On October 16, the AIANY Women in Architecture Committee was honored to host Kim Yao, AIA New York 2020 President, who presented on advocacy in architecture at our Leadership Breakfast event. Yao walked us through her path in the profession, starting out as an intern at Architecture Research Office (ARO) shortly after graduation and eventually becoming Principal. As demonstrated by her path at the firm, ARO prides itself on being a “bottom-up” organization.

The cornerstone of Yao’s practice at the ARO is engaging with and advocating for the community to impact the built environment of NYC and around the country through a sustainable lens. Notable projects run the gamut of typologies including private homes in Colorado, a higher-education stadium addition for the University of Cincinnati, public visitor spaces and the boathouse at Brooklyn Bridge Park, adaptive reuse educational learning commons, commercial interiors and showrooms, material studies and architectural product development, passive house units for Syracuse, NY, and two pilot passive house public schools in downtown Brooklyn. During the presentation, the focus was on how public spaces in NYC have become greener, more accessible, and sustainable over the past 20 years. In the new era of COVID, design is continuing to evolve and adapt. The way we collaborate as a profession changed overnight. This abrupt switch exposed many underlying inequities in the profession. Under Yao’s leadership, AIANY addresses these issues head-on through panel discussions and collective action. Yao works as a citizen architect, advocating on behalf of the community. She established AIANY’s 2020 theme “Charting NYC 2020” and has been instrumental in issuing the Statement on Criminal Justice Facilities to establish actionable steps for addressing systemic racism in the prison system.

In addition to practicing as an architect, Yao is a professor at Columbia GSAPP, Parsons The New School SCE, and Barnard College. Through her design studios, Yao encourages students to explore the spatial and environmental implications of recent legislation such as Local Law 97 which requires property owners to track and reduce emissions.

Yao’s latest project is geared toward engaging the public in a shared vision for the future of the city called Visualize NYC 2021. The microsite consists of a series of prompts from design, policy, and environmental experts on “how to help envision a better New York City for all.”

In closing, Yao reflected on how AIANY can lay the groundwork to follow through on these efforts to advocate for underrepresented user groups in 2021 and beyond, by pooling resources and harnessing the digital format to extend our reach to communities of color and those who are not used to interfacing with architects. We thank Kim Yao, AIA, for her wonderful presentation, and also all who attended and participated in the Q&A.