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Comments (40) Posted 02.18.11 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Nancy Levinson

Architect Barbie




Architect Barbie. [Image courtesy of Mattel]

Eleven-and-a-half inches tall, made of polyvinyl chloride and synthetic fibers, Barbie made her debut on March 9, 1959, at the big toy fair in New York City.

With her zebra-striped swimsuit and top-knotted ponytail (blonde or brunette, your choice), Barbie looked ready-made for fun. But like her creator Ruth Handler, president of Mattel, she's a career girl. 

Back at the beginning Barbie was a "teenage fashion model." But she quickly moved on and up, and the resumé is mind-boggling. In the '60s Barbie was an astronaut, a ballerina, a business executive and a babysitter. In the '70s, '80s and '90s she was surgeon and doctor, gymnast and aerobics instructor, ambassador for world peace and (yes) McDonald's cashier. Also a paleontologist, a firefighter, and the guest editor of a fashion magazine. 

An impressive (and actually only partial) list; and it got longer when Mattel introduced the "I Can Be ..." series in 2001, allowing the public to vote for Barbie's new careers. So lately Barbie's been a veterinarian, gym coach, swim teacher, racecar driver and rock star. Last year she did a stint as a computer engineer. 

But — you've probably guessed this by now — in more than 50 years Barbie's never been an architect.

Until now. Earlier this month at the same big toy fair in NYC where Barbie began, Mattel unveiled Architect Barbie. 

Like so many milestones in women's history, Architect Barbie happened not by chance but by campaign. And the driving force behind the campaign is architectural historian Despina Stratigakos. A professor in the architecture department at SUNY/Buffalo, Stratigakos got interested in Barbie's curriculum vitae during a fellowship at the University of Michigan, where in 2007 she staged the exhibition Architect Barbie. The author of an award-winning book on women architects in prewar Germany, Stratigakos made the clear connections to a field where, as she wrote in a statement for the Michigan exhibition, "We cannot comfortably claim that the profession's history of exclusion lies behind us. Although the number of female students averages about 40 percent in Bachelor of Architecture and Master of Architecture programs, these women have not found their way into licensed practice, which remains about 87 percent male ..."

But even then Stratigakos had the big prize in view: "As a scholar and educator deeply concerned with making architecture not only relevant to little girls, but also women relevant to architecture, I hope to persuade Mattel to reconsider the viability of Architect Barbie."

So in the spring of 2010, when Mattel announced that the public would be able to vote on Barbie's next career — her 125th! — Stratigakos teamed up with Kelly Hayes McAlonie, president-elect of AIA New York State and a biographer of architect Louise Bethune, who practiced in Buffalo at the turn of the 20th century, and was perhaps the first licensed woman architect in the world. Stratigakos and Hayes McAlonie campaigned long and hard, and though Architect Barbie didn't win, she got so many votes, and from all around the globe, that Mattel asked the two women, both AIA members, to collaborate with them.

And now, according to a post at toyXplosion.com, "There's a new doll coming to the Barbie I Can Be... line this Fall 2011. ... Ready to tackle the daily responsibilities of a real architect in or out of the office, Barbie I Can Be... Architect includes a hard hat and a set of blue prints. ..." Mattel describes her outfit — pink and blue dress, black jacket and boots — as "symmetrically stylish with bold colors and clean lines."

Welcome to architecture, Barbie.

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Comments (40)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

All very nice but since Barbie owns a hard hat it means she shows up at the construction site.I have to say, wearing these boots, she 'll probably end up either stuck in fresh concrete or falling down from a scaffold. Mattel, you gave her the hard hat, give her the safety boots to match! Great job, though, they have managed to turn a toy into a social experiment...
Antonis Agiovlssitis, Civil Engineer, MEng, ACGI
02.18.11 at 01:38

As a female architect, there are two very obvious errors about Architect Barbie: first, she isn't wearing enough black; and second, she looks far too rested and perky.
Kathleen, M.Arch
02.18.11 at 02:53

I'll second the call for work boots....not that she'd still be working as most Architects are currently unemployed.

Architect Barbie couldn't wear such a skimpy outfit to the office which is inevitably full of old men or to the construction site which is full of construction workers. She would wear faded black pants and a shirt that is wrinkled from sleeping under her desk. Her teeth would be bad because she won't have dental insurance and her stomach would be pouchy from a bad diet hurriedly scarfed down at her desk. Her accessories should include a paycheck that is 30% less than the men's, anti-depressants, and IBS medication.
Sarah, BArch, LEED AP
02.18.11 at 04:04

She's wearing work boots! Work boots with heals! :P
Kristi
02.18.11 at 04:18

barbie may be new to the field, but i would presume that by now amanda has already made partner:

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/01/04/garden/currents-aspirations-a-2001-role-model-far-beyond-barbie.html
mark lamster
02.18.11 at 06:25

Now Barbie can design her own dream house!
Carissa
02.18.11 at 09:38

A TITANIC LIKE HOUSE PLAN
lawrence
02.19.11 at 02:09

Barbie's permanently tilted plastic feet don't allow her to wear flats. Let's not demand the impossible.

What most impresses me is that Web 2.0 style gradient shading on her skirt. Architect Barbie must be way into parametrics. And given that she actually IS an injection-molded plastic blob -- yeah, we all know the market's tough, but at least she's out-there.
Bruce Sterling
02.19.11 at 10:55

Shouldn't she look a little more stressed out? I mean it's highly likely that she's out of work right now with the economy the way it is.
Liz
02.19.11 at 01:31

Clearly she is too blonde (or possibly was not supplied with) scale rule - Look at the size of her house - Surely some mistake? She and ArchiKen would never fit inside, although that may not be a problem as she is too busy to maintain a relationship.
PreArchitect
02.19.11 at 02:47

don't underestimate fashion; the hard hat is as a purse and the pink tube as lip stick:)
ek
02.19.11 at 07:33

Love the glasses! ;) The drawing tube is a good accessory, glad she has a hard hat, and the skyline on the dress with a black jacket are edgy enough for the office. My concern is the house. Standard issue tract house? That's not thought through. Barbie, please put on those glasses, pull out those plans and take a closer look at the house. I think you can do better.

Julie, AIA, LEED AP
02.20.11 at 12:53

well, first of all - she is WITHOUT SCARF - there is no architect without scarf!

then - she looks too pinky - she has to be pale and stressed...

and the last - architects wear trousers and BLACK sweaters or shirts...


RE-DO her :))))
Leyla
02.20.11 at 01:06

Maybe we should all take a cue from Architect Barbie...stop dressing like we are going to a funeral, taking ourselves too seriously, smile once in a while, and quit whining.
Jess
02.20.11 at 10:22

"Like so many milestones in women's history, Architect Barbie happened not by chance but by campaign."

Can we campaign for other Barbie professions? I'd like to see what Graphic Designer for Social Change Barbie would look like.
Rob Henning
02.20.11 at 10:30

that house is a disappointment. their design office is in LA. The house model should be a Gehry - at least something from SOM, or perhaps a Case Study house.
Caleb
02.20.11 at 10:52

I hope that is not a bazooka she is carrying over her shoulder.

Perhaps she intends to do her own demolition.
Stan Hornagold
02.21.11 at 08:58

The field is changing ladies- contemporary, colorful gear is in for designers and yes, heels... unless it is a job site day, where of course you'd be laughed off the site. Kudos to Barbie for making an appearance in the design world- she reminds me of the 'legally blonde' version of an architect :) Oh- and that non-pale face? That would be makeup... I'd be disappointed if Barbie didn't have that signature pinky look.
Jessica
02.21.11 at 09:29

Graphic Designer Barbie would explain why every single thing she owns seems to be bright pink. She designs all her own clothes & property!
Lisa Conner
02.21.11 at 02:57

Mattel has actually commissioned the design of "Barbie’s Real Malibu Dream House"- a real life-size barbie-bedecked home in Malibu, CA.

And unfortunately, instead of filling Barbie’s closet with the garb of her professions, hobbies, and grand adventures, it has been lined floor to ceiling in Christian Louboutin’s pink peep toe runway-height heels. Here's the article on it: http://bit.ly/fvvOvQ

I have to wonder what this communicates to kids about life, fame, priorities, AND design.
Mary Jayne Zemer
02.21.11 at 03:01

Wow. This is some crazy designer, or bored designers who can't think of anything else. I imaging they're also trying to make barbie seem smarter to young girls, and working in an industry that is mainly male dominated. Nice try on the concept, but...eeeeh. Not so great on the execution. They could've had her wearing flats.

- Integraphix, a Chicago Marketing Company
http://www.chicagomarketingcompany.co
Integraphix, Inc.
02.21.11 at 03:12


Even though the design of her pink model house isn't much, I quite like the philosophical implications of a model-sized figure with her own (scaled-down) model house. Is there a tiny architect Barbie to fit in that little pink model house, a figure who has her *own* scaled-down model house? In which an even smaller Barbie can be found, who has her own...

I suppose you could package it as an infinite nesting series, called "Homonculus Barbie."

James Sanders
02.21.11 at 03:32

You CAN be successful and wear cute clothes. Being well rested isn't something to whine about. And yes, the house is lame.
Madison
02.21.11 at 08:20

People you can't all have been out of school so long that you forget what a model is. Of course it's too small, it's a mock up granted not a very good one but one non the less.
susan
02.23.11 at 01:16

I think she looks gorgeous, very cute outfit, very professional. Her work boots are probably in the car because they're muddy from the site visit. Goes to show you can be smart and beautiful.
Patricia
02.23.11 at 08:12

the fact that she's blonde and very pale should not be a surprise to anyone aren't most women in the field white and blonde...well maybe not all blonde but definitely white.

Lets try to campaign for a black architect barbie...see how many more years that would take to happen.
victoria
02.24.11 at 02:02

A major disappointment, especially since the AIA was consulted & condones the image. The image is so regressive that I am surprised that they don't also have her toting a T-Square. I think the doll will more likely discourage many girls from thinking that architecture is an appropriate field for them. Architect Barbie looks like she is more interested in climbing the ladder in the corporate office, than on a construction site.
Tracey Arne Brown, AIA
02.25.11 at 07:12

In reality, there would be a cup of coffee in one hand and the vacant happy stare would have a slight frown thinking about all the addendum items necessary to incorporate a client's last minute changes to the project.
I also see black cardigan with pants; a dead silence would fall over the entire construction crew if Barbie showed up in that get up....
djl
02.25.11 at 09:14

Why is it that just when women thought they were making progress in the work place, they are reminded that some things never change? The Architect Barbie is just another Barbie that has the same degrading outdated message, 'Women need to be sexy to get ahead.'
Patricia Baiardi, AIA
02.25.11 at 05:03

These are my work boots: http://www.hushpuppies.com/CA/en-CA/Product.mvc.aspx/W-Saf/16241W/0/Womens/Categories/Safety/Womens/France-CSA-ESR-Steel-Toe-Steel-Plate
I'd say the her boots aren't so far off...
Andrea
02.26.11 at 01:51

I think Architect Barbie is absolutely fantastic!!! Get off you high horses all you old women who think this is regressive; why should young female architects have to subscribe to masculine traites and pseudo intellectual dress codes in order to be taken seriously? I have no problem wearing short skirts and stockings; indeed, when I do turn up to site is such attire, I find the contractors pay attention to my everyword..rock on Barbie!!
Ellie Gadsden
03.02.11 at 09:28


I’ve been following the latest comments on this blog about Architect Barbie. As a woman designer of blocks/construction sets I am interested in the role of gender and block play. I wonder if more girls would want to be architects if they played with blocks and construction sets. Check my blog for further comments on this provocative subject.

http://learningmaterialswork.com/blog/2011/02/does-architect-barbie-play-with-blocks/
Karen
03.02.11 at 03:08

Architect Barbie is Fab!!!

... maybe if you all took a leaf out of Ellie and Barbie's book you would still be in work too, designing houses as stylish as they are.

Heidi Stewart
03.03.11 at 06:51

Great Discussion.

I don't think most Women Architects, young or old, dress like Barbie, nor Ken for that matter. It would be unfortunate for young girls to be discouraged from a career of creating buildings & places by thinking that's what an architect looks like.

Hopefully Mattel has planned to have many types of outfits for Architect Barbie, so little girls can make their own choices. If not, I hope these budding architects will continue to just create & build things instead.
Tracey Arne Brown, AIA
03.03.11 at 07:54

It looks like everyone is confusing architect students with practicing architects. Architects don't wear black, and female architects do wear heels. Or at least I do, and every other female architect I know.

Most architects spend probably 5% of their time on a construction site. I somehow doubt Barbie will show up at the office wearing construction boots. She probably has it in the boot of her car.

Mari
03.14.11 at 05:37

...the glasses are spot-on! Wish the jacket had long sleeves, and she was wearing black tights with those ankle boots. Where's the laptop?
Nestings
03.14.11 at 10:54

Interestingly (well I think), the Patron Saint of architects is Saint Barbara.
Celine
05.09.11 at 08:53

With all the different classifications that we seem to have..Interior architect. That's what she is. Perfect!
Dee
06.08.11 at 02:33

WOOOW!!!!! ME ENKNTA ESA BARBIE!!!! AÑOS DE ESPERA PARA QUE SALIERA AL MERCADO!!!! DONDE PUEDO ADQUIRIRLA????
esme
08.08.11 at 03:44

What architect has time to keep their hair like that? Also, wouldn't it just get in her way when she leans over the table designing things? She needs a laptop instead of a hard hat. Love the glasses, though!!
TeenArchitect
10.29.11 at 09:32



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Nancy Levinson is executive director and editor of Places.
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