Carla Bonacci, AIA, is Focusing On The Right Mix in Today’s AIA New Jersey Women In Architecture Spotlight

March 25, 2019

Carla Bonacci, AIA, PP, in Today’s AIA New Jersey Women In Architecture Spotlight

Assistant Director, WTC Infrastructure and Project Development

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey




The classic adage is that architecture is both an art and a science.  My professional style has been the practice of blending together different elements and perspectives to achieve harmonious, balanced, stable, and as appropriate, aesthetically pleasing results.  My father was a distinguished chemical engineer – so it must be a (Fi)bonacci thing too!


I have been fortunate to have different career experiences while staying rooted in a few places.  I joined the Port Authority as an Architectural Trainee 36 years ago, and have been managing teams producing major capital projects for the past 30 years at the original World Trade Center complex, then coordinating establishment of the WTC Master Plan after 9/11, guiding implementation of the Master Plan all the way through design, construction, and occupancy of the redeveloped WTC site.


I am a lifelong New Jerseyan – raised in Cherry Hill, and now a resident of the Town of Westfield for nearly three decades.  (Also currently serving as a member of the town Board of Adjustment.)  I’m a graduate of the Penn State School of Architecture, where I met my husband who’s also an architect.  We’ve been raising two children, and have designed many residential projects together over the years.  Despite all the CAD, BIM, and 3D tools available these days, I still choose to sketch designs by hand – it always helps me to simultaneously think and feel out the right solution – the best form and fit – tailored for the client or project needs.


Early in my career, I was usually the only woman in the meeting or in my workgroup.  And when I was chair of New Jersey AIA’s Women in Architecture group (more than 25 years ago), we didn’t have much generational diversity either.  So there’s been progress in this regard for the millennial cohort of women architects. But beyond representation in numbers, there are still major cultural adjustments and workplace reinforcements required in order for professional women to achieve substantive equity with men in terms of responsibilities and compensation.   


Many of my best collaborative experiences have been working with other women – though all of my direct supervisors and managers (so far) have been men.  While I have at times managed staff comprised only of men, I have also actively promoted, recruited and supported women professionals, who now comprise more than one-third of the project managers, construction engineers and inspectors on my teams.


Perseverance and resiliency are two essential attributes for women in male-dominated work environments.  A willingness to “speak up” expertly, and to engage directly and professionally to handle issues and resolve conflicts are also important to overcome any unconscious biases against a woman’s competency or authority.   Finally, I would add that a good sense of humor is necessary to dispel any micro-aggressions, as energy is better spent on positive endeavors.  In those situations, I have a few “That Girl!” expressions that have worked for me!

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