Assistant Professor, Urban + Environmental Planning

Education: The University of Texas at Austin, PhD in Community & Regional Planning, Concentration in Sustainable Development; Master of Arts in Architectural History; The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Bachelor of Arts in Art History, Minor in Music Performance

Barbara Brown Wilson’s research and teaching focus on the history, theory, ethics, and practice of sustainable community design and development, and on the role of urban social movements in the built world. Dr. Wilson writes for both academic and mainstream audiences, and is the author of Resilience for All: Striving for Equity through Community-Driven Design (Island Press: 2018), and co-author of Questioning Architectural Judgement: The Problem of Codes in the United States (Routledge: 2013). Her research is often change-oriented, meaning she collaborates with community partners to identify opportunities for engaged and integrated sustainable community development that creates knowledge to serve both local and educational communities.

Wilson teaches required classes in the MUEP program, including Methods of Community Engagement and Research and Planning Theory and Practice, as well as interdisciplinary electives such as Sustainable Community Design and Ecological Democracy. In her classes, students grapple with complex socio-environmental problems like climate change and structural inequities, and develop not only technical skills, but also skills of cultural competency and empathy. In Ecological Democracy, students work with a local community group to apply their skills in collaboration with the local knowledge of their traditionally underserved partners to propose co-designed ideas to community-driven projects.

Wilson seeks to understand how social values, specifically regarding ecology and equity, are coded into the built world. Her work investigates the role of codes (e.g. building, land use, and societal) and coalitions working in the service of more resilient communities. She is particularly interested in the efficacy of design and development mechanisms employed in vulnerable communities, interrogating how existing disproportionate impacts of environmental injustice have been remedied or exacerbated by development practices. At UVA, Wilson is working with colleagues from Law, Education, Nursing, and the College to build a pan-university research platform for the Redress of Inequity through Community-Engaged Scholarship with the support of the VPR Explore-to-Build program.

Dr. Wilson’s change-oriented focus often leads her to partner with resident leaders in vulnerable communities in applied research projects. Alongside UVA Architecture Professor Jeana Ripple, Wilson coordinated the community engagement platform for the Light Lab Public Art Installation for the ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen Project in Gary, Indiana and this team is now collaborating on a participatory design-manufacture-build project with local youth here in Charlottesville. She is also working, as a researcher, an educator, and a board member of the Piedmont Housing Alliance (PHA) to help them build platforms where residents can take leadership roles in the shaping of their communities. In particular, Wilson supports PHA's Youth Leadership in Land Use program, which provides a vehicle for resident youth from Friendship Court to serve as valued members of the design team for the Redevelopment project currently underway in their neighborhood. Wilson is a member of the Equity Collective, whose work is featured in the Cooper Hewitt Museum's By the People: Designing a Better America Exhibition, Next City, and elsewhere.

She also co-founded the Design Futures Student Leadership Forum, a five-day student leadership training which convenes students and faculty from a consortium of universities with leading practitioners all working to engender leadership and skill-building for students hoping to use design as a tool for social equity and positive change in underserved communities. Wilson has won numerous local and national awards for her community-engaged design efforts and is recognized as one of the “top 100 leaders in Public Interest Design.”


Wilson, Barbara B. Resilience for All: Striving for Equity Through Community-Driven Design. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2018.

Moore, Steven A. and Barbara B. Wilson, Questioning Architectural Judgment: The Problem of Codes in the United States, Routledge: London, 2013.

Journal Articles

Wilson, Barbara B. “Planning Note: Redefining Sustainability: The Gulf Coast Community Design Studio,” The Journal of the American Planning Association, Volume 80, no 4, p 398, 2015.

Wilson, Barbara B. “Before the ‘Triple Bottom Line’: New Deal Defense Housing as Proto-Sustainability,” Journal of Planning History, Volume 14, no. 1, pp. 4-18, 2015.

Moore, Steven A. and Barbara B. Wilson, "Contested Construction of Green Building Codes in North America: the case of The Alley-Flat Initiative," Journal of Urban Studies, Volume 46, no. 12, November 2009.

Wilson, Barbara B. “Coding Social Values into the Built Environment,” Planning Forum: Journal of Community and Regional Planning v. 13/14, August 2009.

Wilson, Barbara B. “Learning to Listen: Designing Architectural Education Through University/Community Partnerships,” in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, Spring 2008.

Book Chapters 

Wilson, Barbara B. and Tim Beatley. “Educating Code-Switchers in a Post-Sustainability World,” in Urban Planning Education: Beginnings, Global Movement and Future Prospects, Eds. Christopher Silver and Andrea Frank, Springer, 2017.

Wilson, Barbara B. “What Social Justice Movements Can Teach Us About Public Interest Design” in The Public Interest Design Practice Guidebook: Seed Methodology, Case Studies and Critical Issues, Eds. Bryan Bell and Lisa Abendroth, Routledge: New York, 2016.

Wilson, Barbara B. “Social Movements and the City: Codifying Spatial Justice” in Frédéric Dufaux and Pascale Philifert Eds., Justice Spatiale et Politiques Territoriales, collection Espace et Justice, Presses Universitaires de Paris Ouest, Nanterre, France, 2013.

Moore, Steven A. and Barbara B. Wilson, “Architectural Production and Sociotechnical Codes: A Theoretical Framework,” with Steven Moore in Building Systems: Design, Technology, and Society, Eds. Kiel Moe and Ryan Smith, Routledge, 2012.

Wilson, Barbara B. “The Architectural Bat-Signal: Exploring the Relationship between Justice and Design,” in Bryan Bell, ed., Expanding Architecture, Metropolis Books, 2008.

Select Awards/Honors

“ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen by Jeana Ripple and Barbara Brown Wilson in Gary, Indiana,” in Architectural Record, April 1, 2017

SEED Network Award: Honorable Mention for Excellence in Community Engagement, ArtHouse Gary, with Barbara Brown Wilson, ArtHouse Gary, Latent Design, 2017

Recognized in the “40 Under 40” Leaders “Designing for Social Good” in academic realms by Autodesk Foundation’s Impact Design Hub, 2016

First Place, Surface Competition, Bloomberg Philanthropies sponsored Public Art Challenge: ArtHouse Gary International Competition; with Ripple Architecture Studio, 2016

First Place, Illumination Competition, Bloomberg Philanthropies sponsored Public Art Challenge: ArtHouse Gary International Competition; with Ripple Architecture Studio, 2016

Great Places Award for Research on the Green Alley Project, Environmental Design Research Association, 2014

Austin Community Design and Development Center, AIA Austin Community Vision Award, 2013

Tower Outstanding Academic Service-Learning Professor Award, University of Texas at Austin Longhorn Center for Civic Engagement, 2013

Sustainability and Ethics Curriculum Development Award, University of Texas at Austin, 2013

Cale McDowell Award for Innovation in Undergraduate Studies, University of Texas at Austin, 2012

Recognized as one of the “Public Interest Design 100” Leaders in the Field, Design Observer Blog, December 5, 2012

Local Hero Award, Bank of America, Neighborhood Excellence Initiative, Austin, 2010

Austin Community Design and Development Center, Greenlights Nonprofit Award for Excellence in Collaboration, 2009

Alley Flat Initiative, Envision Central Texas Community Stewardship Award for Redevelopment, 2009

Alley Flat Initiative, United States Green Building Council Excellence in Green Building Curriculum, 2008

Award for Outstanding Service to the Underserved, Structures for Inclusion, 2008

Select Grants                             

UVA Explore-to-Build Grant, “Initiative for the Study of Equity through Community-Engaged Scholarship,” Co-PI, 2017-2018, $100,000

The Surdna Foundation, “Designing a Community-Engaged Approach to Pre-Development Social Impact Analysis,” Principal Investigator with Josh Yates, 2017-2018, $125,000

National Endowment for the Arts, “Design + Manufacture + Build,” Co-PI, 2017, $40,000

ArtHouse Community-Based Public Art, “Light Lab,” Co- Principal Investigator with Jeana Ripple, 2016, $108,500

UVA Resilience Research Seed Grant, “Engendering Local Stewardship through Citizen Science at Friendship Court,” Principal Investigator, 2016, $21,670

Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, “Understanding the Paths to Pier 42 Project: Evaluating Community Engaged Design Impacts on the East River Waterfront,” Principal Investigator, 2016, $30,000

 Jessie Ball Dupont Fund, “Resident-Driven Development at Friendship Court,” Principal Investigator, 2016-2018, $100,000