Bubriski on Barbie

Architect Barbie’s been getting a lot of play recently.  Ever since she made her first (still unofficial) appearance last month at the Toy Fair here in New York, the blogosphere has been abuzz.

It’s her appearance, literally—the blonde cascading pony-tailed hair, sky-line trimmed dress, spike-heeled boots, accessorized with hot pink drawing tube and sporting almost-Libeskind-look-alike glasses atop her head—that’s eliciting the most commentary from around the country and beyond, and from architects, male and female alike (see below).

All this focus on her image is, I think, a bit shortsighted.  Taking a longer view, the appearance of Architect Barbie presents us all—but especially the young girls aged 6-11 for whom the doll is designed—with an opportunity—actually, a couple of opportunities.

First, Barbie has a choice about what she does. With the career-themed series, “I can be,” Barbie can and does go out in the world with a full plate of career choices at her finger tips –about 125 to be exact, including computer engineer, doctor, race car driver—now soon architect.  Like a little girl’s big sister, Barbie signals to the younger set, anything’s possible—no roadblocks… yet.

Second, Architect Barbie can show young girls, and parents as well, what a career in architecture involves—other than long hours and dress code black—and what architecture produces, including congenial public spaces as well as structures with diminishing carbon footprints.  Or, simply put, it’s a career choice that allows Barbie to design and build her own dream house or emergency housing for victims of earthquakes and floods.  Let’s hope that the savvy toymaker embraces its own opportunity and will, like any good designer, develop around this doll some cool and sophisticated programming about the practice of architecture and its importance in shaping our built environment.

So why is the BWAF so interested in Architect Barbie? Well, the BWAF Briefly scooped the story last fall in an interview with Despina Stratigakos, University of Buffalo architectural historian and past BWAF Fellow, who, along with Kelly Hayes McAlonie, architect and 2011 President-Elect for American Institute of Architects New York State, have been spearheading the drive to make Barbie into an architect.  Both live and work in Buffalo—hometown to America’s first known woman architect, Louise Blanchard Bethune, who started her own practice in 1881, and whose Lafayette Hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

As Architect Barbie prepares for her debut later this year, let’s hope that she’s willing to take a look back at the real role models like Architect Louise, and other pioneers. I bet Architect Barbie would learn a lot, and I bet further that she’d begin to understand why her own presence has clearly become a lightening rod for conversations that we need to have.

- Wanda Bubriski

— The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author, and are not those of the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation—

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