A community of optimists hosted by Melinda French Gates

Emily Pilloton is a designer, builder, educator, and founder of the nonprofit Project H Design and Girls Garage, a rigorous STEM program for girls. She works alongside youth ages 9-18 to co-design and build full-scale public architecture projects with a civic purpose.

She has built a farmers market with high school students, a playhouse with girls whose mothers have experienced domestic violence, a school library, and microhomes for a homeless housing agency. Her work seeks to change the authorship of our built environment and cultivate power in underestimated communities, specifically young girls, undocumented youth, and communities of color.

Emily holds a BA in Architecture from the University of California Berkeley, and a Master of Fine Arts in Architecture from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is currently a Lecturer of Architecture and Design at UC Berkeley, and is the author of three books, Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People, Tell Them I Built This: Transforming Schools, Communities, and Lives With Design-Based Education, and a forthcoming book about tools and building for young women.

She has presented her work on the TED Stage, The Colbert Report, and to the Obama Administration's Office of Science and Technology Policy. Her work is documented in the full-length film If You Build It.


What inspires you to do the work you do?

I’m inspired by the young woman in a hijab who comes to Girls Garage after school each week to screen print protest posters. I’m inspired by the 10-year-old girl who picks up the welding torch for the first time and looks at me with fear in her eyes, puts her mask on anyway, and makes sparks fly. And I’m inspired by the group of teen girls who, during a break from building furniture for the local women’s shelter, I overhear in an intense debate about the use of the term “you guys.” I’m inspired by these small, specific, intimate moments when I know I am witnessing girls changing the tectonic plates of our society.

On Sunday afternoons, you can find me…

At my boxing gym!

Tell us about someone you admire

My two grandmothers, Margaret and Vivette, were forces of nature. They were both immigrants to this country (from China and France, respectively), barely 5 feet tall, and my original archetypes for what it means to be a strong woman. They modeled compassion and a fighter’s spirit, in very different ways, and were both true makers (of dumplings, paintings, music, beautiful textiles, and more). They were the women who instilled in me a sense of productivity and purpose.