In 2008, designer Emily Pilloton had grown disenchanted by the disconnect between her own architectural design work and community. She launched Project H Design as a nonprofit to create opportunities for people to engage in design that was deeply connected to real social problems.
Originally, Project H Design 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 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 just for girls and young women. The organization has since formally changed its name to Girls Garage.
Girls Garage is a physical workspace and year-round program for girls ages 9-18, teaching carpentry, welding, architecture, engineering, and activist art through community-focused projects. The program aims to instill confidence in young women by providing them with the skills and tools to build whatever they can imagine. Teenage girls attend at no cost, with over 2/3 of them returning for 3 or more years. Projects built by girls have included furniture for the local women’s shelter, 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, which 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.