2019 Whitney M. Young, Jr. Award Recipient
Named for civil rights leader Whitney M. Young Jr., this award distinguishes an architect or architectural organization that embodies social responsibility and actively addresses a relevant issue, such as affordable housing, inclusiveness, or universal access.
By promoting equity and inclusion through her consulting work and education efforts, Karen L. Braitmayer, FAIA, has created a more inclusive and just environment for all. Nationally recognized for her leadership and advocacy for civil rights for people with disabilities, Braitmayer has smashed physical and social barriers for herself and for others.
“As an advocate, she knows that an accessible environment allows people with disabilities to live with greater independence and dignity,” wrote John H. Catlin, FAIA, in a letter supporting Braitmayer’s nomination for the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award. “Her advocacy for equality and inclusion has affected public policy at both the local and national level. Through her work, Karen has distinguished herself as a leader in educating society about the integrity of universal human rights and the virtues of inclusivity.”
Headquartered in Seattle, Braitmayer’s firm, Studio Pacifica, specializes in accessible design. When advising architecture firms on a wide range of projects, Braitmayer offers a unique outlook rooted in her personal experience as a longtime wheelchair user and her skills as a registered architect.
“Through the years at Starbucks we have engaged Karen and her firm, Studio Pacifica, in numerous universal design and educational work efforts,” wrote Fulton Gale III, FAIA, Starbucks’ corporate architect, in a letter supporting Braitmayer’s nomination. “These ranged from door handle design to critically reviewing our global accessibility standards and many issues in between around hand-off planes, angle of approach, etc.”
In her practice, Braitmayer pushes the notion of accessible design beyond compliance with laws and codes, and has demonstrated that design can and should start with the diversity of humans at its core. To that end, her work in multifamily housing has ensured rental options with amenities to people of all abilities. With services that range from construction administration to on-call consulting, she has brought a level of efficiency to her corporate clients by identifying project issues early on. Perhaps most importantly, Braitmayer’s extensive list of projects at educational institutions is a manifestation of her desire to facilitate the success of future generations.
Braitmayer’s pursuit of her ideals has led to presentations and workshops around the country, and an appointment by President Obama to the U.S. Access Board, which she chaired from 2013 to 2014. By representing the profession at the federal level, Braitmayer has brought to bear her considerable knowledge on reshaping public policy. As the top resource for accessible design, the board is often called on to guide ADA Standards. To broaden their impact, Braitmayer helped develop new informational materials, including short animations, to assist design professionals in better understanding the standards and the rationales behind them.
“I have seen the impact Karen has made on the architectural community not just in Seattle, but across the country—generously lending her time and expertise to educate and collaborate with architects and design professionals,” Karen Tamley, commissioner of Chicago’s Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, wrote of Braitmayer. “She is a widely recognized expert in her specialized field and her impact has been significant.”
With a deep understanding of how people with disabilities are affected by the built environment, Braitmayer is leading the way. Through direct action and by introducing humor and humanity to the dialogue, she has challenged architects to not only be better designers but also better people.
“Her argument style tends to be spunky and inquisitive, rather than confrontational, and this has made her a formidable advocate in public venues,” wrote Duane Jonlin, FAIA, Seattle’s energy code and energy conservation advisor. “As both a practicing architect and a formal representative of this state’s people with disabilities, she has continually forged a path that works for both constituencies.”