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The ArchRecord Interview: Beverly Willis, FAIA

October, 2007

Interviewed by Henry Ng

Beverly Willis, FAIA, began her own architectural practice and an impressive career in San Francisco during the 1960s, when a woman more likely was found matching upholstery to wall hangings than wielding blueprints at a construction site. But don’t call her a female architect. Architect and activist, influential and improbable, is fine.

Beverly Willis
Photo courtesy the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation
Above: an 18-minute video of Beverly Willis’s conversation with Henry Ng.
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During her 30-year career, Willis designed more than 700 projects, represented the United States as one of two architects at the United Nations Habitat 1 conference, in 1976, and helped found several noteworthy organizations including the National Building Museum, in Washington, D.C., and Rebuild Downtown Our Town, a grassroots coalition of residents and businesses in Lower Manhattan that provided planning input after the destruction of the World Trade Center.

Willis hopes to make more stories like her own possible. In 2002, she founded the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation to build a better profession—one in which women’s roles are more fairly represented and their accomplishments more readily recognized. But Willis believes that stories about female architects that focus solely on their gender only serve to ghettoize women. A single and inclusive history is her dream project. “The truth is that women are part of history, they’re not separate from it,” Willis explained in a recent interview with RECORD.

The foundation’s latest effort, a colloquium entitled “Women in Modernism: Making Places in Architecture,” takes place on October 25 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), in New York City. The colloquium will examine how the process of recording history, by institutions such as MoMA, may have overlooked women’s contributions to modern architecture. Speakers include Toshiko Mori, an architecture professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design; Gwendolyn Wright, a professor of architecture at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture; Sarah Herda, executive director of the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts; Karen Stein, a writer and the former editorial director of Phaidon Press; and Beverly Willis herself. Barry Bergdoll, recently appointed the Philip Johnson chief curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA, will moderate a panel discussion between the speakers.

 

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