Architect Barbie Adventures: Meeting Mr. Wright

By A. Lira V. Luis posted 07-26-2011 01:10 AM


One of the first things people do when they decide to become a homeowner is to go see houses in which they would want to live. We all have dreams about what would that ideal house be like. It is probably the single most expensive purchase one will make in a lifetime, and as such, carefully thought-out designs need to be made.

photo by Elizabeth Melas


The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and Mattel understood the importance of good and responsible design when they launched the Architect Barbie Dream House Competition. So when I received an Architect Barbie doll from the AIA, I asked myself what it meant for me as a female architect. Was this doll intended to represent my gender and my profession; or was it intended to convey a message beyond the predominantly pink color and perfect vital statistics?

Maybe Architect Barbie is there to connect people, from a girl who sees a photo of it in a magazine and begins to dream about being able to design and build her own house; to the parent wanting to send a message to a child that they can be whatever they dream to be and how women can play significant roles in society.

Knowing the impending Architect Barbie Dream House Call for Designs, I decided to take this token architect-doll to a place where I learned best, how to design a house--at Taliesin by Frank Lloyd Wright.

These Boots Are Made For Traveling

Architect Barbie was first introduced at this year’s American Institute of Architects National Convention in New Orleans, as “Career of the Year” of Mattel. This Barbie line is an attempt to encourage girls to think about architecture as an attainable career goal. With that in mind, this doll packed her bags and gathered some friends in the industry for a visit to a historical landmark that is considered the summer home of one of the greatest architects who ever lived, Frank Lloyd Wright. What better way to travel there than to set an example for sustainable practices that minimize impact on the environment--carsharing! It is is a model of carpooling where people rent cars for short periods of time. Evidence indicates that carsharing can provide numerous transportation, land use, environmental, and social benefits. It helps reduce traffic congestion and pollution by keeping more cars away from city streets and highways. In Chicago, several architecture firms like Adrian Smith & Gordon Gill Architects, Burns + Beyerl Architects, Eckenhoff Saunders Architects, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, and Perkins+Will, have adopted this concept of sustainable travel, as shared by Carolyn Hahn, Marketing Manager at Zipcar.


Carsharing as an environment-friendly travel option.

Barbie at Taliesin’s 100 Years

This year marks the 100th anniversary year of Taliesin, which means “shining brow” in Welsh. “Taliesin represents more than just great design--it exemplifies Wright’s philosophy that the true sense of organic architecture is the integrated oneness of the land, the building, and the spirit of life,” as written by the Taliesin 100 Years Host Committee. As Architect Barbie sits by the catwalk at The House, maybe pondering how she could make her own dream house sympathize with the environment, I recall reading Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic Robert Campbell's reflections about Taliesin in this way: ”...maybe the greatest single building in America.”

Top left and right photo: Architect Barbie at the Taliesin catwalk, Bottom photo: Inside The House

Photos by Elizabeth Melas



Taliesin features the mitered corner window that Mr. Wright pioneered, which Architect Barbie quickly discovered. Frank Lloyd Wright, in an interview with Hugh Downs in 1953, described it this way: "The corner window is indicative of an idea...that the box is factious--the architecture of freedom and democracy needed something besides the box...While the corner window came in as all the comprehension that ever was given to the act of the 'destruction of the box'. The light came in where it never came before. Vision went out and you had screens instead of walls. Here the walls vanished as walls and the box vanished as a box and the corner window went around it but the idea of the thing never followed it. It became merely a window instead of a release of an entire sense of structure." Now that Architect Barbie got an overview of what it means to build using organic principles, she can go back to her studio and apply the lessons learned. The experience then becomes an example of what the Taliesin Fellowship is about--learning by doing.


Architect Barbie back at the drafting table. Photo by Elizabeth Melas




During the course of the travel, I realized that Architect Barbie has become more than an abstract representation of gender or profession. She has the potential to speak a universal language among girls and architects alike, demonstrating ideals that we profess as architects and sharing those with a younger generation who will eventually be the future architects. In simple expressions such as a toy, any generation can relate and perhaps begin to understand where we first learned how to dream--through playing.

Taliesin Preservation is hosting events for the Centennial Celebration all summer and into the fall.  For more information, go to

Elizabeth Melas
has been an accomplished photographer for more than two decades. She has had exhibitions of her work in Chicago, New York, and Paris. Early in her photography career, she developed a new technique using infrared film. She was selected as a fellow to The International Women's Forum Leadership Foundation, a prestigious award granted to professional women who have established themselves in their chosen field. Get LinkedIn with her.

AP BD+C, is principal architect at Atelier Lira Luis, LLC. She believes in transforming the world and society through designs that are sensitive to sustainability and address social responsibility. She was National Geographic's 2010 Aspen Environment Forum Scholar and reigning 2010 American Institute of Architects (AIA) ATHENA Young Professional Awardee. This year she was Tile of Spain's Reign In Spain winner and i4Design Magazine's Suite Sixteen Awardee. Follow her in Twitter: @liraluis or Get LinkedIn with her.

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