Women in Architecture Committee Reaches Out to the Next Generation

About 20 girls, ages 11-14, gathered at the Center for Architecture this past Saturday afternoon (10.22.16) to learn more about architecture, and create their own designs at the first-ever “Girls Build! Architecture Workshop,” developed and led by the AIANY Women in Architecture Committee (WIA) and the Center’s K-12 Education staff. As the staff representative, I welcomed the girls to the Center and asked if any of them knew an architect. Three girls raised their hands. When I asked: “Are any of them women?”– only one hand remained in the air. The women in the room shared a collective sigh – those were actually good odds. A 2014 report by the AIA found that only 15% of licensed AIA architects are women. Numerous other studies have found women underrepresented at all stages of an architectural career, though women represent 50% of the population. WIA works to address this inequality by providing avenues to develop and promote women leaders within the architecture profession, including mentoring and outreach opportunities such as this Saturday workshop. This is not at the expense of men, who already dominate the profession, but is rather an effort to try to rebalance this inequity.

Six women from WIA participated in the workshop, with WIA Co-chairs Jen Stencel, AIA, of Magnusson Architecture and Planning, and Kerry Nolan, AIA, of Beyer Blinder Belle, leading off the session by presenting recent projects and explaining the architect’s role and the design decisions each made. Through images of existing conditions, working drawings and renderings, and photographs of the buildings under construction and completed, they discussed a wide range of design considerations an architect must address: the mix of public and private spaces; methods for bringing natural light into interior spaces; existing site conditions; materials and façade treatments; and answering the client’s desires for the building. Vivian Lee, AIA, associate partner at Richard Meier and Partners, brought along three beautiful wood models of projects and sets of drawings to share with the girls. WIA members Grete Grubelich, Kavyashri Cherala, and Jenna Wandishin also shared their stories as working architects, and assisted the girls once the model-making began.

Based on some of the design ideas that had been presented, the girls were invited to create their own building designs using a variety of art supplies. They dove into the design work to quickly create apartment buildings, libraries, houses, and skyscrapers. Parents joined the group at the end of the program for the girls’ presentations of their designs. As they collected their models and headed out, the girls were asked to leave some feedback about the workshop and what they had learned. They very much appreciated and were inspired by the presentations of real-life buildings and seeing projects the architects are working, helping one girl to realize that the outside of a building is just as important as the inside. Some asked for more time to work on their designs, acknowledging that making models is harder than it looks. “I learned that architecture is a lot of work,” said one participant. Another commented, “When I was building, I was always thinking about how I could make my building better.” There were a few budding architects in the group! We hope to make this an annual event and reach out to more girls for future sessions.

In the meantime, all kids ages 5+ and their parents are invited to explore their own design ideas at the Center for Architecture’s next workshop, “FamilyDay@theCenter: Underground New York” on 11.12.16. For those who are considering pursuing architecture as a career, the Center’s annual Architecture & Design College Fair will be on Friday, 11.04.16.