Last month, Architectural Record hosted its fifth annual Women in Architecture Awards. Conversations at this year’s event, which had the largest turnout since the program’s inception, highlighted women’s contributions to the profession at a variety of scales and in diverse settings, recognizing five trailblazers in architecture who, despite the professional challenges women often face, have become leaders and role models for their peers and emerging designers alike.
Awards were given in the following categories:
- Design Leader: Elizabeth Diller, Diller Scofidio + Renfro
- New Generation Leader: Lisa Iwamoto, IwamotoScott Architecture
- Activist: Peggy Deamer, Peggy Deamer Architect
- Innovator: Upali Nanda, HKS
- Educator: Ellen Dunham-Jones, Georgia Tech School of Architecture
Scroll down to read more about each winner.
Elizabeth Diller is no stranger to the spotlight: this year, she was the only architectural designer named to Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people. The New York–based firm that she leads with Charles Renfro and Ricardo Scofidio (her husband) has claimed a large stake in and around Manhattan’s Hudson Yards development—an accomplishment that can be attributed in large part to the success of the High Line (which Diller Scofidio + Renfro worked on, with James Corner Field Operations leading the team). “Since we started working on the High Line in 2004, the city has totally transformed,” Diller said at last month’s awards ceremony. She discussed the park’s “halo effect,” which has catalyzed two soon-to-open projects on the far west side, both codesigned with the Rockwell Group: the Shed, a major cultural arts and performance space with a 2,400-ton movable shell, and 15 Hudson Yards, a 70-story residential tower. The firm’s latest project in the area, in October, was the Mile-Long Opera—a theatrical performance piece produced with Pulitzer Prize–winning composer David Lang. “It was an enormous undertaking that took many years to pull off,” she said. “And, for me, it was life-changing.”
Since cofounding IwamotoScott Architecture (with her husband, Craig Scott) in 2002, Lisa Iwamoto has taken on a robust roster of projects, primarily in the San Francisco area, where the firm, a 2011 Record Vanguard selection, is based. “The practice really began as an academic one,” said Iwamoto at RECORD’s November event. “We began with small one-to-one scale installations on one side and speculative proposals on the other. The installations were a way for us to work hands-on with materials.” Material exploration is a key component of IwamotoScott’s process; according to Iwamoto, who teaches at the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design, the two architects are interested in “purposeful contradictions” between the expectations of a material and how it is ultimately perceived. This curiosity, along with interests in negative space and manipulating geometric forms, informs all their designs, from the headquarters of San Francisco tech companies such as Pinterest and Bloomberg to residential projects such as Portola Gardens, an upcoming multifamily development based on the model of “incremental housing” popularized by Pritzker Prize–winner Alejandro Aravena.
Architect Peggy Deamer’s role as an activist has been catalyzed by her experience as a professor, most recently at the Yale School of Architecture. “As an educator, I became increasingly disillusioned about sending graduates out to an unrewarding career,” Deamer said last month. Her concern for the well-being of both designers and construction workers led her to found the Architecture Lobby in 2013, a nonprofit advocacy group that pushes for greater labor rights and equity in the field. “New value propositions need to be established to change practice, which is how firm owners structure their offices and understand their alliances with other people in the industry, and also to change labor—how employees understand their value and argue for their autonomy and better wages.” Since its inception, the group has been vocal about political issues surrounding the profession; its efforts have included the organization of a walkout in protest of the proposed border wall, and the creation of the Solidarity Network, for victims of sexual harassment.
As the director of research at global firm HKS, Upali Nanda investigates how design affects the human body and mind, traversing topics ranging from visual art and neuroaesthetics to return-on-investment efficiency. Nanda’s emphasis on systemic well-being has been particularly resonant in the field of health care: Some of her recent work has asked how future cancer facilities can be designed as nonpharmacological means to help fight the disease, and how the design of college campuses can avoid contributing to unhealthy habits that may lead to obesity and other negative medical conditions in students’ post- graduate lives. In 2015, Nanda was named one of the 10 most influential people in health-care design by Healthcare Design magazine. “I spend a lot of time in disciplines completely foreign to mine,” said Nanda, “because that’s where I learn the power of taking the road less traveled.”
Prior to her role as director of the urban design program at the Georgia Tech School of Architecture, Ellen Dunham-Jones led the school’s architecture program. As an urban designer, she has brought attention to an often overlooked area of study with her book Retrofitting Suburbia, cowritten with June Williamson. “The suburbs are where half the population lives. It’s where about 75 percent of construction is occurring,” said Dunham-Jones. Through her research, the architect has identified suburban spaces that are being retrofitted as more sustainable facilities. “Our schools aren’t really preparing students to be creative and critical when dealing with the suburbs.” As an educator and mentor, Dunham-Jones has been an advocate for fair pay for students going into the professional world. As she tells her students: “I’m happy to be a reference for you when you go on your job hunt, but you must promise me that, when you are made your salary offer, you will counter it.”