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Observations | Women Who Inspire Us

Inspirational Women Collage


As March comes to a close, so too does International Women’s Month. Let’s let it go out like a lion by celebrating the fierce women who inspire us to create, lead, and bring equality to both women and people of color in architecture, engineering and beyond. Here are seven of our staff’s most inspiring women:

Eileen Gray inspires our President Ellen Bailey Dickson.

Though she was a pioneer of the Modernist movement, you may not have heard of Eileen Gray. Ellen explains: “Eileen Gray was the first woman to design modernist 'domestic architecture', the villa e1027, and designed many modernist furniture pieces that are classics to this day. However, her work has been overlooked and sublimated to the fame of other male architects of the period who actually went so far as to deface her work. Despite this treatment, she stayed true to her design calling and aesthetics. To have such personal willpower to stay the artistic course is just fantastic!”

You can read more about Eileen Gray’s work here in 1843 magazine.

Michelle Obama inspires designer Kara Johnston.

Our previous First Lady is not an architect, but she has designed a way of thinking that has inspired Kara to fight for women’s rights professionally. “I saw her at the AIA conference in Orlando. She really made an impression on me. First, she argued that women working one less day a week to accommodate having children should never agree to getting paid less. In fact, women who typically agree to getting paid less work just as hard and efficiently as if they were working 40 hours a week. Second, she argued that women with the most power have to fight for women with the least. She reminds me to use my voice daily and try to change things that put working women at a disadvantage. That means a variety of things on a daily basis - Praise, support, advice, mentorship. So, thank you Michele, you've made working women stronger!”

Rosa Sheng inspires designer Lauren Garriott

Rosa Sheng is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architecture who has advocated for social change by founding Equity By Design, a San Francisco-based non-profit striving to improve equity and diversity in the architectural field not only for women, but also for minorities. Lauren says, “As a minority female architect and the founder of Equity by Design, she inspires me to be a thought leader and innovator in designing for equity, inclusivity and human-centered design that makes a positive social impact.”

Watch Rosa Sheng’s TEDx tak “Equity in Architecture” here.

Anni Albers inspires Administrative Assistant Lara Mann.

In a time when the art world was dominated by men, Anni Albers pushed through to become one of the most notable names in Bauhaus art. Lara says, “She was one of only a few women who studied at Bauhaus. Because of this, she was only allowed to use certain mediums, such as textiles, since it was considered 'women's work’ - yet she took this challenge and made it completely her own. She thrived with what she was given and did not allow that boundary to limit her creativity.”

You can learn more about Anni Albers’s contribution to the Bauhaus movement at the Albers Foundation website.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg inspires Senior Architect David Kennedy

Just as David works to improve the lives of the disadvantaged in his design of affordable house, he notes that “She has spent a lifetime working for the disadvantaged and has made a tremendous positive impact on our society.”

The Illinois Holocaust Museum is currently celebrating the life of this notable Supreme Court Justice. You can get a peek at the exhibit here.

Harriet Tubman inspires architect James Auler.

Harriet Tubman’s architecture is more figurative than literal: she helped to build a foundation of equality for minorities by leading them out of slavery through the Underground Railroad. James says, “Bravery in the face of defeat, her life spanned the times when slavery was business as usual to nearly the ratification of women's suffrage in the US. It was forward thinkers like her that ushered in higher levels of human rights and equality in the US.”

Learn more about Harriet Tubman's fight against slavery at the Harriet Tubman Museum Educational Center online.

Dina Griffin inspires Architect Todd Higginbotham

Though Ellen Bailey Dickson was his first answer, Todd also identifies Dina Griffin as an inspiration because “She has been a leader in the profession and has made a real mark with mentoring women and young professionals of color, illustrated by her elevation to AIA Fellow.” Dina Griffin is the president of Interactive Design Architects in Chicago and has contributed to the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Eckhardt Research Center at the University of Chicago, and the McCormick Place Events Center and Arena at DePaul University.