At the premiere of one of Beverly Willis' several documentaries, titled “Unknown New York: The City That Women Built,” the 92-year-old had this to say about how she ended up spending her post-retirement years: “When I was 75 years old, I discovered that women were not included in architecture history.”
But while the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation (BWAF) has strived to right this injustice in the AEC industry, the architect herself has been a mentor and advocate for female engineers and architects for more than a half-century. ENR New York is happy to announce that she is this year's Legacy Award recipient. She'll be profiled in our January 2019 issue and celebrated at our Regional Best Projects Awards Breakfast on Oct. 2, 2018.
Willis began her career in the 1950s, when few women were in the profession. In the face of male dominance, she started her own architecture practice, which she ran for 55 years and through which she logged more than 800 buildings in her portfolio. Some of her best known work includes Manhattan Village Academy in New York City; the San Francisco Ballet Building in San Francisco; and Yerba Buena Gardens.
On Nov. 4, 1976, Willis was the first woman to appear on Engineering News-Record’s cover. In 1978, she went to Washington D.C. to press the AIA to support passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. She has also held such leadership roles as U.S. delegate to the U.N. Conference on Habitat I; executive committee member of the National Academy of Science’s Board on Infrastructure and Constructed Environment; chair of the Federal Facility Council; and founding trustee of the National Building Museum.
After retirement, in 2002 Willis spent $1 million of her own money to establish the BWAF. The foundation has created Webby Award-nominated online archives on female architects; curated exhibits celebrating female engineers and architects; and produced several documentaries. All are in service of BWAF’s goal of changing the culture of the design and construction industry so that women’s work is acknowledged, respected and valued.
Willis was #MeToo decades before the hashtag.