Story at a glance:

  • gb&d had conversations with 10 architects across North America on what it means to design for equity.
  • We explore how designing for equity shows up in these architects’ work today.

Some are long-established in their careers and continue to push the industry forward. Some are newer faces who are stepping out to shake things up.

From Atlanta to Detroit, Mexico City to Southern California and beyond, these 10 architects are redefining justice in the built environment across North America with conversations that go beyond questioning the status quo.

Follow the links below for more on the inspiring work these architects are doing now.

Kimberly Dowdell, HOK

“I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.”

She doesn’t like to say it, but technically it’s true. She’s been a leader for more than 30 years. She laughs because, well, she’s 40. But even as a kid her peers turned to her when someone needed to step up. They’d say, “Kim, you should be the leader.”

Today Dowdell serves as president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) while continuing her busy role as the director of strategic relationships at HOK, a global design firm. She’s also past president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA)—essentially a six year-commitment that ended in 2022.

Full story here.

Pip Lewis, HMFH Architects

“I saw it as an injustice going on.”

Philip “Pip” Lewis grew up in Detroit, and between his home city, visits to relatives in Chicago, and weekend trips to Toronto, by junior high he’d developed a strong interest in the built environment.

After completing his master’s at MIT in 1981, Lewis was hired as “a junior drafter” at Cambridge’s HMFH Architects. He’s now a principal at the firm, where he’s spent his entire 42-year career.

Full story here.

Lindsey Wikstrom, Mattaforma

“It takes a level of care to question the status quo.”

Wikstrom’s team is made up of “good listeners,” and that’s in part because of the firm’s size. In May 2024 the team was less than five people.

Wikstrom takes great care in choosing who she works with, internally and externally.

She also loves talking to students and strives to work with people who might have been historically disenfranchised.

Full story here.

Tatiana Bilbao, Tatiana Bilbao Estudio

“I believe architecture provides a primary form of care to our bodies. Without it we cannot exist on the planet.”

Tatiana Bilbao dreams of sleeping in a hammock, in a home where Western ideas of “bathroom” and “bedroom” are turned on their heads.

“How can we create architecture that becomes a platform for anyone to create their own way of living in it?” As it stands, she says every decision an architect or designer makes about a space determines how it can or cannot be used.

Full story here.

Annya Ramírez-Jiménez, Marvel Architects

“We’re always trying to find the opportunity in everything.”

Annya Ramírez-Jiménez is a partner at Marvel Architects and has been with the civic-oriented firm since 2016.

She and her colleagues are always looking for the potential in projects as well as how they can add to the community.

Full story here.

Rachael Grochowski, RHG A+D

“On a spiritual level I believe design has this ability to bring us back together.”

Rachael Grochowski is committed to the idea that design is spiritual and people are all connected. We depend on one another.

“When you start to look at it through that lens, it starts to affect your ability to connect to gratitude—to your own self and to those around you. On a spiritual level I believe design has this ability to bring us back together.”

Grochowski started her own firm, RHG A+D, in 2004 after largely working in luxury hospitality. Today her work centers on making more equitable work.

Full story here.

Michael Allen, MOA Architecture

Michael Allen is designing hate into hope.

Allen, who founded MOA Architecture in 2019, is part a team working to transform a former Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi headquarters into a center for racial healing.

As one of the few Black registered architects in South Carolina, he thought it would be a strong representation to come in and be the lead architect of record on a project like the old Echo Theater.

“We want to transform a building from a symbol of hate into something positive for the community and the state.”

Full story here.

Lilian Asperin, WRNS Studio

“Who else is not here who we should be hearing from to feel like everybody’s represented?”

Lilian Asperin joined WRNS Studio in 2015 and became a partner in 2018.

She’s been reflecting on her career a lot lately, having been invited to speak to students recently at her alma mater, UC Berkeley, where she graduated in 1993. It dawned on her that 30 years had passed and she thought, “What have I learned since then?”

Asperin has been committed to sustainability and equity throughout her career, but, she says, it was time to double down.

“In this third decade of my career, I call it ownership. I literally am an owner in this firm, and I have this incredible sense of responsibility to own these ways of working. I can’t only just dream about them. I have to own this.”

Full story here.

Hafsa Burt

“There’s a huge opportunity in bringing existing building stock to its highest use and making it a place of pride for the community.”

Architect Hafsa Burt is focused on designing healthy places people can believe in.

The founder of hb+a Architects says she and her colleagues have a moral obligation to re-examine common practices of the past.

“There’s a history of land-use practices in the US being racially motivated, and those practices can actually contribute to [disparities in] the mental and physical health of community members.”

Full story here.

Nicolia Robinson, Cooper Carry

“I became more interested in what really makes a community work.”

Nicolia Robinson is the director of urban planning and design at the firm Cooper Carry.

She’s committed to designing “third places” that are authentic, while investing in communities often forgotten.

Full story here.