Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Beyond Architecture: The Fantasy Worlds of Phyllis Birkby

Noel Phyllis Birkby Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College

Pushed to the side and rarely credited for her architectural work at Davis Brody, Phyllis Birkby became a significant figure in extending the lesbian women’s movement to architecture during the 1970s. Her Environmental Fantasy Workshops played a crucial role in galvanizing the community, providing a creative and empowering space within a male-dominated profession.

Growing out of other consciousness raising techniques, freed up in her classes, Phyllis released the rigor of her conventional training to get down on the floor, and lead the group in sketching their fantasies — however outlandish — on giant rolls of butcher paper.

Birkby’s work not only contributed to architectural discourse but also fostered a sense of collective identity among lesbian architects, highlighting the intersectionality of gender, sexuality, and professional identity in the field. In her later years, she focused on architecture for people marginalized in other ways – by addiction, by age, and by disability, again imagining spaces of community and support.