Behind the Building Boom
CUNY's Cadre of Architects

With March, Women's History Month, just around the corner, I remarked to Vice Chancellor Emma Macari on the fact that almost all the professionals in her office are women, a startling turn- around for a field historically dominated by men. This takes her back to far different days early in her career.

"In Cuba, and South America generally, the professions were remarkably open. In my architecture classes in Havana there were a few more women than men. I had to come to America to experience real professional discrimination," she adds with a laugh. "For over three years I was the only woman studying architecture at the University of Florida." Though she had work experience in the University's campus planning office, Macari found it very hard to break into the profession in the Miami area. Just out of school, she found a few jobs at firms specializing in boats, helping design houseboats for the likes of Frank Sinatra and Eva Gabor.

After a few years doing small jobs on private houses in the Philadelphia area and beginning to raise a family, she and her husband Hanque--also an architect, but of a more scholarly, art-historical bent--returned to the Miami area. There was still resistance to Macari's job applications. One senior male partner candidly told her, "We just aren't ready for a woman yet." Throughout her early career, she adds, "It was always some free spirit in a firm who would take a chance and hire me. The first partner to hire me, in fact, was also Cuban."

Macari gradually rose into Miami's elite firms. One of her fondest memories is of driving very nervously, after Hurricane Andrew, to visit a large apartment complex for migrant workers that she had designed in her early days for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. To her great relief and joy it was the only structure in the area left substantially undamaged. Only when she, Hanque and their two young daughters moved to the University of Wisconsin at Madison did Macari began to focus on ivory towers. Over the next 17 Rvery rewardingS years she rose to the top in the planning office on campus, working part of that time for the statewide Wisconsin university system as well.

A need for change, more sun and proximity to relatives led her to accept a two-year planning stint at the University of South Florida. But the commute between Tampa and Madison, where her department-chair husband had remained, was becoming wearisome when a call came from CUNY about the Vice Chancellorship. Macari's interest was piqued. The prospect of working on a variety of major buildings proved irresistible. (Hanque subsequently became a Professor in City College's School of Architecture).

Macari's arrival with a mandate for change has led to a hectic two years. But one pleasure she does not disguise has been finding women who were the best qualified candidates to fill her senior staff positions.

Architect Sheila Chaffin, Director of Space Planning and Capital Budget, came to CUNY 18 months ago with experience in funding higher education capital projects in the California State University system, which largely utilized voter-passed general obligation bonds. The holder of degrees in architecture and regional planning from University of Southern California and Cornell, Chaffin was Assistant Vice Chancellor for Physical Planning of the California State University for six years, and most recently was Assistant Vice President for Physical Planning at the new CSU campus at San Marcos. While in California, Chaffin was successful in implementing a Women and Minorities Affirmative Action program for training and promotions within the Plant Operations ranks of CSU. Chaffin's department, too, is reorganizing, and, under the supervision of recently hired Chief of Planning Krista Cook, will soon boast four planners with responsibility for liaison with facilities officers on all of CUNY's campuses.

Director of Design and Construction Lia Gartner earned her Masters in Architecture from Columbia and has worked with such fabled architects as Philip Johnson Burgee and I.M. Pei. Particularly apropos for CUNY was her nine-year tenure in New York City's Department of General Services, where she supervised the construction of a wide range of public-function edifices, including courts, museums, and libraries, while rising to the position of Deputy Assistant Commissioner.

Gartner expresses several reasons for delight at her CUNY position. That the University serves so many immigrant students strikes a special chord, for Gartner came to the U.S. from the Transylvanian region of Romania as a teenager, precisely, she says, because her parents knew excellent educational opportunities were available here. Though her degree came from Harvard, magna cum laude, her arrival at CUNY last spring seemed like a kind of homecoming. Her Columbia masters thesis was based on the expansion of Hunter College in the 1970s, and her very first architectural work after graduation was to help complete designs for its East and West Buildings at 68th and Lexington.

Gartner adds a poignant autobiographical remark very apt for a University whose students come from such a spectacular variety of ethnic backgrounds: "I am very mindful of the terrible ethnic strife in the vicinity of my native land. I think this is one reason I get so much satisfaction working on buildings in which the public gathers... where people relate to each other at very close range." The collegial multi- cultural elbow-rubbing that occurs in the lobby of Baruch's award-winning new library or on the courts of Lehman College's new athletic complex, Gartner obviously believes, is what should be happening on a much larger scale in the former Yugoslavia.

The three Assistant Directors that Gartner has just hired to become program managers, each with responsibility for six or seven campuses, also bring excellent experience. Yianna Pavlakos, who arrived from Greece at the age of 12, comes with a City College Bachelors in Architecture and has managed a portfolio of 50 New York City library projects for five years, including all work on the Public LibraryUs landmark buildings. Most recently, she supervised the Police DepartmentUs $156 million capital construction program. Cynthia Rock, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Colum-bia's School of Architecture, has worked on major office rehabilitation, Disability Act compliance, and on such local icons as Avery Fisher Hall and the Public Library's Research Library. Kay Xanthakos comes to CUNY from the City's Department of General Services, where she oversaw a $410 million budget and 70 staff involved in Health, Human Services, and Transportation construction units. The graduate of Harvard and Columbia brings especially apt experience in the areas of access for the disabled and the design and renovation of library space.

The recent opening-up of design and planning opportunities for women suggests that women in the profession may have finally reached a critical mass in senior positions. Thus, they are now able to provide the mentoring presence that is so important in a field like this.

Macari would be an excellent example of this, and it is safe to say that at least one young architect is enjoying her mentoring attentions--her daughter Loyola, who recently earned a Masters in Architecture at the University of Wisconsin.