Beverly Willis

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Beverly Willis, FAIA, (born February 17, 1928), is an American architect known for her design achievements, her development of new technology, and her philanthropic efforts on behalf of architects, urban planning and public policy. Willis played a major role in the development of many creative and professional concepts important to American cities and American architecture. Her best known built-work is the San Francisco Ballet Building in San Francisco, California.[1] She is the founder of the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, a non-profit organization expanding knowledge of women's contributions to the built environment.[2]

Early life[edit]

Willis was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, daughter of Margaret Elizabeth Porter, a nurse, and Ralph William Willis, an oil industry entrepreneur and an agriculturalist. Brother Ralph Gerald Willis (1930–1999) served in the United States Army and later retired to the Fiji Islands.

During World War II, at age 15, Willis learned to fly a single-engine propeller plane in order to qualify for the Women's Air Service. Shortly thereafter, Willis' mother, then divorced, moved to Portland, Oregon, where Willis graduated from high school. Willis studied engineering at Oregon State University from 1946-48. She graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1954 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with honors.

Willis Atelier[edit]

Upon graduation from the University of Hawaii, Willis founded the Willis Atelier in Waikiki, where she continued the mural and fresco work begun in college under the training of Jean Charlot. In 1956, Willis pioneered a technique for sand cast mural panels, including a panel used in the Shell Bar at the Royal Hawaiian Hilton. The Shell Bar, which Willis also designed, became a backdrop in the television series Hawaiian Eye.

Beverly Willis Architects[edit]

In 1958, Willis opened Beverly Willis Architects, an architectural office in San Francisco, California. Beverly Willis Architects embraced the industrial design axiom that good design "sells." Retail stores were among the firm's first clients. Widely published in retail trade magazines, Willis became known as one of America's leading store designers. Willis was among the first architects to take advantage of trade publications and direct mail pamphlets to solicit new clients.

As the firm grew to a staff of 35, its projects evolved. Willis became a pioneer in the historic preservation and reuse movement in San Francisco in the 1960s.

In the early 1970s, Beverly Willis Architects was one of the first firms to develop computer software for planning and architectural use. CARLA, Computerized Approach to Residential Land Analysis, was written and applied in-house. Used in large-scale land use planning projects, 100 to 1,000 acres (0.40 to 4.05 km2) in size, CARLA promoted environmental planning techniques that helped avoid property damage due to flash floods, mudslides and unstable soil, relying on a site's natural terrain to guide building placement. In Honolulu, CARLA was used to plan, engineer and design Aliamanu Valley, a community that housed 11,500 people in 525 buildings.

Significant Buildings[edit]

  • Manhattan Village Academy, 400-student high school in loft space, 43 West 22nd Street, New York City (1996)[3]
  • River Run Residence, Napa Valley, California (1983)[4]
  • San Francisco Ballet Building, San Francisco Performing Arts Center, Civic Center, San Francisco, California (1982)[1]
  • Yerba Buena Gardens, 24-acre (97,000 m2) mixed-use development of an art center, theater, offices, retail, hotel, gardens; co-master planner and conceptual designer (1980)[5]
  • Aliamanu Valley Community, 525 buildings housing 11,500 people; Corps of Engineers, Honolulu, Hawaii (1979)[6]
  • Pacific Point Condominium Apartments, Alpha Land Company, Pacifica, California (1975)[7]
  • Vine Terrace Apartments, (now known as Nob Hill Court Condominiums), 930 Pine Street, San Francisco, California (1973)[8]
  • Union Street Shops, 1980 Union Street, San Francisco, California (1965)[9]
  • Margaret S. Hayward Playground Building, City of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, San Francisco, California (1965)[10]
  • Robertson Residence, Yountville, California (1960)[11]

Awards and honors[edit]


  • American Planning Association's New York Metro Chapter's Lawrence Orton Award for Excellence in City and Regional Planning cited Rebuild Downtown Our Town, co-directed by Beverly Willis. (2003)
  • National Association of Home Builders, Merit Award, River Run Residence, St. Helena, California. (1985)
  • California Council of the American Institute of Architects Merit Award, Margaret S. Hayward Playground Building, San Francisco, California. (1984)
  • Gold Nugget Grand Award, Pacific Coast Builders Conference and Builders Magazine, for Best Recreational Facility, Margaret S. Hayward Playground Building, San Francisco, California. (1983)
  • American Institute of Architects (AIA) Award of Merit, 1976 Homes for Better Living Awards Program, Vine Terrace Apartments, San Francisco, California. (1976)
  • Award for Exceptional Distinction for Environmental Design for work on Union Street by the Governor of California. (1967)
  • AIA Bay Area Award for Union Street Store Development at 1980 Union Street. (1967)
  • Significant Achievement in Beautification Citation by Buildings Magazine for the Transamerica Title Building in Oakland, California. (1966)
  • Merit Award in Office Renovation for the Campbell-Ewald Building, San Francisco, California by the American Institute of Building Design. (1965)


  • Montgomery Fellowship, Dartmouth College (1992)
  • Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, Mount Holyoke College (1982)
  • Fellowship American Institute of Architects (1980)
  • U. S. Government Delegate to "Habitat," the 1976 United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (1976)
  • Phoebe Hearst Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Service to San Francisco (1969)


  • Women in American Architecture 1988-1990: The Exceptional One. Exhibit organized by the American Institute of Architects and the American Architectural Foundation exhibited in Washington DC; Denver, Colorado; and Los Angeles.
  • The Outdoor Chair. Cooper-Hewitt Museum, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Design, New York. (1988)
  • The Outdoor Chair. Contract Design Center, San Francisco. (1987)
  • Yerba Buena Gardens. San Francisco Museum, San Francisco. (1984)
  • Group Oil Paintings Exhibit. Honolulu Gallery of Art Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii. (1956)
  • One-Person Exhibit: Watercolors. Maxwell Gallery, San Francisco. (1952)


Beverly Willis founded the Architecture Research Institute, a "think/act tank", in 1995.[12] The Institute develops and advocates urban policies to make large global cities more livable. After the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11, the Institute founded R.Dot, Rebuild Downtown Our Town.[13] R.Dot mobilized hundreds of designers, professionals and people from all walks of life to create a coordinated response that helped guide the rebuilding effort and established a planning framework for the city of New York.


  • Grands Projets – Its Lessons and Legacies, a one day retrospective assessment of the history of the Grands Projets in France, co-sponsored with The Cultural Services of the French Embassy, and hosted by the Guggenheim Museum.
  • Working Neighborhoods: Failed Policies and Fresh Directions, a one day assessment of new directions for development of working neighborhoods, co-hosted by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, and held in New York City and Oakland California.


Architecture Research Institute[edit]

  • Towards a Sustainable City: Rebuilding Lower Manhattan, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford 2004.
  • The R.Dot Project: Rebuilding Lower Manhattan, Fifth International Architecture Symposium, Pontresina, Switzerland, September 12–14, 2002.
  • Towards a Sustainable City, International Women's University Conference, Hanover, Germany, September 2000.
  • Re-Examining the Courtyard Block: A Megacity Habitat for the New Working Family, Megacities 2000 Conference, Spring 2000, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.
  • Spatial Speculations. Embodied Utopias – Gender, Social Change, and the Built Environment Conference, 1999, University of Chicago Gender Center, sponsored by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies.
  • Megacities: Re-Examining the Sidewalk as Public Space. The Second International Symposium on Asia Pacific Architecture, Making of Public Spaces, University of Hawaii, East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii, April 1998.


  • Neighborhoods and Housing Lower Manhattan- A Mixed income Community, New York, April 14, 2004.
  • Arts and Culture: Revitalizing Lower Manhattan Through Arts and Culture, New York, January 23, 2003.
  • Retail Strategies for Revitalizing Lower Manhattan, New York, January 16, 2003.
  • Design Program for the World Trade Center and Lower Manhattan, New York, October 7, 2002.
  • Managed Streets – Street Life is Crucial to the Revitalization of Lower Manhattan, New York, June 15, 2002.
  • Rebuilding Lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center, New York, February 19, 2002.


Beverly Willis' philanthropic efforts include her work as a founding trustee of the National Building Museum in Washington, DC; creating the Architecture Research Institute in New York City (1995); co-founding R.Dot, Rebuild Downtown Our Town (2001); and establishing the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation (2002).


  • Golemon, Harry A., ed. Financing Real Estate Development. New Jersey: Aloray, 1974. ISBN 978-0-913690-01-7.
    • Willis' Chapter: "Computerized Financial Analysis," co-authored with Dr. Ronald S. Graybeal
  • Jain, Ravinder K and Bruce L. Hutchings, eds. Environmental Impact Analysis: Emerging Issues in Planning. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978. ISBN 978-0-252-00696-8
    • Willis' Chapter: "The Environmental System Decision-Making Process"
  • Jenks, Mike and Nicola Dempsey, eds. Future Forms and Design for Sustainable Cities. Amsterdam; Boston: Architectural Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-7506-6309-0.
    • Willis' Chapter: "Towards a Sustainable City: Rebuilding Lower Manhattan"
  • Miller, Iris and Robert A. Bosser, eds. Visions and Reflections on Utopia and Reality. Washington, D.C.: American Institute of Architects, 1991.
    • Willis' Chapter: "If It’s Tuesday, It Must be Singapore"
  • Terlinden, Ulla ed. City and Gender: International Discourse on Gender, Urbanism and Architecture. Leske + Budrich, Opladen, Hanover, Germany. 2003. ISBN 978-3-8100-3495-3
    • Willis' Chapter: "Towards a Sustainable City"
  • Willis, Beverly, ed. The Architect and the Shelter Industry. Washington, D.C.: The American Institute of Architects, 1975. LCCN 75325678.


External links[edit]