Barbie: Astronaut, beach bunny, executive and now, architect?

February 22, 2011

Barbie has had an assortment of personas and careers over her 50-year existence. And come fall, she'll add another line to her resume: architect.

Toymaker Mattel will produce a line of Architect Barbie dolls later this year as part of its career-themed "I Can Be" series of Barbie dolls. Credit of this goes to the American Institute of Architects and Despina Stratigakos, a University of Buffalo architecture professor who created an "'Architect Barbie" exhibition four years ago and lobbied Mattel to manufacture the line.

Architect Barbie gets a hard hat, a dress with a print of the skyline on it, a pink tube of blueprints to jauntily sling over her shoulder, a model of a pink house and a pair of black rimmed glasses. If they were going for a little more realism, I say she should be wearing all-black, including maybe a black mock turtle neck, and she needs to trim that pony tail. But that's just me. And if she's running her own small firm--Studio Barbie Architects, Coop HimmelBarb, or something--then she looks a bit too well-rested.

The line could be a good way to raise awareness of the field of architecture among young girls, however. The AIA says only 17 percent of the nation's licensed architects are women. If Mattel and the AIA are serious about using the doll as a vehicle to bring women into the architecture fold, then the commercials--how Architecture Barbie is advertised--are also key. I mean, I wonder how many young girls in 1985 seriously thought about becoming astronauts after seeing this Astronaut Barbie commercial, complete with space disco ball:

Stratigakos' exhibit showed a racially-diverse set of Architect Barbies--and this is important for Mattel to consider, given less than two percent of licensed architects in this country are of a racial minority, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported last year. Talented young designer and publisher Mashawnta Armstrong nailed it with this clever version of Architect Barbie for Stratigakos' exhibit. Quite cool and I hope the folks at Mattel are taking note: