Pioneering Architect Opens Lecture Series

Published on October 5th, 2010

Pioneering architect Beverly Willis, FAIA, kicks off the annual Centerbrook Architecture Series on Friday Oct. 15 from 7-8 pm at Essex Meadows Auditorium with a screening and discussion of her film “A Girl is a Fellow Here: 100 Women Architects in the Studio of Frank Lloyd Wright.”

The 20-minute film documents the legendary Wright’s little known legacy of hiring and mentoring women. It features a number of accomplished architects, such as Read Weber, whose careers were influenced by him. Architecture was a male-dominated field in Wright’s time, 1867-1959, and for decades to follow. Today women represent approximately 50 percent of the enrollment in architecture schools, although a much lower percentage of practicing architects. The American Institute of Architects reports that women represent 15 percent of their registered architect members.

Written and directed by Ms. Willis, the film premiered at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum during its 50th anniversary celebration last year and has now appeared in a number of film festivals, including the First Annual Architecture Film Festival.

In 1966, Ms. Willis opened her own architectural practice in San Francisco and built it into a 35-person firm that more often than not successfully competed with the largest firms in the nation. Among her signature architecture projects is the San Francisco Ballet Building in the city's Civic Center, the first building ever built from the ground up for an American ballet company.

Ms. Willis, who also had careers as a designer and an artist, lives in Branford. Her design of the bar in a Hawaiian hotel, complete with an expansive and sand-cast shell mural, was used as a backdrop for every episode of the original “Hawaii 5-0” television show. In 2002, she founded the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation to promote research and public understanding of women’s contributions to the fields of architectural and environmental engineering, landscape design, the building arts, urban planning and historic preservation, as well as architectural history and criticism (

Her presentation is on Friday, Oct. 15 from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Essex Meadows Auditorium on 30 Bokum Road in Essex. Admission is free, call (860) 767-1560 to register. Now in its third year, the Centerbrook Architecture Series is hosted by the Essex Library and Centerbrook Architects.

Three other presentations are scheduled, all from 7-8 p.m. at Essex Meadows. Future presenters include Nobel Lauriat Dr. James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, and William Grover, Partner Emeritus of Centerbrook Architects. On Thursday, November 11, they explore “Making a Village for Science,” an overview of their 34-year collaboration at the renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island.

The determination by Watson and Francis Crick in 1953 that DNA is shaped like a double helix, or a gently twisting ladder, ranks among the greatest discoveries of the 20th century. Mr. Watson, who was 25 at the time, would go on to other important discoveries, to serve as Director of the Human Genome Project, to teach at Harvard, to write eight books, and to guide Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory into the forefront of research institutions as its Director from 1968 to 1994, and afterwards as President and Chancellor until 2007. He is now Chancellor Emeritus and an avid tennis player.

A founding partner of Centerbrook Architects, William Grover worked on 25 building projects at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory from 1973 to 2007, including the Watson School of Biological Sciences and the new Hillside Research Campus. His body of work garnered 45 design awards and was widely published, in The New York Times, Architecture Digest, Life Magazine, and elsewhere. Mr. Grover also was a visiting critic in architectural design at Yale University.

On Friday, January 14, Victor Deupi, architectural designer, teacher, and writer, presents “The Architecture of Andrea Palladio,” the 16th -century Venetian who is widely considered the single most influential figure in all of Western architecture. Buildings from the Redwood Library in Newport to Monticello pay homage to his classical designs.

Mr. Deupi earned his Masters and Ph.D. in architecture from Yale and the University of Pennsylvania respectively and his teaching credits include Notre Dame and the Prince of Wales Institute of Architecture in London. Presently he is teaching design, history, and representation at Fairfield University and the New York Institute of Technology. He has written extensively about New Urbanism and the humanities underpinning the classical tradition. Mr. Deupi is also a watercolorist whose work has been exhibited here and abroad.

On Friday, February 18, Dariel Cobb, Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of Hartford, examines the role of inspiration and authorship in architecture and the arts in a talk titled, “Inspiration and Authorship in the New Millennium.” Ms. Cobb teaches architectural design and advanced design theory to graduate and undergraduate students. Her professional experience includes design and project management at Robert A.M. Stern Architects and at Arquitectonica. Previously, she was the Assistant Director of the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, which works to expand knowledge about the history of women in architecture.