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Apr 04, 2023 By Laura Botham
Perspective Future Female: High 5
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5 women in design creating a future that is empowered, sustainable, and innovative
By Laura Botham Apr 04, 2023
Published in Articles

(Above: Shelley Halstead of Black Women Build-Baltimore. Photo by Jerry Jackson courtesy of Black Women Build-Baltimore)

What does it mean to move into the future as a woman who designs for the built environment? Whether it’s through reimagining how we think about designing place, through the use and development of materials, or encouraging new ways to think about the future, women are considering how our work can be implemented to support a changing world and culture. We highlight five woman designers who are redefining what it means to design for the future

ACTIVISM THROUGH TRANSFORMATION

Shelley Halstead
Black Women Build-Baltimore

Shelley Halstead, a 20-year carpenter-turned-corporate-attorney recognized the potential in the disinvested neighborhoods and empty homes in West Baltimore after moving from D.C. to practice law. Through Black Women Build-Baltimore, founded in 2017, she reclaims entire city blocks home by home, and recruits Black women and community members to help rebuild, and ultimately acquire, the homes. Women are not only acquiring the skills needed to maintain their homes, but they are learning marketable construction trades, a career that’s both male-dominated and currently experiencing a worker shortage. Paired with financial education, cohorts of Black women emerge from the program with a foundation for community, and tools to become homeowners. Black Women Build-Baltimore’s strategy transforms racially disinvested and redlined neighborhoods, and offers personal growth opportunities for Black women by advancing economic and social justice, and providing an equitable and community-centric future.

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Participants in the Black Women Build program are part of a program that leaves them with marketable job skills, the knowledge and tools to become self-sufficient homeowners, and the opportunity to purchase the renovated homes. Image courtesy of Black Women Build
Participants in the Black Women Build program are part of a program that leaves them with marketable job skills, the knowledge and tools to become self-sufficient homeowners, and the opportunity to purchase the renovated homes. Image courtesy of Black Women Build
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Black Women Build-Baltimore founder Shelley Halstead (R) works with Black women, investing in themselves and building community to secure a better future. Image courtesy of Black Women Build Baltimore
Black Women Build-Baltimore founder Shelley Halstead (R) works with Black women, investing in themselves and building community to secure a better future. Image courtesy of Black Women Build Baltimore

PRISMATIC LIGHT MEETS THE FUTURE

Kimsooja
Weaving the Light

The South Korean artist Kimsooja transformed Cisternerne, a cavernous underground reservoir-turned arts space in Copenhagen into a place where light and darkness, water and delicate sound are woven together into a psychedelic experience that is constantly in flux. Using the arched architectural features to frame refracted light along with etched diffraction film panels and water on the floor, the work provides an opportunity to be immersed in both darkness and the power of light. The immersive light paintings feel both magical and futuristic all at once, combining high-tech materials, and the omnipresent power of prismatic light into a “sacred sea.”

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Kimsooja's "Weaving the Light" exhibit at Cisternerne immerses the viewer in work achieved through combining high-tech materials with light. Photography by Torben Eskerod
Kimsooja's "Weaving the Light" exhibit at Cisternerne immerses the viewer in work achieved through combining high-tech materials with light. Photography by Torben Eskerod

FUTURE ROLES OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT

Claudia Pasquero
Otrivin AIRlab


Co-founder of ecoLogicStudio, an architecture and innovation firm specializing in biotechnology. Partnering with research labs they create and develop projects that reimagine the role of the built environment, engineering ways to purify the air, recapturing pollutants and regenerating oxygen. The Otrivin AIRlab is a nature-based circular economy where microalgae harvests biomass from the air to be converted into bioplastic and 3D printing biodegradable polymers, used to print products that support our respiratory health, like the NetiPot. Designed to be integrated into the public urban realm, encouraging experimental thinking and an awareness on the impact of air quality to public health in a post-pandemic work where the climate is rapidly shifting.

(Below: Claudia Pasquero harvests carbon dioxide captured by microalgae to be used in engineering biodegradable polymers. Image courtesy of ecoLogicStudio, ©NAARO)

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LOOKING BACK TO LOOK FORWARD, SUSTAINABLY

Yasmeen Lari
Architecture for the Future

Pakistan's First Woman Architect, Lari designed iconic modernist buildings before shifting her focus to a low-carbon, self-build movement for climate refugees and the landless; reexamining the role of architecture in the climate crisis. In the wake of the 2005 Kasmir earthquake that took nearly 80,000 lives and leveled more than 32,000 buildings, Lari implemented her system of zero-carbon architecture utilizing local economies, natural materials like mud, lime, and bamboo prioritizing the poor and landless that lost their homes. She provided training in self-building and women-centered ways of working that has produced tens of thousands of flood and earthquake-resistant homes alongside sanitation infrastructure, community facilities, and a low-smoke stove. Building for the poor in climate-affected areas, she leans on traditional methodologies and materials or heritage buildings that are resilient and climate-friendly as they utilize what is naturally available, and have withstood the test of time. As Pakistan faces some of the most devastating effects of the climate crisis, Lari’s work is essential in preserving life, livelihoods, and communities. In May, MIT Press will publish Yasmeen Lari: Architecture for the Future, a biography of Yasmeen Lari featuring photographs, drawings, and essay, some previously unpublished.

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Yasmeen Lari sits outside the women's center in Sindh province designed to withstand floods, and built from lime, bamboo, and mud. Image courtesy of the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan
Yasmeen Lari sits outside the women's center in Sindh province designed to withstand floods, and built from lime, bamboo, and mud. Image courtesy of the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan
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The Zero Carbon Cultural Centre was designed by the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan specifically to host hands-on workshops for locals to strengthen their skills and help them live better-quality lives. Image courtesy of the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan
The Zero Carbon Cultural Centre was designed by the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan specifically to host hands-on workshops for locals to strengthen their skills and help them live better-quality lives. Image courtesy of the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan

SOLAR FUTURES: POSSIBILITIES IN SOLAR POWER

Marjan van Aubel
Author of Solar Futures: How to Design a Post-Fossil World with the Sun


The eponymous Marjan van Aubel Studio sets out to create lasting change through integrating solar power seamlessly into the built environment as apparatus or object. Award-winning projects include the Sunne solar light, which captures the sun’s energy, mimics its glow, and provides a sleek and modern solar-powered lamp; and Ra, inspired by the Egyptian sun god Ra which turns solar energy into a piece of art using organic photovoltaics and electroluminescent paper. Van Aubel hopes to inspire others to invest and innovate in solar through her book, and in 2022 launched The Solar Biennale, and initiative with designer Pauline van Dongen to focus on the human angle of solar power—investigating how place-specific energy and cultural practices will determine how solar is used in a post-carbon future.

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Sunne, a solar powered lamp that brings solar power indoors, has SunPower Solar Cells facing the outdoors, and a LED light facing indoors with three settings that mimic the sun: Sunne Rise, Sunne Light and Sunne Set. Image courtesy of Marjan van Aubel Studio
Sunne, a solar powered lamp that brings solar power indoors, has SunPower Solar Cells facing the outdoors, and a LED light facing indoors with three settings that mimic the sun: Sunne Rise, Sunne Light and Sunne Set. Image courtesy of Marjan van Aubel Studio
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Ra, solar powered artwork puts a creative bend on what solar power can be harnessed into. Image courtesy of Marjan van Aubel Studio
Ra, solar powered artwork puts a creative bend on what solar power can be harnessed into. Image courtesy of Marjan van Aubel Studio
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