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There has been much discussion raised about "Why are women leaving Architecture? and more broadly, Why is the profession losing key talent?"  Both women and men practitioners are disillusioned by the myth of work/life balance: Women are grappling with "have it all" expectations of juggling family time with the demands of full-time work.  Men are struggling to support their families solely on an architect's salary and fall back on asking spouses to maintain their jobs. The lack of affordable childcare and high cost of living only magnifies the challenges.  How did we end up in this modern family dilemma? What can we do to improve the situation?

How can Architects demystify the built environment?

2016 EQxD Hackathon Reflections from Jason Campbell, Associate AIA, Shawna Hammon, AIA and Karen Bala, AIA (with Jan Harmon and Lisa Bates).

It’s safe to say, AIA conventions are highly stimulating, nearing on overwhelming. There’s an existing urban fabric, in which 25,000 architects and designers are immersed for a three day period. Goals include learning and gathering as much information and resources as possible regarding your professional practice interests. Perhaps you like to keep your plan tailored, selecting a few key moments of educational opportunity. However, you still need to navigate a city’s wealth of activity.

Fortunately, those involved in the Equity by Design 2016 Hackathon, left this session with a refreshing and enriching experience; one which created the right frame of reference for the days to come. And most importantly, a license to take on the pertinent issues we face in our field and everyday life. Arriving at this point was extremely fun, yet really difficult.

Imagine standing around a white board with presumably nice and respectful individuals. You know very little about them beyond a general understanding of your divergent backgrounds. In a very short amount of time, you will be asked to identify, personal and professional commonalities, a common problem of interest in the field, and of course, a compelling and innovative process and solution to the problem.


Here lies one of the fundamental principles of equitable and diverse thought, the more backgrounds and experiences you bring to the table, the more fruitful your results will be.

“It all began with the egg exercise where we discovered our similarities and our uniqueness.  Our group enjoys reading and drinking wine – often at the same time.  We are all leaders in our communities with a consciousness for time (we all had watches on).  Perhaps most surprising was all the overlapping places we have travelled – New York City, Paris, London, Zurich, Munich and Rome – that is one well-travelled group!  But our uniqueness as individuals equally created a richness within our group.  Jan worked on a chicken ranch, Karen has taught English in Tokyo, Lisa recently lived in Shanghai, Jason enjoys not owning a car and biking to work, and I was a finalist in a global skyscraper competition.

– Shawna Hammon


Prior to the intensive group session, we tuned in for a panel discussion. Innovators and entrepreneurs took the stage and gave us a glimpse into their creative path and past experiences. They also happened to be our judges for our tailored pitch later in the afternoon.



Our Problem

How can we, as architects, demystify the built environment?

“Designers need to position themselves in their communities to help mediate, educate, and listen to the concerns of those around them. We need to demonstrate that design is valuable and accessible, and that our field is not exclusive; it simply takes the right lens to translate, comprehend, and respond to current events.

– F. Jason Campbell

Our Solution

We pitched an app which, when coupled with a phone’s camera will create a reference tool for designers and DIY practitioners to learn more about the spaces we all inhabit. This will be an accessible means to create awareness and, in turn, make us more conscious of the actions that facilitate our existence.

This app would allow anyone to take a picture of a building or a detail, and with that single image and keywords or hashtags, one could learn more about the design team involved on the project, historical precedent or reference, similar products, similar materials, or even molecular composition.  We all have different areas of interest, and if we can identify the common thread between these areas, we can create an outlet to learn about something new.

Demystifying Architecture Pitch - Jason Campbell, Lisa Bate, Jan Harmon, Shawna Hammon, AIA and Karen Bala, AIA

Demystifying Architecture Pitch - Jason Campbell, Lisa Bate, Jan Harmon, Shawna Hammon, AIA and Karen Bala, AIA


We’ve distilled a few major points from the kick off panel discussion, and the intensive design session:

  • What’s the worst that can happen?
  • Passion will drive you.
  • Finance - bootstrap and start small.
  • You can’t control everything – resilience.
  • At times, you will need to create your own equity.

“People from different parts of the globe came together with so many shared professional experiences. We can tackle difficult issues prevalent in our profession, and move the needle by simply (although the experience feels hard), gathering with a group of simultaneously like-minded and diverse individuals.”

– Karen Bala, AIA