Interview: Despina Stratigakos and Kelly Hayes McAlonie for Architect Barbie
by Harry / May 21, 2011

If you were following MOCO LOCO at ICFF this year on Twitter and Facebook, you would have seen Architect Barbie assisting us with coverage of the shows. She was a popular topic of discussion in our social media threads.

To understand why, we interviewed her creators, Despina Stratigakos and Kelly Hayes McAlonie, two AIA members that have worked closely with Mattel on the entire Architect Barbie project.

Barbie has had several careers, why architecture now?

As a trailblazer, Barbie is always looking for aspirational and culturally relevant careers to take on - especially in fields where women are under represented. Barbie as an ambassador for female architects can help inspire a new generation of girls to become a part of this growing profession. Through Barbie, girls will be exposed to architecture and can 'try on' this career.


Architect Barbie in Montreal visiting the Bota Bota Spa by Sid Lee Architecture, and on top, in front of the geodesic dome by Buckminster Fuller.

From our Facebook comments, some readers were surprised Barbie used "real" blueprints vs. plotter prints, and that she uses a pink tube for the prints, perhaps a bit old-fashioned and cliché, or not?

Despina: Barbie needs to have accessories that are instantly recognizable to consumers outside of the design community - blueprints and design tubes are iconic to the profession. And in architecture, pink is anything but cliché.

Kelly: Drawings are still the embodiment of what we do as architects and the blue was more visually interesting than the white. As for the color of the drawing tube, pink is anything but cliché to girls (who are our target audience). In addition, pink is the official color of 2011!

Barbie was part of an architecture workshop at the AIA Convention and Design Exposition this month, can you tell us more about your experiences there?

Despina: The workshops brought together women architects with four hundred local girls. Before this experience, many of the girls had no idea what an architect does. We talked with them about our work, how long women have been active in the field (over 125 years!), and then we helped them create floor plans for Barbie's dream house, an exercise that encouraged them to conceptualize their ideal domestic environment. We were surprised at how eager the girls were to learn these skills and to what imaginative uses they put them. One of our favorite floor plans, created by a seven-year-old girl, included a room for monsters that kept the rest of the house comfortably monster-free. The girls were definitely empowered and this was especially important for us to see happen in the city of New Orleans, which needs the vision and abilities of all its citizens to rebuild.

Kelly: We developed much of the content for the workshops and lead many of the sessions with the girls. We wanted the workshops to do the following: provide a basic understanding of what architects do, give the girls a brief history of women in architecture that would highlight the anniversary of Louise Bethune's admission to the Western Association of Architects 125 years ago, and expose them to the design process. The 45 minute sessions encompassed these three aspects, with the girls designing Barbie's Dream House and imagining the skills that Barbie will require as an architect. They loved it. They all enjoyed the conversations with the volunteer architects and the opportunity to create a house floor plan in the design project. We were commended by AIA members who were touched by the look of wonder on the girl's faces during the workshop. Since then we have heard that a number of the girls said that it was the best field trip ever!


The American Institute of Architects and Mattel have collaborated for the Architect Barbie Dream House Design Competition. Per the AIA, "It's an opportunity for architects to design a home for Barbie that meets her guidelines, which include sustainable design principles, room for an office, open living and dining areas and plenty of room for her five pets, including her giraffe." Deadline for submissions is June 27, 2011.

+ Architect Barbie at Mattel

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