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Design Like a Girl

Design Like a Girl

The Architecture department builds on its partnership with Providence’s Lincoln School, encouraging young women to engage with the built environment.

Lincoln School student Hannah Glucksman prepares to present her final project. | photo by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH

“I hope that this class has encouraged students to be curious – to constantly question the built environment around them,” said Architecture grad student Rebecca McGee MArch 16 on Wednesday. As this year’s grad student faculty leader, she welcomed friends and family to a celebration of an ongoing partnership between RISD and Lincoln School, an independent school for girls in Providence.

The goal of the partnership is to generate interest in architecture among young, female students with the hope of eventually balancing out the male-dominated field, explains Architecture Department Head Laura Briggs BArch 82. “The program is building momentum,” she noted, “and Becca has pushed the girls in this year’s class, Navigating the Architectural Process, a little bit harder. The resulting work is incredibly sophisticated.”

Equally impressed with the work students showed, Lincoln’s Head of School Suzanne Fogarty pointed out that an important part of the students’ experience is learning firsthand that design is an iterative process. “It’s not about right and wrong,” she noted. “Students had to face some uncomfortable moments and come up with a Plan B – and sometimes a Plan C.”

"I hope that this class has encouraged students to be curious—to constantly question the built environment around them."
Rebecca McGee MArch 16

At Wednesday’s final crit, the nine girls who participated in the 10-week studio course arranged their final projects –along with the sketches and models they created along the way – around a room in the Bayard Ewing Building (BEB), home to the Architecture department. Each had applied the design principles McGee taught to the challenge of designing a covered pavilion to house a sculpture along the Providence River, not far from the Point Street Bridge. Students were charged with proposing solutions that encourage pedestrian activity and engage both the waterfront and the city. As guest critics, Associate Professor of Architecture Jonathan Knowles BArch 84 and several grad students looked closely at each project and provided helpful feedback.

Lincoln sophomore Hannah Glucksman presented a large, sturdy cube in which the artwork would be suspended from the ceiling. Aluminum foil squares in her model represent openings in the pavilion that would allow visitors to track the movement of the sun from east to west. “I wanted to play with the light,” she explained, “and I liked the shadows it created.”

“Have you seen the Grande Arche outside of Paris?” Knowles asked. “It looks almost exactly like this!” He and other guest critics applauded her attention to detail. “You might want to make the two sides of the pavilion different to reflect the different contexts of the river and the city,” Ariel Resnick MArch 16 suggested.

Across the room, India Robert showed her design to Chris Beck MArch 16 and Celeste Martinez MArch 16. “I tried to contrast the brightness of the water with the darkness and heaviness of the pavilion,” she explained. Both grad students expressed appreciation for the precision of her plans and her sketches in particular. “It’s nice to see how you thought through the process via your drawings,” Martinez noted.

Faculty liaison Ruth Marris Macaulay, a history teacher at Lincoln School, also participated in the studio and seemed almost as nervous as her teenage classmates about presenting her work. “The most important lesson I took away from this class,” she said, “is that much of the feedback comes in the form of further questions – questions that challenge our thinking and call on our sense of curiosity. Questions are at the heart of this process.”

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