The New York State chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has awarded its 2015 Educator Award to Karen Fairbanks, chair of the architecture department and professor of professional practice. The citation recognizes of her "notable contributions and accomplishments in architectural education that have resulted in innovative programs and the creation of new work, contemporary culture, and design." The AIA is the architecture field's leading professional membership organization.

In confering the award, the AIA also notes that Prof. Fairbanks expanded the architecture department's faculty and curriculum to develop two areas of critical importance: an engagement with urbanism and data analysis, and new forms of digital media and communication. She has also implemented new teaching models for combined theory and practice, and introduced numerous new courses into the curriculum. 

Prof. Fairbanks has been a member of Barnard's Department of Architecture since 1996, teaching design studios and seminars on architecture and technology. She is also affiliated with Barnard's urban studies program. Prof. Fairbanks is a founding partner in the independent architectural practice, Marble Fairbanks, which specializes in cultural and institutional commissions and the integration of digital technology into design and production. Marble Fairbanks was recently commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art to design a speculative architectural wall system for the recent exhibit, Home Delivery. Other recent projects include the Glen Oaks Branch Library in Queens, the Toni Stabile Student Center for the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, and Tenrikyo Mission New York Center Church in Flushing. The firm was selected for the NYC Department of Design and Construction’s Design Excellence Program and have been recognized with numerous international design awards including American Architecture Awards, the Emerging Architect Award, and a Progressive Architecture Award.