Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer

Alumni panelists from the architecture community gathered Wednesday evening to discuss the potential of architecture to create social change — and why that change needs to be brought into the architectural mainstream.

Organized by Yale Women in Architecture — an alumni organization for graduates of the School of Architecture — as part of the Schwarzman Center’s virtual programming this semester, the event drew faculty, students and alumni together to discuss how the design of a built environment can influence movements of social change. Panelists were invited to speak on their efforts in the architecture field, from local grassroots work in environment restoration to the design of memorial sites for gun violence in New Haven. Jessica Kung Dreyfus ’04, a member of YWA who proposed and moderated the event, said that she was “so moved” by the testimonies of the panelists.

“As I respond to the potency of your work, I feel a renewed faith in architecture … and how the built environment can restore our faith and heal our societies,” Kung Dreyfus said.

Kung Dreyfus’ inspiration for the event came from her time working with the Schwarzman Center to develop a relationship with local Indigenous communities. She then reached out to colleagues in YWA, many of whom jumped at the opportunity to demonstrate the potential for social change in architectural design.

According to Associate Arts Director of the Schwarzman Center Jennifer Newman, who co-moderated the event, YWA’s discussion was exactly the type of interdisciplinary conversation that the center is designed to foster.

“When Jessica reached out to me about a YWA series, it made perfect sense that we would collaborate,” Newman told the News. “YWA is exactly in that intersection that we are interested in at Schwarzman.”

The Schwarzman Center will remain under construction until December and will continue offering virtual programs throughout the semester.

YWA co-chair Celia Imrey ARCH ’93, who attended Wednesday’s event, told the News that though YWA is led by women, the organization, which acts as the alumni association for the Yale School of Architecture, is open to all alumni and students and aims to advance an array of social movements. According to Imrey, YWA was formed in 2013 as a response to the male-dominated nature of the architectural world.

“Half of the graduates from professional degree programs in architecture are women, and yet they only represent a quarter of [architectural] licenses,” Imrey said. “It drops off even further when you look at people of color.”

The need for greater representation in architecture was underscored by Kung Dreyfus, who earned her bachelor’s degree in architecture at Yale. According to Kung Dreyfus, women and minorities faced significant obstacles in the field 20 years ago, which led her to pursue a professional degree in fine arts rather than architecture.

Kung Dreyfus, a self-described “practitioner of placemaking,” founded her studio Make Conscious to reframe the relationship human designers have with the space and land around them. She expressed hope that students and alumni attending Wednesday’s discussion would have an increased awareness of the societal contexts behind the built environments they create.

“The average architect is not involved with civic conversations,” Kung Dreyfus said. “My hope is to bring [social change] from the fringe of architectural practice into a norm, to shift the needle of what architects are considered to be responsible for in dictating the built environment.”

In 2016, architect and professor Deborah Berke became the first female dean of the Yale School of Architecture.

Isaac Yu | isaac.yu@yale.edu 

Isaac Yu was the News' managing editor. He covered transportation and faculty as a reporter and laid out the front page of the weekly print edition. He co-founded the News' Audience desk, which oversees social media and the newsletter. He was a leader of the News' Asian American and low-income affinity groups. Hailing from Garland, Texas, Isaac is a Berkeley College junior majoring in American Studies.