After 35 years of architectural practice leading her own firm, Beverly Willis, FAIA, was astounded and dismayed to discover that women were not represented in the architecture history books. In 2000, believing that the future is based on the past, she contacted architectural historians Diane Favro, Ph.D. and Lian Mann, Ph.D. who shared her concern. Joined by Heidi Gifford, together they provided the research that led to the formation in 2002 of the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation (BWAF), a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) organization—with the mission of advancing the knowledge and recognition of women’s contributions to architecture.
In 2004, Wanda Bubriski, also an architectural historian, became the Foundation’s first executive director. She was charged with the mandate to develop programs, cultivate partnerships, create networks, and build recognition for the Foundation among the nation’s educators of architecture and architectural history.
Initially organized as a grant giving non-profit, the Foundation supported research that would expand knowledge about women’s contributions to twentieth-century American architecture by uncovering their lost histories and restoring them to the historical record. While the Foundation remains committed to the historical project, it now embraces as well issues specific to women currently working within the building industry. To this end, BWAF both commissions and curates research that pertains to women working at all levels within all fields of practice —including architecture, engineering, construction, design, landscape, preservation, and planning.
A brief evolution of BWAF’s programming and educational outreach follows below, organized by year and the BWAF milestone(s) achieved:
- Founded February 21st as a private foundation with generous support from Beverly Willis that started an endowment fund.
- Criteria for a grant giving program developed.
- BWAF began Grant Program.
- Initiated the first BWAF Fellows.
- Offered first public program (BWAF Colloquium) at AIA-NY’s Center for Architecture.
- Inaugurated and co-sponsored with the National Building Museum, Washington, DC, an annual Women of Architecture program during Women’s History Month.
- Trustee Diane Favro created a Wikipedia-style database to form a collection of Women of 20th-Century American Architecture, initially called Timeline of American Women of Architecture.
- BWAF established a collaboration with the AIA’s National Archive to populate the nascent database with names of women AIA and FAIA members.
- BWAF sponsored and hosted the inaugural meeting of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture’s (ACSA) Women’s Leadership Council.
- Gwendolyn Wright, with help of BWAF funding, publishes USA: Modern Architectures in History, the first survey of American architecture to incorporate women into every chapter of its historical narrative.
- Timeline database software improved and renamed the Dynamic National Archive (DNA).
- Began curated research on women.
- BWAF produces its first film, A Girl Is A Fellow Here: 100 Women Architects in the Studio of Frank Lloyd Wright based on primary research.
- The film premieres at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum during its 50th Anniversary celebrations.
- Features Studio Gang at the National Building Museum program, thereby acknowledging contemporary practice during women’s history month.
- BWAF accepts a broader understanding of design that embraces all aspects of the built environment, which led the Foundation to re-evaluate and re-structure its programs to reflect the expanded mission.
- Inaugurated the Industry Leaders Roundtable.
- Began plans to expand DNA software and define the Women of 20thCentury American Architecture Collection, housed in the DNA.
- Inaugurated BWAF internships.