Emily Pierson-Brown is passionate about advocacy and community service. Harnessing this passion as fuel to her work, Emily has created a place for herself that encompasses her skills and sets her apart from the crowd. As a licensed architect and a licensed planner, she approaches every project with a unique perspective. Emily has a magnetic personality and a true desire to understand design goals impacting the end-user.
A native of New Jersey and graduate from University of Virginia, Emily shared that following college, she did not go straight into architecture design. After working for Borders Books for 10 years, she began working for Design-Build firms in residential design. It is from here she felt her passion for giving back which led to her pursuing her dual master’s degrees in Architecture and City Regional Planning from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
While pursuing her master’s degrees, Emily had a studio mentor from Perkins Eastman. It is this link that, after graduation and moving to Pittsburgh with her wife, helped her connect with their Pittsburgh office. Perkins Eastman’s Pittsburgh office has the largest sector of Senior Living design for the firm. Looking at the large-scale side of planning campuses, systems, and placemaking, in addition to her strong background in residential architecture, Emily found a niche. As an architect, planner, and PEople Culture Manager for the firm, Emily tackles important design solutions for placemaking in low-income, to middle-income housing. Currently on Emily’s desk is a project for Opus Communities, a Jewish based inclusive campus. Co-locating with low-income housing, 2Life Communities is looking at how to tackle middle income housing. Emily shared that she sees a pressure on amenity spaces. Where there is a tendency to want more, but it’s not revenue generating, so she considers how those spaces can be more flexible.
“Change takes time,” Emily stated in our discussion. Emily encourages people to see where there may be unconscious biases and opportunities for change. It was only 50 years ago that Title IX was passed, prohibiting sex-based discrimination in school, and when the majority of representation in the architectural realm were white men. Her advice is for “women to determine what they want in their career and then advocate for it.” Perkins Eastman’s Pittsburgh office is comprised mostly of women, which is evidence of the move towards equality.
As an advocate in our architecture community, Emily co-started Women + in Design PGH. She began with conversations and researching what topics were important to marginalized voices of design in the Pittsburgh area. The organization has grown, providing events on a bi-monthly basis to continue those conversations, support each other, and spark change.
Megan Crites, Senior Associate, MKM architecture + design
AIA DFA Communications Committee member
Part of the Design for Aging Knowledge Community – Women in Architecture Series
What is Design for Aging? And who is designing these spaces? The AIA Design for Aging Knowledge Community shares knowledge in the design community aimed at improving the built environment for those in our society who are aging. That’s the short answer; a lot more research and practice goes into improving the spaces we design. And who is designing these spaces? Over the years, the architecture profession has been male-dominated. However, that fabric is changing. Female architects have been growing in numbers across the board, from technical designers, project managers, project architects, design architects, studio leaders, and business owners.
How does this growth in female design professionals reflect in senior living and care environments? The fabric is also changing in their industry. More females are Executive Directors, CEO’s, COO’s, and CFO’s of senior living campuses and care communities. The impact of this shift creates a transformation in dialogue and who’s voice is being heard.
So, the question came up, how can we highlight the growing voices of female architects who are focusing on Design for Aging? Interviews, for a start, and writing articles that highlight the architects and their work.
Several questions were posed to female architects across the United States. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to college? What does your career path look like? How or when did you start designing spaces for aging? What are you the most excited about in the work you are doing? What are you losing sleep over? What advise do you have for other female architects? And so on.
The experiences and conversations varied from interview to interview. Which is an important piece of the narrative for every Architect to hear. There were also some common threads that should not be ignored. What is our industry doing right? What do we need to stop doing? And more over, how can architects continue to positively impact Design for Aging?