Metropolis Forums

July 21st, 4:00PM–5:00PM EDT

The Pandemic is a Portal: Inclusivity

Crises like COVID-19 reveal both challenges and opportunities for marginalized groups. People with disabilities and senior citizens now have to navigate new health risks in the spaces where they live and work, yet the spread of remote working might also open new possibilities for them. How can architects and designers make sure to include the concerns of people of all ages and abilities, as we plan for the future?

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The Pandemic is a Portal: Inclusivity



773.avinash Rajagopal Headshot Credit Nicholas Calcott

Avi Rajagopal

Editor in Chief

Avinash Rajagopal is the editor-in-chief of Metropolis magazine. He is an expert on product and interior design in the digital age, as a historian of contemporary design as well as a frequent speaker at key industry events. He is the author of Hacking Design (Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 2013). and has contributed to numerous volumes on architecture and design, including Adhocracy (Istanbul Design Biennial, 2012), Making Africa (Vitra Design Museum, 2015) and Atlas of Furniture Design (Vitra Design Museum, forthcoming). He has lectured on design history and writing at the School of Visual Arts, New York; the University of Texas at Austin; and the National Institute of Design, India.


Bess Williamson

Bess Williamson

Associate Professor

Bess Williamson is a historian of design and material culture with a particular interest in social and political concerns in design, including environmental, labor, justice, and rights issues as they shape and are shaped by spaces and things. Her book Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design traces the history of design responses to disability rights from 1945 to recent times. This project shows how the concept of “access” emerged as a value in design in this period, with consequences for the everyday lives of disabled people as well as for discourses around civil rights and design’s role in society. Earlier versions of this work appeared in Winterthur Portfolio (“Getting a Grip: Disability and American Industrial Design of the Late Twentieth Century”) and American Studies (“Electric Moms and Quad Drivers: People with Disabilities Buying, Making, and Using Technology in Postwar America”). “Electric Moms” was also excerpted in Disability, Space, Architecture: A Reader, edited by Jos Boys (Routledge, 2017).

She is Associate Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she teaches a range of design history courses, from introductory surveys of modern design history to graduate seminars on issues in design and politics, material culture/”thing” theories, and disability studies in art/design. She is currently the Graduate Program Director in the Art History department, and her classes contribute to a Design History track within the MA in Modern/Contemporary Art History.

Karen Braitmayer

Karen Braitmayer

Founder and Managing Principal

Karen Braitmayer, FAIA is the founder and managing principal of Studio Pacifica, an accessibility consulting firm in Seattle. She and her team provide consulting services to local governments, school districts, architects, engineers, companies and individuals concerned with complying with Federal laws and State codes, as well as simply creating spaces that work for the unique needs of individual users. Karen also leads presentations and workshops around the country to further educate professionals about codes, standards, and inclusion.

Early in her career, it occurred to Karen that as an architect and a wheelchair user, it was possible for her to make a unique contribution to the field. Her professional focus on accessibility and her advocacy efforts for inclusion have certainly done that!

As a registered architect, Karen was admitted to the prestigious College of Fellows by the American Institute of Architects (AIA). In 2010 she was appointed by President Barack Obama to the United States Access Board, a policy position that she still holds today. Most recently she was awarded the 2019 Whitney M. Young Jr. award by the American Institute of Architects in recognition of her leadership in civil rights for people with disabilities, social sustainability, public policy and universal design. Karen is also an active volunteer and non-profit board member.

Vanna Whitney

Vanna Whitney

Associate Principal

Vanna Whitney, AIA, CGBP, is an Associate Principal at Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, the 2017 AIA Architecture Firm Award winner. For more than 20 years, Vanna has focused her career on underserved communities and environmental and social sustainability. Her work has included four projects in the San Francisco Bay Area that provide varying amounts of permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness, as well as many more projects serving low-income families. Vanna’s projects have received local and national design awards and have been recognized by local and national organizations including the American Institute of Architects, the Urban Land Institute, San Francisco Business Times, and Builder Magazine. One of Vanna’s projects, the Rene Cazenave Apartments which provides housing for the formerly homeless in San Francisco, was selected as an AIA COTE Top Ten Green Project in the U.S. for 2016. She is also on the board of East Bay Housing Organizations, a non-profit advocating for an economically and racially just world where housing is a human right and everyone, particularly low-income people and people of color, has access to a range of affordable, healthy, and stable homes.