Design + Practice Exchange

New York and New Orleans women will tackle design leadership in a new conference

New York architects will head to a Design + Practice Exchange in New Orleans to discussing sharing projects and the future of women in design. (Sydney Franklin/AN)

For architects, the feeling of solidarity and the sharing of ideas are important aspects of professional practice, especially when it involves highly-skilled women who are constantly aiming to collaborate and want to raise up the next generation of design leaders.

The Design + Practice Exchange is a new conference model that’s bringing together the members of Women in Architecture committees from various chapters within the American Institute of Architects. The first official event, happening this Friday, September 27, in New Orleans, will give both local and New York architects a chance to share best practices for building community within their respective cities, practices, and the field at large. 

Hosted at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center and the Center for Architecture and Design New Orleans, the two-day symposium will feature presentations by Vivian Lee, principal of Richard Meier & Partners Architects, Fallon Samuels Aidoo of the University of New Orleans’ Department of Planning and Urban Studies, as well as Emilie Taylor Welty, partner of the New Orleans-based studio Colectivo, and Sara Lopergolo, partner at Selldorf Architects. Each will discuss current projects that are transforming neighborhoods in New Orleans and New York.

For Lopergolo, the presentations are a time to champion women leaders in design. “There are many women in offices—not enough, of course—but too few women in design leadership roles,” she said. “This forum is to discuss the challenges and solutions to getting women into these leadership roles.”

Wells Megalli, a designer at Deborah Berke Partners, and Tracie Ashe, partner of studioWTA, will explore how they approach housing projects and how, as design leaders, they utilize every part of the architectural process to build community. This also translates to the process of building solidarity in the industry. “Our field is very coast-to-coast-centric,” said Lopergolo, “and with this Design + Practice Exchange, we’re trying to expand our communication to other cities small and large.”

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Joel Pominville and Aran Donovan of AIA New Orleans are helping prepare for the event this week. As a smaller organization compared to the AIA NY, they are thrilled to start the conversation surrounding the Design + Practice Exchange in their home city. “It’s critical that architects from cities of different scales, social, and political makeups come together around key issues in the field,” said Pominville, executive director of the AIA New Orleans and the New Orleans Foundation. “These types of discussions aren’t happening in New Orleans as much as they are in New York.” 

During the conference, there will be a series of roundtable discussions spearheaded by leaders from Studio West, FXCollaborative, Perez, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, Trapolin Peer Architects, and Fogarty Finger Architecture. These conversations will be less project-focused and more centered on workplace culture and leadership.

“It’s good for women to know how other women are being perceived in other cities,” said Cassidy Rosen, a designer at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple who will be moderating the event. “We want to know that we’re on the same page as women in New York and know how to be engaged not just in professional development, but in community, social and networking aspects as well.”

A poster that reads "Build Like a Woman," for the Design + Practice Exchange conference

Women Build poster by CannonDesign (Courtesy CannonDesign)

In addition, a session on advocacy and activism, two growing topics that architects today are more and more challenged by, will be lead by Colloqate’s Sue Mobley and Arielle Weiss of Urbhan. Whether it’s learning ways to uplift other women, bolster entrepreneurship, or combat gender discrimination and equal pay issues in the practice, the ideas exchange will give women from all backgrounds the support they need to do even better work. 

“We want greater collaboration,” said Rosen, “which is something that’s lacking between states.”

The Design + Practice Exchange will take place Friday, September 27 at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center, with an evening reception at the Center for Architecture and Design New Orleans. There will be a tour of women-led projects and organizations along Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. on Saturday morning, September 28.

The morning presentations and morning tour are free and open to the public, while the roundtable discussions and reception are limited with a registration fee. AN is an official media sponsor.

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