Where Are The Women Architects? Numbers, Facts and Cultural Habit
9 Articles Presenting History vs. Herstory
When I chose to study architecture I was excited that I finally found a profession that utilizes both the creative and the analytical sides of the brain. I was excited because I knew I was strong in both — I had a great artistic sense and I was always good with math and logic. I was excited that I could learn with people who were just like me. I always loved solving brain-teasers and quest-like riddles and I looked at an architectural project as being a huge 3D puzzle. I was so excited I could do what I love for a living.
Not once had it crossed my mind that my abilities as a woman were any different than a man’s (false), nor that I was stepping into a very masculine world (sadly true). In my 5 years of academic education there was actually a majority of women studying with me. It was only when I stepped out of the academia bubble that reality hit and I realized that I may be in for a very challenging ride. It was not long before I found myself to be the only woman sitting at the table, sometimes being confused for a secretary or for someone not worth recognizing. I was faced with the occasional hand shushing gestures and sexist remarks (to say the least). I always encountered perplexed expressions when I showed up at the construction site and it usually took a while to earn the trust and respect of the men in my team. Needless to say that to my male colleagues, these situations were absolutely invisible.
The farther up you look in the world of architecture, the fewer women you see. With this fact in mind I realized never actually learning of significant women in architecture when I was in school. This didn’t hit me until much later when finding that most, if not almost all, women don’t actually get to the top in this man’s world. For example: up until this very research it didn’t occur to me that THE Robert Venturi I learned about was actually part of a co-founded firm with his wife, Architect Denise Scott Brown and the firm’s name was actually ‘Venturi Scott Brown’. Shockingly or not, Robert Venturi received a Pritzker Prize in 1991, but not Denise Scott Brown, even though all of their work was an equal collaboration of over 3 decades. Another new realization was that history, and later journalism was mainly recorded by men who preferred to keep the women out of the professional picture. Is it a coincidence that history is literally HIStory? What about HERstory?
As a woman, an entrepreneur and the founder of an architecture firm focusing on combining innovation with gender equality ideas, this reality does not sit right. I decided to dig a little deeper and look at the facts. I researched information from articles and studies written about the role of women in architecture, past and present to get a clear picture of the situation and to start thinking how this reality could be changed.
Here is a list of the top publications from my attempt to figure out where are the women architects:
- Survey of top architecture firms reveals “quite shocking” lack of gender diversity at senior levels, by Marcus Fairs, Dezeen Magazine, Nov. 2017 — A recent gender survey of top architecture firms done by Dezeen Magazine shows that just 3 of the world’s 100 biggest architecture firms are headed by women. Yes, that’s right — 3!
A few more fun facts: Only 2 firms out of those 100 have management teams that are more than 50% female; Women occupy just 10% of the highest-ranking jobs at the world’s leading architecture firms; The percentage of women falls at each ascending management tier; 16 of the top 100 firms have no women at all in senior positions
- In A Male Dominated Field, Women Make Up Only 30% of Architects in USA — this ArchDaily article presents data collected by Nathan Yau regarding the American workforce between 1950 and 2015
- Where Are the Women? Measuring Progress on Gender in Architecture, by Lian Chikako Chang, ACSA Director of Research + Information, 2014 — cold facts by the numbers
- The Missing 32% Project, 2014 and 2016 Equity in Architecture Survey -portrays gender and racial based differences in architecture and answers some important questions such as what happens to women in architecture to cause them to leave the profession, and why are so few women in leadership roles?
Beyond the numbers:
- Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture, Essay by Denise Scott Brown, 1989 — Scott Brown, co-founder of Venturi Scott Brown architecture firm, published this essay about a decade after she had written it and only two years prior to her husband’s, Robert Venturi, win of the Pritzker Prize by himself (!) An eye opening piece, and even though the times have changed, women’s role in architecture did not improve accordingly
- Architect Magazine Interview With Denise Scott Brown, by Carolina A. Miranda, 2013 — The co-founder of Venturi Scott Brown and Associates (now VSBA) talks about a petition to put her name on the 1991 Pritzker Architecture Prize, about sexism in architecture and about her career
- I Am Not the Decorator: Female Architects Speak Out, by Robin Pogrebin, The New York Times, 2017 — an informal online questionnaire asked female architects to talk candidly about their experience in the profession and the picture they paint is neither pretty or equal
- Architecture Has a Woman Problem. Zaha Hadid Knew It Well, by Despina Stratigakos, 2016 — an excerpt from Where Are the Women Architects?, a new book by Despina Stratigakos that examines the sexism that surfaced (and continues today) after Hadid became the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004
- “I am not a female architect. I am an architect”, by Dorte Mandrup, Dezeen Magazine, 2017 — “Rarely are women known as female accountants, female lawyers, female taxi drivers or female journalists. But “female architects” seems to be an unshakeable phrase.” The Danish Architect, Dorte Mandrup on the need to stop promoting “female architects” in worthy lists and exhibitions, so that women can be seen as more than second-class citizens — and I couldn’t agree more
My conclusion is this: when a magazine photographer asks a woman architect to step aside because he wants to capture “the architects”, not only shouldn’t she budge and stand her ground, but the male counterparts should refuse to take the picture without her. It is about time to write herstory.