There’s a lot of talk about the underrepresentation of women within the architecture and design industry, but not enough focus on those that are trailblazing within the fields. We’d like to introduce you to three Brick & Wonder women from various walks of life, each rooted in architecture and currently creating with intention. Through their distinct styles and extensions beyond architectural designs, these three young women (coincidentally, all under age 40) are working toward leaving behind a legacy.
Growing up under communist rule in Romania, it was standard for men and women to take on the same kind of work. This came with advantages for Brooklyn-based architect, Ramona Albert, who explains that she never grew up with a notion of gender bias within various professions. “That was all new to me when I came here,” she says.
Over the past few years, Albert has transitioned from being the project manager for facade installations on large-scale New York City-based developments like the Lincoln Center synagogue and Barclay’s Center, to founding her own namesake architecture firm that focuses on a design-build approach.
“I became really interested in an idea centered on speed and robotics in construction. I wanted to know how these things could be utilized and how construction speed could be improved, particularly in New York City,” says Albert. She advocates for a similar sort of streamlined process when it comes to constructing that’s already in place for glass facade installations.
Albert is determined to develop an elaborate design-build process that seamlessly allows technology, sustainability, and luxury to interlace. Instead of creating a design and then spending years figuring out how to construct it, Albert designs with the build aspect already in mind, relying on techniques that include prefabrication, 3D printing, and robotics. A chapel atop a mountain in Transylvania, a single-family residence being constructed in Brooklyn, and the renovation of an 1850s home in Long Island are among Albert’s design-build projects.
It will take some time before she sees her vision for design-build in New York City fully realized; the approach has drawn mixed reactions from officials, despite its proven potential to save time and money.
“When you’re building in places like New York, there are so many factors to work through and you can’t just bring a robot into a block,” says Albert. “These things challenge me to develop further ideas when it comes to building in the city.”
But Albert remains hopeful that one day, she will get to create her dream project—one that will be built in the context of a city, entirely constructed with the use of robotics, Virtual Reality (VR), 3D printers, and other technology that speed up the construction process.
Nigerian architect and product designer Tosin Oshinowo can recall being spatially conscious from an early age. Pair that with her tendency to excel in art and other creative activities and her career path became obvious—she was destined to be an architect. “There was no plan B,” says Oshinowo, founder of Lagos-based firm, CmDesign Atelier (CmD+A) and lifestyle furniture line, Ilé-Ilà, which means “House of Lines” in Yoruba, Oshinowo’s native language.
Oshinowo’s passion to become an architect led her from Lagos to London, where she obtained degrees in architecture and urban design. Her years spent in the United Kingdom brought awareness to the vast differences between architectural styles found throughout Europe, compared to those found in Nigeria and other African countries. She quickly realized that much of modern existence in Africa has been molded by external influences from colonialism, something she takes issue with.
“It does upset me a little that the idea of the African building doesn’t really exist in a physical form,” Oshinowo says. “Colonialism stripped so much away from the African identity that we didn’t get to witness the natural evolution of a building here.”
Within her predominantly women-employed practice, Oshinowo attempts to create designs that start to shift the narrative, making it more about personal and cultural identities, merged with clean lines to create what she calls “Afro-minimalism.”
Nigeria’s architecture industry is relatively small, and it’s number of female architects that are practicing, even smaller, creating a unique set of challenges for Oshinowo. Ageism is also an issue, says Oshinowo, resulting in the 39-year-old finding herself having to convince clients that she is right for the job. However, this issue has largely been eliminated after the completion of her biggest project to date, the Maryland Mall in Lagos, earned her a newfound respect.
Since its 2016 opening, the Maryland Mall has put CmD+A “above the parapet,” says Oshinowo. “The biggest thing I’m thankful for from the exposure that project gave me is that I no longer have to sell myself and my competence as a young person for every job I go for.”
Tosin Oshinowo is a member of the Black Artists + Designers Guild (BADG), a global platform that highlights the work of black designers and artists throughout the African diaspora. BADG is a member of the Brick & Wonder community.
The evolution of Magdalena Sartori’s career has aligned with her personal growth and self-transformation process and she’s hoping to provide a space where others can foster a similar experience. The Uruguay-born architect and real estate developer is now the Chief Creative Officer of The Assemblage, a community of coworking, co-living, and social spaces in New York City, centered around consciousness, transformation, and interconnection.
Founded in 2016 with her business partner Rodrigo Nino, The Assemblage was designed “with the intention of supporting the evolution of humanity by providing spaces that reframe the way we work, live, and interact with each other.” As a result, each of the company’s two Manhattan locations (both materialized through Nino’s crowdfunding platform, Prodigy Network) offer a holistic approach to co-work and co-living, offering curated community experiences, Ayurvedic foods that promote wellness, and daily meditation.
Sartori’s desire to create spaces that contemplate our relationship to the environment can be attributed, in part, to her international background. Born in Uruguay, raised between Geneva and Paris, with a career that has landed her on projects in cities like London, Hong Kong, and Dubai, Sartori has learned that the magic of a space lies within the energy that it contains and the meaning that end users bring into it. “I’m endlessly inspired by spaces and our relationship to environment, how space can change the way we feel, as well as the way we interact with ourselves, each other, and the cosmos,” she explains.
Throughout her career in architecture and development, Sartori felt a need to embrace a more masculine approach as a survival mechanism, but these days, acknowledging her femininity is vital for fulfilling her mission.
“A few years ago, I went through a deep reconnection and acknowledgment of my feminine body and it opened a multitude of doorways in my creative process —into realms of feelings, the unseen, and the esoteric,” says states. “I now use this new creative access extensively in my work and often approach the creation of spaces from that place.” This acceptance of femininity is just as important for Sartori as the Feng Shui, Vedic architecture, and Biogeometry systems she employs in her work.
As of now, Sartori is focusing on getting the third Manhattan location for The Assemblage open in a few months, before exploring the possibilities of expanding the brand to other cities, both domestic and international.