Six years ago, Emily Pilloton was a practicing architect. This is no small feat, especially in a world where less than a quarter of architects are women. She was working on commercial projects and designing furniture in her off time. Still, when she looked at her work, which she characterized as “nice stuff for rich people,” she didn’t like what she saw.
“I was really just frustrated and unhappy and fed up,” she told the NEW_S recently over the phone. “I didn’t want to work on projects I didn’t care about. I refuse to do work that doesn’t matter.”
She quit her job and started nonprofit public-interest design and architecture agency Project H. At first, her only plan was to do something that she could be proud of. Over the past six years, Project H has evolved into a major youth-oriented design shop, and Pilloton herself has authored several books and given a TED Talk on the subject of socially-engaged design. On Thursday, March 20th, Pilloton will deliver the 2014 Michael Kalil Design Follow Lecture here at Parsons The New School for Design.
At first, Pilloton operated Project H like a traditional design firm, looking for clients and booking projects. Eventually, she realized that her work had more power if she took agency and sought out her own projects. These have included farmstands, playgrounds, school gardens, public chicken coops, an ongoing project to make charming modular furniture designed by middle school students, and a 2,000 square-foot market in North Carolina, the building of which is the subject of the recent documentary If You Build It.
This is also the title of Pilloton’s Kalil Lecture, which will focus on highlighting the work of the young people who work with Project H in a variety of fields: welding, carpentry, architecture, and more. More broadly, she says, she hopes to show young designers that it’s not only possible, but also fulfilling, to work outside of a traditional practice.
“The heart of design is in problem solving,” says Pilloton. “The problems that we face every day as human beings are inherently social and economic. I’m in my 30s now, and every designer who’s younger than me has the urge to do design work that addresses some of these problems. I have this feeling that a lot is going to be changing for the better.”
The Michael Kalil Endowment for Smart Design was established in 2001 in memory of designer Michael Kalil at the School of Constructed Environments. The Endowment fosters the understanding of the design intersections between nature and technology and to support a heightened sense of responsibility for increasing the sustainability of built environments. Each year the Endowment awards three Memorial Fellowship Project Grants and sponsors a lecture by an annual Kalil Fellow.
Emily Pilloton will deliver the 2014 Michael Kalil Design Fellow Lecture on Thursday, March 20, 2014 at 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm. More information here.