and environmental design that was a departure from the design professions as they existed previously.

“Women in Architecture: A Symposium” at Washington University St. Louis, held in March 1974, inspired the idea for WSPA. The founders hoped to provide an ongoing space in which women could develop their ideas of feminist design education and extend these experiences to other women across the country.

The central task these women set for themselves—creating an alternative form of design and planning education—was part of their broader critique of the values underlying the design fields and disciplines. They worked to transform ways of being that are characteristic of the professions—detachment, intellectualism, hierarchy, and disconnection from those ultimately most impacted by design decisions—as well as redefine what is considered knowledge in these fields and intervene in the system determining who creates that knowledge. They hoped to build a new national organization that would affect not only the people in the professions, but the professions themselves.

WSPA was more than an educational project. It was a critique of the gendered construction of space and a way for those involved to enrich their personal experiences and critique the ways that the built environment itself repressed women. They fully intended to create a safe space for women to imagine not only new designed forms but also whole new worlds in which women’s needs would be primary.

WSPA held four summer sessions (Maine, 1975; California, 1976; Rhode Island, 1978; and Colorado, 1979) and a weekend conference (Washington DC, 1981).

 

Accessible Design

Karen Braitmayer

Karen Braitmayer in practice, photograph courtesy of Karen Braitmayer, date unknown.

Karen Braitmayer in practice, photograph courtesy of Karen Braitmayer, date unknown.

Specialization and Service

When I moved to Seattle after my first job, I thought I just wanted to be an architect—an average architect. Then a very kind architect told me, “there are a lot of good architects—focus on the unique perspective you can bring to the profession. That might be disability.”

I didn’t see the value in that, but as I started working at a large firm, I was going to my friends’ work desks and thinking, “Oh, that design is not a good idea.” I began to realize that if I was going to make those comments, I needed to know what I was talking about. I started taking some classes, and I discovered I really loved to help people make their projects more accessible.

I had the opportunity to start a firm twenty years ago, and I decided that one of our services would be accessibility support. When my partner retired from the firm, we stopped doing traditional architectural services altogether and decided to only do accessibility consulting.

My involvement with the code development process in Washington state, along with my participation as a member of the US Access Board, helps me understand the intent behind the codes and standards. I think of myself as a cultural ambassador; I help architects understand not only the letter of the law but why it’s beneficial for somebody who uses a mobility device or doesn’t have full vision or hearing. Having eighteen inches clear on the pull side of a door, for instance. Why eighteen inches? Why not twenty or fourteen? Explaining about how a wheelchair user approaches at an angle and needs enough room for their footrest outside of the door swing gives designers the knowledge that allows them to use their design skills to make good decisions.

People ask to see pictures of my accessibility work all the time, but my work is meant to go unseen. Most of my input is in tweaking a design and supporting the architect’s original vision. About sixty-five percent of our work is multifamily housing, and that is because that project type has complex accessibility regulations with a lot of overlapping language. In the last year, we’ve been asked to work on more projects where we look at existing buildings and remove barriers to review compliance. Really, what we’re trying to do is make good design decisions and support a full range of humans who want to use and feel welcome in our buildings. If you don’t understand how people interact with the building, it’s hard to get the design right.

In my tenure on the Access Board, there have been several other licensed architects, including Michael Graves, prior to his passing. There are other people who provide accessibility consulting services but have different backgrounds; there are people who represent disability organizations; there are many, many others.

Experiences in education and early career

Except for too-high desks, I never really dealt with any challenges from being a wheelchair user in architectural school at the University of Houston. The first day of studio, a bunch of my classmates looked at me and looked at the desk, which was at stool height, and decided that wasn’t going to work. They went out and bought a bunch of two-by-fours and built me a lower desk. I had very supportive classmates.

The next big hurdle was trying to get a job. The difficulty with trying to get employment when you’re a wheelchair user, especially in the ’80s, before the Americans with Disabilities Act, is that people did not expect that a wheelchair user could even do the job. They imagine an architect must to be able to climb a ladder and wield the hammer on a job site, and that was certainly not a good fit for me. If I went in for an interview and the interviewer’s jaw hit the floor, I would say thanks and leave and try again at another firm. At that time, you had to look for the right open-minded employer; now the laws are different. I think it would be easier to show your skills first, rather than deal with misconceptions up front. I have both felt marginalized and have benefited from my unique perspective. I didn't have the same job opportunities as my peers, but I turned my worldview into a service I could provide for other architects.

Pressing Issues in Design

Equal and substantial access to our environment by people with disabilities is a pressing issue in design—then and now. To young people with disabilities, I say: be an architect. Become a accessibility consultant. Architecture is one of the few careers where you can influence the built environment for the better and shape what you understand about people’s needs. If you see a gap in what is being provided, you have a chance to fill that with your ideas and solutions. You have the the opportunity to impact your community.

I am increasingly aware of the lack of inclusion and equal access in education, the workforce, and access to technology and housing. Up until November of last year, I would have said we were moving forward in all sorts of areas, though there’s certainly more work to do. There’s a lot of focus on accessibility for technology, communication technology, and how the rapid advancement of technology is continuing to support and engage people with disabilities. Since the administration changed, all bets are off. We don’t know what is going to happen. Now we might be in a pause period—where we’re trying to just maintain the rights that we have. And in architecture, people with disabilities are in a minority that is often overlooked when people talk about diversifying the profession.


Karen L. Braitmayer, FAIA, is the founder of her own accessible design consulting company in Seattle, Washington. In her position as an accessibility expert, she advises architectural firms, developers, and government agencies at the local and state level on how to implement and improve building code and accessibility for all users. Karen also served as chair of the federal Access Board, where she is currently a public member.

Whitney Young's Address to the AIA

Margaret Phalen & Tyler Rukick

Whitney Young Jr. Speaking to AIA National Convention, The American Institute of Architects Archive, Washington D.C., 1968

Whitney Young Jr. Speaking to AIA National Convention, The American Institute of Architects Archive, Washington D.C., 1968

As Whitney Young Jr., executive director of the National Urban League, stood at the podium at the 1968 American Institute of Architects (AIA) national convention in Portland, Oregon, he gazed upon a sea of almost entirely white, male faces. He saw an AIA that appeared unfazed by the changing world, and he seized the opportunity to start a conversation that carries to this day.

“One need only take a casual look at this audience to see that we have a long way to go in this field,” he told a crowd containing some of the most prominent figures in architecture. “You are not a profession that has distinguished itself by your social and civic contributions to the cause of civil rights…You are most distinguished by your thunderous silence.”

Young was frustrated with the growth of stark high-rise housing projects that towered above the nation’s toughest urban neighborhoods. For him, these “vertical slums” marked a failure for city governments and the field of architecture as a whole.

“I can’t help but wonder about an architect who designs some of the public housing that I see in the cities of this country,” he said. “That architects as a profession wouldn’t as a group stand up and say something about this is disturbing to me.”

But as he wrapped up his fiery speech, Young offered a way forward—a dedicated scholarship program aimed at reshaping the profession and the communities it serves.

In the weeks following Young's speech, AIA officials formed a task force on equal opportunity that would open the profession to minority groups and develop architecture programs to improve lives in impoverished urban neighborhoods.


Margaret Phalen is the manager of the Octagon Museum; she has been working with the Architects Foundation since 2014. She is interested in the ways cultural heritage institutions engage communities, and the ways in which people are impacted by, and interact with history. Visit architectsfoundation.org  Margaret@architectsfoundation.org

Tyler Rudick is a writer and graphic designer currently based in the Chicago area. Through his small agency, Valley House Design, he works closely with design groups and nonprofits to communicate their mission and vision. Clients in recent years include the American Institute of Architects, the Art Newspaper, the Menil Collection.Visit valleyhousedesign.com

Chicks In Architecture Refuse to Yield to Atavistic Thinking in Design and Society

Sarah Rafson

In 1992, a collective of Chicago architects and designers founded Chicks in Architecture Refuse to Yield To Atavistic Thinking in Design and Society (CARYATIDS, or CARY). Although CARY’s 1993 exhibition, More Than the Sum of Our Body Parts (MTSOBP), has been largely forgotten, the group leveled critiques that resonate with recent activism and used exhibition strategies that are still provocative today.

A review of CARY’s exhibition in Architecture magazine described how MTSOBP “shatters male myths,” “symbolizes limits,” and “exposes the inequities of pay, position, and power” in architecture practice. A video from the Randolph Street Gallery opening shows a stylish event with artists, architects, and designers enjoying cocktails as a rotating cast of men and women smile and pose through the cutout face of a caryatid. The Randolph Street Gallery was known for showing pioneering performance art, not architecture. While no buildings were on display, the exhibition sent a strong message about what it means to be a woman in architecture and how the profession ought to respond.

CARY was a collective of over seventy architects and designers, both men and women, but three women were at the center of it all. Carol Crandall, Sally Levine, and Kay Janis were all involved in the Chicago Women in Architecture (CWA)—Crandall was just ending her term as CWA president—when they decided to organize a more radical spinoff group in 1992. The following year, Chicago would host a joint convention between the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the International Union of Architects (UIA), the largest gathering of architects ever. What’s more, the AIA’s first female president, Susan Maxman, hosted the historic moment.

CARY needed to reach the upper echelons of the AIA in order to push policies affecting women to the center of the national agenda, and they felt a counterexhibition was one way to do it. Gender inequities that seemed to disappear during the “boom” years of the late 1980s reappeared as layoffs disproportionately left women out of work during the recession of the early ’90s. In light of this, CARY sent Maxman a copy of the MTSOBP catalogue with a formal letter that spelled out their demands:

“Dear Ms. Maxman,

. . . The following issues have been ignored by the AIA:

  • The Wage Gap

  • The Glass Ceiling

  • Family Leave Policies

  • Gender Bias in Treatment on the Job

  • Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

  • Family/Workplace Issues

  • Attrition Rates

We challenge the AIA to formulate specific programs and policies to address these issues.”

Had Maxman visited the exhibition, she would have seen a gallery dotted with large sculptures, each addressing a different aspect of architecture practice. Some addressed problems in workplace policy and ways the AIA could intervene. Just Relax, This May Cause Some Discomfort, for example, was a gynecological gurney covered by a paper printed with the Family Medical Leave Act, which President Clinton signed earlier that year. CARY pointed out that this legislation is ineffective for the 90 percent of architecture firms with twenty employees or fewer—a statistic that is still true today.

Tea and Sympathy displayed the “loosely veiled excuses” women received in the workplace. CARY painted a series of teacups with an excuse (“We didn’t reschedule the meeting just for you”) and decoded the underlying reason on the tea tag (“Because you’re a mom”). This piece expressed the feeling of disposability the women felt, with shattered ceramic and mannequin limbs piled in a heap on the floor below the teacups.

Water Cooler Wisdom: If Only These Jugheads Could Talk was more interactive. CARY’s male members recorded the derogatory comments their female counterparts had received in their workplaces—boardrooms, classrooms, and construction sites. Their voices animated a scene of wire figures with water cooler heads and dim light bulbs shining within. Visitors contributed their own experiences on a bulletin board reading “Employee Notices.”

The Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Reader all covered MTSOBP, as did other publications as far-flung as Korea. Even if few of the thousands of convention visitors ventured to see the exhibition just a couple miles away, they were likely aware of it. The group disbanded shortly after the exhibition, although each of the three founders continued their advocacy in different ways. Sally Levine staged a similar exhibition, ALICE (Architecture Lets in Chicks Except) Through the Glass Ceiling in San Francisco in 1995.

CARY crystallized in the early ’90s during the resurgence of women’s rights advocacy in the US known as feminism’s “third-wave,” which came several years after the Equal Rights Amendment was defeated in 1982 and the lively “second-wave” feminism of the women’s movement ended. In 1993, CARY’s tone surely reminded visitors of the Guerrilla Girls who were challenging the art world’s gender biases through posters, postcards, billboards, and protests filled with puns and revelatory statistics. MTSOBP’s expressive sculpture, however, recalled an earlier era of feminist art, like Judy Chicago’s vignette-filled Womanhouse in Los Angeles in 1972.

Despite many recent exhibitions touting the impact and work of women architects, few take on larger political questions as directly as CARY did in MTSOBP. In 2010, Woodbury University hosted 13.3% “an exasperated reply to those who say: ‘there are no women making architecture.’” The show borrowed Lucy Lippard’s strategy of accepting open submissions through the mail in standard manila envelopes. In 2014, the Storefront for Art & Architecture’s Letters to the Mayor exhibition was another cleverly crafted feminist critique, displaying letters by fifty international architects—who happened to be women—addressed “to the political leaders of more than 20 cities around the world.”

As CARY stated in the exhibition with some irony, “The choice of homemaker and home maker is no longer mutually exclusive.” The number of women architects in the US has risen slightly, from 15 percent in 1993 to 24 percent in 2016, and the AIA has inaugurated three women as presidents since Maxman’s term. As Despina Stratigakos reports, women still drop out of the profession in disproportionate numbers, although advocacy organizations like ArchiteXX, the Beverly Willis Foundation, and others throughout the country, hope to change that.  

Since 1993, the AIA has done formidable work addressing equity in architecture through its Equity by Design initiative, although recent events signal the ongoing rift between the organization and its membership. Two decades after CARY, the Architecture Lobby staged its own protest to the 2014 AIA National Convention in Chicago, reading a list of demands outside the convention hall on behalf of architecture’s “precarious workers.” This year, the Architecture Lobby takes their advocacy for fair labor practices one step further, launching JustDesign.Us, an accreditation program to recognize compliant firms. The #NotMyAIA hashtag that began trending since the AIA sent a complacent letter to then President-elect Donald Trump is just another indication that although much has changed in the architectural profession, CARY’s complaints reverberate more than ever.  

Note: a version of this article appeared in the Chicago Architecture Biennial Blog.


Sarah Rafson is Ann Kalla Visiting Professor at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture. She is an architectural editor, curator, and researcher and the founder of Point Line Projects, an editorial and curatorial agency for architecture and design. Rafson won the Buell Center Oral History Prize for her master’s thesis from Columbia University. She is a board member of ArchiteXX and editor of sub_teXXt, their online journal. She was a curatorial assistant for Bernard Tschumi’s 2014 retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, editorial assistant at the Museum of Modern Art, and editor of two recent books, Parc de La Villette (Artifice, 2014) and Builders, Housewives, and the Construction of Modern Athens (Artifice, 2017).

Women in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Planning

Andrea J. Merrett

As part of the women’s movement in architecture in the early 1970s, women began to form professional organizations. One of the first was Women in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Planning, organized by Dolores Hayden in Boston, MA. Hayden, then a graduate student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD), invited local women in the environmental design professions to a meeting at her home on November 11, 1971. The group met almost weekly for the next month1 and then organized an open meeting at the Boston Architectural Center on March 4, 1972.2 By then the group had adopted its name. More than one hundred women attended, and Francine Achbar, a writer from a local paper, wrote about the meeting the following day.Achbar reported that “[the women’s] grievances were familiar. Many were the same complaints that have been raised by women in a variety of male-dominated professions in the past few years since the advent of the women’s liberation movement.”3

The organizers identified several areas that needed particular attention: the need for part-time work, legal action against discriminatory employers, professional education for women, and consciousness-raising groups. During its brief existence, WALAP tended to operate as an umbrella organization without a formal structure, providing contact among female practitioners in the Boston area and support for smaller, project-focused initiatives.

One of WALAP’s first projects was to support ongoing efforts to improve women’s status in the local schools of architecture, namely MIT’s Department of Architecture and Harvard’s GSD. Both schools were under internal and external pressure to increase the number of women students and faculty and to create hospitable environments for them. In 1971, the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) studied sex discrimination at both universities after the Women's Equity Action League and National Organization of Women jointly filed a complaint under Executive Orders 11246 and 11375.4 An architecture student at MIT, Tova M. Solo, sent a complaint to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination about her experiences at MIT the following March. She felt the complaint had been overlooked in the HEW study.5 WALAP discussed these actions and the schools’ responses at their early meetings. MIT appears to have been more receptive to changing its policies and making efforts to recruit women. The head of the department, Professor Donlyn Lyndon, immediately asked a committee to investigate Solo’s complaint, and the department set a quota aiming for the next incoming class to be 33 percent women. At a meeting of the Education Council soon after Solo’s complaint, faculty members openly spoke about the need to address the departmental culture. Although they expressed that “raising the level of consciousness of these problems would be difficult,” they were willing to try.6

Harvard appears to have been less receptive to change. In a letter to the dean of the GSD, Maurice D. Kilbridge, Harvard president Derek C. Bok expressed the need to eliminate biases while resisting affirmative action targets he expected HEW to request.7 Kilbridge established the Committee on the Status of Women in late 1971. Around the same time, the GSD sent out a questionnaire to female graduates of the school. WALAP members, a couple of whom were on the GSD committee, were critical of both these efforts. Some of the more outspoken members of the committee, including WALAP member Megan Lawrence, felt Kilbridge’s intention was to create an “ineffectual committee” that could be blamed for the lack of progress in the school while demonstrating that the school was trying to make progress.8

WALAP members followed the proceedings of the Harvard committee through Lawrence and Bicci Pettit, another committee member and a founding member of WALAP. In a letter to Kilbridge in early 1972, WALAP members voiced their objections to the alumnae survey. Their reasons were: the implication “that the school has the option of continuing its present policies regarding the admissions and hiring of women”; that the questionnaire was only sent to women, therefore not providing a basis of comparison; that it focused on “women’s past role” rather than recognizing the changes to women’s roles; and the assumption made “that women must continue to adapt to the design and planning professions as they now exist.” The signatories felt that the professions needed to change for the benefit of women as well as “the fields as a whole.”9 As well as the letter to Kilbridge, WALAP members sent an open letter to the entire GSD in June of 1972. They wrote that women within the school were too few in number to have any power and were trying to apply outside pressure. They demanded that the school recruit more women students and faculty and give those women more positions on committees, including admissions and hiring.10

Another WALAP project was to address the problem of work schedules. The Board of Registration of Architects in Massachusetts did not recognize part-time work. A WALAP subcommittee wrote to the board in April 1972 objecting to the thirty-five hours a week required for work to count as full time.11 The subcommittee identified two groups with barriers to full-time work: mothers trying to balance careers with childcare and recent graduates unable to find full-time jobs in the economic climate of the time. WALAP requested that the Board remove the restrictions on part-time work.

The organization quickly expanded its interest from part-time schedules to questioning “the standard work schedule.” The result was “The Case for Flexible Work Schedules,” published in Architectural Forum.12 In it, the authors argued that for women to succeed in architecture, offices needed to change the culture that equated commitment with long work hours. Women were still the primary caregivers to children, and the authors thought that women needed flexibility to stay in the profession. They also believed that flexible schedules would help both female and male employees in reaching a better balance between their work and personal lives. Further, they argued that the projects would benefit from architects having more time for outside pursuits and thus a broader perspective. WALAP had disbanded by 1975, but it left an impact with the projects it took on in the education sphere and in combatting women architecture professionals’ isolation in the industry.

1 Meeting notes of women in environmental design group, November 11, 18, December 2, 9, 1971, held at Dolores Hayden’s home in Cambridge, MA, Ellen Perry Berkeley personal papers.

2 WALAP open meeting March 4, 1972, flyer, Berkeley personal papers.

Although there is no record of who attended the meetings in 1971, Ann Bernstein, Nancy Cynamon, Doris Cole, Zibby (Elizabeth) Ericson, Joan Goody, Shelly Hampden-Turner, Sally Harkness, Dolores Hayden, Margo Jones, Lisa Jorgenson, Olga Kahn, Isabel King, Megan Lawrence, Mary Gene Myer, Anne O’Rihilly, Bici Pettit, Vera Pratt, and Claudia Skylar were all listed as the organizers of the March 4th meeting.

3 Francine Achbar, “Women’s Group to Deal a ‘WALAP’ for Professional Equality,” Sunday Herald Traveler, Section 2, 24 (copy in Berkeley personal papers).

4 The WEAL/NOW complaint was aimed generally at universities for their discriminatory hiring policies, particularly the dearth of female faculty members. WALAP, “An Open Letter to Members of the Harvard Graduate School of Design,” June 15, 1972, copy in Berkeley personal papers.

5 Tova M. Solo, letter to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, March 20, 1972, copy in Berkeley personal papers.

6 MIT Department of Architecture Education Council minutes, April 25, 1972, Berkeley personal papers.

7 Derek C. Bok, letter to Maurice D. Kilbridge, December 27, 1971, copy in Berkeley personal papers.

8 Megan Lawrence, letter to Ellen Perry Berkeley, no date (c. May 1972), Berkeley personal papers.

9 WALAP, letter to Maurice D. Kilbridge, February 4, 1972, copy in Berkeley personal papers.

10 WALAP, “An Open Letter.”

11 Shelley Hampden-Turner, J. Lisa Jorgenson, and Jane Weinzapfel, on behalf of WALAP, letter to the Board of Registration of Architects, April 24, 1972, photocopy in Berkeley’s personal papers.

12 WALAP, “The Case for Flexible Work Schedules,” Architectural Forum 137 no. 2 (1972): 53, 66-67.

The New Alchemy Institute

Meredith Gaglio

The New Alchemy Institute was an environmentalist organization, established in 1970 by Nancy Jack Todd, John Todd, and William McLarney to develop prototypical ecological technologies that would promote self-sufficiency and sustainability. John Todd and McLarney were marine biologists alarmed at the ecological and social impact of contemporary pollution on the ecosystems they researched. Their Institute, with outlets in Cape Cod, Prince Edward Island, and Costa Rica, pursued what John Todd referred to as both “new alchemy” and the less mystical “biotechnology,” creating research centers as sites for scientifically-supported experimentation into economically and environmentally sustainable systems that could be broadly implemented.

For John Todd, alchemy was a fitting analogy for the work he and his partners undertook. The New Alchemists believed that a restoration of environmental well-being required comprehensive, fundamental changes in the current societal structure, and their small-scale experiments in alternative energy production, organic agriculture, aquaculture, and self-sufficient building were alchemical phases in an ultimate global transmutation. Such an approach reversed the technocratic program of mainstream society, which favored provisional, low-cost substitutions and ever-changing technological “fixes” in response to ecological difficulties. The New Alchemy Institute (NAI) replaced such unsustainable practices with small-scale, simple, and nonviolent “appropriate” technologies (AT) espoused by British economist E. F. Schumacher in his seminal book, Small is Beautiful (1972).

The New Alchemy Institute East (NAE), the Alchemists’ twelve-acre farm in Woods Hole, MA, quickly became the experimental epicenter of the organization, the site upon which the researchers would execute their first bioshelter designs, develop self-sustaining aquaculture systems, and test biodynamic, holistic agricultural theories. From New Alchemy East, the contingent would also publish articles, newsletters, and the Journal of the New Alchemists; apply for countless grants; and host AT icons, journalists, and curious passersby.

A sixteen-acre Costa Rica-based center, the New Alchemy Institute South America (NAISA), situated in the coastal Limón province, was established by McLarney and fellow Alchemist, Susan Ervin, in 1975. During its first two years, NAISA experienced more setbacks than victories as its staff adjusted to the new physical and social ecologies of the region. However, by 1977 they had resolved such issues: together they had erected a house, successfully cultivated traditional produce, and established fruitful relationships with their neighbors. The Costa Rican center prospered and still exists today, as the Asociación ANAI.

Concurrent with its pioneering research in Costa Rica, the NAI embarked upon an alternate alchemical endeavor on Prince Edward Island, Canada. In 1974, the Canadian Ministry of Urban Affairs invited the Institute to submit a proposal for a biotechnological demonstration project to be built the following year as part of the country’s Urban Demonstration United Nations Human Settlement Program. A departure from the sprawling campuses of the Cape Cod and Costa Rica farms, the Prince Edward Island outpost was a single, fully integrated unit: a self-sufficient “world in miniature” that wove together renewable energy systems, polycultural facilities, and residential space.1 Similar to Noah’s Ark, the “PEI Ark” internalized organic structures as a response to a potentially devastating ecological threat, but conversely, the NAI’s proposal offered a symbiotic alternative to global collapse. If reproduced throughout the northern hemisphere in place of inefficient suburban housing, the New Alchemists theorized, this domestic bioshelter could check further environmental decline and even reverse some of the social, economic, and ecological crises facing Western nations. The demonstration model served as a beacon for a wiser future, yet its complexity and high cost rendered it an inappropriate solution for most of the population. Thus, the PEI Ark, which was closed and sold by the Canadian government in 1981, remained the only of its kind and the last residential bioshelter attempted by the Institute.

Following the frenetic productivity of the early to mid-1970s—during which the NAI successfully founded three distinct compounds, created multiple bioshelters, and developed aquacultural facilities and biodynamic outdoor gardens—the organization began to prioritize the maintenance and evaluation of completed and ongoing ventures over new construction in 1977. From a scientific perspective, the Institute had a methodological imperative to collect and analyze data related to these various projects, and so it adapted its work toward the tacit mandate. After almost nine years of relentless effort, such concrete validation relieved, to a certain degree, the formative urgency of New Alchemy; having met its initial objectives, the collaborative devoted itself to monitoring its impressive portfolio of built work.

From late 1976 onward, many members of NAI East redirected their energy to those less appraisable sorts of appropriate technologies such as public education and environmental activism. Educating the public on the benefits of clean, safe solar and wind energy systems was crucial to effect national or even global change, and inspiring antinuclear sentiment would prove equally significant. In the following years the Alchemists trained in community organization and established summer school education programs for elementary school-aged children, among many other efforts.

In the early 1980s, John Todd departed as the executive director of the Institute, and McLarney began to spend an increasing amount of time at NAISA, disconnected from New Alchemy East. Without the founding biologists, the Woods Hole cohort began to focus almost entirely on educational outreach. By concentrating solely on education, the Eastern New Alchemists abandoned many of the foundational principles of the Institute: the objectives of biotechnology disappeared from their work; the communal-libertarian philosophy essential to the NAI’s early success became irrelevant; the mystical component of the alchemical project was discarded; and scientific experimentation ceased for the most part. Untethered from these bedrocks and from its sister projects in Costa Rica and Prince Edward Island, the Eastern outpost was the NAI in name only.

Over the course of two decades, the NAI’s seminal microcosmic adventure transformed into a more conservative project. The remaining Alchemists dissolved the Institute in 1991, creating a new nonprofit organization, The Green Center, on the Cape Cod site. This new foundation maintained New Alchemy’s original mission statement—to “restore the land, protect the seas, and inform the Earth’s stewards”—but reframed its role in meeting those objectives, emphasizing the informational component of the slogan as the primary method by which the Center might accomplish environmental restoration and protection.

1 J. Todd, “A World in Miniature,” The Journal of the New Alchemists 3 (1976): 54.

Blue Marble / Blue Urbanism: SCR Jamaica Bay Resiliency Plan

Catherine Seavitt

CSN_JB_Fig0a_BlueMarble.jpg

The rapid emergence of the environmental movement of the 1970s was facilitated by the extensive dissemination of the Blue Marble. This image of the whole earth as seen from space, captured by the Apollo 17 spacecraft on December 7, 1972, allowed us to perceive our planet as a complete and total entity. Stuart Brandt’s Whole Earth Catalog reproduced several images of the globe from space on its covers, beginning with the first color photo of the Earth taken in 1967 by the ATS-3 satellite on its first edition. The catalog’s pages were packed with the countercultural tools and resources of the environmentalist hippie DIY ethic and aesthetic. With the recent emergence of the Anthropocene and its parallel theorization, this whole-earth imagery has returned again—with an emphasis on the impact that humans have had on the globe, transforming even its geological strata through our extractive petrochemical practices and carbon emissions. My recent design research for Structures of Coastal Resilience (SCR) similarly attempts to visualize water in the urban environment as an interconnected system while developing innovative and novel tools for our whole earth, supporting the resiliency and health of both social and environmental systems.

The Blue Marble also showed that the vast majority of the earth’s surface is water—the blue was pervasive across its spherical surface. This visual identification of the ocean and its importance to humans, particularly at the shorelines where the ecologies of land and water intermingled, was evoked decades earlier through the visceral work of three female scientists who helped launch the then-nascent environmental movement: Rachel Carson, Marie Tharp, and Sylvia Earle. Marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson wrote her earliest published work, the prescient “Undersea,” in 1935 for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. It was later published in the September 1937 issue of the Atlantic Monthly (now known as The Atlantic). Likely influenced by Thomas Beebe’s 1934 notes taken during his famed half-mile bathysphere descents into the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda, Carson’s short essay on the beauty of unseen life below the surface of the ocean both captured the imagination and elevated the importance of oceanic ecologies. Her later books, particularly The Sea Around Us (1951) and The Edge of the Sea (1955), celebrated the teeming life at the estuarine shoreline, including the intertidal bays that served as the habitat of the adaptive and resilient marsh grass, Spartina alterniflora. Marie Tharp, geologist and oceanographic cartographer, worked from 1952 through 1977 at Columbia University’s Lamont Geological Laboratory, creating a scientific contour map of the ocean’s floor. The map revealed the presence of the mid-Atlantic ridge, proving the then-controversial theory of continental drift. Like the Blue Marble revealing the whole earth, Tharp’s oceanographic map revealed the unseen at the bottom of the ocean. The marine biologist Sylvia Earle continued to explore the deep ocean—in the early 1970s she led the first all-female research team of aquanauts at the submersible Tektite II underwater laboratory located offshore the U.S. Virgin Islands. These three earth scientists created a groundswell for future work and research—indeed, they invited others to jump into the water.

My Jamaica Bay research group at the City College of New York, one of four academic teams participating in the SCR initiative, further investigated the fluid coastal margins where water meets the land. Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation in partnership with the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) as part of a post-Hurricane Sandy investigation of the social, environmental, and infrastructural vulnerabilities revealed by the 2012 superstorm, we attempted to reconsider the “structures” of flood protection and resiliency as inclusive of natural and nature-based systems. One of the aspects of our research has been the connection of environmental restoration, storm risk reduction, and ecological health—including that of human and nonhuman species in the urban environment. We posit that the resilient success of Jamaica Bay’s future is dependent upon improving its ecological health and in supporting robust and novel techniques of marsh grass restoration at its fast-disappearing back bay wetland islands and coastal margins. An improved exchange of water and sediment from ocean to bay will lead to both enhanced water quality and a more robust wetland ecosystem, providing multiple benefits including improved species biodiversity, wave attenuation, wind fetch reduction, coastal erosion protection, and carbon capture. Our City College design team—Kjirsten Alexander, Danae Alessi, Eli Sands, and I—has been fortunate to collaborate with yet another cadre of female scientists investigating the function and importance of wetlands—Lisa Baron, biologist and USACE New York District project manager of the Jamaica Bay marsh island restoration projects; Ellen Hartig and Marit Larson, ecologists at New York City Parks’ Wetlands and Riparian Restoration Unit; Patti Rafferty, coastal ecologist at the National Park Service’s Gateway National Recreation Area; and Jane McKee Smith and Mary Cialone, research hydraulic engineers at the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory of the USACE Engineer Research and Development Center.

Long the dumping ground of New York City—the destination of waste, dead horses, contaminated dredged materials, and even poor and marginalized populations in its myriad lowland public housing developments—Jamaica Bay and the Rockaway Peninsula offer an opportunity to recast this urban embayment as a functioning ecological foreground to the city. Today, the vast scale and large urban population of the bay may be embraced as an asset for exploring the development of nature-based features as viable coastal storm risk reduction techniques as well as engaging a new generation of environmental stewards. Our proposal consists of strategic design recommendations for the narrow Rockaway Peninsula, the central marsh islands, and back-bay communities. Though ostensibly environmental in nature, these recommendations for improving the health of the bay have social and political implications as well. A more robust and resilient bay will empower the 2.8 million residents living within the Jamaica Bay watershed, transforming a vulnerable population into a force for environmental equity and improved public health.

The SCR Jamaica Bay resiliency plan includes three strategies developed through field research and modeling, both physical and digital. The first strategy addresses water quality and the reduction of back-bay flooding via a series of overwash plains, tidal inlets, and flushing tunnels at the Rockaway Peninsula and Floyd Bennett Field. The second strategy develops enhanced verges at Robert Moses’ Belt Parkway, elevating coastal edges at vulnerable back-bay communities and managing flood risk with a layered system of marsh terraces, berms, and sunken attenuation forests. The third strategy develops novel techniques of bay nourishment and marsh island restoration by maximizing the efficacy of minimal quantities of dredged material. By harnessing the natural forces of tide and current and constructing elevated linear terraces for sediment trapping at the marsh perimeter with our novel technique of the atoll terrace/island motor, the marsh islands can migrate upward with rising sea levels. A resilient marsh ecosystem provides coastal storm risk management services to adjacent communities through wind and wave attenuation, delivering maximum immediate benefits for both vulnerable communities and the disappearing salt marsh islands. Here, risk reduction is not equated with flood control achieved through expensive beach nourishment, high seawalls, and surge barriers. Rather, the proposal opens the bay to natural systems through managed intertidal flooding and improved sediment delivery—a new aqueous and oceanic blue urbanism. By merging the “whole earth” approach to the interconnected bay-to-ocean aquatics of the urban watershed with new and novel restoration techniques inspired by the tools and resources of the Whole Earth Catalog, our Jamaica Bay proposal for SCR seeks to support both social resiliency and environmental equity in the urban realm.


Catherine Seavitt Nordenson, ASLA, AIA is an associate professor of landscape architecture at the City College of New York. Her research explores adaptation to climate change in urban environments and the novel transformation of landscape restoration practices. She is also interested in the intersection of political power, environmental activism, and public health, particularly as seen through the design of public space and policy.