On October 20, 2023 the AIANY Women in Architecture Committee was honored to feature Katie Swenson, Senior Principal at MASS (Model of Architecture Serving Society) Design Group, as our keynote Archtober Morning Leadership speaker. Katie shared her personal journey and experiences that fueled her passion to become a Community Architect and advocate for environmental and social equity.

Throughout Katie’s deeply personal and inspiring presentation, the stories of community, love and service were a common thread. At a young age in high school, Katie served in a homeless shelter and through this experience the seed of social justice, agency, housing, and “home” for all as a human right, was planted. Another impactful life experience was Katie’s participation as a Fellow in the Enterprise Community Partners Rose Fellowship program, a two-year partnership between Enterprise, design fellows and community partners that provides community design solutions in affordable housing and community development. Here she learned that to be a community architect is not governed by borders but love. Through long engagements with the Santa Domingo communities, she learned of the power of storytelling by the fire with families passing down to each generation “eat while I am talking and swallow as you nourish your body”. Understanding the slippery slope to homelessness, the call for equitable housing became the underpinning of Katie’s career.

Continuing her journey, Katie was blessed with a beautiful home in Wellesley, Massachusetts, named the “Scarab” (the Egyptian symbol for “rebirth”) built by two women Katherines a century earlier, this became her solace and safe place after her divorce, and after the tragic death of her fiancé, with whom she renovated the third-floor loft, named “Bohemia”. Shaped by this sacred place, through writing and her own rebirth, Katie leads and advocates for design that promotes economic and social equity, environmental sustainability, and healthy communities at MASS Design group. Instead of thinking about architecture as designing buildings, we gained a different perspective about architecture as designing systems for positive change, for peace and justice, and for health equity. We saw these concepts beautifully illustrated through MASS’ thoughtful designs for national memorials, housing and hospitals that centered the design around patient beds facing outward toward the views and the use of local materials and craft. Through the cycle of storytelling, collaboration, infrastructure, and advocacy, we are motivated by MASS’ mission to support people, place, and planet.

We sincerely appreciate Katie’s contribution and leadership, for inspiring us to become better citizen architects and to “seek abundance” in all we do. A special thank you to all who joined us on this cozy rainy morning and asked thoughtful questions. To learn more about MASS Design Group and Katie’s incredible story, please check out the following links:

For those who have missed Katie’s uplifting presentation, you can watch the recording, which will be posted on the WIA webpage in a few weeks.