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September 17, 2009

Panel looks at women, minorities in architecture

Discussions about architecture influences have often left out key players -- women and minorities -- and that needs to change, a panel of architecture scholars said Wednesday in Norman.

"It's a question of access; women did not have access to education and so they were always second best," said Vibhavari Jani, an associate professor of interior design at Louisiana Tech University. "...But that is changing. Look at how many women are here."

Jani was brought to the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture Wednesday through a Presidential Dream Course called "Women, Minorities and Design."

Abimbola Asojo, associate professor of interior design, and Glenn Josey, architecture instructor, co-teach the class, which benefits from special funding to bring in experts from around the world.

"Without the support of the president and the provost's office we would not be able to bring in panelists of such high caliber," Asojo said.

The class is designed to give students a new, global perspective of their work, she said.

"Because, you know, it's really a global community," she said. "I think globalization is really the issue behind the panel."

Also on the panel Wednesday were Nnambi Elleh, associate professor of architecture at the University of Cincinnati, and Aly Karam, associate professor in the planning program at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.

Elleh spoke about the history of architecture in Africa and the interchange of culture between Africa and the West in the area of design.

"If architecture is supposed to tell the story, it should tell the story of human experience," he said. That includes the architect as a hero creating colossal structures, but also the architect as the normal person designing their space and dealing with adversity, Elleh said.

Karam gave the audience something to think about as he asked, how thick is our lens through which we view women and non-white ethnicities? He showed the blueprints and photos of finished buildings by South African architects, asking the audience to pick out which ones were done by men, women, whites or blacks.

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