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Women in Architecture: Amanda Williams

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series at Optima, we’re taking a look at another spearheading female figure: Amanda Williams. Similar to many of the women in this series, she is a pioneer in her field. Trained as an architect, Williams blurs the line between visual arts and modern architecture. Learn more about her remarkable life and work below. 

The Life of Amanda Williams

Amanda Williams was born in 1974 in Evanston, Illinois. However, she grew up in Chicago’s Southside Gresham neighborhood. She graduated from Cornell University in 1997, where she studied architecture and was a member of one of the nation’s most prominent honor societies. After graduating, Williams moved to San Francisco and worked for a commercial architecture firm for six years before returning to her hometown to focus on her love of painting.

Back in Chicago, Williams discovered The Center Program. The Hyde Park Arts Center’s capstone program is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for groundbreaking artists. While in the program, fellow artist Trisha Van Eck challenged Williams to take her talents a step further and paint on a larger architectural scale. Her response led to some of her most recognized and celebrated work today. 

Throughout her practice, Williams uses vibrant color to draw attention to the complexities and intersections of race, place and value within cities. Her paintings, sculptures and installations are all created to examine how the mundane can be viewed through a new lens and question the state of urban space throughout the country. 

Flamin’ Red Hot, Color(ed) Theory, 2014
Flamin’ Red Hot, Color(ed) Theory, 2014

Notable Work

In 2015, Williams debuted her most famous project, Color(ed) Theory at Chicago’s Architecture Biennial. The critically acclaimed exhibition, featured in The New York Times, examines race and space on Chicago’s South Side. With the help of family and friends, Williams repainted eight abandoned houses in the Englewood neighborhood between 2014 and 2016 as part of the exhibition. Each house was decorated with specific colors Williams found in products targeted towards Black consumers. Still standing today, the eight eye-opening houses continue to push for further discussions on the complexities of race and space Chicago and around the world.

Chicago is home to another one of William’s most well-known pieces. Located at The Arts Club of Chicago, Uppity Negress was a site-specific exterior installation created in 2017. The work investigates the claim of courtyards as either public or private areas and addresses the vast roles that gender and race play in urban accessibility. 

While much of Williams’ work is located in or near Chicago, her aptitude for creation has led her across the United States. In early 2019, Williams was chosen alongside acclaimed artist Olalekan Jeyifous to design Brooklyn’s newest monument dedicated to Rep. Shirley Chisholm, part of a larger city-wide initiative known as She Built NYC. The monument is soon to be completed and will sit at the Parkside entrance to the neighborhood’s Prospect Park. 

A rendering of Williams and Jeyifous’ Shirley Chisholm Monument
A rendering of Williams and Jeyifous’ Shirley Chisholm Monument

Alongside her transformative work, Williams has been a recipient of many architecture and art awards as well as achievements throughout her career:

  • Chicago’s 3Arts Award, 2014
  • United States Artists Fellow, 2018
  • New Generation Leader, Women in Architecture Awards, 2021
  • Obama Presidential Center Design Team

Williams has lectured at esteemed schools including Washington University, California College of the Arts, Illinois Institute of Technology and her alma mater. Today, she continues to forge a lane of her own and blend traditional visual art techniques with the complexity of architectural design.

Women in Architecture: Anna Keichline

Women have been making strides in the field of architecture and design for centuries. Our Women in Architecture series recognizes the pioneering ladies that came before us, and paved the way for a more inclusive and innovative industry today. One such figure is Anna Keichline, whose impressive resume includes titles such as: American architect, inventor, suffragist and World War I Special Agent. 

The Life of Anna Keichline

Anna Keichline was born on May 24, 1889 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. The youngest of four children, Keichline showed creative genius at a young age. Gifted a workshop and carpentry tools by her parents, she spent her free time creating furniture and — at just 14 years old — won a prize at a county fair for a table and chest she’d made. The judges praised her work as comparing “favorably with the work of a skilled mechanic” and she told local reporters she intended to devote her life to industrial design.

It was no surprise then, when she pursued a degree in mechanical engineering, first at Pennsylvania State College and then at Cornell University. It wasn’t unusual during this time for schools to award women “certificates” rather than “degrees,” but when a rumor of this potential began to spread, Keichline’s classmates rallied and threatened to disrupt the commencement ceremony unless she received the degree she had earned. Kiechline graduated in 1911 and became the fifth woman ever to receive an architectural degree from Cornell. Though entering the male-dominated field was a daunting prospect at the time, Keichline felt sure of her place and purpose.

Keichline was an agent of change in all areas of her life: In 1913, she led a Suffragist protest march in her hometown of Bellefonte. She also served as a Special Agent in the Military Intelligence Division in Washington D.C during World War I, describing herself as: “twenty-eight and physically somewhat stronger than the average. Might add that I can operate and take care of a car [she owned her own automobile]. The above might suggest a drafting or office job, but if you should deem it advisable to give me something more difficult or as I wish to say more dangerous, I should much prefer it. You have asked for my salary in order to rate me… last year my fees amounted to something over six thousand. [the equivalent of $92,000 today].”

As Keichline tackled these feats and more, she was simultaneously setting the foundation for her successful career and the impact she would leave on the architectural world.

 

Anna Keichline, The Juanita Colony Country Clubhouse, Mt. Union, Penn., 1927. Archives of Nancy J. Perkins
Anna Keichline, The Juanita Colony Country Clubhouse, Mt. Union, Penn., 1927. Archives of Nancy J. Perkins

The Work of Anna Kiechline

Keichline believed that there was a place for women in the field of architecture, thanks in part to their unique and innate understanding of space in a home. 

During her post-graduate career, Keichline shared an office with her father (an attorney) and amassed an impressive portfolio of both residential and commercial buildings. She is renowned for becoming the first registered woman architect in Pennsylvania in 1920, where much of her work occurred.

Her work included the Plaza Theater in her hometown Bellefonte (1925) and the Juanita Colony County Clubhouse in nearby Pennsylvania town Mount Union (1927), among many others. She explored many architectural styles throughout her impressive career as well, including Colonial Revival, Gothic Revival and picturesque cottage houses. 

 

Anna Keichline, Building Block, #1,653,771 A, filed March 16, 1926, issued December 27, 1927. Anna Keichline Papers, Ms1989-016, Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Anna Keichline, Building Block, #1,653,771 A, filed March 16, 1926, issued December 27, 1927. Anna Keichline Papers, Ms1989-016, Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

In addition to designing buildings, Keichline was also an inventor and created many “time- and motion-saving” designs for kitchens and interiors. Overall, she owned seven patents — six for utilities and one for design. While her inventions span from a combination sink and washtub, to a foldaway sleeping bed compartment, to a portable partition replete with doors, windows, and eaves, her most famous invention by far is the “K Brick,” patented in 1927 and honored by the American Ceramic Society in 1931.

A forerunner of concrete block design today, the K Brick was an inexpensive, light, fireproof clay brick that could be filled with insulating or sound-proofing material, used for hollow wall construction. Keichline said of her K Brick that it “requires less to make than brick and because of its design takes less time to fire – the tile would reduce the weight of the wall by one-half.”

While Keichline passed away in 1943, her innovations and impact on the architectural field live on today — making her a remarkable figure and woman in history.

The History of AIA

At Optima, our love for the practice and art of architecture runs deep. As a way to connect with and participate in the greater architecture community, our architects are active members of the American Institute of Architects, widely known as AIA. An extensive resource and network for the architectural profession, the organization has a lengthy history than spans over 160 years. 

In 1857, thirteen architects met in the New York office of Richard Upjohn, a British-American architect famous for his Gothic Revival churches. The architects convened to discuss how to elevate the standing of the profession. With his influential background, Upjohn was a natural leader and the first president of AIA, serving the organization until 1876. Prior to the establishment of AIA, anyone could claim to be an architect due to lack of schools and licensing laws within the United States. AIA set out to elevate the standing of architecture as a profession and work together towards advancement in the industry. By 1876, AIA launched their first official chapter in New York, closely followed by Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston. 

Although founded in New York, AIA moved their headquarters to Washington, DC by 1898. From Daniel Burnham to Frank Lloyd Wright to Mies van der Rohe, the vast number of members within AIA’s lifespan have changed the built landscape of America. Since its founding, AIA has created standards of excellence, advocacy, education and social change, and continues to do so today.

Now, AIA has over 260+ chapters across the globe, with over 94,000 members worldwide. AIA members adhere to a code of ethics and professional conduct to reassure clients, the public and colleagues of their dedication to the highest standards in professional practice. David Hovey Sr. has earned the title of Fellow, FAIA, AIA’s highest membership honor for those that have exhibited exceptional work and contributions to architecture and society. David Hovey Jr.’s work has also been recognized by AIA numerous times, including a National AIA Award, AIA Distinguished Building Award, AIA Honor Awards, AIA Innovation Award, and AIA Divine Detail Awards from AIA Chicago and AIA Phoenix. His prefabricated system has been described by AIA jurors as the future of American housing.

A prestigious membership organization with deep roots and wide-reaching influence, the American Institute of Architects continues to promote the architectural profession, ensuring its successful, longevity and inspiration — and it is something that we are honored to be a part of.

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