Emily Pilloton wants to give young people the tools to build the world they want to see.

Why you should listen

As the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Girls Garage (formerly Project H Design), Emily Pilloton has taught thousands of youth, particularly girls of color, how to use power tools, weld and build full-scale architectural projects in their communities.

As a 16-year-old, Pilloton worked on her first construction site, building a town park alongside local masons and carpenters in Central America. After studying architecture and entering the professional realm, she found herself frustrated by the design world's scarcity of meaningful, hands-on work. Convinced of the power of design to change the world, at age 26 Pilloton founded the nonprofit Project H Design (now Girls Garage) to help refocus design around community, need and the creative capital of young people.

In 2010, Pilloton wrote and taught a vocational shop curriculum to high school students in Bertie County, North Carolina, the poorest and most rural county in the state. Over the course of the next year, her students would design and build a 2000-square-foot farmer's market for their small town of 2,000 people and fundamentally change the way youth were heard and honored in their community. Since Bertie County, Pilloton relocated to the Bay Area, where the shop class curriculum continued in an urban charter school, while simultaneously launching Girls Garage, a design/build program for girls ages 9-18. As of 2020, more than 500 girls have come to Girls Garage on a five-year pathway, building full-scale architectural projects under Pilloton's guidance and the mentorship of other talented female builders. She believes that helping girls prepare for and thrive in the trades, STEM and architectural careers isn't just about closing a gender gap; it's about changing the authorship of our world. "If girls and women get to design the world, the world will be more beautiful, more equitable … it will be a world that honors and includes everyone," she says.

Pilloton's students' work mentioned in her TED Talk is the subject of the full-length documentary If You Build It. She is the author of three books including Design Revolution and Girls Garage: How to Use Any Tool, Tackle Any Project, and Build The World You Want To See, and she has presented her work on The Colbert Report and to the Obama Administration's Office of Science and Technology Policy. Her work has been featured Fast Company and REP CO. and In addition to teaching carpentry, welding, and design/build classes at Girls Garage, Pilloton is also a lecturer in the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley, and she lives in Oakland with her family.

Emily Pilloton’s TED talk

More news and ideas from Emily Pilloton


New TED Book: Tell Them I Built This

December 7, 2012

In 2009, author Emily Pilloton moved to Bertie County, North Carolina — the poorest county in the state with a population of just 20,000. There she and her partner Matthew Miller launched Studio H, a design and build program meant to engage the creativity of high school students while bringing design innovation to the area. […]

Continue reading