Elizabeth Graziolo didn’t set out to be an architect. The Haitian-born Graziolo loved math and thought engineering was her path, until she applied to an architecture program at Cooper Union School of Architecture. “After my first semester, I saw how architecture impacts us on so many levels,” Graziolo says “I looked at what I had created in such a short time and the possibilities of what I could do there seemed endless. I fell in love with the field that year and never looked back.”
Cooper Union’s conceptual-based architecture program enriched Graziolo with modernism, but her career path led her to become a partner at New York’s Peter Pennoyer Architects, vanguards of New Classical architecture. “Architecture makes you look at the world a different way. It’s a different level of awareness, and I love the puzzle aspect of it. I love applying a ‘modern edge’ to details.”
As a woman in a field predominantly populated by men, Graziolo acknowledges the challenges women, and women of color, face. “It is challenging to be a woman in architecture, as I am sure the same could be said for women in general in any professional field. As women, we find ourselves working twice as hard to be seen as a leader. And to add to it, I’d venture to say it’s even more challenging as a woman of color. I think people are always afraid of the unknown, and since the field is dominated by white males, many are taken aback when I walk into the room. But once they get to know me, everything usually works out fine. The only thing is, I always feel like I have ‘to prove myself’ at the beginning of every project, even after decades in the field.”
Graziolo aims to bring more women into architecture through mentorship programs. She participated in Rise in the City 2018—an international architecture competition for students for affordable residential housing in Lesotho—and mentored an Afghanistan-based student. Graziolo also will host a Mentoring Seminar for Women Entering the Profession of Architecture open to ALL young women entering the profession of architecture, with Anik Pearson and Nancy Kleppel, and directed by Angelique Pierre.
Join us as we sit down with Graziolo to learn more about what keeps her in love with architecture and how she brings inspiration to her field.
What appealed to you about modernist architecture? What appealed to you about classical architecture?
I like the complete freedom from any precedence when you are designing something modern. Classical architecture is quite an enjoyable atmosphere to work in, given the long history of design you can draw upon when creating. There are many proven customs and “rules” that one can use as a framework to build upon, knowing they have centuries of success backing them up.
What connections did you make between modernist and classical architecture?
It is nice to have been trained in the modern way, which I love, but classical architecture helped me understand the way a structure should relate to human scale. It’s not totally abstract, which sometimes you find in modern work, where human interaction might be of secondary importance.
By learning how a structure affects the way an occupant feels, for example, how the height of a window sill when someone stands next to it allows them to look out comfortably, or how to locate room relationships to create good flow, you start to think from the person’s point of view. By pulling from both worlds, I can design a modern structure that not only can be different from the norm but also creates spaces that feel good to its occupants.
What role do you see classical architecture taking today?
Classical architecture creates a connection or a bridge to how people lived in the past, which I find interesting, and this allows us to learn from history to create beautiful structures during our time.
What are the trends you see in architecture today? Sustainability? Women’s participation?
I would say both. There’s definitely a big push for designing energy-efficient structures, and with the #women’s movement there’s definitely more open discussion about women’s role in the industry, especially within the traditional architecture world.
I was recently on a panel discussion called “Breaking the Stained Glass Ceiling” in Boston moderated by Traditional Building editor Nancy Berry. It was about female architects’ journeys and experiences within the industry. This was the first discussion I am aware of that the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art has ever held regarding this topic. It was great!
Have you noticed more encouragement for women to participate in the field?
Absolutely. More seasoned female architects are stepping up to be a role model and provide support for the upcoming generation of women architects.
How have the dynamics of technology and the innovations in sustainability encouraged more interest?
I’m sure this has influenced the participation of more female architects interested in the field, but having more women mentoring probably helped more.
What would you tell middle-school girls who are interested in math/engineering/ architecture?
Follow your heart and work really hard. Pay attention: Math does matter. In particular, focus on improving your writing; there is a lot of writing involved in architecture. It’s the predominate way we communicate with each other, with clients, and with the public; and mastery of it is one key to a successful career. Also, try to learn as much as you can about different things: The broader your experiences are, the more you can use them as inspiration for your work.