Organization of Women Architects and Design Professionals

Jean Nilsson, Wendy Bertrand & Mui Ho


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,, 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.

Dimensions of Citizenship: US Pavilion, 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale

Niall Atkinson, Ann Lui & Mimi Zeiger with Iker Gil

1. US Pavilion 2018 Participants.jpg

In a time when the expansion of the United States–Mexico border wall looms over more nuanced discourses on national citizenship, Dimensions of Citizenship tasks architects and designers with an urgent request: to envision what it means to be a citizen today.

Questions of belonging, of who should be included and how, are central to the curatorial mission, which defines citizenship as a tangle of rights, responsibilities, and attachments linked to the built environment. The exhibition asks: How might architecture respond to, shape, and express rhizomatic and paradoxical conditions of citizenship, even as transnational flows of capital, digital technologies, and geopolitical transformations expand conventional notions of citizenship?

The US Pavilion explores citizenship across seven spatial scales: Citizen, Civitas, Region, Nation, Globe, Network, and Cosmos. These scales, telescoping from body to city to heavens, broadly position citizenship as a critical global topic.

Commissioned installations by architects, landscape architects, artists, and theorists investigate spaces of citizenship marked by histories of inequality and the violence imposed on people, nonhuman actors, and ecologies. These works aim to manifest the democratic ideals of inclusion against the grain of broader systems: new forms of sharing economy platforms, the legacies of the Underground Railroad, tenuous cross-national alliances at the border region, or the seemingly Sisyphean task of buttressing coastline topologies against rising tides.

The works on view do not solve the complex relationships of governance, affinity, and circumstance that bind us—citizen to stranger, self to other. Instead, they use architecture’s disciplinary agency to render visible paradoxes and formulations of belonging. Only when spatial understandings of citizenship—legal, cultural, and ecological—are in sight might we struggle free from antiquated definitions, forms, or bureaucracies and activate potent spaces for design.

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.

The Entrepreneurship Question

Julia De Vito


On September 16, 2015, the student collective A-Frame, formed within the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP) at Columbia University, organized “The Entrepreneurship Question” event.

Stemming from the observation of the changes technology brought to the relationship between professions and the economy, the goal of the event was “to identify what entrepreneurship has to offer the field of architecture,” with the belief that it was “time to make our own bold propositions about architecture’s relationship to the economy.”

To address this question, A-Frame curated a panel of five professionals—a real-estate tech founder, a virtual reality entrepreneur, an architecture labor activist, an architecture incubator director, and an architecture business strategist—to share their diverse views.ins

Three main themes were discussed throughout the two-hour-long panel.

The first was the acknowledgement of the value of the varied skill set architects possess and the suggestion that architects define which alternative types of services, other than those strictly related to designing buildings, they could offer.

The second theme was financing and the apparent inequality of entrepreneurial enterprises. Architects should learn to garner the financial resources needed in order to see their ideas through.

The third theme centered on changes needed within academia. The final call was for students to take control of their education and not wait until after graduation to pursue their interests and ideas.

These three main strands fall under a more general issue that inspired the event in the first place: the precariousness generated by the architecture work culture, where the long-standing dichotomy between art, considered “good,” and business, considered “bad,” along with the belief that “architecture can be the product of a single visionary” has impeded architects from being true agents of their professions and coming up with alternative practice models.

The event, an entrepreneurial action in itself, ultimately became a call to action for students and professionals to take agency of their role at the global and micro scale.


Columbia GSAPP, “The Entrepreneurship Question”, Sept. 16th 2015, available on YouTube at

A-Frame, Alternative Practices Workshop at GSAPP Incubator, New INC, Feb. 5th 2016, available on YouTube at

Lohry, Matthew and Pedtke, Julie, “The Entrepreneurship Question” Intro, found at

A-Frame, “The Entrepreneurship Question”, edited by Lechene, Valerie, Pedtke, Julie and Schugars, Miranda, February 2016, available on Issuu at

Riding the Vortex

Katherine Williams

2016 Vortex-XVI-ArchExEast_Group.jpg

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

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

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

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.

Architect as Advocate: Beyond Patronage, Toward New Subjectivities

Joyce Hwang


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expanding Practice

Peggy Deamer

There are so many ways to parse through what expansion in architectural practice means—expand our scope of service; expand our labor pool (more women, people of color, and the socioeconomically unprivileged, to start); expand our power to shape the built environment; expand fees; expand our horizons. As a member of the Architecture Lobby, I believe that all of these expansions are related and necessary. However, it is worth focusing on expanding horizons because its expansive umbrella, far from being ephemeral, contains specific and illuminating ideological lessons.

The American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Look Up campaign of 2014 suggests to the public that “Architects look up to art . . . to looking within . . . to our hearts . . .  to something higher . . . to nature.” All these nuggets are meant to indicate that our architectural vision is expanded, sincere, easily achieved, and appreciated. Just look up! Yet there is clearly more to our work than this, and if this feel-good horizon expansion is one step forward, it also is three steps back. Actually, it is six steps back, given that the promotion speaks separately to both the public and the profession.

The three steps back for the public:

1. Architects dream! And since there is no way to monetize dreaming—indeed, dreaming is self-indulgent—why pay? “Hey, this isn’t really work, right?”

2. Architects can’t explain what they do because it is so mystical. It’s not just dreamy, it’s quasireligious. “Surely the architects are getting their souls nourished; reward for them transcends the merely monetary, and why interfere with that?”

3. Architects are scattered. “There are reasons that these folks aren’t engineers; they’re thinking laterally! Should we worry about whether the house will stand? And how much would the engineering consultant, who actually knows, cost us?”

The three steps back for architects:

4. We dream! We don’t work! So why pay attention to the conditions that we work in? The #MeToo movement and gender inequity are just the side effects of dreaming together with geniuses. And why pay attention to whether we work legally or healthily? And really, why worry about how or if I’m paid?

5. What we do isn’t communicable. No one understands us. If only the world understood us! Let’s blame the world; there’s nothing I can do about it. Maybe there’s another route. Let’s fetishize that mystery! Aesthetics is something only we chosen few can master. And I am surely one, since I’m suffering so much for it.

6. I’m a synthetic thinker. Please don’t confuse me with techies or builders or mere service providers. I’m all and none of these! I haven’t figured out how to charge for my lateral work, though. But at least I’m not the only confused architect! All I really need to know to get that next job is to underbid the next guy.

If it were only the AIA that sent out Look Up-type messages, we wouldn’t worry. But because our schools teach us the same thing, which we then spout in our brochures, which our historical narratives indulge, and which the media—with its rare, often negative mentions of us—perpetuates, the message is deeply damaging and relevant.

A colleague of mine, Philip Allsopp, recently observed:

 “[At] the heart of the issues we are discussing are two different epistemologies for the way we live on this planet. One of them is born out of a convenient corporate aberration of Adam Smith's writings . . . wherein every person only does things that will result in personal gains—no matter what the consequences are for others or the world around them. The other has its roots in democracy and speaks to the power of helping others to thrive and by doing so returns large and sustained economic and social benefits.”

Architects, and architecture as a whole profession, must decide which epistemology is theirs. Looking up just guarantees that we don’t look at the dichotomy at all. I believe that the world divides on other lines: those who have the courage to look at true conditions and those who do not.

In July of 2013, the Architecture Lobby held its first meeting. Those gathered in Brooklyn—thirteen in all—had identified their frustrations with the profession of architecture: how hard architects and designers worked for little reward, debt taken on during school, projects that rarely had social relevance, firms that did not pay interns or overtime, offices with sexist protocols, impossible work-life balance, and lack of support from the AIA.

This discussion did not yield specific actions, but it did identify that the problem sat at the feet of all the actors in an architectural project: the public, or clients who don’t understand the profession and pay accordingly; firm owners who don’t negotiate good fees and hence pass down insufficient wages; and firm employees who believe that they are lucky to work for almost nothing. The group realized the need to hold meetings every third week, a policy that the New York chapter of the Lobby still follows. By the second meeting (still in Brooklyn), we had our name. By the fifth (at the East 19th Street Manhattan office of a supportive firm) we identified the content for our website—three declarations for each of the three constituents (the public, firm owners, and staff). By the eighth, we had people outside of the New York City area calling in.

Anxious to find a cause that would announce our presence and our concerns, we used the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale as an occasion to announce our presence. Two Lobby members in Venice turned the nine points of the website declaration into our ten-point manifesto and, part protest and part performance, made public our demand for change in the profession. The manifesto has since been the road map for our actions. We now have ten chapters across the country.

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.

Architecture: The Story of Practice

Julia deVito

Architecture: The Story of Practice , Dana Cuff (MIT Press, 1992).

Architecture: The Story of Practice, Dana Cuff (MIT Press, 1992).

In Architecture: The Story of Practice, architecture scholar, theorist, and activist Dana Cuff offers an in-depth analysis of the culture of architectural practice as a “social construction” by dissecting the untold contradictions between what it means to be and to become an architectural practitioner, offering suggestions on how to mend the gaps, and concluding that the design process is based on “collective action” and is fundamentally “a social process,” a result of negotiation.

Published in 1992 after ten years of research, the book draws on previous sociological and historical studies of professionalism and design practice. It owes much of its inspiration to Cuff’s colleague and mentor, sociologist Robert Gutman, whose book, Architectural Practice: A Critical View (1988) examined the challenges facing architects in a moment of change for the profession. Cuff inserts herself in this string of research while acknowledging a lack of literature at the time that described “the everyday architectural practice.” For six months, she employed sociology’s ethnographic method, paired with participant observation, to directly immerse herself in the life of three architecture firms, selected for their diverse range of office size and project types. Utilizing subsequent interviews of a total of seventy architects and developers, roundtable discussions, and informal interactions with practitioners, Cuff put together a comprehensive view of the history, development, and actuality of architectural practice by focusing especially on the divide between beliefs about the profession and the reality of practice. She identified this divide as the underlying origin of the ambiguity in defining the role of architects. The objective of her analysis and of her suggested areas for change is to create a better understanding of the architectural profession, which could “guide us toward making better environments” and “reinforce the profession’s role in unifying and standardizing its practices, an important source of professional strength.”

Cuff’s interest in this study stemmed from her own observations, as a student transitioning from university to working in the field of architecture, that the image of architects as portrayed in academia and popular culture as designing in isolation did not correspond to the actuality of the profession or “consider the range of activities, nor the people involved.” Throughout the book, she particularly focuses on opposing dualities and analyzes them in various contexts, such as understanding design issues (“Design Problems in Practice”), exposing them among the path from layperson to student to architect (“The Making of an Architect”), within the design-as-negotiation process (“The Architect’s Milieu”), and in the search for the meaning of excellence in architecture through the analysis of three variably complex projects as case studies (“Excellent Practice: The Origins of Good Building”). Within such dualities—the individual versus the collective, design and art versus business and management, decision-making versus sense-making, and specialists versus generalists—Cuff shows how architects tend to neglect one side over the other, thus perpetuating the ambiguity in their relationship with the profession, fostering the aura of mystery surrounding their work, and distancing them both from clients and the public. Cuff suggests acting within the field of professional organizations, the professional press, and in architectural education to shift the attention from the individual hand of the architect to the role of the profession in the design process as a collective sphere of action.

Cuff’s interest in “the scholarship around architecture that leads to . . . all sorts of agency” has been at the center of her academic career. Her observations on architecture’s role shifted from within the office environment to the outside urban context, focusing on where and how architects’ actions could be effective in the public realm. This culminated in the creation, in 2006, of CityLab, an experimental research and design center within the University of California, Los Angeles, which collaboratively links the university with the profession, the public, and city government.

Cuff wrote the book following a period when architects’ identities had been shaken by economic and political changes along with the crisis of the paradigms of the modernist movement. It was also a time in which the use of computer-aided design was still developing and the structure of practices and of the architectural profession was changing.

Today, at a moment when there are no defined architectural movements—when the idolization of “starchitects” seems to be waning in favor of more collaborative approaches to architecture practice and when BIM technology and the growth of design-build and integrated project delivery methods are reshaping the way architects interact with clients and consultants, the contradictions unveiled by Cuff still ring true. Furthermore, global tensions brought on by climate change, the increase of urbanization, and the outcome of the 2016 presidential election have inspired some American architects to move outside of their practices and into activism and advocacy. All the while the main institutional body of the architectural profession, the American Institute of Architects, is criticized by some for its inability to recognize that the profession is in crisis and to truly represent the interests of all registered architects. The Architecture Lobby and Who Builds Your Architecture? are two examples of organizations that advocate for guiding the debate toward issues that matter to all architects, particularly ones concerning fair working conditions for architects and construction site workers.

Even almost thirty years after the original publication of Cuff’s work, few studies have peered into the everyday life of architecture practice. Notably, researcher Albena Yaneva observed the daily activities of the Dutch firm OMA and recounted her findings in her publication, Made by the Office of Metropolitan Architecture: An Ethnography of Design (2009). Though the conclusion Cuff draws—that architecture is a collective process, a result more of talk than of actual drawing—read today may sound obvious, books such as Architecture: The Story of Practice can inspire and remind architects to define their roles as professionals for the benefit of their own practices and of the society in which they continually seek to become active members.


American Institute of Architects. The Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice. 2014.

Cramer, Ned. "What Won't You Build?" Architect Magazine (April 2017)

Cuff, Dana “Athena Lecture,” Lecture at KTH Centre for the Future of Places, September 2017 (available on Vimeo)

Cuff, Dana “Act Like and Architect!” Lecture at Taubman College, October 2017 (available on Vimeo)

Cuff, Dana, and Roger Sherman. “Introduction.” In Fast-forward Urbanism: Rethinking Architecture's Engagement With the City. Princeton Architectural Press, 2011.

Cuff, Dana. "Before and Beyond Outside in: An Introduction to Robert Gutman’s Writings." In Gutman, Robert, Dana Cuff, and Bryan Bell. Architecture from the outside in: Selected essays by Robert Gutman. Princeton Architectural Press, 2010, 13-27

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Dovey, Kim. “Architecture: The Story of Practice by Dana Cuff; Behind the Postmodern Façade: Architectural Change in Late Twentieth-Century America by Magali Sarfatti Larson.” Journal of Architectural and Planning Research. Vol. 13, no. 3 ( Autumn 1996): 261-264

Kaminer, Tahl. Architecture, Crisis and Resuscitation: The Reproduction of Post-Fordism in Late-Twentieth-Century Architecture. Routledge, 2011, 3-7

Larson, Magali Sarfatti. Behind the Postmodern Facade: Architectural Change in Late Twentieth-Century America. University of California Press, 1995.

Mayo, James M. "Architecture: The Story of Practice." Journal of Architectural Education. Vol. 46, no. 1 (September 1992): 61-62

McGuigan, Cathleen. "Common Ground in Unsettling Times." ARCHITECTURAL RECORD 204.12 (2016): 13-13.

McNeill, Donald. The Global Architect: Firms, Fame and Urban Form. Routledge, 2009.

Medina, Samuel. “Meet the Architecture Lobby Working to Change the Way the Professions is Structured.” Metropolis Magazine (December 2013)

Minkjan, Mark. “Is the Architectural Profession Still Relevant?” Failed Architecture (September 2013)

Roy, Ananya. “The Infrastructure of Assent: Professions in the Age of Trumpism.” The Avery Review. Issue 21 (January 2017)

Saenz, Michael. “Architecture: The Story of Practice.” American Journal of Sociology. Vol. 96, no. 6 (May 1992): 1780-1781

Saunders, William S., and Peter G. Rowe, eds. Reflections on Architectural Practices in the Nineties. Princeton Architectural Press, 1996.

Stevens, Garry. The Favored Circle: The social Foundations of Architectural Distinction. MIT Press, 2002.

Tijerino, Roger. "The Architecture Profession: Can It Be Strengthened?" Journal of Architectural and Planning Research (2009): 258-268.

Yaneva, Albena. Made by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture: An Ethnography of Design. 010 Publishers, 2009.

The Alliance of Women in Architecture

Andrea J. Merrett

In early 1971, New York architect Regi Goldberg (later Weile) initiated the Women’s Architectural Review Movement (WARM) with an invitation to women architects to participate in an exhibition. Goldberg’s main goal was not simply to increase the number of women in the profession; she implied that basic human respect was necessary to nurture the talent of young practitioners, who could not thrive through “sheer determination and chance” alone.

WARM itself never took off; however, Goldberg’s persistence led to the founding of the Alliance of Women in Architecture (AWA) in 1972. By the fall of 1971, Marjorie Hoog had joined Ulrich Franzen’s office, where Goldberg worked. From the responses Goldberg received to her first letter, she selected eight other women: Hoog; Ellen Perry Berkeley an architectural journalist; Judith Edelman, a practicing architect and the first woman elected to New York City’s American Institute of Architects (AIA) Executive Committee; Mimi Lobell; architect Phyllis Birkby, an architectural designer and educator; Sharon Grau and Susanne Strohbach, who both worked for Marcel Breuer; and Patricia Luciana, executive director of the Architectural League of New York. They held an open meeting in May 1972 at the League. According to Goldberg, the excitement of the first meeting was palpable:

No one was speaking. It was very quiet in the room. I asked each of them to turn to the right or left and introduce themselves to the Architect sitting next to them. We could not quiet the room for about 20 minutes. It was amazing . . . my heart swelled and I knew we had broken a barrier . . . because we hadn’t been allowed to talk to each other freely, it had always been discouraged.

After the isolation of being the only woman, or one of only a handful, in school and in offices, the forum of an all-women meeting came as a huge relief. The leadership planned a second meeting just three weeks later, on May 24th.

In the early days of the AWA, the enthusiastic members quickly organized numerous activities, including creating a newsletter, sending representatives to the Union Internationale des Femmes Architectes’s 1972 conference in Budapest, and organizing discussions and talks. By June 1972, a steering committee (soon renamed the coordination committee) started meeting, and the first newsletter went out. The discrimination workshop launched the salary survey in August. The first major event the coordinating committee organized was a series of discussions and talks in December of 1972, which included a talk by Kay Standley and Bradley Soule on their studies of women in the professions. The discrimination workshop met frequently in the first year, and added a licensing workshop early in 1973, to support women taking their registration exams. The AWA also created an employment workshop that gathered job postings (published regularly in the newsletters) and helped members find employment. The AWA members were concerned with how the group could serve a wider population. An exhibition committee started meeting in March 1973, and the discrimination workshop worked with New York State Association of Architects to extend the salary survey and present their findings at the annual convention.

Setting itself apart from the AIA and other established professional associations, the AWA strove for a nonhierarchical structure. At the beginning, there were no titled positions within the steering committee, and the role of chair rotated. Even when the organization introduced titles in 1978, the committee did not change how it functioned. By the publication of the second newsletter, a set of goals had been more clearly defined:

To foster a public interest in and promote educational work in the architectural profession . . .

To advance the welfare of the architectural profession and to promote in all lawful ways the welfare of the members of the profession . . .

To provide a forum for all members to discuss problems of all kinds related to their participation in the architectural profession.

The goals suggested an aspiration to transform the profession, but the main focus of the AWA was on personal and professional development. Although most of the women involved with running the AWA were of the women’s liberation generation, the professional focus of the group aligned it more closely with the older generation of feminists that had started the National Organization for Women and thought the primary goal of feminism was to integrate women into existing public roles. Within the AWA, this more conservative approach ultimately won.

By 1975, the AWA was well established, with between 200 and 300 members. The general meetings were used for presenting AWA projects and discussions from specific workshops to the larger membership; for members to present their work; and for panels, discussions, and talks. Late in 1974, the organization received a New York State Council on the Arts grant, which they used to produce a program aimed at high schools students, titled “Opportunities in Architecture.” In 1977, after generally ignoring national politics and the larger feminist movement, the organization got involved in supporting the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. By the end of the 1980s, the enthusiasm behind the AWA had waned. Although they celebrated the twentieth anniversary in 1992, there is no record of the organization continuing beyond then.

Andrea J. Merrett is a PhD candidate in architecture at Columbia University writing her dissertation on the history of feminism in American architecture. Her research has received support through a Buell Center Oral History Prize, a Schlesinger Library Oral History Grant, and the Milka Bliznakov Prize from the International Archive of Women in Architecture. Recently she has coedited an issue on women and architecture for the journal de-arq: Journal of Architecture (2017), Universidad de Los Andes, and presented her dissertation research nationally and internationally in New York, Stockholm, and London.

National Organization of Minority Architects

Pascale Sablan


A History of NOMA

African American architects listened intently to what Whitney M. Young, Jr., the prominent civil rights leader and keynote speaker, had to say. He reminded those present that as a profession, architecture had not distinguished itself by its social and civic contributions to the civil rights movement. The black architects in attendance that day had come from different parts of the country and did not know each other very well, but were all struck by the speaker’s words and recognized that the situation of the black architect had to be improved.  

Three years later, in 1971, the black architects in attendance at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) National Convention in Detroit decided to organize to change the status quo. A local African American architect invited them to his office, where they had a chance to meet each other informally and discuss the desperate need for an organization dedicated to the development and advancement of black architects. The thirty or so present at that meeting included some black architecture students who were anxious to meet the visiting black architects. These professionals recognized the desperate need for an organization dedicated to the development and advancement of African American architects.

Prior to this time, there had been two other professional organizations that supported black architects: the National Technical Organization, established in 1926, and the Council for the Advancement of the Negro in Architecture, which ran from 1951–57. But new times required new methods.  

Present at the Detroit meeting were William Brown, Leroy Campbell, Wendell Campbell, John S. Chase, James C. Dodd, Kenneth B. Groggs, Nelson Harris, Jeh Johnson, E.H. McDowell, Robert J. Nash, Harold Williams, Robert Wilson, and Robert Coles.

A cruise to the Bahamas a few months later brought together twelve of the founders and their wives together for the group’s second meeting. Starting then, the wives would play a crucial role in running the organization through their support of their husbands’ assignments.

A few weeks later, a third meeting convened in Chicago. It was there that the membership voted to accept the organization’s constitution as drawn up by Harold Williams and Jeh Johnson. These African American architects wanted black design professionals to work together to fight discriminatory policies that limited or barred minority architects from participating in design and construction programs.

At early meetings, the members discussed topics like how to lobby Washington representatives to get black architects included in new legislation concerning work on federal projects, how to get AIA recognition for those most prominent among them (i.e. Paul Williams and Howard Mackey), and how to create their own design awards.  

That was the beginning of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), an increasingly influential voice promoting the quality and excellence of minority design professionals. There are NOMA Chapters in all parts of the country, increasing recognition on colleges and university campuses and providing greater access to government policy makers.

The first NOMA president was Wendell Campbell, followed by several of the other founders. Some who were not president, such as Robert Coles, who started the organization’s newsletter, served as vice president or in other offices. Over time, some of the NOMA founders and officers also served in AIA positions.

In 1996, Cheryl McAfee of Atlanta, Georgia, became the first female president, followed by Roberta Washington, from New York, in 1997. From 2013–14, NOMA ran under the leadership of its third female president, Kathy Dixon.

NOMA today champions diversity within the design professions by promoting the excellence, community engagement, and professional development of its members. It thrives only when voluntary members contribute their time and resources to furthering the organization’s mission—to build a strong national organization, strong chapters, and strong members to minimize the effect of racism in the profession. Strength in NOMA is built through unity in the cause that created the organization.

Through its publications and conferences, NOMA demonstrates that minority professionals have the talent and capabilities to perform in design and construction with any other group. By building strong chapters of design professionals whose sensibilities and interests include promotion of urban communities, NOMA is able to respond to the concerns that affect marginalized communities and people. Local chapters give members a base in which to become involved in politics, to visit schools and reach out to children, to conduct community and civic forums, and to responsibly practice in our professional capacities.

Pascale Sablan, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP, is a Senior Associate at S9 ARCHITECTURE, the 2017–18 historian for the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), and the NOMA Northeast Now What!? Exhibition Planning Grant 18 Regional Vice President for 2018–19. Pascale is past president of the New York Chapter of NOMA, serves the AIA National Planning Committee for the 2018 Design Justice Summit, and is a member of the AIA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Pascale was selected as a 2018 AIA Young Architects Award Recipient and was featured in the CTBUH Research Paper: “Ratios - Voices of Women in the Tall Building World.” She was recently named Building Design + Construction 40 Under 40 and was featured on the cover of the September issue of their magazine. She has lectured at universities and colleges all over the US. In 2017 she curated the Say It Loud: Distinguished Black Designers of NYCOBA | NOMA exhibition at the Center for Architecture in New York City. She is the 315th African American female architect in the United States to attain her architectural license. As of 2017, there are only 400 women who hold this distinction.

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.


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.