In June 2014, the only abortion provider in northern Alabama was forced to shutter. The reason? Its hallways weren’t wide enough. The closure anticipated a new law mandating that abortion providers comply with building codes of ambulatory surgical facilities. By intent, renovation costs would have been prohibitive, so the legislation should be seen for what it was—a smokescreen for pro-life politics. (Such laws have since been ruled unconstitutional.)
The architect winner Lori Brown has dedicated much of her career to analyzing such policies. In a 2013 book, Brown mapped abortion policy across North America, studying how architects might play a role in making reproductive access more inclusive. “It’s important for [architects] to be political and use our expertise to improve what building codes were designed to do, which is provide health and safety,” she said. “Our discipline has turned a blind eye to that aspect of serving the greater good.”
The intersection of policy and architecture also informs one of Brown’s latest projects, which focuses on migrant shelters and birthing centers at the U.S.-Mexico border. These grassroots spaces, she argues, “are charged with radical potential and possibility” as they resist geopolitical borders to offer support for families in transition.
What Brown recognizes is that architecture is not merely building to a brief—it’s a system that’s part of the political fabric. For that reason, it must also be inclusive, which is why she cofounded ArchiteXX, a nonprofit dedicated to gender equity in architecture, and has embarked on her most ambitious initiative to date: The Bloomsbury Global Encyclopedia of Women in Architecture, 1960–2015, which she is editing with Karen Burns. The encyclopedia will chart the work of female architects, calling on regional scholars for expertise. (Brown calls it a “crowdsourced intellectual project.”) “Numbers matter, but it isn’t just about counting,” said Brown. “If you don’t see or read about people who you can share some sort of kinship with, you don’t realize what’s possible.”