In 2008, designer Emily Pilloton-Lam had grown disenchanted by the disconnect between her architectural design work and her larger community. She launched Project H Design to create opportunities for people to engage in design that was deeply connected to real social problems.
Originally, the non-profit operated as a social design firm embedded in a public school district in rural Bertie County, North Carolina. The program, which ran until 2019 in North Carolina and then continued at REALM Charter School in Berkeley, CA, reconnected students with a sense of craft and engaged them directly in socially meaningful projects. In 2013, Pilloton began working with all-female groups in the form of a design/build summer camp program called Girls Garage. What began as an experiment teaching pre-teen girls to build and weld has grown into a total evolution of the organization into a robust year-round program for girls and gender-expansive youth ages 9-18. The organization has since formally changed its name to Girls Garage.
Girls Garage is a physical workspace and year-round program teaching carpentry, welding, architecture, engineering, and activist art through community-focused projects. The program aims to instill confidence in young people by providing them with the skills and tools to build whatever they can imagine. Students attend at no cost, and over two-thirds of them return for 3 or more years. Projects built by students include a greenhouse for a local community garden, a 500-square-foot chicken pavilion for an urban farm, sandboxes for nearby preschools, and a public parklet. Girls Garage has also published a book authored by Pilloton-Lam that includes a tool encyclopedia, stories of builder women, and project guides, and invites girls everywhere to join a movement of fearless builder girls.
We had a chance to speak with Emily and get her thoughts on how design can challenge inequality. Listen to the episodes below.