March 18, 2015

In Dialogue: Joan and Julie on the BKSK Women’s Roundtable

Joan and Julie are two of six partners at BKSK, a firm with women represented at every level of leadership.

On Tuesday, February 24th, BKSK partners Julie Nelson and Joan Krevlin hosted a roundtable discussion amongst the women of the firm. Here, they reflect on some of their key takeaways from that conversation.

Joan Krevlin: First off, it’s important to share how this roundtable discussion even came about.

Julie Nelson: When the BXW NYC winning sites were announced, we thought it was a great opportunity to have discussions with our BKSK colleagues about the role of women in architecture. We’re very proud that the program features our Queens Botanical Garden and Sephardic Community Center projects, in addition to 96 other sites throughout New York that came about through female leadership.

The BxW NYC exhibition, celebrating all winnings sites, will run at the Center for Architecture through April 11, 2015.

Joan: We were reminded that in our own firm of 50+, we have 18 women who are working effectively at all aspects of practice, and at different stages in their careers. Given that there is quite a bit of conversation around the issue of women in the workplace, including within the design and construction industry, we saw an opportunity to raise the question of how gender informs our practice – if indeed it does – and to better understand the experience of our colleagues.

Julie: We became immediately aware that having this discussion in New York City, provides a particular context. Practicing in NYC requires a particular skill and internal fortitude, regardless of gender. But it is also an extremely progressive city, where gender bias is perhaps less present than in other parts of the country,

Joan: Which leads to a parallel question of what counts as “making it” in New York? Or, more broadly, what counts as success in architecture?

Julie: I was definitely struck by how important that question became during the roundtable. Almost everyone emphasized teamwork, environmental and social outcomes, and other somewhat non-traditional metrics as they gave their own definitions of success. Or, said another way, everyone seemed to frame success in a manner that was much different than traditional “fame,” wherein individual name recognition is essential.

Joan: That myth of the singular genius, of crafting an entire building, all alone – I wonder if it may have run its course. I also wonder if that shift might be happening in part because there are more women in leadership positions in architecture now than ever before.  Or is it the inevitable realization that making strong architecture is an undeniably collaborative effort?

Senior Project Manager Harpreet Dhaliwal on site during the construction of the Washington Square Park House.

Julie: It may be that women are by nature more willing to acknowledge the value of collaboration. But what did come out of our discussion was the shared value of building consensus among team members, whether they are fellow designers, consultants, clients, or contractors. This may support the myth that women are by nature more collaborative, but what we heard was that our colleagues saw this collaborative behavior as intentionally strategic. And the strategy, across the board, was always geared to producing a successful project.

Joan: Although our discussion was initiated to explore the question of gender in architecture, it was difficult for it to stay there. The women in our office play a broad range of roles: some are designers, others are project managers, and they work on both large and small projects. They deal with finances and business development. And while these women are often in a room or on a construction site full of men, expertise really seems to matter above all. We have participated in numerous events related to the BxW NYC project, and we are also impressed with the number of other women in the field who are doing serious and quality work as well. So what does this tell us?

Julie: Perhaps it is an issue of recognizing the contributions of women, those currently practicing and past female leaders, which is why the BxW NYC project is important. And while it may be that NYC is a bit of a bubble, we had still anticipated hearing more concerns from our staff. The women in our office are involved in all aspects of projects and are out in the field, and at the table with clients. They carry enormous responsibility on a daily basis. The biggest takeaway for me from our discussion was the pride they feel in successfully producing complex projects.

During a panel in 2013, Joan Krevlin and Jennifer Preston share details of the Olmsted Center and discuss the opportunities of architecture in regards to (storm)water management.

Joan: Another takeaway was the interest in mentoring the next generation of women architects. While I don’t think the women saw themselves, generally, as a differentiated group, there was still an expressed desire to support other women and to seek opportunities for mentorship. Many of us teach and serve on committees where there is an opportunity to develop relationships with women who are entering the profession. Many of us came away from the discussion with a renewed interest in pro-active mentoring, which is one reason that we are about to host a career night for graduating women architecture students in the NYC area.

Julie: It also became clear to me that we are a laboratory of smart women (and men) doing seriously good work – across disciplines, neighborhoods, aesthetic styles, and types of clients. I was thrilled to see that same diversity in the BxW NYC winning sites.

Joan: Me too. And I’m really looking forward to continuing these types of discussions, both internally with our staff and externally through external initiatives such as BxW NYC.

To learn more about the BKSK Women’s Roundtable, or to get in touch with Joan Krevlin or Julie Nelson, please email