Architect Barbie: The debate and discussion, three years later

Architect Barbie.

Architect Barbie. Photo: Mattel

Co-creators Despina Stratigakos and Kelly Hayes McAlonie will be in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 23 to reflect on how the gender debate in the profession has changed

Release Date: October 13, 2014 This content is archived.

Despina Stratigakos and Kelly Hayes McAlonie, standing with Architect Barbie.

Despina Stratigakos (left) and Kelly Hayes McAlonie (right) led a nearly decade long campaign to bring Architect Barbie to fruition. The pair also helped design the doll. Photo: Mattel

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Architect Barbie was released by Mattel in 2011 to inspire young girls to make their mark on a profession where women remain grossly underrepresented. 

Three years later, the co-creators of Architect Barbie will reflect on how the 11.5-inch-tall doll, carrying a hard hat and pink drawing tube, has shaped the debate on gender balance in the profession.

Despina Stratigakos, PhD, associate professor of architecture at the University at Buffalo, and Kelly Hayes McAlonie, director of UB’s Capital Planning Group, will present “Architect Barbie: The Debate and Discussion 3 Years Later” at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 23, at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in Washington, D.C. 

The program and networking opportunity is sponsored by the National Preservation Institute’s “Women in Preservation” group.

Tickets are $25. To register, visit by Oct. 17.

Although Architect Barbie won Mattel's 2002 competition for the next career in its "Barbie I Can Be..." series, the company declined, at that time, to produce the doll. In 2010, after a long campaign on the part of Stratigakos and Hayes McAlonie, Mattel agreed to see the project through and asked the pair to join the design team.

Stratigakos’ and Hayes McAlonie’s statements in 2011 reflect their vision for Architect Barbie:

"We hope Architect Barbie not only introduces young girls to the profession,” said Stratigakos, “but that these girls shake things up once they get there. Although women comprise 40 percent of the students in architectural degree programs, they struggle to enter and remain in practice.

"We need to tear down the ideological fence erected long ago by the profession, which defines insiders according to traits culturally coded as masculine,” she added.

Hayes McAlonie said, "The career of architecture has been open to women for more than 125 years, and yet there is still gender disparity in the workplace, particularly in leadership roles.”

In 2011, the two introduced 400 girls to what architects do through an AIA-Mattel workshop in New Orleans that featured the work of past and present women architects, and an exercise to redesign Barbie’s Dream House.

“At no point during the workshops did I hear any girl question her spatial skills or the appropriateness of architecture for women. And that, precisely, is where Barbie’s power lies,” said Stratigakos in a 2011 article for Places Journal. “The fact is that Barbie appeals to little girls like no other toy. They are proprietary about her — they know the doll is just for them. And whatever Barbie does, she brings it into the sphere of women. She has the power to make things seem natural to little girls.”

Stratigakos is an internationally recognized architectural historian with particular interest in gender and modernity in European cities. She is the author of the award-winning book, "A Women's Berlin,” a history of a forgotten metropolis and winner of the German Studies Association DAAD Book Prize and the Milka Bliznakov Prize. Stratigakos has also published widely on issues of diversity in architecture and in 2007 curated an exhibition on Architect Barbie at the University of Michigan to focus attention on gendered stereotypes within the architectural profession.

Hayes McAlonie, past president of AIA New York State, began her career designing learning environments for children and later founded the AIA Western New York Architecture and Education Program to introduce schoolchildren to the world of design. She is a biographer of architect Louise Blanchard Bethune, a Buffalo native who, in 1885, was the first woman admitted to a professional architectural association.

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