by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
Award-winning architect Sylvia Smith ’73 helps build a better world through sustainable, community-forward buildings and spaces. She’s also a history maker, as a longtime female leader in a traditionally male-dominated field. A new book commemorates these accomplishments.
Chronicling the influence of 100 women architects across generations, The Women Who Changed Architecture (Princeton Architectural Press, 2022) highlights Smith as a trailblazer in her profession, placing her among fellow leading women architects whose fresh approaches imprint an indelible mark.
Smith is included in The Women Who Changed Architecture’s chapter “Rocking the World,” a reference to the lasting influences and ceiling-shattering work of women architects of her generation.
In the chapter introduction, Margaret Birney Vickery writes that trailblazing women architects in this era focused on forging thoughtful, progressive creative partnerships, rather than cutting a solitary, starring path, as their male forebears in architecture had done. And while they shattered glass ceilings and paved the way for the next generations, Vickery adds, they have “exerted deep and meaningful influence throughout their profession” and “established themselves as vital players in the architectural landscape.”
An accomplished partner at a leading architecture firm who also serves as an impassioned teacher and mentor to the next generation of rising stars, Smith clearly fills that bill.
As noted in the book, Smith learned to create scale drawings while studying studio art and art history at Dickinson. After graduating in 1973—one year before the National Organization for Women was founded—she earned a master’s degree in architecture at the University of Virginia, designed and built two houses in the Charlottesville area and then moved to New York City. There, Smith worked for the Michael Graves firm before joining Fox & Fowle (now FX Collaborative) in 1982. In 1996, she was promoted to partner.
Smith also teaches courses in design and building techniques at Yestermorrow Design Build School in Vermont, with a focus on sustainable architecture. As founder of FX Collaborative’s Cultural/Education Studio, Smith concentrates on sustainable museums, schools and other educational and cultural built environments.
A sample of Smith's work: Pace University Student Landscape, SUNY Purchase Center for Media, Film and Theatre. Photography by Chris Cooper.
Smith’s U.S. projects include the Center for Global Conservation (2009) at the Bronx Zoo; the Lincoln Center Redevelopment, including the expansion of the Juilliard School and the renovation of Alice Tully Hall (2011); the Purchase College Center for Media, Film and Theatre (2019); the Statue of Liberty Museum (2019); the Columbia University Business School (in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, 2022); the David Rockefeller Creative Arts Center; and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan.
Her activism and design leadership are reflected in her board work for the Storefront for Art and Architecture and the Design Trust for Public Space. She is also a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and a member of Dickinson’s Board of Trustees. She also founded the Sylvia Smith Artist-in-Residence Program, which has inspired Dickinson art students for more than 10 years by bringing noted working artists to campus.
Asked to comment on what it takes to make history as a woman in her field, Smith says that passion and determination are key.
“Though faced with the challenges of working in a field with few female role models, I was determined to forge a path and do what I love—bringing design to life,” Smith says. “I am honored to be recognized with an exemplary group of women who have positively affected the world.”
Published July 7, 2022