SEP 19, 2019 8:45 AM
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The first woman to earn an architecture degree in the U.S. graduated from the University of Illinois in 1878. One hundred years later, there were still just a handful of female students in each graduating class.
Now, women make up more than 40% of architecture students in the School of Architecture, and its alumnae are some of the most heralded architects in the country.
The University of Illinois School of Architecture is holding a Women’s Reunion and Symposium on Sept. 26-28 to recognize the contributions of female architecture graduates. An exhibition opening at the same time at the Krannert Art Museum, “Revealing Presence: Women in Architecture at the University of Illinois 1874-2019,” will showcase the work of these women architects and the progress women have made in the field.
“We wanted to bring all that energy and success back to the school. Representation matters, and we wanted students to see women out there doing amazing work at very high levels,” said architecture professor Marci Uihlein, who organized the reunion weekend and symposium with architecture professor Sara Bartumeus.
The symposium is part of a statewide conversation on architecture, as it occurs during the Chicago Architecture Biennial that begins Sept. 19, Uihlein said.
Architecture remains a white male-dominated field, Bartumeus said, “but our students are starting to be much more diverse. Discussion on how to attract minorities into schools of architecture and how to retain them in the profession are right now on the table. The American Institute of Architects is also designing guides for firms for a more equitable workplace. It’s a very sweet moment, and that’s why we’re so excited to contribute with our symposium and exhibition to make some change.”
There is a gender gap between the number of graduates and the number of licensed architects working in the field, Bartumeus and Uihlein said. Women make up only about 18% of the leaders in the field. The organizers hope the symposium will spur action about “how to make the field more welcoming, so people stay in the profession, feel their voices are heard and get promoted,” Uihlein said.
They also hope to strengthen the connections between the school and its 2,400 living female graduates and provide a networking opportunity for architecture alumnae.
The symposium will feature speakers who are Illinois alumnae and leaders in the architectural field, either owners of architecture firms or high-level designers. Chicago architect Carol Ross Barney, the founder of Ross Barney Architects in Chicago, will share her experiences in a conversation on the evening of Sept. 27.
Barney was one of three women in her class when she graduated in 1971. This year she became the first woman awarded the School of Architecture’s Illinois Medal, its highest honor. She was the first woman to design a federal building – the Oklahoma City Federal Building that replaced the structure destroyed in the 1995 bombing. Her work includes the Chicago Riverwalk and the Champaign Public Library.
Barney also received the 2015 American Institute of Architects Gold Medal for outstanding lifetime service to architecture, as well as its Jefferson Award for Public Architecture.
“She’s been a pioneer, and our students and young professionals need more role models like her,” Bartumeus said.
The symposium’s keynote speakers are Dina Griffin, the president of Chicago architecture firm IDEA, Interactive Design Architects, who designed the new Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center, the first building on the Illinois campus that was designed by a female principal architect, and who is partnering on the design of the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago; Patricia Saldaña Natke, the founding partner and president of the Chicago architecture and urban planning firm UrbanWorks; and Ruth Baleiko, a partner at the Seattle architecture firm Miller Hull. All three are Fellows of the American Institute of Architects, one of the highest recognitions by the AIA – an honor awarded for excellence and leadership in the profession.
The panel discussions will include alumnae who are working outside the field of architecture field, along with architects and designers. The panelists will reflect on how their architecture education has helped them in their careers. Other discussions will include the process of making architecture, and strategies to strengthen the voices and roles of women in architecture in the workplace and provide role models and mentors for younger women. The talks and panel discussions are open to the public, but space is limited.
The exhibition at the Krannert Art Museum will celebrate the accomplishments of architecture alumnae and the impact they have had on the built environment. “Revealing Presence: Women in Architecture at the University of Illinois 1874-2019” will open Sept. 26 and run through Oct. 12.
The exhibition will feature the architectural projects of alumnae, highlighting their diversity. It also will include the work of recent graduates. Uihlein and Bartumeus dug into the School of Architecture archives to research graduates. They took a closer look at some of them, including Mary Louisa Page, the first female graduate; and Gertrude Lempp Kerbis, a 1948 graduate who founded the first female-owned architecture firm in Chicago. The historical information about early female graduates of the school will complement the display of the more recent work by alumnae.
The exhibition will include a timeline showing the increasing number of female faculty and students at the school and in the profession, and highlighting Illinois’ history of educating female architects.