Feminist Practices

Lori Brown

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How might feminist approaches impact our understanding of and relationship to the built environment? If feminism, as feminist activist bell hooks posits, “is defined in such a way [to] call attention to the diversity of women’s social and political reality, . . . [compelling us] to examine systems of domination and our role in their maintenance and perpetuation,” we as designers must question normative design relations and their expected outcomes.

First conceived as a traveling exhibition and series of public talks, Feminist Practices: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Women in Architecture focuses on various forms of architectural investigations employing a range of feminist methods of design research and practice by women designers, architects, and architectural historians. The primary mission of the project is to raise awareness among those both within and outside the profession about ways feminist methodologies impact design and our relationship to the built environment.

There were two broad goals in writing this book. The first and most important goal was to showcase more women in the discipline of architecture whose creative practices work at a variety of scales and engage a range of issues through feminist methodology. Women included were emerging in the field as a way to increase exposure of women architects and designers. The second goal was to expand the way we think about architectural creative practice. Architecture is not only about buildings. Designing installations; working in communities doing small-scale design build projects; giving agency and voice to underrepresented groups; researching and writing on pertinent social, political, and economic concerns affecting spatial relationships; and urban strategic planning are all part of the expansion of creative design practices.

Space Unveiled

Carla Jackson Bell

Space Unveiled edited by Carla Jackson Bell, The American Institute or Architects Archives, Washington, DC, 2015

Space Unveiled edited by Carla Jackson Bell, The American Institute or Architects Archives, Washington, DC, 2015

Space Unveiled: Invisible Cultures in the Design Studio is an edited collection that reveals invisible cultures and pedagogical approaches from twenty-four practicing architects and educators in architecture studios in the United States. 

Since the early 1800s, African Americans have designed signature buildings; however, in the mainstream marketplace, African American architects, especially women, have remained “invisible” in architecture history, theory, and practice. As the result of current teaching models, African American architects tend to work on the technical side of building rather than in the design studio. Thus, it is vital to understand the centrality of culture, gender, space, and knowledge that is brought into view in design studios.

Space Unveiled offers a significant contribution to the study of architecture education. Architecture education needs to emphasize an inclusive cultural perspective, but research shows that, in the case of American architecture education, it does not because part of the culture is “invisible.” Space Unveiled focuses on cognitive apprenticeship approaches (CAAs) from architecture educators to improve and align architecture curricula content to encourage more participation and to employ CAAs, which assume the near-continuous presence of an expert who works alongside students to tackle expert challenges, in their design studios. 

Space Unveiled examines teaching approaches in the field and probes into critical challenges in architecture education that contribute to the lack of diversity among licensed architects. Further, Space Unveiled serves as a basis for pedagogical approaches that are hidden under a veil of CAAs in architecture curricula content. Finally, this book reproduces the voices of students and a wide range of diverse perspectives from professional architects and educators who have experienced and taught cultural and pedagogical approaches that are underutilized in modern American education.

African American Studies Minor at Tuskeegee

Carla Jackson Bell

The Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Science in conjunction with the department of History at Tuskegee University was awarded a grant from the National Education of Humanities in 2018 to develop humanities curricula—architecture, education, history, and philosophy—for a first–ever interdisciplinary minor in African American studies with a concentration in the Tuskegee Architects and the History of the Built Environment in the South. The minor will explore ways of thinking, researching, and writing about the diverse experiences of African Americans.

The new minor seeks to extend African American history and liberal arts formally into the architecture curriculum through new humanities offerings, and in so doing, provide a focused historical perspective for students’ current educational and professional trajectories. The minor will be discipline-specific to architecture and integrate a humanities approach into the professional training of architects and builders. Unlike many historical courses of study, this minor goes beyond documenting educational inequities and offers an alternative curriculum that will advance diverse issues and inclusiveness in architecture and humanities education.  

In order to make an interdisciplinary connection between African American studies and the architecture curriculum, a collaboration will take place in the summer of 2018 between visiting scholars with critical research projects, national guest speakers, and an HBCU faculty cohort. After this one-week workshop, participants will unveil a curricular model that is vital to understanding and appreciating the philosophical roots of African American architecture education, history, and culture for students in any major. The product of the workshop will be three new architecture course syllabi for classes beginning fall 2018. This minor will serve as a model for other HBCUs with schools of architecture and will unveil how to integrate the humanities into other professional disciplines as well as stimulate the revision of existing humanities courses to bridge humanities studies with professional schools. 

Interval Projects

Benedict Clouette & Marlisa Wise

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Architecture has perhaps been too magnetized toward a future-to-come—when now is the only time we have.

Now could be a time for architects to rethink the structures we build that support our own engagement with social, political, and ecological realities. How do the ways that we practice design within the profession and academy affect the buildings, landscapes, and cities that architects produce? We explore these questions in our own practice by working through two separate but affiliated entities: a nonprofit design advocacy collaborative—Interval Projects—and a for-profit design company—Interval Office. We are now in conversations with a group of friends to transition Interval Office into a worker-owned cooperative business in order to bring democratic governance and equitably shared profits into the traditionally hierarchical design firm model. We see this as an opportunity to work on the structures by which inequalities are reproduced in the field by offering a radically horizontal, anti-oppressive model of design practice.

Partisan Communities

For a long time, we hesitated to use the word “community” in our work, since it is so often abused and devalued by being conflated with an idea of abstract, universal good. Communities—and cities—are defined by contestation, not by homogeneity. In our work, we want to pick sides and support partisan communities, rather than claiming the position of design in the “public interest” or for “public good.”

Our design for the Silver Bow Creek Headwaters Park in Butte, Montana, is a master planning project commissioned by the Restore Our Creek Coalition, an all-volunteer environmental justice organization. The site is located at the headwaters of a watershed—the largest Superfund site in America—where twentieth-century smelting operations contaminated a twenty-six-mile-long portion of the watershed and left the groundwater unfit for human consumption. It is a highly visible, highly contaminated public space in the heart of downtown Butte that has been the site of passionate environmental organizing for decades. We brought together public feedback and expert technical input with our own research and design process to produce a master plan for the restoration of the landscape and the provisioning of a public park and recreation area. We temporarily relocated our small office to Butte during the design process, working in donated office space, attending community meetings and events, facilitating design workshops, and living in the house of a coalition member. The resulting master plan has been successful in advancing the Superfund negotiation process, as the parties announced an agreement in principle this January after decades of stalled discussions and closed-door meetings. The EPA regional administrator began his public announcement by holding up a copy of the Silver Bow Creek Headwaters Park project book, assuring the community that the agreement was built around their desires as articulated through the Headwaters Park master plan. The EPA has set 2024 as the target date for the cleanup, and plans made public in February will allow treated water from a nearby source to flow into the restored Silver Bow Creek.

Spaces Beyond Property

An important consideration for our work as architects and urbanists is how ownership structures affect access, control, and autonomy in the buildings and landscapes that we design.

Our design for the Ranch on Rails in Long Island City, Queens, is a landscape project located on the site of the Montauk Cutoff, a decommissioned railroad spur owned by the MTA where a group of guerrilla gardeners have built a thriving community garden. In late 2015, the MTA put out a call requesting ideas for the use of the site, and the gardeners (Smiling Hogshead Ranch) pulled together a coalition of local businesses, nonprofits, community organizations, and area residents to envision a use for the site that would incorporate their garden. We were commissioned by this group, the Cutoff Coalition, and collaborated with the community land access advocacy group 596 Acres to visualize the coalition’s plans for the site. We synthesized the input from multiple working groups into a cohesive master plan for a self-powered urban farm and resiliency lab, featuring green infrastructure, rainwater catchment, communal spaces, educational gardens, clean energy generation, and an amphitheater. The proposal brings together nature, community, and industry on a postindustrial site, and encourages common stewardship of open space and the preservation of a rare oasis of communal space in New York City. The Ranch on Rails design allowed the gardeners to prevail over real estate interests in the process initiated by the MTA. It also forms a key element of the recently released Newtown Creek Revitalization Plan. The Coalition is currently negotiating land access and fundraising strategies in order to implement the full design, and in the meantime they are planning their upcoming season of “cultivating the commons,” growing vegetables and community together.

Collective Autonomy

Design for collective autonomy considers how communities live and work together and assert the right to make decisions about the spaces they occupy. Rather than seeing autonomy and collectivity as opposed, such that group structures and individual freedoms have to reach some accommodation, we see collectivity as creating the shared power necessary for autonomy.

Our schematic design for Flux Factory in Queens aims to preserve and expand their nonprofit art space and residency program by renovating their existing facilities and expanding vertically. The design takes a playful approach to the existing complexity of two adjacent buildings connected via their party walls, where the varying heights of floor plates creates a complex industrial vernacular raumplan. The design emphasizes programmatic porosity, maximizes allowable square footage, and takes advantage of the mixed-use zoning district to create both residential and commercial uses within the building. Courtyards bring light and air deep into the plan while creating shared outdoor spaces for both informal gathering and public exhibitions. Cross-programming and unusual adjacencies are essential to the collaborative ethos of the institution, and the design preserves and expands upon these patterns of collective use.

When architects work with cultural institutions as clients, we must consider how artists are valued and compensated by those institutions and how the institutions are positioned within a larger cultural economy and processes of displacement. In order to preserve community spaces such as Flux Factory for long-term affordability, we volunteer with the New York City Real Estate Investment Cooperative (NYCREIC), which utilizes crowd-investing to secure permanently affordable commercial spaces and create community land trusts in New York City. Flux Factory is now in dialogue with the NYCREIC to explore how crowd-investing could enable the purchase of their building and the creation of a community land trust on the site, fully removing the property from the speculative real estate market and thus ensuring permanent affordability and creative freedom.

Blue Marble / Blue Urbanism: SCR Jamaica Bay Resiliency Plan

Catherine Seavitt


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.

Plaza Adelante: An Immigrant Resource Center

Sandra I. Vivanco

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Emblematic of the commerce and entertainment activity that is the heart and soul of the Latino neighborhood of San Francisco, a jewel-toned building stands proud and calm in harsh distinction to the uproar of Mission and Twentieth streets. Due to its unlikely location in what has become the hottest neighborhood in the most expensive city in the United States, this immigrant resource center is at once meeting place, refuge, and locus of resistance.

On a winter afternoon not long ago, a Nicaraguan couple recently evicted from their apartment commiserated with a single mother looking to place her infant in affordable childcare because she is reentering full-time employment. Nearby, a Venezuelan refugee sought legal advice while a small business entrepreneurship class took place in the adjacent classroom. In our current political climate, these all-too-common scenarios represent a significant challenge for both immigrants and laborers in the Bay Area.

The Client

The project was developed by Mission Economic Development Association (MEDA), a community-based organization with a mission to strengthen low- and moderate-income Latino families by promoting economic equity and social justice through asset building and community development. MEDA envisions generations of Latino families that have sufficient assets to thrive; that are rooted in vibrant, diverse, and forward-thinking communities; and that are actively engaged in the civic and political life of their neighborhoods and the institutions that affect their lives.

For years, MEDA has prioritized service integration across the agency as it increases the success rate of their clients by coordinating all of the programs they access. In addition, financial capability is fully integrated into all of their services, as research has shown that clients are three times more likely to improve their credit, savings, income, or debt if they participate in multiple asset development services. Every family at MEDA receives financial coaching and screening for public benefits while accessing multiple services within the agency.

While promoting economic empowerment for the Latino immigrant population, MEDA provides a host of services to reach financial stability ranging from housing assistance to small business incubators and from digital literacy to job training. Sharing the facilities are many other nonprofit organizations promoting community real estate, housing opportunities, financial capability, free tax preparation, business development, community loan funds, workforce development, and opportunities to bridge the technology and digital divide.

The Project

Plaza Adelante consolidates multiple nonprofit organizations, previously dispersed in different areas of San Francisco, into a single location anchored in the bustling heart of the Mission District. Inspired by the high level of interaction between these organizations, A+D decided to explore new spatial paradigms to promote and foster further connections and future interactions.

The project relied on funding that was only available between 2008–10, and as a result the entire project team worked tirelessly to obtain government approvals and complete construction on an unrelenting schedule that went from ideation to building in a fraction of the time a project of this complexity would have usually taken.

We transformed an existing family-owned, three-story furniture store into a community center by overlapping multifunctional spaces to merge the collective with the semipublic areas of the individual organizations headquartered there. We cut deep light wells and choreographed a clear but complex circulation system that celebrated chance encounters and encouraged public interaction by using transparency. A couple of years later, in collaboration with the CCA BuildLab students, we designed and built nine different furniture-scale architectural interventions that addressed the boundaries between the diverse services offered at Plaza Adelante while actively bringing the vibrancy of the street into the bowels of our project.

We make more with less. We exposed all of the possible social spaces to the common circulation and opened class and conference rooms by glazing them so that from every floor one is aware of the activities taking place in the adjacent space. We hoped to build community by allowing each individual to feel part of the whole and encouraging interaction within strangers.

We work simultaneously at the scale of the city and the body. We created a generous entry space, the Paseo, as a third kind of space that is both intimate and communal. Intuitive and synthetic, the scissoring canopies of the café mediated between the silence of offices, classrooms, and the raucous street activity.

We discover innovation through analyzing complexity. At Plaza Adelante, we worked simultaneously at many levels beyond the traditional roles of artist and architect—we helped fundraise, we advocated for MEDA’s clients, we brokered relationships between government and nonprofit agencies, we design-built, and we shaped cultural memory into collective space.

The Architect

Characterized by the investigation of cultural and technological aspects of modern city inhabitation, our practice is solidly rooted in the industry of construction and design and within the academic dialogue of architecture. Such a balance affords the professional ventures of the firm to tap the unfettered ideas of academia. Processing these recent contemporary developments in architecture with a skillful eye for construction and affordability promotes innovation and has repeatedly drawn attention and accolades to our work.

Our studio has a long, successful history of design collaborations. An architectural project is strengthened when complimentary talents, experience, and approaches are consolidated into one single effort—to design and build an innovative, environmentally conscious building in direct response to its urban and social context. Our design practice brings together four different scales of architectural interest: culturally diverse architectural history, urban and landscape design, interior architecture, and environmentally aware component fabrication.

The variety of roles we are prepared to undertake allows us to intervene meaningfully in the public realm. With multiple operations of urban acupuncture, we energize the urban realm and in the process highlight formerly invisible, underserved communities. These conditions frame our obsession with the place the individual occupies in the city which by definition is a negotiated realm.

We are new but have a long memory.

We are local but nonnative.

We are small but think BIG.

Reimagining Randolph: Randolph Career Tech Center

Imani Day, Gensler

Randolph Career Tech Center, Detroit, 2017. Courtesy Imani Day, Gensler.

Randolph Career Tech Center, Detroit, 2017. Courtesy Imani Day, Gensler.

Detroit public schools have been troubled for some time. Between massive depopulation, bankruptcy, and controversial policy about school choice, the degeneration of the city’s educational system was all but inevitable. Each of these challenges compounded the decline in state and federal funding for public school education. As the city of Detroit begins the long journey to resolve these complex concerns, instigative design and physical repair can be powerful tools to address the system’s problems. However, it will take a truly diverse team of activists to shift negative attitudes toward traditional public school environments.

Detroit is a city founded on the spirit of entrepreneurship and cultural innovation. From an automobile industry that mobilized the world to the birth of Motown and Techno, Detroit’s innovations have historically set cultural metronomes for people all over the world. We are now witnessing that innovation fuel the restructuring of the antiquated public school system. New educational perspectives and methodologies seek to teach young, bright students the value of their ideas, not only to their city, but also to the world.

Randolph Career Tech Center is a public vocational school that suffered for years from the economic downturn. It was built in the 1980s as a technology career program, but when the school failed to attract the number of students it needed to be viable, a traditional high school component was added in hopes of attracting more students. In 2016, enrollment hit a low of 167 (with 92 traditional high school students) in a facility built to serve 600 students. The facility was in desperate need of attention and repair, and the various curricula were not nearly as robust as they needed to be.

In late 2017, with revamped programs in plumbing and pipefitting, masonry, carpentry, HVAC, electrical, marketing, agricultural science and environmental technology, and computer-aided design, enrollment is at an all-time high of 310 students. That number will likely double as the school adds an adult night school for community members to learn skilled trades. In a city where nearly 40 percent of the population lives under the poverty line, these core skills are critical to empowering workers to earn livable wages, providing incomes high enough to lift families securely out of poverty, and put Detroit on the path to an educational comeback.

Fiscal pressures and a low population caused Detroit to hit a construction low in the ’90s and the first decade of the twenty-first century. Many architects, skilled contractors, and builders left the city (and the industry) in search of steady work. Recently, however, construction has increased, resulting in a gap between the supply and demand of skilled labor. Therefore, it is imperative that the city strengthen its career and technical education centers to replenish the supply of skilled workers to the construction unions and companies.

The city’s workforce development team has invested in the facilities and programs that will train this next generation of trade professionals. In the fall of 2016, Gensler began its partnership with Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation (DESC), DTE Energy, and Barton Malow to reimagine the future of vocational education in Detroit. Careers in construction are some of the most lucrative for young people in Detroit; many trained professionals go on to start their own companies.

The redesign of Randolph inspires pride within the youth of the city and creates a learning environment to stimulate and motivate this entrepreneurial spirit. The changes incorporate evidence showing that physical environments in which students learn can either optimize or derail their odds of academic achievement and lifelong success. Through a complete rebranding of school graphics to reflect a technical focus, Randolph will communicate itself as a credible educational resource in the construction community. In an effort to increase school pride and enrollment, vibrant environmental graphics were introduced in the central communal areas to reinforce the raised levels of expectation and encouragement for students to not only graduate, but to continue their careers through the program’s job placement initiatives and apprenticeships. In each room, specific trade logos adjacent to the entry indicate individual programs, their respective importance, and the school’s pride in the city’s revitalized built environment.

As the school continues to grow, the need for a central hub where the entire student body can assemble is increasingly apparent. By combining two classrooms, the “heart” of the school functions as an open, multi-purpose room for lunch periods, assemblies, and workshops. Decades ago, students painted murals of piping and tools around the school to convey the technical focus; today, Gensler reveals the technical nature of the trades in a more literal sense. By exposing ductwork and conduits in the corridors and entryways, students see their education directly reflected in their learning spaces. New lighting strategies brighten the space and highlight the newly exposed systems and branding. Local metal workers, graphic designers, and community members used raw materials and equipment to embody the technical focus. Licensed contractors and volunteer union workers, many of whom were Randolph graduates, helped to actualize the vision for the future of the school.

Randolph’s full revitalization was realized through $10,000,000 in raised funds and in-kind donations of time, design, labor, and materials. Several companies and aligned groups have come together to maximize the school’s full potential. Design is a mode of problem solving; in the case of Randolph, disrepair has played a significant role in fostering creativity and enthusiasm around a learning space. Through the intentional collaboration of policy, design, and advocacy, we can utilize the public school systems to support and empower Detroit’s next generation of leaders.

Imani Day is a designer with Gensler and an adjunct professor of design at the University of Detroit Mercy. She is also an editorial fellow with the Avery Review. Passionate about educational spaces and cultural work, Day moved to Detroit in 2015 to focus on community-oriented design projects.

Equity by Design: The Evolution of a Movement

Rosa Sheng, AIA & Annelise Pitts, AIA

Findings from the AIA San Francisco’s Equity by Design (AIASF’s EQxD) committee  2016 Equity in Architecture Survey . Design by Atelier Cho Thompson. Courtesy AIA San Francisco Equity by Design Committee.

Findings from the AIA San Francisco’s Equity by Design (AIASF’s EQxD) committee 2016 Equity in Architecture Survey. Design by Atelier Cho Thompson. Courtesy AIA San Francisco Equity by Design Committee.

Why Equity Matters for Everyone

“Equity” and “equality” have long been used interchangeably, but the terms do not mean the same thing. While the focus of equality is framed with sameness being the end goal, equity may be defined as a state in which all people, regardless of their socioeconomic, racial, or ethnic grouping, have fair and just access to the resources and opportunities necessary to thrive. Beyond equity’s newer association with pluralism, it has long been connected to financial capital, as well as to collective ownership, vested interest, and a sense of value or self-worth.

Equity has strong potential as a new paradigm and social construct to succeed on multiple levels—equity in education, equitable practice in the workplace, and social equity in access to basic life resources, healthy and safe communities, and public space in our urban centers. The equity-focused value proposition at all these levels is rooted in transparency, education, collaboration, and trust.

The lack of equity in architectural practice and allied professions has made these fields prone to lose talent to other, more lucrative career paths due to multiple factors that challenge retention: long hours, low pay, lack of transparency for promotion, and work that is misaligned with professional goals. In order to have justice and equity in the built environment, the architecture, engineering, and construction design workforce needs not only diverse representation that reflects the rapidly changing demographics that we serve, but also diversity of thinking influenced by empathy and emotional and social intelligence. Often the public does not fully understand the value of what architects and allied professionals bring to the table in terms of the social impact of design that can inform equitable, just, and sustainable public and private spaces.

Origins: The Missing 32 Percent

In the United States, women represent slightly less than 50 percent of the students graduating from accredited architecture programs. The percentage of women who are American Institute of Architects members, licensed architects, and senior leaders varies between 15 to 18 percent of the total. While the exact percentages are in constant flux, the challenge of losing a large pool of architectural talent remains the constant. Statistics released by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, “Where are the women in Architecture,” coupled with the momentum behind the Denise Scott Brown Pritzker Prize Petition, The He for She campaign by the United Nations, Lean In by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and similar conversations about solidarity against gender inequity, catalyzed the conversation.

The Missing 32 Percent project resulted from an incubator event conceived and produced in 2011 by the AIA San Francisco (AIASF) Communications Committee. In turn, Ladies (and Gents) Who Lunch with Architect Barbie was inspired by a partnership between AIA National and Mattel on “Architect Barbie,” whose place on the toy manufacturer’s lineup was insured by Despina Stratigakos and her colleague, architect Kelly Hayes McAlonie. At the event, fellow practitioners Dr. Ila Berman; Cathy Simon, FAIA; Anne M. Torney, AIA; and EB Min, AIA, came together for a provocative panel discussion on the state of women’s participation in the profession, including the impact of “Architect Barbie”.

The popularity of that event fostered the first Missing 32 Percent Symposium on October 12, 2012. A broad range of speakers representing different career paths in the profession ranging from those working for large firms—such as Marianne O'Brien, AIA, and Caroline Kiernat, AIA—as well as sole practitioners and small firms including Anne Fougeron, FAIA, and Eliza Hart, AIA. Panels and breakout sessions highlighted statistics that detail the current leadership structure of architecture firms and discussion on the following: What defines leadership? Who are the leaders within your firms? Who wants to be a leader? And how can men and women work together to increase their value as architects and retain talent in the profession?

The conversation about women's roles in architectural practice coupled with overall challenges for equitable practice and professional satisfaction drove a call to action after the second symposium. The impetus came from the dire need in the profession to go beyond discussion and focus on tangible results to change workplace policy and culture. In July of 2013, less than a month following the second Missing 32 Percent Symposium, an AIASF committee was born from the Building Communication and Negotiation Skills to Fit Your Audience panel (Rosa Sheng, AIA; Saskia Dennis-van Dijl; Trudi Hummel, AIA; and Laurie Dreyer). The charge was to drive additional discussion, research, and publication of best practice guidelines to preserve the profession's best talent.

2014–15: From The Missing 32 Percent to Equity by Design

In early 2014, the group conducted its first national survey on equity in architecture and talent retention. The survey received 2,289 responses from across the United States. The Equity by Design committee hosted its third sold-out symposium, titled Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action! on October 18, 2014. In total, 250 attendees traveled from across the United States for the launch of key findings from the Equity in Architecture Survey. They participated in interactive breakout sessions in the three major knowledge areas: hiring and retention, growth and development, and meaning and influence. The group received overwhelming support from firm sponsorship, AIASF, and AIA National as well as positive press coverage including The Wall Street Journal, Architect Magazine, Architectural Record, and Contract Magazine.

In May 2015, during the AIA National Convention in Atlanta, the AIASF committee changed its name from The Missing 32 Percent to Equity by Design to better reflect the mission to address equitable practice for those still in the profession and to expand the outreach of the movement beyond gender. The group designed a half-day workshop as part of the preconvention program: WE310 Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action! Hackathon and Happy Hour to expand the awareness and discussion of challenges of talent retention in architecture. A video documenting the EQxD Hackathon by ARCHITECT Magazine highlights the positive reception of the event. The lessons have been captured and shared with a larger audience on this site. The full report of the Equity in Architecture Survey results was issued online on May 13 as a resource to the profession for further the conversation. Concurrently, on May 15, 2015, 4,117 delegates passed Equity in Architecture Resolution 15-1, authored by Rosa Sheng, AIA; Julia Donoho, AIA; and Francis Pitts, FAIA, and cosponsored by the AIASF and American Institute of Architects, California Council, in an overwhelming majority at the AIA National Convention Business Meeting.These events signify a major milestone for equity since the committee's inception. Outreach continued with presentations at TEDxPhiladelphia on June 11, 2015, KQED Forum, and several Keynote opportunities for the duration of 2015.

2016-17: Metrics, Meanings, and Matrices

In 2016, Equity by Design launched the second Equity in Architecture Survey in collaboration with the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. As the largest and most comprehensive study launched nationally to date on the topic of talent retention within architecture, the 2016 survey resulted in analysis of 8,664 completed responses to over 120 questions with the potential to impact architectural practice nationwide and establish a legacy dataset over subsequent years’ studies. Concurrently, the group hosted the fourth sold-out symposium of 250 national attendees with the theme Equity by Design: Metrics, Meaning & Matrices. As a result of strong sponsorship, the group was able to produce an outreach video and the Matrices exhibition, an installation that grew throughout the symposium to encompass highlights of the group’s mission and history as well as symposium highlights as part of the day’s interactive event.

Equity by Design continued to grow nationally and internationally in 2017, and various initiatives expanded upon the research findings with quarterly focus topics, survey metrics, and deep dives on the topics of pay equity, work-life navigation, and ways to affect advocacy through #EQxDActions.

Strategies for Change

In order to make progress beyond the original conversations, the core group (Rosa Sheng, Annelise Pitts, Lilian Asperin, Julia Mandell, and Saskia Dennis van Dijl) determined early on that evolving missions with ambitious goals were key in connecting equitable practice theory to impact design and built outcomes. Additionally, Equity by Design saw the need to build alliances with industry partnerships and expand the umbrella of conversation and participation to the built environment.

The group has adopted a three-pronged approach for implementing change, which includes the following:

  1. Develop knowledge resources through research data and other studies and reference articles to identify challenging topic areas and expose the factors and complexities of each topic area.

  2. Foster discussion, critique, and debate about the research results and various points of view on the challenges from each individual’s background within practice.

  3. Promote action through design thinking on policy and culture changes, skill-building workshops for developing leadership, and initiatives in problem solving.

2018 and Beyond    

In marking the five-year anniversary celebrating the group’s work, Equity by Design conducted its third national survey. A national group of volunteers will developed survey goals for capturing career experiences of architectural school graduates from accredited programs (regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, licensure status, or practice status.)

Building upon lessons learned in 2014 and 2016, the survey successfully collected over 14,000 responses from architectural graduates and professionals across the nation. Equity by Design intends to release the key findings of the 2018 survey at #EQxDV: Voices, Values, Vision on November 3, 2018 at the San Francisco Art Institute.



Sarah Rafson

Self-Examination Chair, Post-Fordist Hymen Factory. Feminist Architecture Collaborative, 2017. Courtesy f-architecture.

Self-Examination Chair, Post-Fordist Hymen Factory. Feminist Architecture Collaborative, 2017. Courtesy f-architecture.

The Feminist Architecture Collaborative—f-architecture for short—is a group of three New York-based women who are testing the boundaries of architecture, using the discipline’s tools as a means of resistance. The Trump presidency has given architects new urgency to their activism, but for decades, feminist architects in the United States have grappled with how to decouple the profession from its affiliation with wealth, power, and privilege while claiming space for the female body in the “man-made” environment.

Gabrielle Printz, Virginia Black, and Rosana Elkhatib, who operate from the New Museum’s NewINC collaborative workspace, have shaped, in their words, an “architectural research enterprise aimed at disentangling the contemporary spatial politics and technological appearances of bodies, intimately and globally.” The f in their name stands as much for feminism—which “has been a consistent pejorative within the discipline,” says Printz—as it does for fund, free, fuck, fake, fix, found, and a number of other f-words that show how this practice is anything but conventional.

Sarah Rafson: You’ve described the process of founding the Feminist Architecture Collaborative as “a strange project in itself.” So can you tell me more about that project? Where did it begin?

Gabrielle Printz: It started when we all fell in love with each other and each other’s work at Columbia [University, in New York]. In our last year in the Critical, Curatorial, and Conceptual Practices in Architecture Program we got so entangled in each other’s thesis projects. We could see a hundred ways to collaborate. I think that we just wanted to stay entangled in that same way after graduation. Every effort to make f-architecture is to actualize this thing that we weren’t totally sure was possible but was born out of our friendship.

Virginia Black: Yes, I was doing work in Ecuador, where I had started to borrow methodology from anthropology, and Gabby had a really strong background in looking at bodies and subjects as the most important part of architecture, and Rosana was organizing a performance of feminist and queer bodies in the streets of Amman. Our projects just started to weave together in interesting ways because we had similar interests.

Rosana Elkhatib: For me the moment of “we’re going to be collaborators for life” was when we were eating salad on the stairs of Butler Library and talking about artificial hymens. I was like, “Oh, this is happening."

How did hymens come up?

RE: So there are artificial hymens, often sold as suppositories, primarily to Middle Eastern markets by Chinese manufacturers on Alibaba.com. We just kept looking into it, because it reflects the fixation on and the commodification of the woman’s body. Or the idea that a woman’s worth relies on the hymen, and that a prosthetic is needed to secure that value.

So how are you intervening?

GP: We’re interested in this product because it serves a very particular function, but the function is never for the benefit or pleasure of the wearer, the woman who inserts it. We are interested in this prosthetic artifact taking on different forms and functions and public presentations, things that become separable from the body, but still register it. We made a cosmology of hymen artifacts, or hymen-adjacent artifacts, which exists as a 3D digital model. There are patent drawings of objects from late nineteenth century catamenial garments—early pads, rigged like harnesses, lingerie items that were predominantly designed by men, to make menstrual blood invisible or more pleasant to deal with. We also include different implements for sex that alter the body to enhance men’s pleasure, devices that amplify scrutiny of the body and intact hymen, all the way up to the evidence that is produced to testify to one’s virginity or proper bodily form. That would include things like the virginity covenant (a document signed by a girl and her father or some religious “father”) and medical reports that testify to one’s virginity.

A new phase of the research, which we’ve just finished a proposal for, examines the space of the clinic, where the body is resecured as an ideal entity and where the concept of virginity is reinforced within the social imaginary.

How does this translate into your project “Representative Bodies,” in Ecuador with the Achimamas of Amupakin?

VB: A lot of these projects involve trying to figure out how to represent women within spaces that are highly controlled and also to represent other ways of making space. Much of the research for “Representative Bodies” came out of the relationship that I had with women in the Ecuadorian Amazon I was working with for my thesis, research I had done about UN Habitat and indigenous rights. Because of Gabby’s experience in publications, and Rosana’s experience with performance, we started to broaden the forms of intervention that f-architecture would take on. So we made a publication, Representative Bodies: A Critical Agenda for Habitats Beyond the Urban. We wanted to have a guerrilla publication in the “urban library” at UN Habitat because in order to apply you had to show you were an established organization.

GP: We had space alongside governments, and the World Bank, and institutions like Columbia. It was just Feminist Architectural Collaborative, with a booth that in the end we didn’t even use because we couldn’t pay for it. So we ended up establishing a delegation of women, who were never invited in the first place, to speak on issues that directly impact them, and bringing them into the diplomatic space of UN Habitat.

Do you ever see this as creating a new space in feminism in architecture, too? Or would you rather not even be defined in those terms?

GP: I think architecture’s feminism today so resembles the kind of Sheryl Sandbergian corporate feminism that only benefits a certain demographic. What we’re doing is trying to make architecture’s feminism more intersectional and really apply it as a form of practice. As often as we assert ourselves as architects, even as people who aren’t practicing conventionally, we also endow so many others with the title ‘architect’ by examining their work in that way, and I think that is one important method of making architecture more expansive.

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).

The Accidental Advocate

Larry Paschall

Chamber and SBA MOU signing at the Business Equality Conference. Courtesy of Larry Paschall.

Chamber and SBA MOU signing at the Business Equality Conference. Courtesy of Larry Paschall.

Advocacy, much like charity, starts at home. Except that wasn’t the plan. I just wanted to be an architect.

Over twenty years of practice, I’ve worked for various firms. I’ve helped create a new practice with two other partners and eventually ventured out on my own. Somewhere along the way, perhaps as I stood in front of 100+ architects at American Institute of Architects (AIA) Minnesota in 2010, poised to give my first public presentation, I took my first step on the path toward advocacy.

And I didn’t even know it.

My partners and I joined the North Texas Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender (GLBT) Chamber of Commerce in 2010 with one goal in mind—visibility. We were a new firm in a poor economy. No one knew who we were, and we needed business. We would be the only architecture firm in the Chamber.

Soon after joining, I began to volunteer in the Chamber, and soon enough I had spent almost two years serving as the chairman of the Board of Directors. The more involved I became with the Chamber, the more connected I felt to the LGBTQ community. My sense of identity enhanced as a gay man.

At that point, I did not foresee the advances the LGBTQ community would experience, such as the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act (and by extension the validation of my own marriage).

Yet somehow, as the LGBTQ community continued to make strides toward equality, I was still the only architect in the Chamber. I simply began telling people, “I’m the only gay architect in Dallas.”

That statement wasn’t true. However, reality is often perception. And I knew my reality.

I was the only architect in the Chamber. The AIA did not have an LGBTQ-specific committee or group. And when I attended LGBTQ mixers at the annual AIA conferences, I was the only architect from Dallas, and sometimes the only architect from Texas.

Although I knew other gay architects, the more involved I became in the LGBTQ community, the stronger the idea that I was the only gay architect grew. I knew of others—I just never saw them.

At the same time, I was also busy developing my skills as a public speaker. Whether the idea was new marketing approaches for architecture firms or connecting public service to recognition of architects, I was traveling to various conferences and offering what I hoped were new ideas on how we approached the practice and business of architecture.

With each presentation, I shared personal aspects of my life to help tell the story and create a connection with my colleagues. I “came out” over and over as a gay architect. I was advocating without realizing it.

I left my firm in 2016. I could check the box that said “firm owner” and be proud of what we had accomplished. I was certainly not the same person, and I knew that there were other stops left to visit on my career path. There was more to do as an architect than just own a firm.

Perhaps driven by everything that had been happening in the LGBTQ community and by my time spent with the Chamber, I realized that the time had come to stop advocating as just an architect and business owner and start advocating within the profession from an LGBTQ perspective.

The AIA, after more than 100 years, has begun to recognize the diversity and inclusion issues within the organization and within the profession. Committees have been formed. Surveys done. Reports issued. Conferences held. Each one centering on two groups—women and minorities.

Yet when the 2016 Equity in Architecture survey asked respondents about their sexual orientation, the response was so low that the information was unable to be included in the final report. Other architecture organizations had no datasets available either. Had the question ever been asked before? Or are architects still reluctant to answer the question for fear of losing their jobs?

If the AIA wants to talk about diversity and inclusion, it must consider everyone. Diversity and inclusion cannot stop at just women and minorities. Poor survey responses do not mean that LGBTQ architects are not dealing with their own unique issues. We do not have another 100 years to wait for our turn.

As LGBTQ architects, if we want the AIA to start addressing our issues; if we want to be included in the discussions about diversity and inclusion; and if we want more than a cocktail reception at the annual conference; then LGBTQ architects must begin inserting ourselves into the conversation.

At the next conference of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) or at the next meeting about equity in architecture, someone needs to ask how the needs of LGBTQ architects are being addressed.

We must make sure we are counted, and we need to be doing this at local, state, and national levels. We must look at how we can create a presence for ourselves on social media.

I am not the only gay architect, as much as I may feel that way at times. If we do not want to stay the silent minority, then our voices must be heard. I insist we have a seat at the table.

More importantly, we must be ready to step up and answer when organizations call on us to do so. We cannot work to make ourselves part of the conversation and not be willing to step into a leadership role.

And should we find ourselves still sitting outside the AIA looking in, we should be prepared to create our own space. NOMA began in 1971 with twelve architects in Detroit.

Advocacy only takes one person—even if that person is the only gay architect in Dallas.

Larry Paschall, AIA, is CEO of Spotted Dog Architecture, specializing in residential architecture. Mr. Paschall is a fervent advocate for his industry and the communities in which he both lives and serves. He is currently pursuing advocacy opportunities within the architecture and LGBTQ communities.