AMHERST, Mass. - New University of Massachusetts art professor Sigrid Miller Pollin is helping to break the glass ceiling in architecture – literally. As one of four women architects now teaching in the University’s innovative architecture and interior design program, she is showing her students how women are making progress in the long male-dominated field, and rewriting the rules of architecture in the process.
"It is very unusual for schools to truly integrate interior design and architecture, and even more unusual for a school to have so many licensed female architects on its faculty," Miller Pollin says. "By our presence, and our emphasis on integrating the two disciplines, we’re bringing something of a feminist perspective to the way building and design have always been approached."
Miller Pollin points to her own professional work, emphasizing her attempt to integrate her projects into the natural landscape. Rather than attempting to create steel and glass edifices that tower over the landscape, she tries to create buildings that respond to nature and the specifics of the space they inhabit. "It isn’t exclusively a feminist perspective, but there is a female sensibility involved," she says. "Aesthetically I think you can find beauty and clarity by integrating intelligently with the environment rather than dominating it. Socially, I believe in cooperation rather than competition. This approach can produce work embodied with passion and durability."
Miller Pollin points out that the program in architecture and interior design is based on this philosophy, attempting to bring two separate but related disciplines "under one roof, so to speak." Again, she says that there may be an element of feminism in this effort. Unlike many traditional architects in the male-dominated field, she and her UMass female colleagues see interior design and architecture as equally valid. "It’s our way of giving a balanced emphasis to the exterior and the interior of the structures we create."
Above all, however, Miller Pollin sees the program as unique in the example it offers. Not only is it the only program at a public college in New England which combines interior and exterior design, it is also definitely the only one to boast such a preponderance of women on its faculty. In a field where only 10 percent of all registered architects are female, four of the five faculty members at UMass are women.
"Students have so few opportunities to ever see architects who are women," she says. "I hope by being here I can help to rectify that problem. And maybe change the way buildings are designed in the process."