Architect Barbie, and Other Important Advancements in Architectural Practice

2-0011I recently stumbled across an article titled, “ Building on the Past; A History of Women in Architecture,” by SUNY Buffalo Architectural History Professor and PhD, Despina Stratigakos. In her account of women’s advancements in the field of architecture, she begins the article by recounting Architect Barbie’s debut at the 2011 AIA Convention in New Orleans.  Flanked by booths of materials, technology, and a polarizing ratio of 78% male conference attendees, the pink-and-white Mattel booth was both an anomaly and bright spot on the convention floor.  Serving as an educational area to introduce concepts of architectural design to young women (and by young, I mean as early as 5 or 6 years old,) this booth provided clever programming as a means of possibly diversifying the profession’s current gender disparity.

Three years later to the day (the 2014 AIA National Convention is happening right now in Chicago–a city that is an architectural masterpiece in its own right), Architect Barbie seems to be a mere foreshadowing of an undeniably exciting time for women architects.

One only needs to look at Jeanne Gang’s “Aqua Tower,” the leadership of the AIA’s 90th President, Helene Combs Dreiling, or take note of the 2014 AIA Gold Medal Award given to Julia Morgan (only sixty years after her death!) to see that women are gaining recognition, dynamic commissions, and interesting leadership positions, all the while transcending any makeshift glass ceilings that may have previously existed.

Furthermore, current data reinforces women’s growth both in numbers and leadership within the profession of architecture. This past May, the Architect’s Journal reported an increase in the proportion of women to men in top practices in from 22.7 to 27.5%.

As a young woman in architecture, I find this information to be exciting for a few reasons:

(1) This may mean that many architecture firms are and will continue to become more balanced in terms of women and men leaders/mentors for the next generation of architects,

(2) Architecture’s former reputation as an “old boys’ club” may be lifting to build a more balanced workplace,

(3) Women who have been practicing will hopefully continue to receive the recognition they deserve. An example would be a designer such as Charlotte Perriand, whose genius was cloaked by male counterparts like Corbusier until only recently.

(4) The sky might just be the limit for what type of work and opportunities my female co-workers, friends, and former classmates might want to pursue in the future within and outside the boundaries of our profession.

While there is no race to be won or any concrete, gender-balanced targets for architecture offices to meet (I still believe an office must be comprised of the best talent, and how this shakes out gender-wise is subjective,) I hope to convey this information only to share the message that for women who in early stages of practicing architecture, there will likely be more women with shared experiences to guide them in partnership with male counterparts.

While 27.5% is not a staggering number, interesting statistics such as Stratigakos’ mention that in 1900 there were 39 licensed women architects, and today, 30,000 makes me feel thankful for being born in the 1980’s as opposed to the 1880’s..

What a difference a century makes!


For more information, I highly recommend a read through Stratigakos’ article.

And please note: This article does not aim to touch upon the challenges of motherhood, the Lean In phenomenon, etc.  Another discussion for another time!  Just looking at the rise of women in the profession from a global perspective!

Humility and the Architect

Last year I wrote a post for AIA Colorado/Archinect titled “The Ego and the Architect.” ( )  If you didn’t read it, the post discussed evolving forms of leadership within an architectural office spanning age and experience, and how this relates to what seems to be a softening of the egotistical architect archetype in favor of a socially-conscious, collaboration-minded, sometimes empathetic individual.

As I look book after many months and reconsider this post, I have been scratching my head at how personal experience has begun to shed light on what might be a question and counterpoint:

Do architects need some sense of ego to maintain strength and optimism while experiencing what seems to be an even greater challenge than bravado; humility?

In the last year, I’ve moved out of the 1-3 year range as a designer and am now in what seems to be a rare bird in today’s post-recession market; a 3-5 year employee (Gasp! We do exist!)  In the 3-5 range, I’ve participated in a wide range of projects, large and small, from start to finish. I now recognize the importance of all project phases, and have begun to engage with each new assignment in a more involved role. Hence I am not a newbie, despite also not being an “expert.”

With that said, in this transition of time and knowledge acquisition, I’ve stumbled across a few revelations regarding perhaps the most exciting but also challenging aspects of becoming an architect: the ability to be humbled by the complex nature of what we do, how we do it, and perhaps most importantly, how we follow through once a project is being constructed.

To keep this post short(ish) but hopefully helpful, here is a counterpoint to my original blog post; a list of the lessons I’ve experienced as a student and young professional that require a personal shield of confidence to protect against an on-going sense of humility and acceptance in learning from experiences and decisions approached with optimism, idealism, and simply not knowing…yet…

(1) Academia: From a first critique, architecture students are challenged on every thought, decision, graphic, verbal, and text-related decision that is made. “Your project is promising, but must be improved here, here, …and here!” We are taught from an early age to both welcome feedback and to use it as constructively as we can, knowing that despite what we do or how much we produce, despite its level of quality, it will always have potential for improvement or different methods of thought and experimentation—a thought and design process carried throughout an architecture professional’s career and life.
(2) The IDP experience: At this time, a recently-graduated student is the most junior staff around (besides interns,) and he/she is eager to prove themselves while gaining relevant job experience. It is inevitable-regardless of what field he/she is in- that this time will be filled with learning, mistakes, and learning from your mistakes.

(3) The ARE: It wasn’t until I took my most recent exam that I felt truly humbled by the daunting process of taking not 1, not 2, not 5, but 7 exams testing ideas and concepts that I have engaged in directly, indirectly, or at this stage—not at all. I’ve found studying to be rewarding as a reminder of how many factors must be considered at every stage in the design process, and the degree in which an architect must become a semi-expert regarding the small and large nuances of our environment and the world we have made. With that said, I have found myself both bewildered, nervous, and then (hopefully) relieved to find my knowledge is on par with what NCARB might consider “sufficient knowledge” for an associate pursuing licensure. I have no doubt that after Test 7 I will have the biggest ego in the world, rooted in a necessary discipline, persistence, patience, not to mention a sharpened ability to complain, focus, agonize, and rejoice all within the same week (or days in some instances…)
(4) Becoming a 3-5 year person. After cutting your teeth as a junior designer, the more involved a young professional becomes in client relationships, a design process in its entirety, as well as actually walking his/her drawings in the field, there is a large window of opportunity to make mistakes that dance the line of being small but illustrative of how much you do not know yet.

So what will help the emerging class of future architects remain aspirational and optimistic, all the while knowing each design problem will require discourse, unfamiliar tasks and challenges, not to mention the uncharted territory of each unique client and client relationship?

I would come full circle from my previous blog post to say “mentorship”  as a form of leadership remains the key to balancing a young professional’s process of learning and developing.  Without oversight and people to teach, challenge, and recognize young designers (especially millennials,) our next group of architecture leaders may have to wear a similar façade of ego to protect them simply from what they do not know…

15th annual Young Architects Awards Gala (YAAG) Friday May 9th @ OZ Architecture

A guest post by Kevin Keady, Associate AIA



15th annual Young Architects Awards Gala (YAAG)  Friday May 9th @ OZ Architecture

The long days, temperate weather and the sound of hipsters washing the dust off their fixies makes one want to throw their arms up and rejoice!

You might even want to do something crazy, like get together with a few of your pals (and a bunch of people you have probably never met) and give out some awards to people who are doing great things in our little world. You may even want to have these awards with a side of adult beverages and some hardy conversation… and maybe meet a few new friends.

If this is exactly what you were thinking (and I know you were!) you are in luck. Because spring is time for the annual Young Architects Awards Gala (YAAG)!

YAAG has a special place in hearts of young designers. It is the only event tailored to the emerging professional community and aims to celebrate their achievements. It is also the 15th anniversary of this special event! Over those fifteen years, this event has taken on all types of formats from punch and cookies in a school gym to big budget extravaganzas with gold painted ladies (seriously.)

In light of this, we did some soul searching. We had conversations with hundreds of people from all corners of our little architecture world. Three things were apparent. (1) This event holds a sacred place in the hearts of the young design talent in our community. At its core, (2) this is a celebration of the great work being done from students through associates and into the young architects. Finally, (3) the conversation and the loose salon style atmosphere is what makes these events great.

This year’s event looks to get back to the roots of YAAG, when things were less complicated and the three previously mentioned values rang true. We also proceeded with an eye on the next 15 years. Most of the changes made focus on the awards categories. This year there are ten categories that will be awarded by you, the people, voting online. There are then ten separate awards to be judged by a panel of esteemed jurors. The important thing to remember is that it is FREE to submit! Is that clear folks? FREEEEE! Here is the link to submit…  But you still need to buy a ticket.

So submit early and often and then bring all your friends down to OZ Architecture on the evening of May 9th and celebrate your achievements as you are solidified in the history of YAAGs of yore.

So, the bottom line is this. We made a few changes; we’re going to try some new things. It may be weird at first, but we hope they work and we think they will. I hope to see you there. The first round is on me.

…and thank you to the great people of OZ Architecture for allowing us to use their beautiful courtyard.

Online voting

Submitting for juried awards

Purchase tickets

USGBC Sustainable Bike Tour this Friday

This week is the USGBC Rocky Mountain Green Conference.  After learning about a bike tour for event attendees to different sustainably-oriented building projects in Denver, I had Clayton Bartzcak from Ambient Energy tell us a bit more about the event.. See below.  Thanks Clayton!  If you’re planning on attending Rocky Mountain Green, this might be something interesting to participate in:


Join us on the third annual USGBC Bike Tour of green buildings in downtown Denver!

Enhance your Rocky Mountain Green conference experience by joining us on a Bike Tour of exciting sustainable projects throughout downtown Denver! This is an enjoyable way to earn GBCI or AIA Continuing Education hours and get to know Denver at the same time. Don’t have a bike? Don’t worry, Denver B-Cycle has agreed to provide bikes for anyone that needs one for this tour so you’re covered! Participants are welcome to bring their own bikes as well.

The tour will begin at the B-Cycle station at 19th and Market. We will tour several diverse types of sustainable projects including residential, office, mixed use, and urban agriculture sites. Tour stops will include the Renaissance Stout Street Lofts, the Colorado Convention Center’s Blue Bear Farm, the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado’s newly renovated home at the Alliance Center, and the Union Station development area. We will finish off the tour with a rooftop networking happy hour event – everyone’s usually pretty thirsty after all the biking!

The tour will take place on Friday April 18th from 1pm to 5pm and is limited to attendees of Rocky Mountain Green. The regular conference educational sessions and speakers will take place on Thursday April 18th at the Embassy Suites in downtown Denver. Each year, the U.S. Green Building Council Colorado convenes a diverse audience of built environment professionals to learn from each other and spread the good word of green building. The Rocky Mountain Green conference provides third party reviewed green building education sessions and is produced by U.S. Green Building Council Colorado staff and volunteers.

Don’t miss out on this fun way to tour green building projects in downtown Denver, all from the comfort of a bicycle! Sign up today at

This Week: Doors OPEN Denver 2014

Despite not being able to attend due to my slightly ridiculous ARE study schedule (quick update: 2 down, 5 to go.. and yes, I am counting… all the while feeling strange swings of both hope and despair at the temporary but extended loss of freedom in exchange for quality time with the Prometric staff, uncomfortable noise-cancelling headphones, and the baristas of my neighborhood coffee shop…) I’m using this post as a chance to highlight Doors OPEN Denver, an event I would recommend to architecture enthusiasts, or really anyone that is curious about what the interiors of many of the old, historic, potentially-haunted buildings of Downtown Denver might look like…

The 2014 event is happening this upcoming Saturday and Sunday, April 12th and 13th.  The event is free and entails a literal translation of the event title: many historic buildings in Denver simply “open their doors” for the public to tour their spaces.

Tickets are required for expert-led tours (see website below for more information, as well as the tour map)  but I was both impressed and wooed by the overall informality and accessible nature of the event– whether you want to visit one building or ten, most sites were relatively flexible about people moseying through their spaces for a short or long look at antiques (I highly recommend the Kirkland Museum,) oddities (found in many themed Bed and Breakfasts in Capitol Hill,) and/or grand architecture of a time and place when budget and time were not they key drivers of a project…

For more information/to plan your route: