Spotlight on 7 of Pittsburgh’s Women-Owned Firms

By Point Line Projects Posted on March 7, 2019

Mary Barensfeld, AIA, founder of Mary Barensfeld Architecture, photographed in her Hilgard Garden project in San Francisco. Photo: Joe Fletcher.

For National Women’s Month, AIA Pittsburgh is partnering with Point Line Projects to highlight some of the women architects and designers making an impact in Southwestern PA. In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re showcasing some of our region’s woman-owned firms. Next, we’ll look at the comeback of Women in Design Pittsburgh, revisit Pennsylvania’s first registered woman architect (who was, according to some, “the first woman to actually practice architecture professionally”), and finally, highlight emerging practitioners to watch. Join the conversation on social media with the tag #AIAPghWomensMonth

Architecture is one of the few industries where women have the means to build literal glass ceilings. That doesn’t mean they let metaphorical glass ceilings keep them from pursuing leadership positions.

We know that women are underrepresented in architecture workplaces compared to the number of women graduating from architecture since the early 1970s, but the picture is changing—if slowly. According to the AIA’s 2018 Firm Survey, the share of women architecture staff has increased from 28% to 35% over the past 10 years, and architecture staff of color has increased from 22% to 27%. These numbers are expected to continue to grow, with women comprising 40% of emerging professionals on the path to licensure.

Groups like the AIA San Francisco’s Equity by Design initiative have sought to better understand the barriers to higher retention and success rates by women and people of color in architecture, and a new study examines the impacts of caregiving, student debt, pay equity, and workplace values in retaining and supporting diverse talent.

For many Pittsburgh women, promoting positive change in the industry starts at their own firms. Whether through visionary design, participatory practice, or interdisciplinary collaboration, these seven women-owned firms are leading by example and earning international accolades across many areas of practice.  Here, firm owners Mary Barensfeld, AIA, Christine Mondor, FAIA, Jennifer Lucchino, Ivette Mongalo-Winston, Dana Cupkova, Christine Brill, AIA, Jen Gallagher, and Cherie Moshier, AIA share their thoughts on the joys and challenges of practice today, and where they hope to see the field go in the future.

Mary Barensfeld Architecture

Locations: Pittsburgh and San Francisco

Founder: Mary Barensfeld, AIA

Year founded: 2013

Number of employees: 1

Mary Barensfeld, AIA, founder of Mary Barensfeld Architecture, photographed in her Hilgard Garden project in San Francisco. Photo: Joe Fletcher.

 How do you celebrate women in architecture through your work?

I like to think of each built Mary Barensfeld Architecture project as a stake in the ground along women’s march towards equality in the design fields.

Mary Barensfeld, AIA, reflects on an ongoing project: Here’s a construction shot I took of a project I’m currently working on in the Bay Area. It’s finishing up construction now. As you can see it has great views of the Bay. The owner has a great eye: I feel fortunate to have gotten the project. We’re really trying to blur the lines between structure, landscape, and large-scale art (land art). Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming photos of the finished project.”


Locations: Pittsburgh, Florida, Connecticut

Founders: Christine Mondor, FAIA and Marc Mondor, AIA

Year founded: 2004

Number of employees: 12-ish full time

Christine Mondor, FAIA (left) and the evolveEA team in front of the building they designed for local coffee shop chain, Tazza d’Oro in Millvale, PA. Photo: evolveEA.

What could be done to enable more women to hold leadership roles within the architecture/design field more broadly?

If we defined our profession by its influence and not by its contractual tasks, we would likely find that there are many women already in leadership roles. I see many amazing and talented female students in the university, but only a fraction will remain in the profession years from now. While some of them have leadership roles in ways we traditionally define practice, many are doing amazing things in the public sector through advocacy, technology, education, or other related fields. We need a big tent for architecture that includes people who have chosen to contribute in ways beyond the legal definition of “architect.” Language matters, and as long as we define these career paths as “alternative” or “nontraditional,” we are missing an opportunity to capture the true influence and scope of contributions of women in our profession.

evolveEA design for Pittsburgh’s Penn Station Transit Plaza. For Mondor, “it is a design that makes previously invisible relationships visible by connecting people and places.” The project received AIA PGH and PA awards in 2018. Courtesy evolveEA.


Location: Bloomfield, Pittsburgh

Founders: Jennifer Lucchino & Freddie Croce

Year founded: 2003

Number of employees: 2 full-time

Inter*ARCHITECTURE co-founder Jennifer Lucchino speaks to Nina Barbuto’s Architecture for Non-Majors class from Carnegie Mellon University at Assemble with the contractor, Chad Sipes from Sipes & Son, about a shipping container project that they designed for Heather Mallak. The class shared their ideas on makerspaces. Courtesy Lucchino.

What could be done to enable more women to hold leadership roles within the architecture and design fields more broadly?

The main message that I would give to women in the architecture and design fields is similar to what Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives articulated shortly after ascending to the speakership this past January: “I say to women, know your power.” She went on to emphasize the importance of being knowledgeable of your field, including why you are doing it, so that you can speak with authority and confidence, show your vision and develop a plan to achieve it in order to attract others. This powerful message is one that women in architecture and design fields need to hear more often. 

inter*ARCHITECTURE’s Lawrenceville Container, Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, PA, completed in 2014. Photo: lawrencevillecontainer.com.

MonWin Consulting

Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Founder: Ivette Mongalo-Winston

Year founded: 2013

Number of employees: 1

Ivette Mongalo-Winston working with high school students to expose them to the fields of architecture and urban design. Courtesy MonWin Consulting.

How have women shaped the leadership of your firm?

Women have impacted my practice by showing me it’s possible to be the first, the only, the exception . . . as long as you know what you want and how you contribute to the world. Women like my mom who took a leap to immigrate to the US, my coach who helped me define my leadership style, and all the women who work in a male-dominated industry and still manage to excel and lead. My non-traditional path from architect to policy-maker is partially the result of women encouraging me to take that next step and to fight for better outcomes for everyone.

Ivette Mongalo-Winston and her daughter, Sophia, her “inspiration for focusing on women in leadership.” Courtesy of MonWin Consulting.

Epiphyte Lab

Locations: Pittsburgh, PA

Founders names: Dana Cupkova, Kevin Pratt (†2013)

Year founded: 2009

Number of employees: Between 1-6


Dana Cupkova on site at the Hsu House, a small house designed using passive solar principles to create an inexpensive, energy-efficient dwelling for a young family. The railing details offer both safety and playscape for children. Photo: Simon Wheeler.

Do you see progress when it comes to the recognition of women in architecture and design?

We have a long way to go to break the association of wisdom and accomplishment with male role models. My personal and professional life has been shaped by strong women with a tendency to stay out of the public eye. The most formative force in my development as a designer was Debora Reiser of RUR Architecture. Deby is the invisible force behind the talent and rigor of many contemporary architects like Nanako Umemoto, Laurie Hawkinson, and Hani Rashid. She is a mentor, educator, critic, and detail genius whose work is beautiful, mysterious, and soulful. She is still working and designing in her 90’s. She taught me that the traditional notion of professional practice can be overwritten by a sense of design with empathy.

Senyai, Vaulted Acoustics, Pittsburgh, PA, built by Epiphyte Lab in 2017. As founder Dana Cupkova describes,Epiphyte Lab’s first built project in Pittsburgh was a Thai restaurant Senyai, produced collaboratively with CMU architecture students. The design was centered on a ceiling inspired by the vaulted geometry of ancient Thai architecture. The geometry is formed by a series of 275 unique vertical slats that suggest a continuous surface as a backdrop for light and sound. No two slats, or vaults, are alike. I always strive to bridge academic research and design practice, and Senyai was designed and built partially as a learning experience in making and digital fabrication at CMU. I believe that the best projects are the ones where the shared experience of creating them goes beyond the personal sense of accomplishment and towards collective enjoyment.” Photo: Massery Photography.

Studio for Spatial Practice

Location: Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh

Founders: Christine Brill, AIA and Jonathan Kline

Year founded: 2008

Number of employees: 3 partners, 1 part-time employee

Studio for Spatial Practice partners (from left to right) Jonathan Kline, Christine Brill, AIA, and Jen Gallagher on the Arsenal Steps in Lawrenceville when Jen joined the practice in October 2013. Photo: Kathleen Slattery.

What could be done to enable more women to hold leadership roles within the architecture/design field more broadly?

All of us at SfSP had worked for larger architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design firms early in our careers. Finding a way to rise through the ranks or establish a work-life balance that allowed for flexible scheduling—to raise children and teach part-time at a university, for example—did not seem possible in a traditional office. With our own firm, we balance our personal and professional lives in the most healthy way for us. We believe that more flexibility in work schedules, without docking upward mobility, would greatly aid everyone in the profession.

Dining room of Superior Motors, Braddock, PA, completed by Studio for Spatial Practice in July 2017. SfSP partners Christine Brill and Jen Gallagher say, “We love to work with other women when we can! We collaborated with on Superior Motors with Standard + Custom, an architectural products and furniture design-build company founded by Lexi Chung and Filip Agren.”  Photo: Jonathan Kline.

Moshier Studio

Location: Manchester, Pittsburgh

Founder: Cherie H. Moshier, AIA

Year founded: 1998

Number of employees: 5

The team at Moshier Studio. From left to right: Founder Cherie H. Moshier, AIA, Gary P. Moshier, AIA, Leanne O’Toole, Kevin Kenna, AIA, and Emel Guner-Ekin, Assoc AIA. Courtesy Moshier Studio.

Do you see progress when it comes to the recognition of women in architecture and design?

Certainly. Although architectural schools achieved balance in gender some time ago, women are becoming more visible in leadership roles in larger firms. We’re also starting our own firms. We are fortunate to be able to team frequently with other women-owned firms on projects. Since architecture is a team effort, improved recognition of all the talented people involved can particularly benefit women architects who may not be the named partner on a project.

Featured project: Cumberland Community Center, Cumberland MD

Cumberland Community Center, Cumberland MD. Photo: Jeannette Hunt Photography.

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